Directly off the coast of Florida, across from the city of Sarasota, lies a hidden piece of paradise known as Siesta Key Beach. With its absence of mega-hotels and chain restaurants, and its abundance of beautiful beaches, warm bay and Gulf waters, tropical plants and wildlife, this island is the jewel of Florida—almost literally. The eight miles of beaches of Siesta Key are composed almost entirely of pure quartz, making the sand cool to the touch and glittering in bright white contrast to the shimmering blue water. These aspects are just some of many that make vacationing on Siesta Key Beach a must-do.
Within the franchise-free zone of the island, mom-and-pop shops and eateries offer an aesthetic that would be hard to come by in most any other beach town. According to the Orlando Sentinel, one of the best places to eat is Captain Curt’s Crab & Oyster Bar, a “child-friendly restaurant that boasts an award-winning New England clam chowder.” Other restaurants worth checking out include Anna’s Restaurant & Deli, the oldest eatery on Siesta Key; Javier’s Restaurant and Wine Bar, a favorite for 25 years that combines Peruvian, South American, and American favorites; Turtles on Little Sarasota Bay, which features casual waterfront dining; and Village Cafe, a locals’ favorite that serves breakfast and lunch (siestakeyvacation.com).
In 2011, Steve Leatherman (aka “Dr. Beach”) named Siesta Key Beach the best beach in the nation—beating out even the beaches of Hawaii—based on 50 specific criteria, including overall water quality, the weather, the crowds, and the look and feel of the sand (simplysiestakey.com). The Travel Channel recognized it as the “Best Sand Beach of America” in 2004, and it boasts international accolades as well. The beach doesn’t just offer beautiful sand and seashells, though. It also offers volleyball courts, tennis courts, and many other water sports for visitors to enjoy. The abundant wildlife offers a unique experience to snorkelers and bird watchers alike; and bike, boat, and kayak rentals offer a convenient and fun way to view the island from inland and offshore.
The Siesta Public Beach is also host to the Siesta Key Sunday drum circle.. At about an hour before sunset, a group of people, including percussion players, drummers, jugglers, dancers, and other street performers gather together around a fire to enjoy their time together.
As if this weren’t enough, Sarasota lies a few minutes away, offering a multitude of activities. The Ringling Museum of Art, Mote Marina, a hands-on science center called GWiz, Sarasota Jungle Gardens, and golf courses and shopping centers are all just a short drive across the bay. For nightlife and other entertainment, visitors can check out Gilligan’s Tropical Bar, which boasts a great tiki atmosphere within walking distance of most accommodations of Siesta Key (simplysiestakey.com). Craft shows, art exhibits, wine tastings, and other events are also regularly scheduled on the island.
After a busy day exploring and swimming, visitors can retire to their own hotel rooms, apartments, or condos available in Siesta Key—none of which are owned by any large chain organizations. Topping the Orlando Sentinel’s list of affordable places to stay are the Tropical Breeze Resort of Siesta Key and Siesta Beach Resort & Suites. Other top places to stay are All Sunnyside Properties, Crescent Towers, and Sunnyside Properties.
Siesta Key Beach remains relatively busy throughout the year, though the high-season of travel is from January to mid-April. Even then, the island still offers a relaxing atmosphere for those who choose to take a break and enjoy the Gulf.