The Guide: Beaches

By ericg December 1, 2010


Life’s a Beach

Explore 35 miles of spectacular shoreline.

It’s a common visual icon for our area: a gorgeous, white-sand beach edging the sparkling waters of the Gulf of Mexico. But you might not know just how varied our 35 miles of beachfront really are. One beach may be a secluded section of undeveloped, all-natural Florida (Caspersen), while another is a nationally ranked (No. 2!) hub boasting immaculate sand, sunbathing, swimming and more (Siesta). One beach is nestled close to a popular haven of world-class dining and shopping (Lido), while another is so peaceful that some residents haven’t yet discovered it (Longboat Key). Yes, our area may be one shoreline, but its various personalities are virtually endless. You’ll want to take the time to get to know them all.


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 Cafe on the Beach, which serves traditional concessions as well as beer and wine, there’s also a beach shop and volleyball. The decent-size parking lot often overflows, especially on weekends.

Coquina Beach, Bradenton Beach | Bridge access from Bradenton via Cortez Road, or from Longboat Key via Gulf of Mexico Drive. This Manatee County beach comprises a long, uninterrupted stretch of public shoreline on the southern end of Anna Maria Island, with soft white sand and calm, often very 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 | Look for signs along the north end of Gulf of Mexico Drive; bridge access from the John Ringling Causeway in downtown Sarasota, or south from Longboat Key. A handful of public accesses allow Longboat non-residents a chance to park and enjoy the quiet solitude of the key—which has no direct link to the mainland and is so populated by elegant, private condominiums and resorts that these few public accesses rarely, if ever, draw a crowd. 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, an exceptional concession stand, wheelchair access and a swimming pool. More than a mile of beachfront extends through North Lido, making for an idyllic stroll less than 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 here.

Siesta Beach | 948 Beach Road, Siesta Key; bridge access from Siesta Drive or Stickney Point Road. The crown jewel of our local waterfront, Siesta perennially ranks within the top five beaches nationwide for its expanse of flour-like sand and clean, clear Gulf waters. Special events like an annual sand-sculpting contest or the weekly drum circle gathering add to the allure, but Siesta is a treat in and of itself, from beachfront breakfast to stunning sunset. There’s a 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 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, much of which has been completed, will leave quiet Turtle Beach with brand-new pedestrian walkways, playground, pavilion, a handicapped-accessible boardwalk, a kayak launch and enhanced restrooms and parking.

North Jetty Beach | 1000 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 both volleyball and horseshoe courts.

Venice Beach | 101 The Esplanade, Venice. Long famous for its abundance of sharks’ teeth, Venice Beach still 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 architecture in the Sarasota School. Year-round lifeguards, plus beach wheelchairs, picnicking, dune walkovers, 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 untouched beachfront and nearby marshlands via a short nature trail, or just kick back and enjoy the peace and quiet in this section of undeveloped Sarasota County. 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 Intra-coastal 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 quiet beach picnics surrounded by serene Florida flora. Canoe launch, fishing, restrooms and playground, but no lifeguards.

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