The spring break season is always a busy time for Siesta Key, but since Dr. Stephen Leatherman ranked the quartz-sand beach at the top of his list of the best beaches in the country, many people on the Key are reporting an even busier season than usual.
It’s been a great year for Sarasota County in terms of publicity. Not only did Siesta Key Beach earn national recognition, but Livability.com also named Sarasota No. 1 on its list of top-10 spring-break destinations for families, and Siesta Key has been seeing the effects.
Executive director of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, Kevin Cooper, estimates that Siesta Key is at 90% to 100% occupancy, and he attributes the swell in visitors, especially families, to the attention the beach has received lately.
“I’ve definitely noticed a lot more of the family element,” said Cooper. “And we cater a lot more to that type of environment. We don’t have the hotel environment that a college crowd typically enjoys. We have the condos and the beach homes that cater more to a family vacation.”
Siesta Key lifeguard Robert Martini has a birds-eye view of the action on the beach, and he also reports a noticeable increase in beach traffic and a shift in the spring-break crowd.
“This spring break was definitely the busiest that I’ve seen in the last three years or so,” said Martini. “Especially after the No. 1 beach ranking, I’ve seen more people who wouldn’t normally come here. People are coming from central Florida and even the east coast. It’s not too far, and now they can see how beautiful the sand and the water is.”
Martini has also noticed an increased presence of deputies on the beach, but says that despite the increase in beachgoers, there haven’t been many problems on the beach. The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office agrees that the season has been pretty typical from a law-enforcement standpoint.
As can be expected, business owners in the Siesta Key Village have also been enjoying the increase in tourism.
Russell Matthes, co-owner of the Daiquiri Deck, has heard many customers comment that they’ve chosen Siesta Key over their usual vacation destinations because of its prestigious ranking.
“We get it all the time,” said Matthes. “It’s been a great season. Last year was a record season for us, and we’re already marginally ahead of that this year, so we’re definitely doing well.”
As the season comes to a close, things will soon return to normal on the Key. Martini estimates another two-and-a-half weeks of increased beachgoers.
“Things usually calm down after the big Easter weekend,” said Martini. “It’s a madhouse right after that, but then everyone goes back to school, and the beach quiets down until Memorial Day.”
Martini says the extra effort required to accommodate the seasonal guests is more than worth it.
“It’s good, because it brings a lot of money into our community,” said Martini. “All the maintenance is a tall task, but the pros definitely outweigh the cons.”
Tales of Spring Break
Siesta Key lifeguard Robert Martini wracked his brain to provide the Pelican Press with the most colorful example of spring break debauchery that happened this season.
Martini reports that early one morning before the beach opened, as he and another lifeguard were unloading a Jet Ski from the bed of a pickup truck, he noticed a man lying on the beach. The man was completely naked.
“I think he must’ve enjoyed a night out in the Village and ended up spending the night on the beach, and he woke up not knowing where he was,” said Martini. “He had his pants and underwear completely down around his ankles … ”
Martini says he and the other lifeguard tried to convince him to put his clothes back on until the Sheriff’s Office got involved.
By the Numbers
90 to 100% — level of occupancy currently on Siesta Key
$13,000 — Amount of money St. Boniface Episcopal Church has raised for mission trips by charging for parking
180 — Number of parking spaces at St. Boniface
800 — Number of parking spaces at the Siesta Key Beach parking lot
9 — Number of beach accesses on Siesta Key
15 — Number of drivers employed by Sun Ride Pedicab
With everyone anxious to enjoy all that the Key has to offer, one constant has been an increase in traffic — especially when it comes to beach parking. The beach parking lot has been reaching capacity as early as 9:30 a.m. on some days, and St. Boniface Episcopal Church has offered its lot as overflow parking in exchange for donations that fund youth mission trips. Administrative Assistant Lisa Wolf noticed a spike in parking during the week of March 12.
“It was manageable, but we were packed every day that week,” said Wolf. “We have 180 parking spaces, and they were filled every day during that week.”
The church asks for a $5 donation for parking during the week and a $10 donation on the weekends. The church has raised more than $13,000 so far this year, and all the money will go toward funding mission trips to France, Honduras and a Native American reservation in Minnesota.
Glen Cappetta, owner of Sun Ride Pedicab, reports an estimated 110% increase in ridership since Siesta Key Beach was named No. 1.
“I’ll put it this way,” said Cappetta. “Last year, I had one bike and four drivers. This year, I have five bikes and 15 drivers. On average, I have three bikes running 18 hours a day, and we give 175 to 250 rides every day. It’s been crazy.”