The Ringling has a circus museum, gardens, a historic mansion, and an art museum – but are these things fun for kids? Yes! With so many venues and collections, there’s a different way for everyone to spend a day at The Ringling. Here are some of our suggestions for visiting with kids.
When you first arrive at The Ringling you will walk through a gate and gatehouse. When John and Mable Ringling lived here in the 1920s, the gatekeeper actually lived inside! His bedroom was on one side of the gate and his living space was on the other.
Your family will get their tickets at the admissions desk in the Visitors Pavilion. Be sure to ask if any family programs are taking place that day! (Or check ringling.org before you go).
In the Tibbals Learning Center, you’ll find a giant mural called The Greatest Show on Earth that features famous circus performers from the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. Next, tour the largest miniature circus model in the whole word, The Howard Brothers Circus model. There are over 44,000 people and animals in this model!
Next you can explore the interactive gallery – walk the high wire, stand on a horse’s back, and squeeze into a clown car!
In the Original Circus Museum, you’ll find circus wagons and a beautifully restored traincar! The Wisconsin is the luxury railcar that John Ringling lived in when he travelled with the circus. And don’t miss the Flying Zacchini Cannon that actually shot people high into the air in a circus act called the Human Cannonball!
There are many gardens to explore at The Ringling, including the Rose Garden, the Secret Garden, and the Dwarf Garden. Look for koi fish, turtles, and birds like blue herons and anhinga in the ponds around campus. You can also look for dolphins in Sarasota Bay from Ca’ d’Zan terrace! You’ll also find that the massive banyans around our campus don’t grow like other trees: the roots actually grow down from the canopy and grow into trunks. On the path between the Circus Museum and the Secret Garden, see if you can find the spot where the banyan roots have grown around a sculpture!
After you shake some wiggles out in the gardens, visit the Museum of Art. We have a family guide for exploring the museum with activities that are thought-provoking for both adults and children. Hey parents-- nervous about getting offbeat questions from your little ones? Pick up our “Why is that Person Naked?” brochure for some tips on talking about nudity in art with kids of all ages.
After the museum, you might need to burn off some extra energy – it’s the perfect time to head to the Bolger Playspace! The Playspace has multiple play structures, swings, and a space for water and sand play. Ready for lunch or a snack? The Banyan Café, right next to the Playspace, has great casual dining options for families.