Tibbals Learning Center and Circus Museum at The Ringling

Unveiling the Legacy: Tibbals Learning Center and Circus Museum at The Ringling


Nestled amidst the splendor of The Ringling estate in Sarasota, Florida, the Tibbals Learning Center and Circus Museum at 5401 Bay Shore Rd, Sarasota, FL 34243, United States, stand as a testament to the captivating world of circus arts and the legacy of John and Mable Ringling. This cultural treasure trove offers visitors a fascinating journey through the history of the circus, featuring intricate miniature replicas, vibrant exhibits, and a rich tapestry of stories that bring the spectacle of the big top to life. In this comprehensive article, we will delve into the details of the Tibbals Learning Center and Circus Museum, including its address, accessibility, nearby attractions, opening hours, and the immersive experience that awaits patrons.

Location and Accessibility:

The Tibbals Learning Center and Circus Museum are integral parts of The Ringling, located at 5401 Bay Shore Rd in Sarasota, Florida. Situated on the Gulf Coast, The Ringling is easily accessible from major cross streets such as Bay Shore Rd and the nearby Tamiami Trail (US 41), a key north-south highway running through Sarasota.

Visitors driving to The Ringling can access the estate via the John Ringling Causeway, a picturesque bridge that connects the mainland to St. Armands Key and ultimately leads to the museum grounds. Ample parking is available on-site, ensuring convenient access for those arriving by car. The proximity to major roadways and well-marked signs makes navigating to The Ringling a straightforward experience.

Nearby Attractions:

Within a three-mile radius of The Ringling, visitors can explore a range of attractions that complement the cultural richness of the estate. The lush Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, located at 1534 Mound St, beckon with stunning displays of tropical flora, creating a serene contrast to the vibrant energy of the circus exhibits.

The scenic beauty of Sarasota Bay is just a stone’s throw away, providing opportunities for waterfront strolls and panoramic views. Art enthusiasts can extend their cultural exploration by venturing to the nearby Sarasota Art Museum, located at 1001 S Tamiami Trail. These attractions, along with the captivating Ca’ d’Zan mansion on The Ringling estate, create a dynamic and diverse range of experiences for visitors.

Opening and Closing Hours:

The Tibbals Learning Center and Circus Museum operate within the overall schedule of The Ringling. Typically, the museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday, with varying hours depending on the season. Visitors are encouraged to check the official website or contact The Ringling directly for the most up-to-date information on opening and closing hours, as these may be subject to seasonal changes or special events.

The Ringling estate often hosts special events, exhibitions, and performances, providing additional opportunities for patrons to engage with the cultural offerings beyond regular museum hours. Planning a visit to coincide with specific events enhances the overall experience and allows for a more comprehensive exploration of the circus arts and the legacy of the Ringlings.

Capturing the Circus Spirit:

The Tibbals Learning Center and Circus Museum at The Ringling offer a captivating journey into the rich history of the circus, with a particular focus on the mesmerizing miniature replicas crafted by master modeler and philanthropist Howard Tibbals. The museum’s exhibits showcase the evolution of the circus arts, from its humble beginnings to the grand spectacles that captivated audiences worldwide.

Howard Bros. Circus Model:

At the heart of the Tibbals Learning Center is the extraordinary Howard Bros. Circus Model, a meticulously crafted miniature replica that captures the essence of a traditional American circus. Howard Tibbals spent over 50 years bringing this dazzling model to life, and it stands as one of the largest miniature circuses in the world.

The model spans an impressive 3,800 square feet and features over 42,000 individually hand-carved pieces, including performers, animals, and circus paraphernalia. Visitors are transported into a bygone era as they marvel at the intricate details of the model, which depicts the bustling activity of a traveling circus complete with big top tents, animal acts, and a lively atmosphere.

Circus Exhibits and Collections:

The Circus Museum at The Ringling extends beyond the Howard Bros. Circus Model to showcase an extensive collection of artifacts, costumes, posters, and memorabilia that illuminate the colorful history of the circus. Exhibits explore the lives of circus performers, the evolution of circus technology, and the enduring appeal of the big top.

Visitors can admire vintage circus posters that once adorned billboards and sideshow tents, providing a glimpse into the promotional artistry of the era. Authentic costumes worn by circus performers, including clowns, acrobats, and ringmasters, offer a tactile connection to the performers who brought magic to the circus ring.

Historic Circus Wagons:

The Tibbals Learning Center and Circus Museum boast an impressive collection of historic circus wagons, each a work of art in its own right. These elaborately decorated wagons were essential components of the circus parade, captivating audiences with their ornate designs and showcasing the diverse acts featured in the upcoming show.

From calliopes and bandwagons to tableau and animal cages, the circus wagons on display provide a tangible link to the spectacle and grandeur of the traveling circus. The intricate craftsmanship and vibrant colors of these wagons reflect the creativity and showmanship that defined the golden age of the American circus. This article.

