Insider's Guide 2017

The Insider's Guide to Historic Downtown Venice

Venice draws throngs to its charming shops and restaurants.

By Ilene Denton November 30, 2017 Published in the December 2017 issue of Sarasota Magazine

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Parked for a day of shopping and dining along pretty Venice Avenue.

Hankering for a day trip back in time to a lively downtown shopping district with interesting shops and restaurants, special events like free concerts in the community gazebo, and real hometown appeal?

Popular downtown Venice fits the bill. Dozens of home-grown boutiques offer everything from resort wear to beach-themed gifts, specialty foods and home décor.

There’s even a cool new shop on Miami Avenue called Earth’s Treasures where you can get the sharks’ teeth you’ve found on nearby Venice Beach transformed into jewelry.

Part of what drives day-trippers to downtown Venice is its rich history.

The Island of Venice, where downtown Venice lies, was designed by renowned city planner John Nolen back in 1925, with wide palm-lined boulevards and green space made for community gatherings. Many original grand old Mediterranean-style homes remain, and are within walking distance of the shops and restaurants. So is beautiful Venice Beach.

“You can feel it when you walk our streets,” says Erin Silk, CEO of Venice MainStreet, the nonprofit organization that works to keep the district vital. “Our downtown has the feel of everybody’s hometown; it’s real, it’s not copied.”

The many restaurants that line Venice, Miami and Tampa avenues are a big draw, too—everything from Old-World Italian eateries to the Soda Fountain, which Silk calls “a walk back in time with its old-fashioned sundaes and milkshakes.”

Venice MainStreet sponsors free events that turn the area into a real community: art fairs, craft shows, an annual Easter egg hunt and Halloween parade, sidewalk sales and Friday night concerts in the Centennial Park gazebo.

The inaugural seafood festival last May drew more than 30,000 attendees, says Silk.

“Our analytics show that people in Tampa and Orlando are consistently in our top five visitors to our website,,” Silk says. “We think it’s because people in those larger cities want to get back to that small-town feel.”

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