Biking on nearby Siesta Beach.

Image: Jenny Acheson 

One of Sarasota’s best-kept secrets is that, with all its arts and culture, a funky beach town is right in our midst. It’s Siesta Village—that little commercial area, maybe three or four blocks long, in the middle of Siesta Key. The beach, the famous “best in the country,” is right at the end of the street.

At first glance all you see are tourists. They walk up and down Beach Road, licking ice cream cones from Big Olaf. (It’s amazing how “ice cream cones” and “walkability” are so important to each other.  Sometimes it seems that “how far will people walk to get an ice cream cone?” determines everything.)

Lots of outdoor music, beach-front condos and plenty of restaurants and retail are all within a short stroll.

Image: Jenny Acheson

The tourists stroll past a line of open-air bars and restaurants, classics of the “beach bar” genre. The vacation atmosphere is palpable. It’s an upscale but informal resort, with thousands of visitors staying mostly in rented condos for a couple of weeks. Very nice, but you wonder—do people actually live here?

People do, and it makes a great walkable neighborhood. Just a couple of blocks beyond the vacation rentals, real houses start. Check out Treasure Boat Way and Palm Island and, even better, Sandy Hook, an exclusive—but not gated—community of homes, many from the 1950s, by architects like Paul Rudolph and Carl Abbott. You can leave your Paul Rudolph and 10 minutes later be in a bar. That’s the beauty of Siesta Village.

You’d expect lots of restaurants in Siesta Village, but you’ll also find a surprising number of services, including dentists, a highly regarded physical therapist, banking, beauty salons, an optician, a barber or two, a Davidson Drugs, and the Beach Bazaar, where everybody in town buys their flip-flops. And, almost too good to be true, the Siesta Market is owned by Morton’s and features much of its famous prepared food.

Morton's Siesta Market

Image: Jenny Acheson

Sarasotans of a certain age have great affection for Siesta Village because it’s where they were young. “It was hippie-ville back in the ’70s, man,” says photographer Rebecca Baxter, who still lives there after 40 years. Those vacation rentals once housed artists, musicians, waiters and waitresses, surfers. Bob Dylan showed up. Or was it Joan Baez? “You went to the Beach Club for one-night stands and then everyone went to Lucho Molinari’s café Muse for breakfast,” Baxter reminisces.

You can still get a Siesta Village condo for just under $300,000.

Image: Jenny Acheson

Today Siesta Village is much too expensive for service personnel, but you can find condos for just under $300,000, and the beachy atmosphere is as strong as ever. There’s decent bus service to downtown and the mainland, and a free trolley will take you to other places on the key. The best journey, though, remains the classic stroll down to the beach to watch the sunset. It never fails to stir the soul—and guarantees that Siesta Village will always be a great place to live.

Worth Walking To

Meaney’s Mini Donuts

When ice cream isn’t enough, try this walk-up donut stand. 205 Canal Road.

Blasé Café and Martini Bar

Where the locals hang out; try the chocolate martini. 5263 Ocean Blvd.

Siesta Beach

Best beach in the U.S.A.—enough said.

Real Estate Sampler

High: 99 Beach Road

3 bedrooms, 3 baths, 1,742 square feet. Quaint 1940s cottage on beachfront lot. $4.5 million.

Low: 109 Pass Key Road

Condo in Sandy Cove, 2 bedrooms, 1.5 baths, being sold at auction, needs work. $259,000.

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