Scattered up Florida’s Gulf Coast are islands with amazing beaches and great accommodations, here are a few you’ll love
Once you leave Sarasota and the mainland behind, you’ll discover a string of barrier islands that make up this city’s Gulf Coast beaches. The best way to explore is by car, zigzagging back and forth across causeways and bridges that connect U.S. Highway 41 to the islands. Here you’ll come upon powder soft strands, beaches lined with Florida- style manses, high-end resorts and friendly 60s-styles rentals on the sand, as well as beach towns where frozen piña coladas are served at outdoor bars and bikini shops sell everything from swimwear to sand pails.
Siesta Key, a quintessential beach town
No doubt, Siesta Key, with its pale white crescent beach and friendly Siesta Key Village, is a beach lover’s dream. Any Florida survey polled for the best beach in the state will have Siesta Key at the top on its list. Why? Simply because the sand is cool and powdery and feels great when you dig your toes into it. The shoreline has become a favorite place to walk and jog, promising a show of sand castles and other sculptures along the way. The water is a pleasant shade of blue and its gentle waves and clarity entice even the most reluctant to take a dip in the Gulf. But Siesta Key is also fun for those not seeking a place to spread their blanket. A block from the beach Siesta Key Village is a friendly hub with seafood shacks, open-air bars, ice cream shops and an array of swimsuit stores with the latest Tory Burch in the window. Riding rental bicycles along Midnight Pass Road and peeking into the backyards of the eclectic beach homes is another pastime.
Where to Stay: The Hyatt Siesta Key Beach is the classiest beachfront property. The resort, which is part of the Hyatt Residence Club, has spacious two- and three-bedroom rental condos, with gourmet kitchens equipped with Sub-Zero refrigerators, Wolf stoves and Nespresso machines. The elegant bathrooms are just as amazing with the master having a built-in television, heated toilet seat, oversize soaking tub with jets, and a stunning mosaic shower with multiple shower heads. Ample living space is accented with sea-centric accessories including shadow boxes of sand and seashells. Outside, cabanas, a waterfall spa and a fire pit are reasons to hang out at the pool. The resort’s walkway over the sand leads right to the Gulf’s shore. BOOK NOW
Casey Key, an elegant but laid-back escape
Two causeways connect to this super slim barrier island. On Casey Key’s north end behind a curtain of thick tropical foliage are some of the area’s most dramatic homes, with ivy-covered walls, more turrets than you can count, and grand entrances with shooting fountains and lions spewing water. Supposedly Stephen King has a house here along with other rich and famous residents. On the south end of the key, it’s quite the opposite with moderate beachfront motels from the 1960s and Nokomis Beach, where a drum circle takes place at sunset almost every Wednesday. Men beating bongos and tom-tom drums draw crowds who come to drink and dance as the sun disappears into the horizon. During season (Dec. to April) this Gulf stretch is packed with snowbirds. To experience both ends of the island drive its only road, Casey Key Road, crossing over on Blackburn Point Road on the north end. You might want to stop at the popular thatched-roof Casey Key Tiki Bar en route to the island. Once on the key, the road is lined with manses on both the Gulf and Blackburn Bay sides, which makes for great sightseeing. Farther south the real estate is more modest, and Nokomis Beach with its 14 miles of white sand has all the amenities expected at a public beach. Across from Nokomis is Albee Road, which takes you back to the mainland.
Where to Stay: Make your home base at the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota in the downtown area. From this convenient location on U.S. Highway 41, you can shoot down the coast and hop over to the islands. This luxury hotel, with its traditional lobby décor of elaborate chandeliers, highly polished marble floors and impressive floral arrangements, is most welcoming. The classic style carries through to the rooms, complete with balconies overlooking an inland waterway and docked boats. At the Jack Dusty seafood restaurant, the décor is quite the opposite with a contemporary look created by warm wooden millwork, leather seating, teardrop glass pendant lighting and a wall of textured wave art. When it’s time to go to the beach, a shuttle whisks you three miles to the private Beach Club on Lido Key. Lounge poolside or on the sand with the waters of the Gulf of Mexico just a few steps away. BOOK NOW
Lido Key, a quick getaway from Sarasota
With its cool beachy vibe and proximity to downtown Sarasota, Lido Key is an easy getaway. Drive the John Ringling Causeway straight into St. Armands Circle, home to stylish boutiques and sidewalk cafes, and continue on to the Gulf Coast. On Lido Key, you have three choices. North Lido Beach is less populated and ideal for those seeking a more private stretch of powdery sand. Lido Beach in the middle of the island is the hub, where cabana rentals and fellow beachgoers are plentiful. South Lido Park at the southern tip of the key is bordered by four bodies of water: the Gulf of Mexico, Big Pass, Sarasota Bay and Brushy Bayou. Canoe and nature trails make this park a favorite with nature lovers, and the view of Sarasota from this vantage point is another reason to visit.
Where to Stay: The Lido Beach Resort is one of your best bets if you want a prime waterfront location and a room with a view of the Gulf and surrounding islands. Its 300-foot private beach is steps from the resort’s two swimming pools. The bartender at the poolside thatched- roof tiki bar whips up tropical drinks, from rum runners to mojitos, and a menu of burgers, crab cakes and fish sandwiches accommodates as well. This is the place to watch the sunset. Book a guestroom or condo- style suite, most have private balconies. BOOK NOW
Longboat Key, home to great golf and dining
From downtown Sarasota you can drive the John Ringling Causeway across the Sarasota Bay to Lido Key and make a right turn over New Pass to Longboat Key. Beautifully landscaped, this barrier island has one road, Gulf of Mexico Drive, that’s lined with mid-size condominiums and restaurants hidden among greenery. Sprinkled in are a few resorts, including the Resort at Longboat Key Club; the carpetlike fairways of its two golf courses are part of the roadside scenery. Farther north is the Colony Beach and Tennis Resort, with its prime Gulf-front location. Top restaurants to keep an eye out for include Pattigeorge’s where Sarasota’s top chef Tommy Klauber has been satisfying guests with local seafood since 1998, and the views of Sarasota Bay from the dining room make dining here a tropical experience.
Where to Stay: If you want to be right on the Gulf, the Resort at Longboat Key Club has a beach that curves into New Pass, providing a great stretch to walk and find treasures that the sea left behind. Tennis, golf and an impressive fitness center are all here for your workout pleasure. A stroll over to the resort’s marina turns up state-of-the-art fishing and sailing boats. You can book a room or a suite; all are handsomely designed with sliding doors leading to a balcony overlooking the Gulf’s turquoise water and white sands of Longboat Key. BOOK NOW