This post is my entry into the TBEX Blog Carnival Contest sponsored by Choice Hotels International Services Corp.
Let me share a secret. Sarasota, Fla., is on the verge of being the “it” destination. Whether you live in the Sunshine State or elsewhere, summer is the prime opportunity to visit because of the accessibility into attractions and restaurants and value lodging rates. Sarasota’s Siesta Key Beach was recently named Dr. Beach’s Best Beach in America which is driving the beach destination to “it” status.
Located on Florida’s Southwest Gulf coast about an hour south of Tampa, Sarasota is renowned for its powder-white sand beaches, circus heritage (thanks to circus magnet John Ringling back in the 1920s) and cultural amenities as art galleries and performances. Lesser known but well appreciated by locals are the ecotourism activities.
If you only have a weekend to explore this Florida treasure, embrace your inner tree hugger and discover my Sarasota this summer.
Start Your Vacation Right with a Lunch on the Beach
Arrive around lunchtime and head to Anna Maria Island for a beachfront meal at the BeachHouse Restaurant. Request to dine outside to enjoy the fresh Gulf breeze and salty air. (beachhouse.groupersandwich.com, 200 Gulf Drive North, Bradenton Beach; Tel: (941) 779-2222)
Giddy Up the Florida Beach Way
Afterward, surf’s up! You’re off to hang 10 the equestrian way, atop a horse with Great World Adventures the only outfitter in Florida that offers both horseback riding on the beach and swimming with horses. If I can do it, so can you! Ride your horse bareback for about a mile on the beach then ease into the water. As your four-legged ride begins to swim you can try your hand at surfing or just sit back hanging onto her mane and enjoy the ride. It does take some coordination and a little scary at first but trust me, on a hot summer day (and for bragging rights) horse surfing is way cool. ($119.95 per adult. www.beachhorses.com; Tel: (941)-907-7272. Note: Tour times are one hour and dependent on low tides. Book your reservations in advance.)
Let Someone Else Catch Your Dinner
Freshen up at your hotel before heading out to dinner at Owen’s Fish Camp in the Burns Court section of downtown Sarasota. Owen’s has a 1950s retro fish camp theme. Wine is served in small glass jars, fishing rods line the ceiling, and the women’s room is adorned with navigational charts, lace chintz curtains and a shabby-chic chair. As for cuisine, think of it as Southern comfort food meets New York chic. Find glammed up dishes as shrimp and grits, sautéed snails and cornmeal crusted catfish. The place is always buzzing and reservations are highly recommended. (www.owensfishcamp.com, 516 Burns Lane, Sarasota; Tel: (941) 951-6936)
Cap Off the Evening
If ya still have the energy, check out downtown Sarasota’s evening scene and for a refreshing summer nightcap, head to Café Epicure for a Pimms. Sip on the sweet fresh blend taste of cucumbers, mint and strawberries. The perfect way to end the day. (www.cafeepicuresrq.com, 1298 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota; Tel: (941) 366-5648)
Everyone Will Be Doing It, Visiting the Best Beach in the U.S.
You have to do it. It’s what lured you to Sarasota. A visit to the beach. If planning on visiting the country’s best beach, Siesta Key, arrive early. If seeking an alternative, visit Turtle Beach on the southern end of Siesta Key. Or, if you’re a collector, head south to Caspersen Beach to gather fossilized sharks teeth. The small, black shiny teeth wash ashore and dot the beach. Or, find a Florida snow shovel (a basket at the end of a pole) to dig and sift for teeth.
