Florida’s western coast, aptly referred to as the Florida Suncoast, has been enchanting beachgoers for over a century. With clear blue waters and powdery white sand, the beaches in the region beckon those who love to bask by the sea. Inland, opportunities to explore the cultural richness of the area are abundant with plenty of theaters, museums, and music venues.
One of Sarasota’s most intriguing sites is The Ringling, featuring the elegantly decorated Cà d’Zan that was home to John Ringling of circus fame and his wife, Mable, and stands today as a monument to the roaring ‘20s. Located on the acres of property are: a museum dedicated to circus life, another for great works of art, and the intimate Historic Asolo Theater, which was built in Italy in the mid-1700s and painstakingly brought, piece-by-piece, to Sarasota in the 1950s. Sarasota also is centrally located for easy access to the nearby keys for sun, sand and surf, or perhaps for an inland tour of wildlife and natural surroundings as found in Myyaka River State Park.
A mix of art, history and nature endears Bradenton to visitors who come to “the friendly city.” Nature reserves host hiking trails, lookout towers and activities including biking, kayaking, and wildlife tours. Within the city is the funky Village of the Arts. Delve inside one of the colorful buildings to peruse the galleries and add an eclectic piece of art to your own collection. Or, step back in time to the era of Spanish Conquistadors while enjoying a beautiful park at the De Soto National Memorial. From December to April, re-enactors portray the history behind Hernando de Soto’s expedition in Florida.
Anna Maria Island
Get swept away to a state of bliss on the island of Anna Maria. Often described as a 7-mile-long paradise, this beautiful stretch of land not only encompasses the quaint little city of Anna Maria, but also the cities of Holmes Beach, Manatee Beach, Bradenton Beach and Coquina Beach. Getting around Anna Maria Island is easy—just hop on the free trolley!
- In Anna Maria, boutique shopping, waterfront dining, and spectacular sunsets await beachgoing visitors. However, to find a little seclusion and perhaps some sand dollars, visit Bean Point at the northernmost tip of the island.
- The largest beach on the island is Holmes Beach, which includes the Manatee County Beach and has all the amenities a beachgoer needs: concession stands, grills and picnic areas, restrooms and showers, and playgrounds and volleyball courts. It’s the ideal beach for families that want to play in the surf.
- Farther down the coast on Anna Maria Island, you’ll come across the clean, quiet area of Bradenton Beach. Rent a fishing pole on the pier or relax on the porch swings after enjoying the beauty of the beach. Bradenton Beach is a popular wedding destination since many who have seen the area fall in love with it.
- Located in the city of Bradenton Beach are the picturesque sand dunes and gentle surf of Cortez Beach. Though it doesn’t have lifeguards, this small, secluded beach attracts couples looking for a quiet spot to swim, snorkel and soak up the rays.
- Coquina Beach is the largest stretch of beach on Anna Maria Island. It’s extremely family-friendly with food stands, showers, shops, and beach rentals. Kids will enjoy shelling on the beach named for the colorful coquina shells that can be found on the shore. Launch a boat into the clear gulf waters to go fishing or snorkeling, or picnic on the shores in a pavilion near the towering pines.
Famous for luxurious living, Longboat Key is a residential island. There are very few public access areas along the 12 miles of the key, but visitors can look for the small blue signs to find a secluded beach. Stay at one of the welcoming resorts for a romantic getaway and find yourself steps away from the beach. Charter a boat and sail off into the sunset or simply relax on the beach while taking in nature and playing in the gulf.
- Find the quiet serenity of Whitney Beach in the northern part of Longboat Key. Parking is limited, so plan ahead for access to this pristine beach. Although there are no public facilities, lifeguards or conveniences offered here, Whitney Beach attracts those who want to experience Sarasota’s natural splendor.
- Longboat Beach is the beach of choice for locals and guests of the resorts who opt for a relaxing day in the sun, sand and gentle surf. As with Whitney Beach, there are no facilities and limited parking, but for those residing nearby, it’s a secluded haven. Even the small number of restaurants and shops are masked by the tropical landscape.
Directly across from Sarasota is the popular Lido Key. This barrier island is jam-packed with things to do—especially for nature lovers. Lido is home to distinct attractions including the Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium as well as St. Armands Circle—the shopping destination for the region. A number of watersport companies have also set up shop along the shores for access to kayaking, paddleboarding, and more.
- The tucked-away area of North Lido Beach was once a destination for nudists seeking an all-over tan. Though the beach now requires clothing, it is still a quiet area with access to hiking trails through wooded groves of oak and cedar. Shore birds and migratory species often stop at the nature park, so some of the best bird-watching is here. Keep an eye on children since the currents can be strong and there are no lifeguards.
