Snowbirds and spring breakers and sunbathers … oh, my!
It’s March, the busiest time of an already busy season.
And, whether you’re in town for a long weekend or enjoy Longboat life year-round, you’re probably seeking to make the most of the season.
Here’s our guide to the top 10 can’t-miss activities and destinations on Longboat and its surrounding keys.
In no particular order, we suggest you …
Experience Longboat Key’s great outdoors at its nature parks. Bicentennial Park, 2730 Gulf of Mexico Drive, located outside of Longboat Key Town Hall, offers shaded seating and a butterfly garden. Overlook Park, located at the southern tip of the Key on the bayside, is a good spot for picnics and fishing, while Quick Point Nature Preserve, across the street, is a good place for bird watching or scoping out local critters such as conchs, juvenile crabs and many types of fish, along with native fauna. Joan M. Durante Park, 5550 Gulf of Mexico Drive, is a 32-acre wetland and coastal hammock forest with walking and biking trails, a pavilion and a playground. Leashed dogs are welcome there, as well — there are even special water fountains for dogs at Durante Park.
MOTE MARINE LABORATORY
Flip for sea lions at the aquarium at Mote Marine Laboratory, 1600 Ken Thompson Parkway. Mote has more than 100 species of marine life at its aquarium, including manatees, sharks and sea turtles. But, this year, the real stars of the sea are the sea lions that are part of “Sea Lions: On the Water’s Edge,” which runs through April 28. The exhibit started out with sea lions Stella, Rose and Kitty, although other sea lions from the Myakka City-based rescue group, Squalus Inc., will rotate in and out of the spotlight.
LONGBOAT KEY CENTER FOR THE ARTS
Visit the Longboat Key Center for the Arts, a Division of Ringling College of Art and Design, 6860 Longboat Drive S. The last day to see the historic Florida Highwaymen exhibit is Thursday, Feb. 28. Next up is the annual Community Juried Exhibition that will open to the public Friday, March 8. If you do head out to the Arts Center, consider exploring the surrounding historic Longbeach Village by visiting all the stops on a walking tour developed last year. Stops are available at the Longboat Key Historical Society’s website, longboatkeyhistory.com. You might also catch a glimpse of the neighborhood’s famed peacocks, but be warned: It’s mating season. For information, call 383-2345.
SAVE OUR SEABIRDS
Wing it at Save Our Seabirds, 1708 Ken Thompson Parkway. The old Pelican Man’s Bird Sanctuary has approximately 250 resident birds, representing more than 30 species, in its Wild Bird Learning Center that is open to the public. Guided tours are also available. Call 388-3010. On Saturday, March 2, and Sunday, March 3, be sure to check out the Sarasota Wildlife Festival, a juried art show that benefits Save Our Seabirds, on Ken Thompson Parkway. Visit sarasotawildlifefest.com.
Soak up the sun
Going to the beach is a no-brainer whether you’re visiting Longboat Key or you’re lucky enough to live here. Finding the beach? Well, that’s another story.
Here’s your map to Longboat Key’s most hidden treasures:
• 2825 GMD* (parking at Town Hall, 501 Bay Isles Road)
• 3175 GMD (parking onsite)
• 3355 GMD (parking onsite)
• 3495 GMD (handicap-accessible onsite; parking across the street)
• 4001 GMD (parking at Bayfront Park, 4052 GMD)
• 4711 GMD (handicap-accessible parking onsite)
• 4795 GMD (handicap-accessible parking onsite)
• 6399 Gulfside Road (parking at General Harris Street)
• 6847 GMD (parking at Broadway access)
• 100 Broadway (handicap-accessible parking onsite)
• 7055 Seabreeze Ave. (no parking available
*GMD stands for Gulf of Mexico Drive.
Check out the Longboat Library, 555 Bay Isles Road. The private, non-profit library offers memberships for as little as $25 a year. Internet access is also available for free to members and for a small fee for non-members. Here are the top-10 books patrons are reading this season:
• “The Time Keeper,” Mitch Albon
• “The Forgotten,” David Baldacci
• “The Innocent,” David Baldacci
• “The Black Box,” Michael Connelly
• “Gone Girl,” Gillian Flynn
• “The Spymasters,” W.E.B. Griffin
• “Unbroken,” Laura Hillenbrand
• “Defending Jacob,” William Landay
• “Killing Kennedy,” Bill O’Reilly
• “Safe Haven,” Nicholas Sparks
For information, call 383-2011.
Longboat Key Education Center
Live and learn at the Longboat Key Education Center, 5370 Gulf of Mexico Drive, Suite 212. It may be spring-break time, not school time, but this nonprofit’s motto is, “Like college … only better.” The spring semester begins March 4 and offers classes such as yoga, movie discussion, painting and an iPad/iPhone boot camp, plus lectures and concerts. Visit lbkeducationcenter.org.
ST. ARMANDS CIRCLE
Stroll St. Armands Circle. Of course, you’ll want to shop and dine at the famed shopping district. But, entertainment and events bring St. Armands full circle. “Buskers” — defined as street performers, troubadours or entertainers who perform in public places for gratuities — will circle St. Armands from 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, March 14. The “Buskers on St. Armands” tradition will continue on the first Wednesday of each month beginning in April. As you stroll the Circle, check out the restored historic John Ringling statues.
PUBLIC TENNIS CENTER
Improve your tennis game. The Longboat Key Public Tennis Center, 590 Bay Isles Road, offers one-and-a-half-hour, walk-on sessions for $12 per person. The facility has 10 soft-clay courts, a specialized teaching court, teaching professionals, daily organized events and a match-making service. Clinics, lessons, ball machines and leagues are also available. For 24-hour advanced reservations, call 316-8367.
HOME & GARDEN TOUR
Get an inside look at Longboat life during the Longboat Key Garden Club’s Home & Garden Tour Saturday, March 2. This year’s tour features five mainland homes, plus a rare chance to visit a sixth home on Jewfish Key, accessible only by boat. Tickets for the five mainland homes are $20 and $50 for the Jewfish home and the other five homes. Reservations for the Jewfish home must be made in advance. Check out the special section in this week’s Longboat Observer.
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Correction: Heitlers to net 75 years in April
In its Sept. 18 issue, the Longboat Observer featured Plymouth Harbor resident George Heitler, a lifelong tennis player who has played tennis for most of his 99 years and is a regular at the Longboat Key Public Tennis Center.
Win big in two Observer contests
Starting in October, the Observer will now offer prizes for winners of the weather photo contest, sponsored by Manasota Flooring Inc.
Mar Vista begins dock construction
Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant & Pub is on track to have a new dock by the end of October.