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I live where people vacation and admittedly, sometimes I forget the incredible treasures in my backyard. Last summer, the Florida Outdoor Writers Association held its annual conference in Venice, a city in southern Sarasota County. It’s also about a 30-minute drive from my home. It was an opportunity for me to enjoy places I’ve been before but look at them differently. It’s then I realized Venice and nearby communities are absolutely perfect for outdoorsy types.
For those looking to connect with Mother Nature while visiting Southwest Florida, here are 10 outdoorsy things to do in and around Venice.
1. Hunt for Fossilized Shark Teeth on Caspersen Beach
Venice is recognized as the Shark Tooth Capital of the World for the abundance of fossilized shark teeth on its beaches, specifically Caspersen Beach. I want to emphasize that these teeth are from prehistoric sharks. Although the prize tooth is a hand-sized tooth from an extinct megalodon shark, most teeth are the size of a dime to a quarter. (Scroll down for a photo.)
Shark tooth hunting is something I remember doing as a kid when my family visited my grandparents. While walking the shoreline, look for small, black, and shiny triangles. Once you spot one, your eyes are trained to find others.
To step up your game, rent a “Florida snow shovel” which is basically a pole with a basket on it. Wade into the Gulf of Mexico, scoop up the bottom then bring the sand et al to the beach and empty it out. Then, sort through the sand and seashells to find the treasured teeth.
Or, amp up the experience by stopping Shark Frenzy to pick up a Shark Tooth Sifter and tips on how to find sharks teeth. If you’re lucky, Brittanie Hervas will be there to offer you additional tips. Brittanie and her family own Shark Frenzy and grew up beachcombing Venice’s beaches during family vacations. Now, the Illinois family lives fulltime in Florida and opened the shop in 2019. They also invented and patented the Shark Tooth Sifter. (Caspersen Beach: 4100 Harbor Dr., Venice, Fla. 34285; Shark Frenzy: 262 Tamiami Trail S, Venice, Fla. 34285; Tel: 941-800-4281)
Tip: Venice is home to Sarasota County’s only dog beach, Brohard Beach and Paw Park. While your hound runs off-leash, you can look for shark teeth.
2. Go Shark Spotting Downtown
As you stroll through adorable downtown Venice, you may or may not notice the 10 small, brass shark sculptures. They are part of the Venice Shark Spotting public art display.
I haven’t spotted all yet, but I’ve seen a few. As you shop the boutiques or dine in the eateries, keep your eyes on the sidewalks. The sculptures may be by doors or in corners of buildings or in a landscaped area. Follow the clues online to find them all.
3. Cast a Line from the Venice Fishing Pier
When visiting Venice’s beaches, I enjoy walking the 700-foot Venice Fishing Pier. It provides a great view of the beach but also an opportunity to fish. If wetting a line isn’t your jam, it’s fun watching anglers toss their nets and reel in catches both big and small. Although they probably annoy anglers, birds frequent the pier like brown pelicans, snowy egrets, and great blue herons.
The pier is open 24/7 and free to access. Grouper, redfish, and snapper are common catches from the pier. Depending on the season, it’s possible to catch amberjack, cobia, Spanish mackerel, and tarpon. Shark fishing is prohibited. You’ll need a Florida saltwater fishing license to fish. Visit the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission site for Florida’s fishing regulations. (600 Harbor Dr. S., Venice, Fla. 34285)
4. Step into Florida’s Past at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens’ Historic Spanish Point
A favorite place of my grandmother’s was Marie Selby Botanical Gardens’ Historic Spanish Point for its history and tranquility. Technically not in Venice, it’s located in nearby Osprey and overlooks Little Sarasota Bay.
During the late 1800s, the Webb family from New York settled this area and today, visitors can view the Webb Packing House and get a sense of the citrus packing and shipping business the pioneers started. American businesswoman and philanthropist Bertha Palmer purchased the property in the early 1900s and visitors can wander through her lush gardens. A pioneer cemetery, Mary’s Chapel, a former residence called the Guptill House, and a boatyard reflect what life was like back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Explore the museum at your leisure or tram and walking tours are available. During the spring season, book a boat tour between Selby Gardens’ Downtown Sarasota Campus and Historic Spanish Point. The museum is open daily and an admission fee is charged. (337 North Tamiami Trail, Osprey, FL 34229, Tel: (941) 366-5731)
5. Birdwatch at the Venice Area Audubon Rookery
One of the best birding spots in the Venice area is the internationally recognized Venice Area Audubon Rookery, a favorite of bird photographers. Spot a variety of species year-round but December through May is really hopping when it’s nesting season. Walk around the deep lake to view birds and watch them roost late in the afternoon and early evening. Birds seen at the rookery include Great Egrets, Glossy Ibis, and Black-crowned Night Herons.
Also of interest are the four bat houses at the rookery. At dusk, watch flows of Mexican Free-tailed Bats and Evening Bats stream out of the houses on their way to scoop up evening insects.
The rookery is open daily from dawn to dusk. Donations are welcomed. A pavilion offers shade and picnic tables. (4002 S Tamiami Trail via, Annex Rd, Venice, Fla. 34293)
6. Ride the Legacy Trail
The 18.5-mile Legacy Trail is a beautiful example of a rails-to-trails conversion and cherished gift to Sarasota County residents, visitors, and I imagine, the native wildlife living along the path. The asphalt trail is a favorite of bicyclists, walkers, skaters, dog walkers, and people using any other non-motorized mode of transportation.
The land was developed as a railroad corridor in the early 1900s. In 1911, the first passenger coach traveled the Seaboard Air Line Railway from Sarasota to the Venice extension and in 1927, the Venice Train Depot opened. For more than 80 years, passengers and freight traveled to and from Venice along that trainline. Included are students and faculty of Kentucky Military Institute, servicemen training at the Venice Army Airfield during World War II, and the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus to reach their winter quarters in Venice.
