This is the 2nd part of my blog on the Sarasota Area where I spent 10 days while on my road trip during the end of April and beginning of May.
This is one of my favorite keys in the area. If you are heading north from St. Armand’s Circle then passing through Longboat key you will cross a drawbridge and find yourself right next to Coquina Beach. Rumor has it that this park is the site of a former hotel that burnt down and the beach is haunted. At night, specters are apparently scene on the grounds as well as the beach. I have no idea if this is true…but I’d like to find out. The park sits on the edge of an inlet, which leads into Sarasota Bay.
If you are heading north on the right side of the road just after the bridge sits a public park and a boat launch which can be pretty busy. The State park is on the left side and sits on the Gulf of Mexico. This is another beach and park I found on a past visit. That day it was cloudy, windy and empty but on my only visit there during this trip it was sunny the wind was calm. It was midweek and the beach was only moderately busy at all. I have had very good luck looking for shells on this beach since they are washed up during high tide and bad weather. If you are looking to find shells check it out early in the morning before people start to show up. The sand is smooth and clean and makes for good beach walking. The day I was here there were storms going thru and the waves were kicking up good which always makes for a good beach walk I think.
The beach has a few wooden jetties stretching out into the water every so often, which also divide the beach into sections. My mom says this interrupts beach walking and she doesn’t like it but I do not find it to be that way. These jetties actually extend all the way up to beach to Anna Marie Island. Next to them, you can often find tide pools holding different sea creatures that were trapped and hanging out. And when the waves hit them it makes for a nice picture. It’s a nice beach for families, relaxing and also offers a large area for picnics and walking. A nice bike path stretches all from this park up to Bradenton.
Long Boat Key
This key is generally known as the most expensive of the keys to live on and stay at and is full of high-rise condos, a few hotels and very rich people. It’s not exactly tourist friendly for the average visitor and the view driving through most of it is uninteresting only at the beginning and end of the Longboat can you actually see the ocean…FAIL. However, the beaches on this key are some of the nicest in the area…if you can find. The key to finding them (unless you are staying on Longboat) is looking for the small blue public access signs. I learned on this past trip that some time ago, the elite of Longboat didn’t want tourists on their beaches and wanted them just for themselves and the people who paid to stay in the hotels. The State of Florida said NO to that and forced them to make the beach accessible to public via these accesses which have little parking. The powers that be on Longboat don’t make these easy to find and if you are not paying attention you will drive right past them. Some are actually hidden down roads, which appear to be private roads with signs saying as such….even though sometimes they are not. Now, don’t get me wrong all its snobbishness aside Longboat Key is a very nice place and immensely beautiful and I do think it is worth going there.. I have met a few “average” people from Longboat who took away some the snobbery that I had gotten used to. In doing some research for this blog I found a great site that tell you exactly where the public accesses are located at.
Since I am occasionally daring when I travel and disdain rules saying I can’t do something it gives me more ammo to do it. On the north end of Long boat key before you get to the drawbridge, there is a road small road off to the side. Of course there is a sign there, which I have seen many times stating “private drive”. This same sign sends many people turning around and did me also at one point. The sign however is placed in such way giving the impression it applies to the whole drive….and it does not. It only applies to the first driveway after you pull down the road. IF you go down this road all the way to the end, there is public access beach with about 10 parking spots (parallel parking). This beach is often called the “secret beach” of Long Boat key because many people don’t know about it and don’t know how to get to it and since there isn’t a blue sign near the road.
Many times I would see this beach from the other side of the bridge on Bradenton Key at Coquina State park and think” dammit that beach looks amazing how the hell do I get there”? Well I finally figured it out how and this became my favorite beach in the whole area and maybe all of Florida so far. It’s small and borders a bird sanctuary and the inlet for the Sarasota Bay. After parking and walking in there is a 1 set of condos a bit off the beach and that’s IT!. NO high-rises, no hotels and the 3 times I went there very few people. I named this beach Melville’s Beach on foursquare since I could not actually find its real name lol.
The beach is covered with dead trees, which have been pummeled by the ocean and bleached by the sun, and looks like some sort of crazy tropical tree graveyard. It is very very private and it’s not hard to find your own little area that is just yours. The beach has some very nice shells and the water is clear and warm. Well I was swimming one day I kept feeling around with my feet and found what I thought was a rock partially buried on the bottom but turned out to be a massive shell that usually does not get that big…biggest shell I ever found… super sweet!
It’s a small beach, and prone to flooding during storms, and changes often which makes for a nice chance in scenery. During high tide, it can get a little iffy as well. I personally got a big kick out of seeing these fallen trees with their trunks and roots siting in the ocean. Next to the beach, there is a mangrove forest with some short paths going thru them, which lead back toward the bridge and the bird sanctuary.
I would not say it is a kid friendly beach though. The trees, hardened by the sun are can sharp, I suppose you could say these are just large drift wood and these would easily impale even a bigger child if they are running and not paying attention. If their parents are not paying attention and not supervising bad things could happen. There can be sharp wood in the water so look where you walk. It is a sitting and swimming beach for grownups who want to relax, a place for couples to have privacy, swim and make out, a place for people to just exist in peace…its not a rowdy beach.
There are NO bathrooms within a half a mile (you have to leave and go to the state park). There is also NO life guards on duty and the current can get strong. Around the bend on the beach there is actually a sign that says STRONG CURRENT NO SWIMMING. Boats of many sizes come in and out frequently SO keep that it mind….
St. Armand’s Circle
This is perhaps the most famous shopping area in the Sarasota area and is on Lido key. It is at it sounds, a circle, of shops of various types as well as restaurants, cafes and wine bars. When it was originally built decades ago, it was all high-end shops for the very rich. Now that is not the case as much however, there are a few higher end shops in the circle still such as clothiers, jewelry stores and art galleries. Over the years, I have seen St. Armand’s change with some shops closing and being replaced by new ones between visits. I found out on this recent visit that one of my favorite places to go for a drink called Hemingway’s Retreat closed since my last visit. It was on the top floor of a building at 325 John Ringling Blvd and had a great view of the circle from the seats outside. I was kind of sad about that.
Since St. Armand’s Circle is so famous it is usually crazy busy during the more traveled times of the year and more of a headache then what I want to deal with. On this past visit, I went on a Thursday for dinner and shopping with my mom. Parking can be a pain in the ass to find sometimes but on this visit, it was very easy to find a close spot. It was slow and the circle was not packed. Which actually made for a nice time since we were able to be seated right away at a great table on the sidewalk. People were not bumping into me while I was trying to eat, kids were not screaming and mom and I were able to have a nice conversation. The shops were not flooded with tourists so we were able to go a few of the galleries and other shops, which are often packed and take our time. One wonderful shop in particular that we stopped at belonged to a local artist named David o’Keefe who does paintings and sculptures of pop culture icons. I personally find is sculptures creepy and fascinating. I got a print of a Frank Sinatra poster, which made me very happy. I hope this gallery stays open because his art is truly unique and fun to look at. Overall, it was nice just to be able wander at night and talk without hordes of people. This was probably my best visit to the circle.
Just a warning St. Armand’s Circle has a double one-way circle in the middle and traffic is often backed up, this is also the only the way to get to Longboat key and anything north from there unless you are coming from Bradenton. I do not know who’s dumb idea that was. This circle concept confuses people especially foreigners so watch your ass if you are driving. OR if you are like me learn what side streets go thru to get you on Gulf Coast Road(check). Additionally, there is a lot of parallel parking on the circle, so if that is a problem for you and if the concept of parallel parking is beyond you just don’t try it.