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The best of beaches.


Sarasota has a wonderful assortment of beaches, each with its own defining characteristics. Some fit the mood for romance some are meant for solitude and some are perfect for when you just need to let off a little steam. Whatever your mood, there's a beach made for you and after consulting with a panel of highly qualified judges (you can tell by their tans), we affectionately announce the following awards for some of our favorites.

THE BEST ALL-PURPOSE BEACH AWARD goes to Siesta Key Public Beach for its on-site playground, eight miles of sugary, white sand and a concession large enough to feed a small battalion. Kids revel in ambushing massive flocks of seagulls, and the Sunday evening drummers' circle and Tuesday sunset jog runs make it the perfect place to meet a potential mate--or at least a potential date. Plus, during a few brief weeks in March and April, Siesta Beach becomes the ultimate spring break retreat. The parking lot fills by 9 a.m., and those who find a coveted space--or walk from nearby lots--will find a sea of firm flesh, slathered with oil and not much else.

Because looks aren't everything, we award Lido Beach our "Sibling Rivalry" award. The sand here isn't as white and powdery as the sand at Siesta Key, and it doesn't attract as many hard bodies in the spring, but this beach has other virtues. A significant calling card is its rolling surf, but it also offers a concession that sells beer, the cleanest public bathrooms known to man and ample parking. And it's home to Azure Tides, Sarasota's only real beach bar. This casual outdoor watering hole has a rabid weekend following of people who slurp its signature Mudslides, dripping with chocolate syrup, while they walk towards the sunset.

Not to be outdone by its northern neighbor, South Lido Beach wins the "Enjoy It While It Lasts" award. Although erosion periodically threatens this ever-narrowing stretch, the sand is packed every weekend with an amiable variety of local folks. They bring their coolers to the heavily shaded picnic areas and enjoy the abundant wildlife, including great blue herons, white egrets, raccoons and one of the largest crab populations around. But beware, this is not a swimmer's beach. Wander into one of the wicked tidal currents and you're liable to end up in Key West.

The "Look, I'm, I'm nor...yes, I, I'm not..." award goes to Dog Beach, also known as Sunset Beach, for its unparalleled sunset views and shifting public access. The strip of land along Siesta Key's Ocean Boulevard that once held sway for hundreds of water-loving canines found itself off limits to both animals and people last summer when the owners of its sandy lots posted "No Trespassing" signs. Problem was, not all the land was posted. A tiny stretch of beach above the signs was still open to the public, and a significant public portion near the water's edge changed throughout the day, depending on the ebb and flow of the tide.

The result was intermittent trespassing. Sheriff's deputies spent weeks trying to sort out the mess for irate residents and vacationers who had shared the beach with their pets for the last 20 years. Now that the dust--er--sand, has finally cleared, people are flocking back, along with their pets, who must remain leashed and on the pavement.

The "Best Beach to Party Hearty" award goes to Palma Sola, in Manatee County. At least it did until local government officials banned alcohol indefinitely while improvements are made to the Palma Sola Causeway. Still, this relatively small beach on Manatee Avenue remains one of the rowdiest, most engaging spots for locals who live beyond the reaches of Sarasota's sands.

And finally, for Solitary Strolls and Musings About the Universe, there's no better place than Whitney Beach on north Longboat Key. That's because the dearth of public parking makes this beach one of the hardest to actually get to. But should you snag one of those carefully hidden spots, you'll be rewarded with a wide expanse of the most pristine and secluded crystal around.

Honorable mentions go to Venice Municipal Beach for its stellar collection of sharks' teeth (the petrified, serrated relics wash up by the ton) and Cortez Beach in Bradenton Beach for fishing. If you don't hook the big one here, you don't have your pole in the water.

But these are just a sampling of what the Sarasota area has to offer. Prom the fishing piers of Anna Maria Island to the charming lighthouses of Boca Grande, our beaches are awash in the opportunity for discovery. So grab a beach towel and a trashy paperback novel, and tally up some scores of your own. After all, it's your vacation--you be the judge.

The Beaches

Bean Point, on Anna Maria Island in northwestern Manatee County. View of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and Egmont Key.

Bayfront Park, just north of Pine Avenue on Anna Maria. Walk out along the City Pier and do some fishing.

Manatee Public Beach, right off Gulf Drive in Holmes Beach on Anna Maria. Showers and restrooms, lifeguards on duty, concession area and a kids' playground.

Palma Sola Causeway, a few miles east on Manatee Avenue. A good spot for jet skiers, dog walkers and tailgaters.

Cortez and Coquina Beach, along Gulf Drive in Bradenton Beach. Cortez is a welcoming locale for fishermen; Coquina has plenty of trees and shelters for picnicking families. Across Gulf Drive on the bay side are a small playground and a walkway overlooking the water and neighboring islands.

Whitney Beach, on Longboat Key's north end. A wide sweep of white sand for that away-from-it-all feeling (no restrooms or concessions). Look for the small blue "Public Beach Access" signs.

North Lido Beach, on Lido Key. Australian pines and privacy.

Lido Beach, just south of North Lido. Restrooms, a 25-meter pool, concessions, lifeguards, a gift shop and cabana rentals.

South Lido Park. Picnic tables, barbecue grills, nature trails, an observation tower and great views of Siesta Key and the city of Sarasota (heed signs regarding the current here).

Siesta Key Public Beach. Wide, long, and famous for its quartz sand, judged in international competition as the "whitest and finest sand in the world." Picnic area, showers, volleyball nets, tennis courts, fitness trail.

Turtle Beach, on Midnight Pass Road at Siesta Key's south end. Picnic shelter and free boat ramps allowing easy access to and from Little Sarasota Bay. Also a playground, volleyball court and dune walkovers.

Palmer Point. A private spot beginning at the southern tip of Siesta and continuing to the north end of Casey Key.

Nokomis Beach, on Casey Key in southern Sarasota County. Boat ramp, boardwalk, restrooms, concession pavilion.

North Jetty Park, on the southern tip of Casey Key. One of our best surfing (and fishing) beaches. Horseshoe and volleyball courts, picnic shelters, restrooms and concessions.

Venice Municipal Beach, in downtown Venice. Sharks' teeth and scuba diving along the coral reef a quarter-mile from shore. Pavilion, concessions, and restrooms, too.

Caspersen, south of Venice Airport. One-third of the beachfront here has been left in its natural state; there's also an 1,100-foot boardwalk.

Brohard Park, north of Caspersen. Home to the 740-foot Venice Fishing Pier and a wetland ideal for bird watching. Snack bar, bait shop.

Gasparilla Island, across the bridge to Boca Grande, south of Englewood. Seven miles of unspoiled beaches, two lighthouses.

Manasota Beach, on Manasota Key at the west end of the Manasota Bridge. Scenic boardwalk winds through the mangroves. Picnic shelters, restrooms, boat ramp.
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Author:Haire, Pat
Publication:Sarasota Magazine
Date:Mar 1, 2001
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