by ANNE BRALY
LONGBOAT KEY, Fla. – Come on y’all. Surrender to the release of life’s pressures and disconnect from the noise and excess of everyday life by enjoying any one of the award-winning beaches of Sarasota County.
With so many beaches from which to choose – the Gulf Coast county is a large one – each one offers changing experiences with different personalities. There’s a beach for every body.
Does this sound like you: Kick back, do nothing but lie in the sun – don’t forget that sunscreen, eat good food and have breathtaking sunset views?
The long and short of it is that Longboat is your best beach bet.
One thing different about this island is that there are few hotels. The Resort at Longboat Key Club offers a spa, dining, a marina, golf course, Har-Tru tennis courts and recently-updated beachfront rooms. Zota Beach Resort has similar amenities, minus the golf and tennis. Like any resort community, Airbnb and others like it do a steady business on the island.
Hungry? Again, choices are limited, but for a beach that consistently wins awards – it’s one of 20 top seaside destinations in the country according to Conde Nast – it has some award-winning eateries. Most notably, Dry Dock Waterfront Grill on Sarasota Bay. Locals love it, as do tourists. With outdoor dining reaching new levels due to the pandemic, Dry Dock has a large number of tables outside, undercover and right on the water. Enjoy a cocktail and watch the pelicans. It’s a relaxing way to spend an afternoon.
Longboat is one of the most-secluded beaches in the county and has limited public access for those not staying in one of the hotels or rentals.
Siesta Key Beach
Equally as many people choose a beach vacation to relax as they do to party. Siesta Key is the ideal beach to do both.
Ranked as the No. 1 beach destination for 2020 in the U.S. By TripAdvisor’s Travel Choice Awards and the website’s No. 11 beach in the world, Siesta is a favorite for families, weddings, bridesmaids parties or just the two of you.
Bury your toes in the pearl-white sands and finish your day in one of the restaurants that make up Siesta Key Village, a tiny community of small boutiques, shops, eateries and bars.
Of note: Spearfish Grille offers fresh fish plucked from nearby waters. Daiquiri Deck has a drink to cool you down. Or slurp some oysters at Siesta Key Oyster Bar
Hop aboard the free Siesta Key Breeze Trolley to get around the island. It will help as the island is spread out.
There’s excellent access to public beaches with good parking. Point of Rocks near Accesses 12 and 13 is considered the best snorkeling spot on the beach.
Rent a condo for a week or a hotel overnight. Choices are numerous in Siesta Key. To help plan your dream vacation, log onto visitsarasota.com. You’ve just gotta love a town that has a festival named Siesta Fiesta.
Nokomis has the distinction of being the county’s oldest public beach. Drive over the bridge and take take a step back in time when roadside motels and waterfront bars were the makings of a beach vacation.
Fast forward 50 years and those old motels are still there, but walk inside and many have been transformed with modern rooms and amenities while keeping their historic charm.
Escape Casey Key is a prime example. It’s across the street from Nokomis Beach on one side and sits directly on the canal with a small marina on the other. From the outside, it looks like many older roadside, one- to two-story motels. The rooms, though, feature modern flooring, contemporary kitchens, bathrooms and very cozy bedding. Afternoon cocktail hour is a social event for all guests and will pick up again as pandemic regulations permit.
Escape is just one of the island’s historic hotels. On the Beach , A Beach Retreat and Gulf Sands are among the others.
While many of the historic hotels offer kitchens so you can cook your own meals — a money-saving idea when vacationing, you don’t want to spend your entire time cooking and cleaning up afterward. Try Pop’s Sunset Grill. It’s famous for its punch – but don’t overdo it. North Jetty Fish Camp offers a true fish camp experience. No web presence other than Facebook, but some good burgers and cold beer.
Gulf views, bay views, great shopping and the kind of food that you’d expect from a beach that’s been among TripAdvisor’s top-25 beaches in the nation make Lido a favorite among visitors to Sarasota County.
Not only is it known for its beach – the northern end being the best place to find the Gulf’s gorgeous white sand – access to retail is easy. Most everything you need can be found in St. Armands Circle – a hub of shops and restaurants with European flair found in places like Cafe L’Europe , Venezia and Columbia . But when you go to the beach, you want seafood, too, so try the grouper tacos or the stone crab craws in season through May at Crab and Fin or Shore St. Armands for the Lump Crab Cake Benny on the Sunday brunch menu.
After your day in the sun, rest your head at a place along the shore, such as Lido Beach Resort (lidobeachresort.com), Holiday Inn, or the Sandcastle Resort smack dab on the beach.
Located near Venice, Fla., a town ranked as USA Today’s Best Coastal Small Town’s 2020, Caspersen is also the best place for kids. Take them shark-tooth hunting for ancient fossils with help from the Hervas family at Shark Frenzy. The area is known as the Shark Tooth Capital of the World, but it’s also great for shell hunting. Once the kids – and you – have had your fill, fill your stomach at restaurants like Dockside Waterfront Grill at the historic Fisherman’s Wharf Marina, or Ristorante San Marco because, after all, you are in Venice. For one of the best sunsets, make reservations well in advance for a table on the balcony at Fins at Sharky’s . Simply said, it will be a dining experience not soon forgotten.
There are a number of privately owned hotels near Caspersen, such as Inn at the Beach and Island Breeze Inn Numerous chains have a presence on the island of Venice, as well.