- For every beach perk you could possibly need, head to Lido Beach. The area has just about everything including an Olympic-size public pool, playgrounds and beach rentals. Amenities such as outdoor showers, meeting rooms, locker rooms, lots of parking and two really good concession stands make a day at the beach pleasurable and relaxing. Lido is a favorite of visitors and Sarasota residents alike, so it can become very busy. However, the fun that can be experienced brings people back time and time again.
- South Lido Beach and Park is surrounded by four bodies of water: The Gulf of Mexico, Big Pass, Sarasota Bay, and Brushy Bayou, so currents can become very strong. However, in addition to swimming there are many other fun things to do at the park. Stroll along the nature paths, pausing at scenic overlooks. Paddle a canoe or kayak along the coastline or jog down the wide sidewalks that are lined with swaying palm trees.
Siesta Key is consistently recognized as having one of the best beaches in the nation—most recently by TripAdvisor in 2015—but there are a couple of fabulous beaches that make this barrier island a must-visit destination for travelers to the region.
- The world-class Siesta Key Beach is famous for its blue waters, “the world’s finest, whitest sand™” and for having been named the best beach in the United States by numerous travel authorities and publications. The unique feature of Siesta Key Beach is that the sand is 99% quartz, so it stays cool even under the hot Florida sun. Undoubtedly it is the most popular beach in Sarasota and there is plenty to do while visiting the key. Every watersport imaginable—from snorkeling below the surface of the water to parasailing above it—is available for those who like to get wet. On land, there are volleyball and tennis courts, concession stands and picnic areas, shelling opportunities, and even stores and restaurants never more than a short walk away. Those with disabilities can enjoy the beach through the use of beach wheelchairs and access ramps. On Sundays, the Siesta Key Drum Circle enlivens the crowds with talented percussionists, dancers and other entertaining acts. Amenities including restrooms, shower facilities, and ample parking enable a stress-free day at the beach. It doesn’t take much for the love affair to begin after a trip to Siesta Key Beach.
- As one of the least crowded beaches along the western Florida coast, Crescent Beach attracts those who yearn for clear water and wide-open spaces. The clarity of the water and the coral rock formations contribute to a spectacular snorkeling adventure. Most visitors to this beach are also lodging nearby, so there are very few facilities. However, within walking distance are a couple of restaurants that are recommended by locals.
- On the southern end of Siesta Key is Turtle Beach. This tranquil beach is named for the turtles that nest here, and chances are good that you may see them. But please don’t disturb the nests and harm these native, wild treasures! Boat launches, picnic and playground areas, and ample parking are amenities of this beach. Many of Turtle Beach’s patrons also take advantage of the wide range of nearby accommodations—everything from inexpensive and privately managed rooms to high-end resorts that excel in providing a luxurious stay in Siesta Key. It’s an ideal location for a romantic afternoon swim or to fish in peace and quiet.
With seemingly turquoise water on one side and clear blue water on the other, Casey Key is a favorite of those looking for a quiet escape to their beach house or a beachside resort. Residences are interspersed throughout the landscape, but public beaches and parks are here as well.
- It may have been the area’s first public beach, but Nokomis Beach is still quiet and relaxing. Shells can be found on the white sand beaches that border the calm green waters. Watch fish swim through the water or maybe even see some turtle nests on the beach. There are hardly any hotels or condos but the beach does provide restrooms, picnic shelters and a boardwalk for strolling over the dunes. The Nokomis Beach Drum Circle is a favorite activity, featuring belly dancers and percussion instrumentalists on Wednesday and Saturday evenings at sunset. Those who wish to bring their own rhythm are welcome to participate, though it is almost more fun to watch the festivities.
- North Jetty Park is known for its superb fishing but offers decent surfing as well. Shells can often be found on the soft, white sand beach, and the warm waters attract beach lovers again and again. The seaside park has recently been enhanced with the addition of a new concession stand and public restroom facilities. If you do want to go fishing in the gulf, head out onto the jetty for a prime location! You can even watch the boats come and go at the inlet.
The clear, blue gulf draws adventurers to Venice Beach for snorkeling or diving in the coral reef and treasure hunters in search of fossilized shark’s teeth. There are many amenities including picnic tables, ample parking, and restrooms. Along the beach, lifeguards patrol the waters that grace the white sands. For dog lovers, stop by the nearby Brohard Dog Paw Park and Beach and let your furry friends run and swim untethered within a fenced acre of grass and shoreline. There are even doggie showers to clean off in and water fountains to keep your dog hydrated.
This entire region is beloved by many who have swum in its waters, walked the streets, and interacted with local people and traditions. We welcome you to enjoy any one (or all) of these delightful areas on the Florida Suncoast. The friendly people, warm and inviting weather, and the countless opportunities for fun, entertainment, and amusement are yours for the taking. Explore the area and discover what will bring you and your family back to this cherished destination.