1 For the Old-School Canoer
Kayaks and paddleboards might generate more buzz these days, but there’s something deliciously retro about hopping into a wobbly metal canoe for a cruise up and down Oscar Scherer State Park’s South Creek. The small waterway dribbles down from the north and widens through the park before emptying into the bay. A short paddle will take you from narrow twists and turns out into open water and all the way out to U.S. 41. If that old-school boat flips over, don’t freak out. There aren’t that many gators lurking around. (941) 483-5956, floridastateparks.org/park/oscar-scherer
2 For Suburban Explorers
Pop into your boat or board at the little-visited Phillippi Creek Levee Park near Bahia Vista and Beneva, then wind your way southwest through miles of mid-Sarasota suburbia. During the quiet trip, you’ll pass noteworthy local landmarks like Pinecraft Park, South Gate Center (a lesser-known Sarasota School of Architecture gem), Riverview High School and Phillippi Estate Park. Still going strong? Paddle your way up to downtown or down toward the southern tip of Siesta Key. Don’t go too far, though. You do have to paddle back. scgov.net/waterrecreation
3 For Salt-Marsh Adventurers
The terrain at northwest Bradenton’s Robinson Preserve just looks so different from what you expect on our coast. The 487-acre preserve is mostly salt marsh, with wide expanses of open lowlands cut through with waterways that connect to Tampa Bay, Perico Bay and Palma Sola Bay. The water channels are sheltered from the wind, making this an easier ride than one on open water, and you’re likely to see a number of birds, including bald eagles. Make sure to swing around to the northern edge, where the wide open expanse of Tampa Bay offers impressive direct views of the Sunshine Skyway.
4 For an Iconic Trip through Paradise
Paddling through the narrow, low-ceilinged mangrove tunnels that branch away from the South Lido Nature Park is a rite of passage for locals and tourists alike. It’s popular for good reason—it’s one of the most relaxing and rewarding ways to spend a day in Southwest Florida. Take a kayak or a paddleboard and meander through tight, shallow alleyways, running your fingers along the surface of the water and watching in wonder as jellyfish pulsate beneath the surface. You haven’t done this yet? Make it a priority.
5 For Creatures of the Night
Sarasota Paddleboard Company’s Bob McFarland leads after-dark paddleboard adventures around Sarasota Bay, putting you on long boards with LED lights installed on the underside. As you cruise, the green, purple, blue and red lights gently illuminate the bed of the bay below, offering ghostly views of starfish, jellyfish and other gentle nighttime creatures, including, if you’re lucky, dolphins and manatees. Gather with friends and explore a bizarre glowing waterscape you’ll never otherwise experience. (941) 650-2241, sarasotapaddleboard.com