The Guide: Beaches

By Kara Inglis & Hannah Wallace November 30, 2011

Drum Circle at Siesta (Niko Retro)SARASOTA’S BEACHES ARE LEGENDARY—varied, dramatic, entertaining and infinitely beautiful. And now wide, safe Siesta Beach, with its winter-white sand, has been named the best in the country, according to “Dr. Beach,” beach expert Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman.

Our beaches have also inspired the many artists and writers drawn here over the years. Consider yourself not merely a sunbather but an audience to a symphony of waves and birdsong, a ballet of dancing dolphins and swirling gulls, a theater of people-watching, and painted sunsets so vibrant they can’t be captured on canvas.

Each beach is its own gallery, its own performance space—some quiet and hidden like an intimate cabaret, others bustling and open like a concert in the park. You may choose your tickets based on the quality of the sand, the clarity of the water, the breadth of the wildlife or the energy of the people. But whichever beach you pick, you’re in for a show.

The regular Sunday-evening Siesta Beach drum circle gives a soundtrack to the nation’s No. 1 beach.

Siesta Beach (William S. Speer)(Beaches are listed from north to south.)

Manatee Public Beach; bridge access from Bradenton via Manatee Avenue (S.R. 64). Popular hangout in the city of Holmes Beach on Anna Maria Island. Centered around Café on the Beach, which serves traditional concessions as well as beer and wine; there’s a beach shop and volleyball. The parking lot often overflows, especially on weekends.

Coquina Beach, Bradenton Beach, Anna Maria Island; bridge access from Bradenton via Cortez Road, or from Longboat Key via Gulf of Mexico Drive. Manatee County’s beachfront comprises a long stretch of public shoreline on the southern end of Anna Maria Island, with soft white sand and calm, clear water. Ample parking along the road or in the large lot to the south, where you’ll also find concessions, restrooms and an extensive picnic area.

Longboat Key - Longboat Pass, which links the Gulf of Mexico to the peaceful waters of Sarasota Bay, draws paddleboarders and other water lovers (William S. Speer)Longboat Key. There are bridge accesses to  Longboat Key from both Anna Maria Island and Lido Key. A handful of public accesses at the south end allows Longboat non-residents to park and enjoy the quiet solitude of the key—which has no direct link to the mainland and is so populated by private condominiums and resorts that these few public accesses rarely, if ever, draw a crowd. At the north end: beautiful, secluded Whitney Beach. No amenities.

Lido Beach, 400 Ben Franklin Drive, Lido Key; bridge access from the John Ringling Causeway in downtown Sarasota, or south from Longboat Key. Within walking distance of shops and restaurants on St. Armands Circle, Lido Beach is family-friendly and great for swimming, with year-round lifeguards, ample parking, concession stand, wheelchair access and a swimming pool. More than a mile of beachfront extends through North Lido, making for an idyllic stroll just five minutes from downtown Sarasota.

South Lido Beach/Park, 190 Taft Drive, Lido Key. The intersection of Big Pass and the Gulf of Mexico is a favorite spot for picnicking, with tables, grills and a playground under shady Australian pines. Boaters, kayakers and personal watercraft enthusiasts flock here, especially on weekends, but the area also boasts nature trails and undeveloped land. Restrooms, weekend lifeguards during the summer only; beware strong currents.

Siesta Beach, 948 Beach Road, Siesta Key; bridge access from Siesta Drive or Stickney Point Road. The crown jewel of our local waterfront, Siesta has just been named the very best beach in America for its expanse of flour-like sand and clean, clear Gulf waters. Special events like an annual sand-sculpting contest or the Sunday-night drum circle gatherings add to the allure, but Siesta is a treat in and of itself, from beachfront breakfast to stunning sunset. Great picnic area and volleyball courts, year-round lifeguards, plus tennis courts, concessions, restrooms, pavilion and more, but even with an 800-space lot, parking can be a challenge.

Turtle Beach, 8862 Midnight Pass Road, Siesta Key. A favorite for kayakers, who can explore a nearby lagoon and natural wetlands, Turtle Beach also boasts a popular campground—a rare opportunity to pitch your tent within the sound of waves. A recent improvement project is bringing brand-new pedestrian walkways, playground, pavilion, a handicapped-accessible boardwalk, a kayak launch and enhanced restrooms and parking.

North Jetty Beach, 1000 S. Casey Key Road, Casey Key; bridge access via Albee Road, Laurel. There aren’t a lot of surfing hotspots on Florida’s west coast, but this is one of them: 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.

Venice Beach, 101 The Esplanade, Venice. Famous for sharks’ teeth, Venice Beach draws treasure hunters and beachcombers who regularly dig up the fossilized souvenirs. Plus, the Venice Beach Pavilion, which houses its concession stand, is a landmark of the legendary Sarasota School of Architecture. Year-round lifeguards, plus beach wheelchairs, picnicking, restrooms and volleyball.

Brohard Beach and Paw Park, 1600 Harbor Drive S., Venice. Between Venice and Caspersen beaches, Brohard Beach is the area’s only public, Gulf-front dog-friendly beach. The Paw Park has fenced-in grassy areas specifically designed for dog play (including a separate area for smaller dogs), and four-legged friends can also romp through the water and along a section of the beach. Picnic tables and restrooms but no lifeguards.

Caspersen Beach, 4100 Harbor Drive, Venice. A secluded stretch of all-natural coastline south of Venice, Caspersen provides beachcombers an excellent selection of shells as well as fossilized bones and teeth. Explore the unspoiled beachfront and nearby marshlands via a short nature trail, or just kick back and enjoy the peace and quiet. Restrooms and picnic area, but no lifeguards.

Manasota Beach, 8570 Manasota Key Road, Manasota Key; bridge access via Manasota Beach Road. Gulf beach access as well as boating docks along the Intracoastal Waterway that double as boardwalks for exploring the mangroves. Year-round lifeguards, picnic tables and shelters, fishing, restrooms, docks and boat ramps.

Blind Pass Beach, 6725 Manasota Key Road, Manasota Key; bridge access via Manasota Beach Road, or Beach Road to the south. A quiet, narrow stretch of beach-to-bay in southernmost Sarasota County, Blind Pass is a secluded spot perfect for a nature hike or picnics surrounded by native Florida flora. Canoe launch, fishing, restrooms and playground, but no lifeguards.

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