The traffic is jammed, and businesses are slammed.
Yup, it’s March, and the snowbirds and spring-breakers have flocked to town, leaving the cold weather behind. And although we all know they’re here for the sand and sunshine, we wanted to find the hottest spots in the area, so we sought advice from three experts at Key resorts.
Long-time residents and visitors are undoubtedly familiar with some of these attractions, although you might just find a new spot or two. And for newcomers, this guide will introduce you to the best that Longboat Key and Sarasota have to offer.
Front desk representative
Longboat Key Hilton Beachfront Resort
Brie Daw has worked at the Longboat Key Hilton Beachfront Resort since August, but as someone who grew up in Sarasota, she knows all the local hotspots. Daw said that the best part of growing up in the area is that she gets to live in a place where people pay to visit.
“You can pretty much say you live in paradise,” she said.
And the Hilton offers a piece of that paradise with 102 rooms and its mid-Longboat Key location at 4711 Gulf of Mexico Drive.
“It’s Old-World Florida; it’s quaint and quiet,” Daw said. “People enjoy coming here and being able to relax.”
Where is the best place for dessert?
Anything from Kilwin’s Chocolates on St. Armands is good. The smell of them making fudge and peanut brittle makes you want to eat dessert. I like the cookies-and-cream ice cream. It has big pieces of cookie.
Where do you like to go on your day off?
I like to go to the beach. Siesta is my favorite. I also enjoy The Legacy Trail. It’s mainly for bikers, but it’s also good for a walk, and you can bring your dog.
What is your favorite place for pizza?
Oma’s, on Bradenton Beach. I like cheese, but my co-workers enjoy their pepperoni. It’s a regular crust but it’s not too dough-y.
What’s a good route to take for a bike ride?
Right here on Gulf of Mexico Drive is always nice. We rent bikes here, and there’s the Backyard Bike Shop. You get to see the different homes, and you can go on little side streets and get off the main road.
What’s a good spot to find seashells?
Definitely Siesta Beach. They have the best seashells. They’re always intact. If you walk down to where you’re almost getting to the private part of the beach, the shells are the best. Lido also has good seashell hunting from what I’ve heard.
What is a good place for a photo op?
Selby Gardens and also the rose garden at the Ringling Museum of Art. Both are nice, especially when the roses actually are in bloom. The rose garden has some nice little gazebos.
Where is a good place to visit if you’re on a budget?
I like the farmers market in downtown Sarasota on Saturday mornings. You don’t have to buy anything, but you can walk around and look at the local seafood and produce and go into the shops. If you do buy something, it’s going to be reasonably priced because it’s all local.
Where is a good place to find antiques?
The Sea Hagg (in Cortez) is very unique. It’s got lots of interesting things, and it has a nautical theme, so it’s a good place if you’re looking for Florida stuff.
What’s a good place to go for a date?
I like Marina Jack, because you can walk around. It’s quiet, it has a good view, and you can catch a bite to eat. You can converse and you don’t have to worry about there being too many people or distractions.
Regional director of sales
Lido Beach Resort
Karen Rangel, regional director of sales for the Lido Beach Resort, says it has some of the best amenities in town. The 223-room resort sits on Lido Key’s pristine beaches and has approximately 6,000 square feet of meeting space. Rangel admits that she’s a little biased, but some of her favorite attractions are inside the resort, including the outdoor tiki bar and the Lido Beach Grille. But Rangel, who is originally from Chicago and has lived in Sarasota for 16 years, the past seven of which she has spent working for the Lido Beach Resort, says the resort’s biggest asset is its people.
“I’ve been all over Florida, and I love what this destination brings out in our guests and our employees,” she said.
Here, Rangel shares some of her favorite picks for the area.
What is a little-known beach access?
North Lido Beach is really interesting. There are hiking trails back behind there, and it’s a heavily wooded area. It used to have a reputation as Sarasota’s nude beach, but that has changed. We were there recently and saw two bald eagles maybe 10 feet away from us eating fish.
Where is a good place for a romantic meal?
Our Lido Beach Grill is very romantic. We average one wedding proposal up there per month. Also, I think Café L’Europe is really romantic. Plus, you can stroll on the Circle with your sweetheart.
Where would you take the in-laws to eat?
If you needed to impress them, I would say either Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar or Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion. Because they’re both chain restaurants, there are going to be items that appeal to everyone, and at the same time, you’ll get quality.
Where can you find a good happy hour?
I think the Daiquiri Deck on St. Armands Circle is going to be really popular. It just opened, but I was on the Circle Saturday, and it was packed. People seemed to be having fun.
What would you recommend to someone who wants a history lesson?
Florida Ever-Glides Sarasota offers a historical scenic segway tour. You get to explore downtown Sarasota, the bayfront and all of Island Park. You’re not just getting a history lesson, it’s an outdoor activity as well.
Where is a good place for kayaking?
Almost Heaven Kayak Adventures offers kayak tours in the mangrove tunnels on South Lido. You can encounter dolphins, manatees, seahorses and fish. You get to see the different flora and fauna and all kinds of different wildlife.
What is an outdoor activity that is unique to the Sarasota area?
We hosted a standup paddle boarding festival last July. It’s a great sport, and you don’t have to be an athlete to participate in it. Give it 10 years, and I think it’s going to be huge.
Longboat Key Club and Resort
Gloria Schroeder traveled the world when she worked for Regent Seven Seas cruise lines before coming home to the Sarasota area 10 years ago. Last year, she became head concierge at the Longboat Key Club and Resort, a luxury beachfront resort and private country club with 218 luxury hotel suites, 45 onsite champion golf holes, a 291-slip marina, 38 Har-Tru tennis courts (six of which are lighted for night play) and eight restaurants.
As someone who has set sail throughout the globe, Schroeder can comfortably say that Longboat Key and Sarasota offer the crème de la crème.
“When you live in paradise, it’s hard to find any place in the world to compare to it,” she said. “It doesn’t get much better than this.”
Where is your favorite place for outdoor dining?
In my book, No. 1 would be Ophelia’s on the Bay. By day, Dry Dock Waterfront Grill is fun. You’re right out there on the bay. To the north, Beach Bistro (on Holmes Beach) has fine dining on the Gulf of Mexico.
What’s a good place to bring young children?
Jungle Gardens would be one that we would recommend to guests with children. It’s got exotic birds, it’s outdoors, and it’s mostly for children. The other two that we always recommend are Mote Marine and G.WIZ.
What restaurant serves great local seafood?
There’s the Lazy Lobster on northern Longboat Key and Crab & Fin on St. Armands Circle. Lazy Lobster is more relaxed, and Crab & Fin is more for formal dining.
Where should you go if you’re hoping to spot a dolphin or a manatee?
The other day, we went to Dry Dock Waterfront Grill, and the dolphins were just swimming all over in the bay. It just depends on your luck. They’re all over the place here, so you’re going to see them.
Where should you go if you want to learn something new?
Whenever I go to Mote Marine or G.WIZ, I learn something new. Those are hands-on and good for families. But during season, for adults, we have our Town Hall lecture series. We recently had Tony Blair speak, but not all of the speakers are political.
What is a good souvenir to bring home?
I would have to say a shark’s tooth. They’re more in Venice; Venice shark teeth are huge, but you can find them in all the gift shops around here. Kids always like them.
Where would you send a guest to find a one-of-a-kind evening dress?
On St. Armands Circle, White House Black Market is a very good place. They have cocktail dresses, and the short little black dress is always big there. Also, at Foxy Lady, you’ve got your upscale contemporary clothing. They have a shoe boutique, plus eveningwear as well.
Contact Robin Hartill at [email protected]