The Indian Beach-Sapphire Shores neighborhood is one of the largest and most historic in the city of Sarasota. Fortunately, it’s also one of the most eminently walkable, despite its proximity to busy U.S. 41, because of lovely, tree-lined Bay Shore Road, which runs parallel to Tamiami Trail for several interesting miles.
Heading north on Bay Shore, the sidewalks are on the eastern side of the street. You may find your head snapping back and forth from one side of the road to another, as you compare expansive bayfront mansions in various styles to more modest bungalows and even a sprinkling of homes dedicated to modern architecture on the non-waterfront side (although there are certainly grand historic dwellings on the eastern side, too.) You can spot some newer mansions in the making right now, as construction is going on at several properties along the shore. But you can also enjoy plenty of natural attractions: shorebirds seeking food along the bayfront, woodpeckers and even parakeets sheltering in trees
and perched atop power lines. And always, always, lots of shade, provided by live oaks, banyans and, the farther north you stroll, a line of decades-old royal palms.
The history part of our walk comes into play prominently as you reach the curve at Myrtle, where Sarasota Jungle Gardens has long provided an oasis for families to meander and enjoy live bird shows. Prominently placed in front of the gardens is a plaque explaining how Indian Beach got its name, from the prehistoric middens and ceremonial mounds left behind by the native peoples who preceded the later Seminoles and Spanish fishermen who made camp here.
Once you turn past that curve in the road, you’re nearly halfway to the artistic heart of the neighborhood: the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art and the FSU/Asolo Performing Arts Center as well as part of the New College of Florida campus. While you should definitely make time to explore the museum’s galleries, if you want to save that for another day, you can divert to Sapphire Shores Park just a couple of blocks away off South Shore or Woodland. The boat basin there is not only scenic but offers a playground and a chance to view manatees and jumping mullet. Here as elsewhere along the way, you’ll notice individual pieces of sculpture in little pockets popping up in green medians and miniature parks, as well as a tiny lending library or two. It’s a journey worth making often.
The Taylor-Whitfield House: Built in Mediterranean Revival style in 1925, this historic home, now named “Splendida,” summons up images of Gatsby-esque parties before the boom went bust. 2704 Bay Shore Road.
Caples Hall: Another lovely historic dwelling, now home to New College’s fine arts and environmental studies, built in 1921 in 15th-century Italian style. 5315 Bay Shore Road
Leaf & Lentil: A few steps off your Bay Shore Road path, this is a smart stop for local, fresh vegan takeout for lunch and dinner. 2801 N. Tamiami Trail
Shelf Indulgence: A cozy little used bookstore that also offers fresh coffee and made-to-order sandwiches and such. 2805 N. Tamiami Trail
The Mable: Serving up drinks, tasty bar food and live music in the snazzily reimagined old Growler’s bar. 2831 N. Tamiami Trail