Florida beaches are world-renowned, and the beaches on the state's Gulf Coast have earned a number of accolades through the years. The beaches near Sarasota, in particular, have been lauded for their cool white sand and the clean, clear Gulf waters that kiss their shores. Many are touted as extremely family friendly while others are dubbed secluded and romantic. Which you choose will depend on your idea of the perfect beach.
Of particular note are the beaches of Sarasota's nearby Keys – Siesta, Lido, and Longboat. Also within driving distance are the beaches of St. Pete and Clearwater to the north and, to the south, Casey Key, Venice, Englewood, and Manasota Key.
Of the three Keys that are incorporated into Sarasota's city limits, Siesta Key has always gotten the most attention. Perhaps it's the soft sand, which feels like baby powder as you rub it between your fingers. Maybe it's the clean and pleasant public beach. Or perhaps it's the town itself – boasting quirky eating establishments, abundant night spots, kitschy beachwear shops, and lovely homes fronting the water.
Indeed, Siesta has received numerous awards from the Travel Channel and several print publications, dubbing it one of "America's Best Beaches." It's easy to understand why. The sand is soft and clean. The public beach on the north end (Crescent Beach) is long and wide, with plenty of room to park nearby, restrooms, showers, lifeguards, a beach shop, and a concession stand that sells quality, reasonably-priced food.
On the southern end, visitors can head to Turtle Beach for a totally different experience. Rocky and full of shells and shark's teeth, this beach is rugged but picturesque and is a good place for a midday picnic.
Accommodations on Siesta Key range from a few motels/hotels to a wealth of vacation rentals, particularly condos. These condo developments have their own pristine private beaches on the Gulf side or access to the Sarasota Bay on the other side.
Lido Key, between Siesta and Longboat Keys, is equally as lovely but not as expansive as Siesta Key. It's divided into three beach areas – Lido Beach, North Lido Beach, and South Lido Park.
Lido Beach is just a half-mile southwest of ritzy St. Armand's Circle, where guests can shop for upscale merchandise and enjoy a meal at one of the area's best restaurants. The public beach at Lido includes a parking area for 400 cars, restrooms, a concession stand, a gift shop, cabana beach rentals, and playground equipment for the little ones.
At North Lido Beach, a quarter mile northwest of the circle, you'll find a different atmosphere. This beach is fairly secluded and no lifeguards are on duty. Currents here are swift, so this is more of a lounging beach than a swimming one.
South Lido Park is surrounded by four bodies of water: the Gulf of Mexico, Big Pass, Sarasota Bay, and Brushy Bayou. Lifeguards are on duty at the south end of the park during the summer months, and you'll also find volleyball courts, picnic areas, restrooms, nature trails, and playground equipment in various sections of South Lido.
The ten miles of beaches on Longboat Key are largely private, belonging to the upscale resorts that sit on that particular barrier island. There is some limited public access to the beach but very little parking and no amenities such as restrooms, playground equipment, or lifeguards.
However, if you book a room at one of the resorts or rent a condo on Longboat Key, you'll be treated to beautiful secluded beaches with clean, cool sand and warm Gulf waters.
Venice – The Venice area has a handful of beaches that are appropriate for different kinds of activities. At the Venice Municipal Beach, for example, visitors hunt for shark's teeth or swim out to the coral reef that's located just about a quarter-mile from the shore. At secluded, windswept Caspersen Beach, the longest in Sarasota County, shelling is also a favorite activity. Venice also boasts a "dog beach" – the Brohard Paw Park – where dogs can roam free with their owners, enjoying the beach together.
Casey Key – On Casey Key, pretty Nokomis Beach is an excellent family-oriented beach though it's usually quiet. Fishing is quite popular here as is shell combing and lifeguards are on duty to watch over swimmers. North Jetty Park also has lifeguards, a snack bar, fishing opportunities, a bait shop, horseshoe courts, and public restrooms.
Manasota Key – On the northern end of the island known as Manasota Key, you'll find life-guarded Manasota Beach, offering free parking at a small lot, public restrooms, showers, and picnic tables. The most isolated beach on the Key is Blind Pass Beach, most suitable for nature walks and picnics. The wide sandy areas of Englewood Beach are the most popular on the island, boasting showers, restrooms, and picnic tables, but no lifeguards. Finally, Stump Pass Beach on the southern end is rarely crowded but is romantic, featuring beautiful views of the setting sun.
The majority of popular beaches found north of the city are situated on Sand Key, not far from Tampa. Among these beaches are:
Clearwater Beach – Clearwater Beach is continuously touted by USA Today,
Conde Nast Traveler, and "Dr Beach", as one of the best beaches in the U.S. Year-round lifeguards make it a perfect place for families, the swimming is excellent, and it's also an ideal location for boating and other watersports. In Clearwater Beach, visitors have lots of hotels, motels, and vacation rentals from which to choose.
St. Pete Beach – This is a barrier island community featuring 4.5 miles of
picturesque beaches. It's wonderfully historic and traditionally a place where the well-to-do have gathered. Aside from the beaches, shopping opportunities are fun and upscale and restaurants are renowned for their fine cuisine.
Madeira Beach – This town is home to five very nice, kid-friendly public
beaches. Two of them, Archibald Beach Park and County Park, have restrooms and showers. John's Pass Park, the busiest, remains popular because of its proximity to John's Pass Village, a fun and lively touristy area with more than 100 retail establishments and plenty of eateries.
Treasure Island – This town boasts three beaches. The widest is at the center and is where you'll find the most hotels and lodging options. On either end are Sunshine Beach and Sunset Beach, which are both residential. At the southern tip is Blind Pass Boardwalk, popular for fishing and long walks by the beach.
Caladesi Island State Park – Comprised of six islands and more than 3,000
acres, this beach is one of the last remaining undeveloped areas on Sand Key. It is accessible only by boat or ferry from Honeymoon Island and it's a favorite beach for nature lovers who especially enjoy hiking the 3-mile trail that traverses the island's interior.