Dragon Boat Festival 2014:  10 fantastic facts about America's Best Sports Vacation Destination

Dragon Boat Festival 2014:  10 fantastic facts about America's Best Sports Vacation Destination

The 2014 International Breast Cancer Paddlers' Commission Participatory Dragon Boat Festival will paddle the waters of Nathan Benderson Park Oct. 24 through 26. Recently awarded the best sports-friendly vacation destination in America, there is a fortune of activities and attractions to make your visit priceless.

In just a few short months, Sarasota County's Nathan Benderson Park will welcome the 2014 International Breast Cancer Paddlers' Commission (IBCPC) Participatory Dragon Boat Festival.

Embraced today by breast cancer survivors for its physical conditioning and camaraderie, dragon boat racing is a 2,000-year-old Chinese tradition that has spread across the globe with more than 50 million paddlers participating annually. Here are 10 facts you'll want to know about the world's fastest growing watersport in the best sports-friendly vacation destination in America.

1. Nathan Benderson Park is on fire

Benderson Park will soon be fuming the flames of the 2014 IBCPC Participatory Dragon Boat Festival, but the first time the park has hosted a first major competition, and it won't be the last. Every year the park welcomes an international triathlon competition, as well as national rowing championships. In 2017, Benderson Park signals a global flare as it welcomes the World Rowing Championships.

2. Float into a shopping haven

The Mall at University Town Center will open next door to Nathan Benderson Park just eight days before the start of the dragon boat festival. This two-level 880,000-square-foot mall is anchored by Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy's and Dillard's, and is slated to be one of the premier shopping destinations of the Florida Gulf Coast.

3. Sneak away to your beach paradise

Benderson Park and The Mall at University Town Center will be buzzing with enthusiastic crowds and activity, so why not take an opportunity to sneak away for some quite relaxation? Although Siesta Public Beach is our most popular sand and surf location, there are more than 35-miles of beach in Sarasota County. For a more intimate retreat, try one of Manasota Key's four beaches: Blind Pass, Manasota, Stump Pass and Englewood.

4. Get your culture game on

Sarasota County is often referred to as the "Cultural Coast" due to its numerous performing arts, museums and galleries. A trip to the area would definitely not be complete without at least strolling the beautiful grounds of The Ringling -- the State Art Museum of Florida. The museum is complete with an art museum, historic mansion, circus museum, historic theater and 66-acres of gardens and paths.

5. See captivating wildlife

The sub-tropical climate bears an excellent environment for all kinds of wildlife to thrive in Sarasota County. Visit lions and tigers in captivity at the Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary, or see manatees and sea turtles at Mote Aquarium. For a real wild experience that includes migrating birds, alligators, and more, try hiking the canopy trails of Myakka River State Park.

6. Run, walk or paddle through "Old Florida"

"Old Florida" is a cherished term reserved for places and things that maintain an aura of Florida's historic and untamed times. Though this area of Florida's Gulf Coast is rapidly rising to be a popular destination, there are still vast swaths of wild natural habitats yearning to be explored. For an "Old Florida" experience, consider biking or running on the Legacy Trail -- a 10.8 mile trail through several area parks, or rent a kayak and paddle through the mangrove tunnels at South Lido Nature Park.

7. Visit the circus

Sarasota County's evolution and development has much to thank from being the longtime former winter quarters of the Ringling Bros. Circus. To this day, several circus performers, including the internationally popular Nik Wallenda and Bello Nock, live in the nearby. During your stay, see a Circus Arts Conservatory performance.

8. Work on your golf game

Sarasota County is a golfing gold mine. With courses nearly a stone's throw from any location in the area, there are plenty of places to play no matter what your skill level may be. One of the most historic courses in the county is Bobby Jones Golf Complex. A municipal course featuring 45-holes and operated by the city of Sarasota, this course was originally designed, with 18-holes, in 1925 by legendary architect Donald Ross.

9. Catch the big one in Venice

There are several great fishing locations in Venice, two of which being North Jetty Park and Maxine Barritt Park. Several area restaurants will even filet and prepare fresh caught fish upon request.

10. Dine like a local

You shouldn't leave Sarasota County hungry, so be sure to visit one of the area's several lip-smacking dining locations. For fine dining, consider Michael's On East, a AAA Four Diamond Award Restaurant featuring a rotating seasonal menu, epicurean adventures, and a wine cellar stocked with more than 1,000 international wines and a selection of boutique spirits. For some of the best home cooking of your life, try Yoder's Restaurant in Pinecraft -- an Amish enclave within the County, and for casual, seafood fare, visit the Crow's Nest Tavern (or for another get fine dining option, head upstairs to their restaurant) for jumbo lump crab cakes, escargot, steamed mussels or bacon-topped clams. For more great dining options, visit dineoriginal.com.