Key has a split personality, but that’s OK.
10-mile-long island on Florida’s west coast stretches
across two counties, with Manatee County to the north and
Sarasota County to the south. Much of the south side of
the island is high-end resorts and country clubs; the
north is what many residents call the "real
isn’t to say that there aren’t things that bring the
great connector: The white sands that run down from
sweeping dunes across the gorgeous flat beach into the
Gulf of Mexico. It doesn’t matter on which end of the
island you walk barefoot on the beach. The only lines out
there are the footprints in the sand. And there’s no
problem finding your own private stretch of beach to watch
Key is a beach destination, but resorts and houses claim
most of the sandy stretches. There’s no giant public
beach like you would find to the south in Siesta Key or to
the north in Bradenton Beach. So if you’re going to
spend a week in Longboat Key, go for a beachside resort or
rent a house.
is a range of resorts for a variety of price points, but
expect to pay a little more as many feature full kitchens
and are designed for weeklong stays. At the high end is
the AAA 4-diamond rated Resort at Longboat Key Club (longboatkeyclub.com),
Sand Cay Beach Resort (sandcaybeachresort.com) and Cedars
Tennis Resort (cedarstennisresort.com). More economical
options include the Sandpiper Inn (sandpiperinn.com) or
Turtle Crawl Inn (turtlecrawlinn.com). Most have pools and
you do rent a house that isn’t right on the beach, be
sure it’s near one of Longboat Key’s 12 beach
approaches, which you can find on the city’s website (longboatkey.org).
Each has limited parking — think less than 30 spots —
so it’s best if you can snag a nearby rental. Bring a
wagon to haul your gear to the beach.
northernmost approach allows access to the beaches that
overlook Longboat Pass into Sarasota Bay. Just wander out
to the beach and then meander through a patchwork of
gnarled fallen cypress tree trunks and head around the
bend to Beer Can Island. That beach — signs say no
drinking allowed — stretches under the bridge that
connects Longboat Key to Bradenton Beach and is popular
with day-tripping boaters.
here you can see the inlet boat traffic of fishing vessels
and speedboats transporting parasailors out into the Gulf.
Bradenton Beach Parasailing (bradentonbeachparasailing.com)
sails out of the Bridge Street Pier. Most fishing charters
can be found out of Bradenton Beach or south of Longboat
on Lido Key’s City Island, including Capt. Christopher
Boyne’s Poco Grande Sport Fishing (pocograndesportfishing.com).
Key does have several leisure charters. The 53-foot
sailboat Catherine from Catherine’s Florida Charters (catherinesfloridacharters.com)
can sail up to six; prices start at $325 for three hours.
The motorboat tours of Liquid Limousine Charters (liquidlimousinecharters.com)
offer narrated sightseeing and sunset tours as well as
options to snorkel, swim, knee board and go tubing. Plan
on spending $450 for three hours for up to six people.
isn’t just a beach, though. Resorts offer golf and
tennis, but one of the more refreshing finds on Longboat
Key is its natural side.
the southern tip of the island is Quick Point Nature
You’ll find wetlands, mangroves and all kinds of wading
birds diving for dinner or just chilling out in the
glassy-flat surface of Sarasota Bay. The park features
both a man-made and a natural lagoon.
the north side of the island is an even larger park. The
32-acre Joan M. Durante Park (http://www.longboatkey.org/pView.aspx?id(equal)18973)
stretches from Gulf of Mexico Drive down to Sarasota Bay,
with more than a mile of crisscrossing trails with
boardwalks that pass through salt marsh, upland hammock
and mangrove wetlands. It was a gift from James Durante in
the 1980s in honor of his late wife. He wanted the land to
revert to the island’s natural undeveloped state.
the path gazebos offer spots to rest and write
inspirational thoughts in notebooks left in plastic
containers. One person wrote, "It’s not the years
in the life, it’s the life in the years."
Park is the perfect place for a pre- or post-meal stroll.
Several of the island’s best restaurants — Harry’s
Continental Kitchens, Euphemia Haye Restaurant and the
Lazy Lobster — are a short walk away.