Educational Opportunities:

The Tibbals Learning Center at The Ringling is not merely a museum; it serves as an educational hub where visitors of all ages can delve into the history and artistry of the circus. Educational programs, workshops, and guided tours enhance the visitor experience, offering insights into the cultural significance of the circus arts and the enduring legacy of the Ringling family.

Interactive Learning Stations:

Throughout the Tibbals Learning Center, interactive learning stations engage visitors in hands-on activities that bring the world of the circus to life. These stations may include opportunities to try on circus costumes, explore the mechanics of circus props, or even try their hand at crafting miniature circus models.

Designed to appeal to children and adults alike, these interactive elements foster a deeper understanding of the creativity and skill required to produce a captivating circus performance. Learning becomes an immersive experience, allowing visitors to appreciate the behind-the-scenes magic that makes the circus a timeless form of entertainment.

Educational Workshops and Programs:

The Ringling regularly organizes educational workshops and programs that delve into various aspects of the circus arts. These may include sessions on circus history, interactive demonstrations by skilled performers, and behind-the-scenes glimpses into the world of circus production.

Educational programs cater to school groups, families, and individuals, providing tailored experiences that align with diverse interests and age groups. These initiatives contribute to The Ringling’s commitment to fostering a love of learning and appreciation for the arts.

Guided Tours:

Guided tours offer an enriching way to explore the Tibbals Learning Center and Circus Museum, providing curated insights into the exhibits and their historical context. Knowledgeable guides share captivating stories about the circus performers, the evolution of circus culture, and the enduring impact of the Ringling legacy.

Visitors can opt for private tours, group tours, or themed tours that align with specific areas of interest. Guided tours add a layer of depth to the museum experience, ensuring that patrons leave with a comprehensive understanding of the circus arts and the Ringling family’s contributions to this cultural phenomenon.

Cultural Context and Legacy:

The Tibbals Learning Center and Circus Museum exist within the broader cultural context of The Ringling, an expansive estate that encompasses diverse artistic and historical offerings. The Ca’ d’Zan mansion, once the winter residence of John and Mable Ringling, stands as a testament to the couple’s opulent lifestyle and their dedication to the arts.

Surrounding the mansion, visitors can explore the beautiful Bayfront Gardens, featuring sculptures, fountains, and lush greenery. The Ringling also houses the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, boasting an impressive collection of European paintings, decorative arts, and contemporary exhibitions.

The juxtaposition of the circus museum with other cultural elements on The Ringling estate allows patrons to appreciate the multidimensional legacy of the Ringling family. The commitment to both the traditional and avant-garde aspects of art and entertainment positions The Ringling as a unique and comprehensive cultural destination on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

Visitor Experience and Practical Information:

To ensure a seamless and enjoyable visit to the Tibbals Learning Center and Circus Museum, visitors can consider the following practical information:

Ticketing and Admission:

Admission to The Ringling, including the Tibbals Learning Center and Circus Museum, typically requires a ticket. Various ticket options are available, including general admission, combination tickets for multiple attractions, and discounts for seniors, students, and military personnel. Patrons can purchase tickets online or at the entrance.

Photography and Memorabilia:

Photography is generally permitted in designated areas of the museum, allowing visitors to capture memories of their experience. The museum’s gift shop offers a range of circus-themed memorabilia, books, and souvenirs, providing an opportunity to take home a piece of the circus magic.


The Ringling strives to provide an accessible and inclusive experience for all visitors. The museum grounds and buildings are designed to accommodate individuals with mobility challenges, and wheelchairs are available for complimentary use. Service animals are welcome, and assistive listening devices are provided for guided tours.

Dining and Amenities:

On-site dining options at The Ringling allow visitors to savor a meal or snack amidst the cultural richness of the estate. The Banyan Café and Treviso Restaurant offer diverse menus, from casual fare to fine dining. Picnic areas are also available for those who prefer to bring their own refreshments.

Events and Programs:

The Ringling hosts a variety of events, programs, and performances throughout the year. These may include circus-themed festivals, educational lectures, and live demonstrations. Checking the museum’s official website or event calendar provides valuable information about upcoming programs that enhance the visitor experience.


The Tibbals Learning Center and Circus Museum at The Ringling, located at 5401 Bay Shore Rd in Sarasota, Florida, offer a captivating exploration of the circus arts and the enduring legacy of John and Mable Ringling. From the intricate miniature replicas crafted by Howard Tibbals to the vibrant exhibits showcasing the history of the circus, the museum provides a rich and immersive experience for visitors of all ages.

Plan your visit to The Ringling to uncover the magic of the circus and to explore the broader cultural offerings that make this estate a cultural gem on Florida’s Gulf Coast. The Tibbals Learning Center and Circus Museum stand as a testament to the creativity, showmanship, and enduring cultural impact of the circus, inviting patrons to step into a world where the magic of the big top comes to life. Learn More about Sarasota here.