While locals might wish they could keep it their little secret, the word is out: Siesta Key's beaches are acclaimed worldwide for their dazzling white sands and silky smooth texture. In fact, this sugary stuff has even been sold on eBay.
But Siesta Key is not just about beaches. This eight-mile-long, lushly beautiful barrier island provides a protective habitat for scores of native birds, dolphins, manatees and other aquatic wildlife. The island is also home to a creative mix of bars, restaurants, shops, hotels and private residences.
Most of the action takes place in Siesta Village, a charming, pedestrian-friendly enclave of restaurants, tourist shops, high-end boutiques and island-style accommodations. After enjoying a hearty breakfast at the Broken Egg Restaurant (the pancakes are delicious but dangerously filling), peruse the gift shop and gallery for funky Florida souvenirs, homemade jams and syrups and original artwork. Beach Bazaar is another must-visit souvenir shack, where you'll find everything from requisite plastic alligators to beachwear, T-shirts and shells sold by the piece.
You can easily spend a day eating and drinking your way through the Village, stopping at such favorite watering holes as the Daiquiri Deck (20 different daiquiris will keep you well-hydrated); The Old Salty Dog (a favorite with locals for fish and chips deep-fried in beer batter); the intimate Blasé Café for a romantic night out; and Jo-To's for traditional Japanese fare. A few miles south, Mattison's Siesta Grill has quickly become a favorite place to meet friends, cozy up to strangers and taste such inspired offerings as duck and mango spring rolls.
Further south, toward the end of the island, Turtle Beach offers picnic shelters and less populated stretches of sand. Just south of Turtle Beach is the remote Palmer Point Beach, replete with lush vegetation and cozy enclaves-perfect for an intimate picnic or a tranquil communion with nature.
This end of the island also harbors some special restaurants, including Ophelia's on the Bay, where you can feast on creative New World cuisine in the midst of a tropical garden paradise. Right next door is Turtle Beach Resort, a romantic retreat featuring waterfront cottages with private hot tubs, secluded patios and spectacular views. A few steps away, Midnight Pass Pub invites beach-goers to sit outside and drink cold beer and bite into burgers or casual seafood fare.
Other Siesta Key attractions include the annual Siesta Fiesta, an April event that features arts and crafts booths, children's activities and food and beverages. Siesta Village lights up during the holiday season in November and December, with a celebration of lights, live music and performances. Families flock to the annual Siesta Key Fourth of July fireworks celebration, one of the most spectacular in the region. And the Village also hosts assorted crafts festivals throughout the year.
But with nearly 50 miles of canals and waterways, boating, kayaking, fishing and parasailing are favored activities here. Boat rentals, charters and guided tours are readily available at a number of places, including C.B.'s Saltwater Outfitters, a Sarasota institution and a leader in the sportfishing community since 1959. Ask for fish maps and charts that will provide you with detailed information on the best times, locations, licenses and limits for fishing.
Beach bums should head straight for Siesta Key Public Beach, home to picnic areas, tennis and volleyball courts, a concession stand and hiking trails. If you're staying on the Key, biking is the best way to see the island and to get to the beach, as the public parking lot is often packed. If you find yourself on the public beach on a Sunday near dusk, stay for the drum circle and enjoy the spirited sound of drums, bongos, and maracas hailing the approaching setting of the sun.