The heat and humidity can be rough, but it’s worth it to stick around for Lakewood Ranch summers — when the pace is slower and the traffic and dinner crowds are lighter.
Summer is definitely my least favorite part of Lakewood Ranch. But then again, its also my favorite. Aside from the unbearable heat, the most uncomfortable part of summer is that it’s largely a season of anticipation. It feels like a warm, sleepy waiting room out of an old movie, sunshine filtering in through slits in the Venetian blinds, everyone sinking into their chairs in a stupor, fanning themselves with postcards or straw hats trying to stay awake until they get called back. In this waiting room, I’m waiting for cooler weather, for school and football to start again, for most TV shows to come back, for pumpkin spice, arts and crafts festivals, the opera, and the snowbirds. Wait, no… not the snowbirds.
And therein lies the rub: As soon as we get called back from the waiting room of summer, all of the good things come with a lot of unpleasantness for us year-round residents, who have the slower pace of summer for comparison. The traffic picks back up, the waits at even the least exciting of restaurants on any given Tuesday skyrocket to half an hour, you have to get to happy hour at 4 p.m. if you want any chance of getting a seat the bar, it takes an hour and a half to make it to University from Five Guys, and good luck trying to get to the beach.
So, in that light, summer is definitely my favorite season. It’s the hakuna matata of seasons, because it means no worries for the rest of its months. You can pretty much go anywhere and do anything without much planning or allowing for the uncertainty of the crowds. The whole area gets back a small-town feel – like it had a generation ago. Even the businesses start catering to the locals.
One of our favorite things about the summer is Savor Sarasota — the local version of Restaurant Week, which many cities organize — which takes place in the first two weeks of June. Sarasota County has the highest concentration of Zagat-rated restaurants in Florida, and many of them participate in the event, which offers fixed-price, three-course menus for both lunch ($16) and dinner ($32). It’s a great deal for many of the nicer places, and a good way to explore some quality restaurants that you might not otherwise have a good reason to visit, like Euphemia Haye in Longboat Key, Cafe Gabbiano on Siesta Key, or Beulah in downtown Sarasota. The full listing of restaurants is available at savorsarasota.com, and even though the official end of the event is June 14, many of the participants continue offering the fixed price menu for the entire month and some, even the entire summer. If you happen to find yourself at a restaurant and aren’t sure if it is participating, just ask the waiter: Some restaurants heavily advertise the special menu, while others just make it available upon request.
Summertime is also the best time of year to experience sunset over a drink and some bar food at one of the too-few waterfront bars around, like O’Leary’s in downtown Sarasota, Caddy’s in Bradenton, or the Rod and Reel at the north tip of Anna Maria Island. They won’t be nearly as busy as they are during season, and even during the hot months, sunset with the guaranteed breeze by the water is very enjoyable.
As for healthy activities, my favorite thing to do is cycling, again because of the guaranteed breeze: No matter how hot it is outside, riding a bicycle feels nice. Lakewood Ranch, of course, has lots of trails, plus bike lanes on all roads and for the more careful, ample sidewalks. The best route should probably include Hidden River Trail, which runs between Lakewood Ranch Boulevard and Lorraine Road, just north of the Country Club. (As the name suggests, it’s not very visible, so you have to be looking for it.)
However, there are three other amazing places to bike in the area, if you’re up for a drive beforehand. First, of course, is the Legacy Trail, which starts just south of Clark Road and goes for 11 miles into Venice, on what used to be a railroad. It’s a beautiful and easy ride, and definitely worth experiencing. Second would be Longboat Key, which is for the most part straight, and offers great views of the Gulf. Longboat is, well, pretty long — about 11 miles — and there are indeed boats around.
Third, and my personal favorite, is Myakka State Park. It’s a lot shorter – about 6 miles from the north entrance by Fruitville to the south at Clark – but it’s the most scenic of all, and there are lots of chances to see wildlife, from cranes and herons to deer and wild hogs. Just avoid sunrise and sunset, which is when many animals eat, and when I personally had a close encounter with a giant alligator crossing the road in front of me. It was almost dark and hard to see anything, so I almost had a heart attack when what seemed like a dragon was blocking the entire road: head at one side, tail at the other. It looked at me and kept walking and as soon as his tail got to the middle of the road, I sped past it, too scared to look back.
But scary things are part of adventure sometimes. Go find yours this summer.