Eat Dessert First
You worked an appetite and the perfect place to satisfy your hunger is Yoder’s Restaurant. One of Sarasota’s hidden treasures is the Amish-Mennonite community. Head down to the intersection of Bahia Vista Street and Beneva Road to find Amish restaurants and shops. Although visiting for breakfast, Yoder’s is famous for their pies so don’t be bashful and grab a slice (or a whole pie). (www.yodersrestaurant.com, 3434 Bahia Vista St., Sarasota; Tel: (941) 955-7771)
Lunchtime in the Woods
Head to Snook Haven for a casual lunch experience in the woods on the Myakka River. It’s a former fish camp and if you hear banjos, don’t worry. The area is popular with the local banjo society and other musicians. Live entertainment is played six nights a week, if you prefer visiting when it’s a bit livelier. And if they try to tell ya a Tarzan movie was filmed there back in the day, don’t be fooled! It’s urban legend. (www.snookhaven.com, 5000 East Venice Ave. Venice; Tel: (941) 485-7221)
Rejuvenate in a Fountain of Youth
After lunch, take a dip in what some believe to be the true Fountain of Youth Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon was searching for, Warm Mineral Springs. It’s a natural mineral spring that makes your skin oh, so soft and silky and many believe some of the 51 minerals have healing qualities for skin and joints. It maintains a temperature of 87 degrees and pumps 9 million gallons of water a day! Honestly, bathing in a mineral spring hasn’t really caught on with us Americans and when I visit, the pool is usually dominated with international visitors. But, Americans are slowly warming up to the idea. Yes, you keep your swimsuit ON! (Admission: $20 per adult. 12200 San Servando Ave., North Port; Tel: (941) 426-1692)
Get to Know Libby
It’s been a long day and you deserve to eat right. Head over to Libby’s Café & Bar in the Hillview Neighborhood for an indulgent dinner. You can’t actually meet Libby but you may meet her son Steve Seidensticker or her grandchildren, Joe and Patrick, who own and operate the restaurant. Libby’s is a place to pop a bottle of champagne for no other reason than, “just because.” Menu items are familiar comfort foods with contemporary zest such as Libby’s 7-Day Famous Mahi Tacos, Maine Lobster Mac ‘N Cheese and Gorgonzola Mashed Cauliflower. Sweet dinner rolls are served with olive oil, roasted garlic and black olives. (www.libbyscafebar.com, 1917 South Osprey Ave, Sarasota; Tel: (941) 487-7300)
It’s been a long day, call it a night.
Sleep in a little but not too late. Grab an Island Cake (pineapple, coconut and macadamia nuts) griddled fresh at the Breakfast House. It’s a small, yellow house with white picket fence and something you’d find in Key West but Sarasota foodies are thankful it’s here. (1817 Fruitville Rd., Sarasota; Tel: (941) 366-6860)
Walk Along the Treetops
End your Sarasota adventure with a visit to Myakka River State Park and walk among the treetops on the Myakka Canopy Walk. Take time to observe life of an oak/palm hammock and see the tiny creatures who call it home. The walkway is suspended 25 feet above the ground and extends 100 feet. It’s North America’s first public treetop trail and opened in 2000. If afraid of heights, opt for an airboat ride on the Gator Gal ($12 for adults) or rent a canoe or kayak to glide along gators. ($20 for the first hour, $5 for every hour after.) Landlubbers will appreciate the bicycle rentals to explore the park ($15 for two hours). (Admission collected. www.floridastateparks.org/myakkariver, 13208 State Road 72, Sarasota; Tel: (941) 361-6511)
Well, the weekend is over and we didn’t get to fish, stand up paddleboard, take a guided Segway tour, visit the Siesta Key Drum Circle (on Sunday nights) and…you’ll just need to return or extend your stay!
Have a safe journey home!
Where to Stay in Sarasota
Sarasota offers accommodations to fit everyone’s price-point from familiar brands by Choice Hotels International and others along with independently owned hotels. The area also has a bounty of condo and vacation home rentals. To date, the new Choice Hotels brand Cambria Suites does not have a hotel in the area but check out what other Choice Hotels are in Sarasota. Or, visit the Sarasota Convention & Visitors Bureau for a complete list of accommodation options. (Note: There is a Cambria Suites in Dania Beach on Florida’s East Coast and expect to see more in the Sunshine State very soon.)
Disclaimer: Information was accurate at the time of publishing. When visiting Florida, be sure to wear your sunscreen! And when visiting outdoor areas, carrying insect repellent is a smart idea.
Updated: Jan. 4, 2015