Welcome to Sarasota, hon

The Seminoles called it home before the Spanish moved in. Then came the Americans.

Now the Cincinnati Reds have pulled up stakes to make way for the Orioles of Baltimore.

Welcome to Sarasota, Fla., hon.

The men of orange and black will play their games at Ed Smith Stadium, beginning March 3 against the Tampa Bay Rays and ending April 3 against the New York Mets.

The stadium, with a capacity of 7,500, is named for the man credited with coaxing the Chicago White Sox to town in 1960 and convincing the city to build the facility, which opened in 1989. The White Sox left town and the Reds took their place in 1998.

The Orioles will play 16 spring training games there before the doors close and the ballpark gets a much-needed $31 million makeover. As the Web site ballparkreviews.com noted: "Among all the minor league ballparks I've attended games ... this is one of the most depressing."

The food at Smith was "below average," the critic continues.

But don't despair.

The metro area has you covered, from burgers at a bait shop to high-end food along the Gulf of Mexico to barbecue and gumbo in a restaurant owned by a Hall of Fame football player, says Judi Gallagher, a chef, TV personality and writer known as Sarasota's chief foodie.

With its powdery white sand and clear, warm Gulf of Mexico waters, Siesta Beach was rated No. 2 in the country last year by Dr. Beach, aka Stephen Leatherman, director of the laboratory of coastal research at Florida International University.

As for the pre- and post-game hours, there's an art and circus museum and an aquarium to pass the time, and a candy shop where you can watch workers whip up confections while waiting for a chocolate ice cream cone.

"It's a great community for families," says Jody Kielbasa, who ran the Sarasota Film Festival for 10 years before accepting the job of running Virginia's film festival last year. "It's warm, nurturing and lovely, a little less hectic than the megalopolis that runs north through Miami."

Start the day at the Broken Egg -- a combination restaurant, art gallery and gift shop -- in Siesta Key. It's the favorite of college basketball analyst Dick Vitale. Before you go to an afternoon game, stop at New Pass Grill and Bait Shop -- that's right -- a local landmark for 81 years, where you can buy a fishing license and bait, rent tackle or hire a charter.

"It's a dump. It's a dive. But they have great burgers and fries," says Gallagher. "Grab a bench by the water and enjoy."

For fancy eating, venture north along Gulf of Mexico Drive to Anna Maria Island and the Beach Bistro. Opened in 1985 by Sean Murphy, a Nova Scotia native, and his wife, the restaurant has won Florida's Golden Spoon Award eight times and is highly rated by Zagat.

"It's a little place. The tables are close together. But you won't find a better bouillabaisse outside France, the grouper with a toasted coconut and cashew crust is fresh and perfectly prepared and the Key lime pie is out of this world," says Gallagher. "Get a glass of wine, stroll on the beach and watch the sunset and then have dinner."

You can save some money and eat at Murphy's Bar, which serves upscale pub grub.

If you happen to be in Sarasota as the NCAA tournament builds a head of steam and you need a hoops fix on multiple high-def TVs, stop by Lee Roy Selmon's. Old No. 63 was the first Tampa Bay Buccaneer enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The former defensive end retired in 1984, settled in Tampa and opened six restaurants in Florida.

"He has great barbecue, the best ribs and fried green tomatoes that will make you cry," says Gallagher. "It's the real deal."

Kilwin's is a chain -- there's a shop in Annapolis -- but no matter. Whether you select fudge or brittle or a cone of chocolate ice cream, Kilwin's is a great place to take a break while touring the downtown.

Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium has more than 100 sea creatures on site, including sharks, dolphins, manatees and sea turtles. Contact Cove allows youngsters to touch sea stars, horseshoe crabs and sea urchins. A Florida reef exhibit shows off French angel fish, damsels and sea horses, to name just a few. The facility acts as a rehabilitation center for many injured or stranded marine animals.

Admission for adults is $17; seniors, $16; children, 4-12, $12; under 4, free.

Where else can you find a museum with both art treasures and the sequined costumes and parade wagons of a circus?

The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art is actually several buildings and their residence, a 56-room stucco and terra-cotta masterpiece called C? d'Zan.

The mansion, with its 41 rooms and 15 bathrooms, was finished in 1925 at a cost of $1.5 million and restored to its glory in 2002 for $15 million.

"It's the jewel of Sarasota and one of the finest collections of art in the Southeast," says Kielbasa.

The pink-sided Museum of Art contains the collection of John Ringling. There's a cast of Michelangelo's David and the works of Rubens, El Greco and van Dyck. An exhibit, "In Search of Norman Rockwell's America," includes Rockwell originals next to 35 black-and-white photographs by Kevin Rivoli to show how the artist's work mirrors American life. It runs through April 25.

The circus museum, opened in 1948, contains one-of-a-kind objects, including the world's largest miniature circus. The Howard Bros. Circus exhibit consists of eight main tents with 1,300 circus performers and workers and more than 800 animals.

But wait, there's more. Outside, the estate grounds are adorned with a 1,200-plant rose garden, the Dwarf Garden (plants, not people) and two test gardens, where roses are grown and evaluated before they can be officially labeled a variety.

Admission to the whole scene is $25 for adults; $20, seniors; $10, children 6-17.