Sarasota County took ownership of the 12+ miles of railroad corridor in 2004. Today, the Legacy Trail stretches from Sarasota to Caspersen Beach or Shamrock Park in Venice, depending on which trail you choose. The trail connects the Venetian Waterway Park, which is home of the renovated Venice Train Depot. Access the trail from more than a dozen trailheads. Additional extensions are being constructed including the North Port Connector. Over the next few years, there will be more than 30 miles of continuous biking trails. Along the trail are bicycle repair stations, water, and benches for resting. The trail is open 6 a.m. to sunset and free to access. Stay connected with the project by visiting the website of the Friends of the Legacy Trail.
Don’t have a bicycle? No worries. Several businesses rent them like Florida Beach & Bike Stuff Rentals. (Tel: (941) 412-1411).
Thirsty? Make a pitstop at Off-Trail Bike & Brew. It’s a bike pub serving the coolest craft beer. Open daily Noon – 11 p.m. (430 Venice Avenue E., Venice, Fla. 34285; Tel: (941) 220-3018)
7. Stroll through the Venice Urban Forest
The nearly 26-acre linear park parallels the Venetian Waterway and was once a portion of the railroad. The Venice Urban Forest injects greenery and wildlife habitat and brings balance to the city, as originally envisioned by the 1920s city planner John Nolen. It provides a tranquil place to wander and stop and admire the pollinators dancing from flower to flower.
Since established, volunteers are restoring native flora and the forest is flourishing. During Phase 2, two Florida scrub-jay habitats will be developed. The bird is endemic to Florida meaning you can’t find them anywhere else in the world. Land development reduces the species’ habitat. Creating more green spaces and habitat for the scrub-jays is important for the sustainability of the species which is listed as threatened. (308 E. Venice Ave., Venice, Fla. 34286, Tel: (941) 207-8224)
Bonus: The Venice Urban Forest is a nice place to walk your dog. Be sure to pick up after your pup.
8. Embrace Your Wild Side at T. Mabry Carlton Jr. Memorial Reserve
Wander through primitive Florida wilderness along some of the 100+ miles of trails in the 24,565-acre T. Mabry Carlton Jr. Memorial Reserve. The Sarasota County reserve is a place of wild solitude and ideal for picnicking, wildlife watching, hiking, off-road biking, primitive camping, paddling, and horseback riding.
Wildlife spotted in the reserve, either in person or via trail cams, include alligators, black bear, boars, bobcats, and dozens of resident and migratory birds include swallow-tailed kites, wild turkeys, and bald eagles. Before heading out, download the “Birds of Carlton Reserve” checklist. (1800 Mabry Carlton Pkwy., Venice, Fla. 37292)
Where to Eat in Venice
Yes, I’m including two restaurants in this list because eating is an adventure. Two outdoor favorites are Snook Haven Restaurant and Sharky’s on the Pier. They offer different outdoor dining experiences with a view and welcome those looking for an authentic Florida experience.
9. Nosh on Barbecue with a Waterside View at Snook Haven Restaurant
The bumpy dirt road through a canopy of trees is just the beginning of the Old Florida experience at Snook Have Restaurant. If you hear banjos, you know you’ve arrived at one of the most delicious and picturesque barbecue joints in Southwest Florida.
The riverside eatery boasts at having the best barbecue, bands, and brews on the Myakka River. In addition to lip-smacking, smoky barbecue, find Southern fare like fried green tomatoes, shrimp po’boys, and gator bites. They have an impressive selection of beer, too.
Indoor dining is available but when you dine outdoors, you’ll usually be listening to a live band while sitting under the oak trees. During the winter and spring season, the Gulf Coast Banjo Society performs most Thursdays during lunch. Throughout the year, listen to a variety of bands ranging from blues to rock to bluegrass.
Snook Haven offers canoe and kayak rentals and during the winter and spring seasons, an hour-long tour over the river. You’ll learn about the wildlife, probably see an alligator or two, and hear some history, including how the area was a favorite of Prohibition-era smugglers and some of the movies filmed on the river like “Tarzan’s Revenge” (1938). The restaurant is open Tuesday – Sunday, 11:30 a.m. – 8 p.m. (5000 E Venice Ave., Venice, Fla. 34292)
10. Chill at Sharky’s on the Pier
After a morning beachcombing for fossilized shark teeth or afternoon fishing, Sharky’s on the Pier is the best place to eat. Chill out and enjoy beach breezes while sipping cool beverages and tasty seafood. Several evenings a week, enjoy live music.
The beachfront restaurant sits at the base of the Venice Fishing Pier and has been voted Florida’s best beach bar for several years. The outdoor/indoor restaurant has a chill, beachy vibe.
The menu is loaded with seafood dishes incorporating fresh shrimp, scallops, fish, and crab. Fish tacos are my fave. For the landlubber, there’s plenty to choose from like the variety of salads, ribs, beef, and chicken dishes.
Sip a frozen drink or cocktail. Appropriate after a day of beachcombing for shark teeth is a Shark Bite made with Malibu Rum, Blue Curacao, Sprite and a splash of pineapple juice and grenadine. And as they say, it’s jawsome! Sharky’s is open daily serving lunch and dinner. (1600 Harbor Dr. S., Venice, Fla. 34285; Tel: (941) 488-1456)
Love Venice’s Outdoorsy Side!
Of course, there are many other reasons to love Venice’s outdoorsy side and these 10 are just the beginning. The community is full of many more parks, trails, and outdoor activities like boating, golfing and snorkeling. Learn more Venice and all it has to offer by visiting the Visit Sarasota County site.