(HarrysKitchen.com) has been around since 1985. Like the
island the restaurant has a split personality, especially
at lunch: relaxing cafe seating under bright red and
yellow umbrellas on the outside, fine white-linen settings
inside. For dinner, the linens cover all the tables, even
on the patio.
menu is overwhelming at lunchtime, and its daily brunch
from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. will have you debating whether to go
with one of the five eggs Benedict dishes, the Florida
grouper tacos or medley Surf Side Stack (a soft-shell
crab, crab cake with corn, crab and feta relish and
skip the German apple pancake, said Hal Christensen, the
restaurant’s general manager and son of founder Harry
Christensen. "It is as big as the plate. It is
top-rated restaurant on TripAdvisor is Dry Dock Waterfront
Grill (drydockwaterfrontgrill.com), adjacent to a boat
storage marina overlooking Sarasota Bay. The choice
seating is the outdoor tables along the docks, but the
wait is long and the food, while tasty, is pretty
straightforward. Expect standard seafood and steaks with
pasta, soup and salad. It’s known for its grouper
along the docks, but up in the town’s historic town
center, is the Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant & Pub (marvista.groupersandwich.com).
Built in the 1910s, the building is one of the oldest on
the island and exudes Old Florida charm. Menu items
feature seafood, steak, chicken and pork. Try the Mar
Vista Tater Tots with chipotle honey mustard sauce, the
Red Curry American Red Snapper or the Caribbean Grouper
with grilled bananas, jerk spices and coconut sauce.
is limited on the island, but one of the better options is
the Haye Loft bar on the top floor of Euphemia Haye
Restaurant. It features live music seven nights a week in
a bachelor pad-like atmosphere (euphemiahaye.com/haye-loft).
Longboat Key, it’s more about what you do during the
day. Consider renting bikes at Backyard Bike Shop next to
Durante Park to trek from one end of the island to the
other. If you’re on the north end, listen for the loud
crying sound of wandering peacocks and check out the
sculptures outside the Longboat Key Center for the Arts
run by Ringling College (ringling.edu/LBKCA).
the thing about Longboat Key. You could easily drive from
one side to the other and think there’s not much to it,
but if you stop and look around, it’s filled with
The island town along the Gulf of Mexico spans two
counties, with Manatee County’s Bradenton Beach to the
north and Sarasota County’s Lido Key to the south.
Situated south of Tampa and just west of Sarasota.
According to 2014 U.S. Census Bureau estimates, the
population of Longboat Key is 7,143.
and activities: Longboat Key has dozens of independently
run resorts and several homes for vacation rentals. The
beach is the main draw but resorts offer tennis and golf.
Boating, biking and fishing are also popular.
South Florida Museum, 201 W. 10th St., Bradenton: This
attraction is home to Snooty the Manatee, the oldest sea
cow in captivity who will turn 68 in July. The museum also
includes exhibits about the natural and cultural history
of Florida’s Gulf Coast. Hours vary. Cost: $19 adults,
$17 seniors, $14 children 4-12, ages 3 and younger free. (southfloridamuseum.org)
Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, 1600 Ken Thompson
Parkway, Sarasota: Founded in 1955 by a group of
independent scientists that wanted to further conservation
and education of marine habitats, the aquarium just over
the bridge from Longboat Key features two touch tanks, a
135,000-gallon shark habitat and laboratories where you
can see scientific research in action. There are manatees,
sea turtles and more than 100 species of marine life to
see. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Cost: $19.75 adults,
$18.75 seniors, $14.75 children 4-12, ages 3 and younger
St. Armands Circle, Sarasota: More than 100 shopping,
dining and art venues circle the public green space
adorned with white statues from the nearby Ringling Museum
of Art. Hours vary. (starmandscircleassoc.com)
The John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art, 5401 Bay
Shore Road, Sarasota: The official art museum for the
state of Florida with more than 10,000 pieces, it was
created in 1927 by circus magnate John Ringling. The
grounds include the art and circus museums, the Ca’ d’Zan
mansion and the Asolo Theater. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily
(8 p.m. Thursdays). Cost: $25 adults, $23 seniors, $5
children 6-17, ages 5 and younger free. (ringling.org)
De Soto National Memorial, 8300 Desoto Memorial Highway,
Bradenton: This national landmark commemorates the Tampa
Bay landing of Hernando de Soto in 1539, starting the
first major European exploration of the south. The visitor
center features a movie about de Soto and a museum with
artifacts (you can try on period armor). The grounds
include a nature trail. Visitor center hours: 9 a.m.-5
p.m. daily; grounds open dawn to dusk daily. Cost: Free. (nps.gov/deso)