A long, uninterrupted stretch of public shoreline on the south end of Anna Maria Island. Ample parking along the road or in a large lot to the south, where you’ll also find concessions, restrooms and a big picnic area.
A major beach renourishment project on this 10-mile island is complete, but unless you’re a resident, it’s hard to find public beach access points. A handful do exist; visit the town of Longboat Key’s website, longboatkey.org, for addresses.
Within walking distance of St. Armands Circle’s shops and restaurants, Lido Beach is great for swimming, with year-round lifeguards, ample parking, an exceptional concession stand, wheelchair access and a public pool.
Park at South Lido Beach The confluence of Big Pass and the Gulf of Mexico is a favorite spot for picnicking, with tables, grills, a playground and nature trails. Popular with boaters and kayakers, especially on weekends. No lifeguards on duty; beware strong currents.
With its remarkably soft, white sand, it’s the crown jewel of Sarasota’s public beaches, and named America’s No. 1 beach by Dr. Beach in 2011 and again in 2017, and by TripAdvisor in 2015. Enough said.
This quiet beach on south Siesta Key has a playground, pavilion, handicapped-accessible boardwalk, restrooms and ample parking. A kayak launch, too, for boaters to explore the adjacent lagoon and natural wetlands. Adjacent to it is the county’s only beachfront campground. No lifeguards on duty.
Sarasota County’s oldest public beach has a boat launch, playground, picnic tables and snack bar. The 1950s-era Nokomis Beach Plaza has been restored to its midcentury modern glory. Five walkovers protect the dunes and shoreline. On Casey Key; lifeguards are on duty year-round.
North Jetty Beach
Florida’s west coast is not a surfing hotspot, but the jetties, meant to battle erosion, help to create decent-size surf with regularity. (They’re also home to some great fishing, as resident anglers will attest.) Bait shop and concession stand, plus year-round lifeguards, restrooms and volleyball and horseshoe courts.
Five to Try: Tiki Bars
Life’s a beach at these tropical spots.
The waterfront Tiki Bar adjacent to this popular seafood restaurant hops with tropical libations and live music Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. If it looks familiar, you must be watching MTV’s new reality show, Siesta Key; a key cast member works here.
A heavenly slice of old Florida on the Intracoastal Waterway, with a casual seafood-centric menu, great sunsets and live music Wednesday through Sunday nights October-June.
This newly expanded beachfront tiki hut has a full-service, dog-friendly bar and live entertainment every evening. The Gulf of Mexico views are outstanding.
Set on a white sand beach at downtown Sarasota’s popular Bayfront Park, this bustling tiki bar offers colorful frozen drinks, casual sandwiches and “deck munchies,” and live music daily.
You can’t beat the setting of Venice’s most popular Caribbean-themed restaurant and bar; it’s set right at the foot of the Venice Pier that juts out into the Gulf of Mexico.
Five to Try: Beach Activities
From parasailing to paddleboarding, lots to do on our area’s beaches.
Does the thought of gliding 400 feet above the Gulf of Mexico underneath a billowing parasail fill you with wonder—or terror? As one parasailing fan told us, the ride is so mild, “It’s like sitting on your front porch on a swing with a really good view, once you conquer the fear of the unknown.” Parasail Siesta is Sarasota’s oldest parasail company; parasailsiesta.com.
All levels of equestrian experience are welcome at the Great World Adventure Beachhorse Experience on the Palma Sola Causeway beach in northwest Bradenton; it’s a gentle half-hour or so guided ride in chest-deep water on a well-behaved horse. beachhorses.com
Stand-up paddleboard enthusiasts rave about its full-body workout, not to mention the chance to explore some of the area’s most beautiful habitats with unrivaled intimacy. Lots of local places rent them; try Economy Tackle, floridakayak.com; or Sarasota Paddleboard Company, sarasotapaddleboardcompany.com.
Kayaking area waters is enormously popular. Explore the mangrove tunnels off South Lido Key, or if you’re especially experienced, head into the Gulf. Mote Marine Laboratory offers full-moon guided kayak tours in-season; mote.org.
Surf the Wind
Windsurfing combines the thrill of surfing with the strategy of sailing, and—depending on the wind conditions—a flat, calm ride or a whole lot of speed. Island Style Watersports gives lessons; islandstylesports.com.