South Washington Drive

South Washington Drive

Image: Jenny Acheson

For a gorgeous walk that combines history and nature, meander through a historic neighborhood on St. Armands Key and then walk the entire length of Lido Beach. This walk is never too crowded and takes you through some of the most beautiful streets—and beaches—in Sarasota.

A good launching point is at the corner of South Washington Drive and John Ringling Boulevard. South Washington is one of the original streets in John Ringling Estates, a development created by John Ringling in 1924. Ringling, who purchased St. Armands Key in 1917, had a grand dream to turn the key into an upscale destination of world-class shops and luxury homes with “resort features,” as one of his old ads proclaims.

A historic home at 96 S. Washington Drive.

A historic home at 96 S. Washington Drive.

Image: Jenny Acheson

Though he didn’t live to see it, St. Armands fulfilled much of his vision. Lined with flowering trees and beautiful homes, South Washington Drive offers plenty of eye candy. At least five of the original mansions built almost 100 years ago (the lots went for a pricey $3,000 back then) still stand in all their splendor.

Continue heading south across a humped-back bridge over a canal where you’ll often spy kayakers gliding underneath on their way to Sarasota Bay. You’ll suddenly find yourself at a quiet, shady linear park along South Boulevard of the Presidents that takes you to Ben Franklin Drive and South Lido Park. Once you hit the beach, take in the view of Big Pass and Siesta Key. The more ambitious walker can do a loop through the woods at South Lido—there are spectacular views of downtown Sarasota at the end—and come back out to walk north.

As you head back along the sidewalk on Ben Franklin, you can’t help but enjoy the beachy, vacation vibe. You’ll pass sandy tourists in bathing suits, residents walking their dogs, and toned and tan walkers and runners—and you’ll be one of them.

Grab a smoothie at Green Zebra Cafe.

Grab a smoothie at Green Zebra Cafe.

Image: Jenny Acheson

About 1.5 miles after leaving South Lido, you’ll hit North Lido Beach, which thankfully was preserved from development by wise city commissioners in the 1970s. No condos or hotels here; just blissful beach. Make sure to walk the eight-tenths of a mile along the shoreline or on the trails through the uplands to the very end for a view of New Pass and Longboat Key. When you emerge from this natural paradise, cross the finish line at St. Armands Circle, and perhaps relax with a healthy “Green Power” smoothie or, if you really want to celebrate every one of those 10,000 steps, an ice-cold beer.

The coolest rest area ever by Sweet Sparkman Architects

The coolest rest area ever by Sweet Sparkman Architects

Image: Gene Pollux

Worth Seeing

Five historic homes: 25 S. Washington Drive, 76 S. Washington Drive, 96 S. Washington Drive, 139 S. Washington Drive, 236 S. Washington Drive

South Lido Rest Area: One of the coolest modern public restrooms ever, designed by Sweet Sparkman Architects, is here, and you might need a bathroom break.

New Pass: No amenities here. Except for Saturdays and Sundays, this stretch of beach overlooking the pass between Lido and Longboat Key is blissfully quiet.

The “Yacht” House: Currently under construction adjacent to the North Lido Beach parking lot, this jaw-dropping, 10,000-square-foot behemoth required 149 pilings 35 feet deep, 100 tons of steel and 1,500 yards of concrete.

A gift from John: Circus impresario John Ringling’s imprint remains in the middle of St. Armands Circle. Check out two sculptures he donated in the late 1920s: Discus Thrower is a youthful, ancient athlete throwing a discus, and Mercury is a young gladiator mid-stride. Both bronze casts were acquired from the famed Chiurazzi Factory in Naples, Italy.

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