John Ringling Bridge Walk
Updated: Oct 1, 2020
The iconic John Ringling Bridge rises 65 feet over Sarasota Bay connecting the mainland and downtown Sarasota with Lido Key and Longboat Key. The bridge is named for John Ringling, one of the founders of the Ringling Brothers Circus. John Ringling built the first bridge in 1925 to provide easy access to his island properties. The current bridge is actually the third bridge constructed in 2003, which replaced the drawbridge built in 1959.
“I get so engrossed in the scenery, the beauty of the bay, looking for dolphins, and watching the birds coast by that the noise fades away. I highly recommend The Bridge Walk especially at sunset. It’s just so pretty!”
The Bridge Walk/Run is popular among residents and visitors because of the lovely views of downtown Sarasota, Sarasota Bay, and the barrier islands. Walking and running the bridge is delightful year round. There’s always a breeze which is pleasant on a hot day. There is no shade so a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen are useful. I like walking the bridge any time of the day. However, it’s particularly beautiful at sunset and it is cooler. Be sure to have your camera handy to capture the stunning sunsets and the incredibly gorgeous panorama.
In September 2019, the Florida Department of Transportation installed 60 new LED lights on all 10 columns of the bridge which create a simple but pretty light show. Check out this lovely display of vibrant color from dusk to dawn.
The bay changes color depending on the angle of the sun, the clouds scudding by, and the calmness of the seas so it’s a surprise what colors you will see. One of my favorite views is of the bay in front of Bird Key Park because it is usually dressed in a plethora of shades of sapphire blue and sea green. I like to watch all the activity on the bay and the variety of boats passing by. On occasion, I have seen dolphins swimming in the bay. You know it’s a good day when you see dolphins! I like watching the birds fly by too. All these amazing features of this walk make exercising more of a joy than a chore.
The walkway, about 6 feet wide, runs along both sides of the bridge and offers a safe path separated from the vehicular traffic by a concrete wall. There is a wide bike lane on both sides of the bridge too. Unfortunately the bike lane is littered with debris and stones and not protected in any way from motorized traffic.
There are several places to park to access the John Ringling Bridge which are:
The parking is free at each location; however, parking at the Bayfront Park has a limit of 3 hours and back-in parking is prohibited. I mention that back-in parking is prohibited because the parking police will ticket you for that infraction. Using my Apple Watch S4, I have measured the distance of the three major loop paths and have included a photo of the loop. Depending on where you park, you may have to cross the John Ringling Causeway to walk in the same direction as the flow of traffic so I have added information on the path and street crossings. The distance and details are below.
Loop #1: Bird Key Park
Address: 200 John Ringling Causeway, Sarasota, FL 34236
Distance: 2.1 miles round trip + an optional 0.65 miles
Start/End: Entrance of park at the blue painted bicycle
Road crossings: 1 (but can be 0)
I started the Outdoor Walk function of my Apple Watch near the entrance of Bird Key Park at the blue painted bicycle decorated with a fish and a flamingo. (The bicycle works of art displayed around downtown Sarasota are by the local artist, Dr. Nik (William Pearson)).
I crossed the John Ringling Causeway at the traffic signal located at the entrance to the park at the intersection of Bird Key Drive and John Ringling Causeway to walk the bridge in the direction of the flow of traffic, from the key to the mainland. Look for the Tiny Doors (@TinyDoorsSRQ) artwork at this corner (hint: gray power box). You can avoid crossing the street by walking underneath the bridge to reach the other side of the road to walk in the same direction as traffic. At the end of the bridge, I turned right to walk by Hart’s Landing and through the Eloise Werlin Park and looping underneath the bridge to begin the tract over the other side of the bridge (from mainland to the key). By walking through the Eloise Werlin Park and underneath the bridge, I was able to avoid crossing the causeway and it’s a pretty walk along the bay at sea level. There are restrooms at Hart’s Landing. As you return to Bird Key Park, you will see my favorite view of the bay in front of Bird Key Park. At dusk, this side of the bridge is where you will be able to view the sunsets over the bay and Longboat Key.
You can add on another short loop of 0.65 miles by walking around the West John Ringling Causeway Park. This little park is located underneath the bridge and is accessible from Bird Key Park.
Loop #2: Hart’s Landing
Address: 920 John Ringling Causeway, Sarasota, FL 34236
Distance: 2.3 miles round trip
Road Crossings: 0
Start/End: Entrance to Hart’s Landing bait and tackle shop
Restrooms: Yes. There are restrooms located in the Hart’s Landing fishing bait and tackle shop. Hart’s Landing also offers food and beverages.
By driving, you can only access Hart’s Landing from the westbound direction (from the mainland to the keys). The entrance to Hart’s Landing is just before the bridge. It is the first right after passing Sunset Drive, Golden Gate and Sunset Point. Look for the red and white sign that says “Turn Here”.
I started at the entrance to Hart’s Landing since I visited the restroom before the walk. I walked toward the T.J. “Tony” Saprito Fishing Pier and walked along the bay on the northern side of causeway to access the bridge in the flow of traffic. You will pass a semi-circular rock jetty which was a fishing pier back in the 90’s. Look north along the shore and you will see a lavender painted building which is the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. When you are walking on the bridge, look for dolphins, spotted eagle rays, and jelly fish. You can actually see them from the height of the bridge. When you reach Bird Key Park, turn right and walk under the bridge to access the bridge in the eastward direction. As you pass the zenith point of the bridge, you will have an amazing view of the downtown Sarasota skyline, Sarasota Bay, and the Bayfront Park. You will have a great view from above of the Eloise Werlin Park.
Loop #3: Bayfront Park
Address: 2 Marina Plaza, Sarasota, FL 34236
Distance: 2.7 miles round trip
Road Crossings: 1
Restrooms: Yes. Located adjacent to O’leary’s. There are no restrooms by the Unconditional Surrender (The Kiss) Statue.
Just a reminder, the parking is free but limited to 3 hours and back in parking is prohibited.
I started this walk at the Unconditional Surrender statue which is often referred to The Kiss statue. There is another Tiny Doors scene (@TinyDoorsSRQ) near the statue. (Hint: Look for red, white, and blue.) At the John Ringling Causeway and Gulf Stream Drive intersection at Golden Gate Point, cross the causeway here with the traffic signal to walk the bridge in the direction of traffic (westward toward the islands). At Bird Key Park, I turned right into the park and walked toward the mainland and under the bridge to get to the other side of the bridge without crossing the street.
Even though there is noise from the traffic, this walking path is one of my favorites. I get so engrossed in the scenery, the beauty of the bay, looking for dolphins, and watching the birds coast by that the noise fades away. I highly recommend The Bridge Walk especially at sunset. It’s just so pretty!