A perfect day for me in Sarasota requires only four things: a Publix sub, a good book, a towel and Lido Beach.

If you ask any tourist, Lido might come second to our area’s more notable beach. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. It’s been named the country’s best beach more than once, and the soft, white quartz crystal sand is so legendary it’s practically mythical. An MTV reality show even takes its name. Sound familiar? 

But I suspect that if you were to poll Sarasota locals, you would find a different opinion among them. It’s not Siesta Beach that holds a special place in many of our hearts, that has been there for our darkest and brightest moments, that offered solace in the early days of COVID-19 and has made our average Saturdays a little more special. It’s Lido. 

It’s hard to truly explain what makes Lido so unique. After all, some of the best things in life are that way — completely intangible and impossible to describe. But there is something about the beach that preserves all of the best parts of Florida, with its rugged, natural beauty, the sand dunes and seagrape creeping up in the distance, the long row of beach resorts and the wide stretches of sand.

I know I’ve met a true Sarasotan when they tell me they have a Lido spot. The first time my boyfriend and I went to the beach together, he directed me straight to the sand dunes. I noted that his choice was far away from the eyes of beachgoers as we sipped our beers and ate our Publix takeaway in relative peace. I could see the appeal: this felt like his.

Others prefer to stray even farther away from the main entrances. I’ve met friends at the beach whose only direction was: go to the North Beach and “keep walking.”

Siesta Key has the opposite feel. It’s a spot to see and be seen. Crowds of travelers and families set up shop with umbrellas and coolers for a day of sunshine. But at Lido, we come to rest and recharge. Unlike so many of Florida’s beaches, going to Lido is not an event. It’s simply a part of our daily routine.

I learned my ultimate Lido lesson on one cool October night. A friend was returning for the weekend and insisted we go to the beach. I was shocked—it was after 10 p.m., we were at a bar and who goes to the beach at night? It showed how little of the Floridian spirit I had within me. As we drove over the John Ringling Causeway, the lights illuminating our faces in the car, I thought that this was what it felt like to be alive. 

When we stepped onto the beach that night, my jeans and T-shirt seemed an absolute mismatch for the setting. But my toes still scrunched comfortably into the sand. I watched in awe as my friend ran toward the water. The bright expanse of the city shone on its inky depths.

I realized something that night. What made Lido Beach so special was the way it fit naturally into our lives. When I look back at my memories of living in Sarasota, Lido is a consistent backdrop — whether intentionally or not.

So now, when a friend asks to meet me there, my answer is almost never no. I have only one question. 

“North or South?”

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