Everyone needs a little rest and relaxation sometimes, especially from the hustle and bustle of a big city. While I love the fun and excitement that comes with living in South Florida, it’s good to escape and indulge on a road trip once in a while to explore the other areas the Sunshine State has to offer.
Florida is fortunate to have so many travel options on its peninsula. One of those is located about three hours from South Florida, on Florida’s west coast near the town of Sarasota. It’s an area that I have come to know as “The Other Keys.”
Facing west into the Gulf of Mexico and not far from the liveliness of Tampa, Lido Key, Longboat Key and Siesta Key offer a retreat filled with sugary-sand beaches, vast dining options and plenty of relaxation. If you’ve never been before, or if you’re returning, these are my top five tips for visiting Sarasota’s keys with information on where to go, where to stay and where to dine while at this paradise getaway.
If you’re coming from South Florida, all you need is a tank of gas and a sense of adventure to get you to Sarasota. So fill it up, bring a friend, your family or a significant other and roll through Alligator Alley (the I-75 corridor). Make sure to have some cash on hand for toll stations you will find along the way. For those traveling from far away, the Sarasota/Bradenton International Airport is located about 20 minutes from a variety of resort and tourist options, while Tampa International Airport is about an hour drive to this sunny escape.
Where to stay
Once in Lido Key and Siesta Key, you can stay at the Lido Beach Resort, which offers Florida resident packages as well as a delectable Sunday brunch at their Lido Beach Grille, complete with a full Bloody Mary bar, mimosas, and “a la carte” items. The resort offers suites with ocean views, cabanas, a beach and a pool with a popular bar and happy hour. In Longboat Key, a popular option is The Resort at Longboat Key Club. The hotel resort offers six restaurants, golf and tennis lessons, a spa with massage services, pristine beaches, a pool and a lively atmosphere.
Things to do
The aforementioned Gulf beaches are the top attractions, but you’ll also find plenty of the man-made variety of attractions. Two of the most popular for families are the MOTE Marine Aquarium and the Ringling Museum of Art.
At the Mote Marine Aquarium you will learn how this non-profit organization rescues and rehabilitates sea creatures and you can get up-close and personal with manatees and sea turtles such as loggerheads. The organization offers rotating exhibitions, as well as permanent seahorse and shark exhibits and guided tours. There’s even a chance to see sharks being fed live at 11 am on select days.
The Ringling Museum of Art offers a variety of exhibitions exploring Sarasota’s rich history with the Ringling family (of circus fame). In 1911, not long after they had bought their circus rivals Barnum & Bailey, John and Mable Ringling purchased 20 acres of waterfront property in Sarasota that now houses fine art, a mansion, two circus museums and a theater. A visit to Ringling can easily take a day or afternoon of exploration, so make sure to bring a camera and wear comfortable shoes. The museum offers free admission on Mondays.
Where to eat
The “Other Keys” and the Sarasota area offers a great selection of dining options in diverse areas. Stop by Siesta Key and indulge on fresh oysters, fried pickles and their “catch of the day” at The Siesta Key Oyster Bar. Mattison’s City Grille in downtown Sarasota, a short drive from Siesta Key and Lido Key, offers a daily happy hour from 3 to 7 pm with $4 signature martinis and $5 tapas. The spot also offers Sunday brunch, a lunch packed with fresh salads and sandwiches and top-notch “see and be seen” crowd in an all-outdoor environment. For comfort food, there’s Shore in the upscale area of St. Armands Circle. The hip establishment, favored by a young professional crowd, offers classic dishes such as fried chicken, mac ‘n’ cheese and seafood dishes such as lobster tacos and fresh ahi tuna.
Over at the Longboat Key Club resort, you'll find casual fare at Sands Pointe and at Barefoots. Spike N' Tees offers light fare and breakfast, while Portofino dishes out Northern Italian specialties. The Tavern & Whiskey Bar deals in farm-to-table cuisine, and is a choice place to relax with (what else?) a whiskey.
Make sure to save some energy; when night falls this area doesn’t simply close the curtains and fall in bed. You’ll find a variety of activities and fun spots to hit, such as St. Armands Circle close to Lido and Longboat Key. It’s a fun enclave filled with shops and restaurants and upbeat bars such as Daiquiri Deck, where frozen daiquiris are paired with fresh oysters. You’ll find Daiquiri Deck delivering the same recipe at their Siesta Key location, with its outdoor deck and lively atmosphere Make a night of it and hop on over to Lynches Pub & Grub, an Irish-style pub where cold pints and live music abound. Sands Pointe Lounge at The Resort at Longboat Key Club offers sweeping views of the Gulf of Mexico and a perfect atmosphere to indulge on a cocktail.