One of Sarasota’s most iconic structures is the John Ringling Bridge, which connects mainland Sarasota with Lido and St. Armand’s Key. The bridge is a landmark popular for biking and walking and provides some of the area’s most amazing views. When you kayak the Bay, you cannot miss the majestic Ringling Bridge, and you will likely coast under it on your explorations.

The Bay Sarasota kayaking

History of the John Ringling Bridge

If you are new to the Sarasota area, you may not realize the significant role that John Ringling played in the history of our city. After relocating the Ringling Brothers Circus to Sarasota, the businessman set about building the town he loved. John Ringling was instrumental in the founding of Bird Key and St. Armand’s Circle. His sprawling mansion, the world-famous Ca D’Zan (House of John), was constructed on a prestigious piece of land along Sarasota Bay. It still exists as a popular landmark and attraction, housing the Ringling Art Museum and extravagant gardens among the striking architecture.

The John Ringling Bridge and Causeway also has a colorful history. The first bridge was built in 1925 by the circus magnate. He owned property on Lido and Longboat Keys, and wanted not only to connect them to the mainland – but to develop the islands. John Ringling financed the original bridge’s construction, which cost $750,000 at the time. The elegant bridge was opened for traffic on February 7, 1926, and it was labeled “one of the greatest engineering accomplishments in the South.” The bridge was donated to the city the following year.

However, within 25 years, the bridge was proving insufficient to manage the increasing levels of traffic over to the Keys. In 1951, the State Road Department decided to replace the original structure with a four-lane drawbridge. The new bridge was completed at a cost of $20 million and opened to traffic in 1959. Sadly, the original Ringling Bridge was destroyed.

Fifty years later, the drawbridge was being opened up to 18 times per day, and in 2000, the decision was made to replace the bridge yet again. Construction began on the current high-span bridge in 2001.

In 2003, Sarasota residents were introduced to the new 65-foot-tall segmental box girder bridge. The $68 million dollar structure dominates the Bay, connecting the downtown area with St. Armands Key and Lido Key.
The bridge was once again named after John Ringling, a nod to his important legacy in Sarasota.

Visiting the John Ringling Bridge

One of the most impressive ways to experience the John Ringling Bridge is from the water. When paddling the Bay in a kayak, the massive bridge is a ca n’t-miss landmark. However, visitors to the area can also choose to walk over the bridge, beginning with Hart’s Landing on the east side or Bird Key Park on the west side.

The bridge provides sweeping views of the Sarasota skyline but also offers bird’s eye views of north Siesta Key, Bird Key, Lido, and Longboat Keys off in the distance. The John Ringling Bridge is a favorite location to watch boats, enjoy sunsets, and gain a new perspective on Sarasota.

You can paddle to the Bridge from Siesta Key, or you can put in at Island Park. A favorite place to rent kayaks to explore this part of the city is at The Bay, located at 1055 Boulevard of the Arts, Sarasota. From The Bay kayak launch, you can also join a guided tour and learn more about the area from seasoned tour guides. Be sure to contact us for times, availability and bookings.

Ride and Paddle is the area’s premiere kayak, scooter and bicycle rental company. We carry a full inventory of beach and watersports gear – browse our website here.