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Need a break? Here are some Lakewood Ranch spots for a quick respite

Hurrying through life is a great way to miss it. Lakewood Ranch is packed with beautiful reasons to slow down.

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  • | 5:00 a.m. February 17, 2023
In early 2001, Sarasota Audubon began conducting bird surveys at the Celery Fields. To date, 246 species have been recorded.
In early 2001, Sarasota Audubon began conducting bird surveys at the Celery Fields. To date, 246 species have been recorded.
Photo by Nancy Guth
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Stop and smell the roses.

Yes, the saying is as old as time. But it’s still good advice. The meaning is crystal clear: Slow down. Let go. Take time out of your busy day to please your senses. 

Close encounters with nature are healthy interruptions of your stress-packed schedule. Our advice? Take a break in your hectic routine and savor the beauty right in front of you. 

Lakewood Ranch is filled with great opportunities. Here’s a short list to get you started.

Happy trails

Greenbrook Adventure Park and Heron’s Nest Nature Park 
Bring your canine companion to explore Greenbrook’s paw parks.
Photo by Nancy Guth

A tranquil nature walk is a perfect start for your journey of the senses. Greenbrook Adventure Park, in Lakewood Ranch, is close to civilization. But its canopied walking path reveals wild Florida in all its untamed beauty. 

It winds through marshlands, alongside ponds and around wild woods. After a mile on the trail, you’ll reach another path that leads to Heron’s Nest Nature Park. 

This 110-acre refuge boasts two lakes" Heron Lake and Summerfield Lake. (If fishing is your Zen thing, you’ve found your happy place.) The Heron’s Nest trail is short but scenic. While it’s just shy of a mile, it offers abundant opportunities to spot birds, beasts and other wildlife. 

Canine companions are welcome — but must be on leash.

If You Go:

Moveable feasts

To quote W. Somerset Maugham, “There are few things so pleasant as a picnic eaten in perfect comfort.” When the weather is good, al fresco dining is sublime. Pack a basket with your favorite picnic fare, a refreshing beverage, a blanket to spread, and head for a park near you. To help narrow the playing field, Keith Pandeloglou, the president and CEO of Lakewood Ranch Community Activities, supplied a short list of some pleasant picnic spots: 

Bob Gardner Community Park 
Calah and Charles Parker and their children, Case, Coast and Cypress enjoy the great outdoors at Bob Gardner Community Park.
Photo by Nancy Guth

This mile-long community park is nestled between wetland preserves and conservation areas. Picnic tables are scattered throughout its unspoiled, wild beauty — but you can always find your own private corner to create your perfect picnic landscape. 

If You Go: 2710 White Eagle Blvd., Lakewood Ranch; 941-727-1505.

Greenbrook Adventure Park

Looking for a moving experience? This park offers plenty of options. Greenbrook’s inline skating track, sports fields, paw parks and trails will get your heart pumping. After all that activity, it’s time to spread your picnic. The park has a quiet side of rolling green fields and picnic pavilions with grills where you can cook up sizzling feasts. 

If You Go: 13010 Adventure Place, Lakewood Ranch; 941-907-0202;

Heron's Nest Nature Park
Reconnect with nature at Heron’s Nest Nature Preserve.
Photo by Nancy Guth

Heron’s Nest’s picnic pavilion is an outstanding outdoor dining command center. 

Tables in a covered dining area? Check. Central location? Check. Outdoor picnic tables strategically positioned in scenic spots? Easy access to nature trails for that postprandial promenade? Double-check. 

All you need to supply is the bread, some beverages, and that special someone you call “thou.” Bon appétit! 

If You Go: 6399 Tupelo Trail, Lakewood Ranch;

Stress-free zone

Nathan Benderson Park
Enjoy watching members of Sarasota Model Yacht Club race their sailboats across North Lake at Benderson Park.
Courtesy photo

This 600-acre park is all about having fun —

 naturally. Hundreds of people flock here every day to bike, rollerblade, walk dogs, run, row and paddle. 

Stephen V. Rodriguez is the president of the Nathan Benderson Park Conservatory. How does he describe this athletic paradise?

“All of our community programming has a health and wellness theme while also emphasizing the unique attributes of the park,” he says. “The aquatic side is especially important.” Rodriguez adds that Benderson Park offers plenty of stressbusters. Here are a few of his favorites: 

  • Walking, running, biking, and skating around the popular Bill Robinson Lakeside Loop. This 3.5-mile paved walkway encircles calm waters (no motor vessels permitted). 
  • Walking or biking along a shell trail with a separate loop that meanders through stands of trees. 
  • Lazing on the dock of the 400-acre lake. If you’re lucky, you may be there on a day when members of the Sarasota Model Yacht Club race their sailboats across the waters.  
  • Bird watching. Several water mitigation areas harbor thriving bird populations. The overgrown island beside the main regatta island is a sanctuary for many bird species. 
  • Relaxing on shaded benches at the children’s playground while your young’uns burn off energy. There’s even free yoga for the parents on the last Sunday of every month.

What’s Rodriguez’ favorite stress-free zone? “The spot by the canal — where the lake flows into Cooper Creek,” he says. “It’s right next to the finish line of the main rowing racecourse. It’s a great location with some beautiful native trees and picnic tables in the shade.” Sounds delightful.

If You Go: 5851 Nathan Benderson Park Circle, Sarasota; 941-358-7275;

A walk in the park

Sunday at Waterside Park 

This 8-acre park is on the shores of Kingfisher Lake. Sunday’s a swell day to visit. Start with a free, one-hour yoga class at 9 a.m., and then saunter across the footbridge to the bustling farmers market at Waterside Place.

If You Go: 7500 Island Cove Terrace, Lakewood Ranch;

Give peace a chance

Peaceful Path, Labyrinth and Sound Garden at Peace Presbyterian Church
A children’s outdoor sensory musical environment with a giant xylophone is part of the Peaceful Path, Labyrinth and Sound Garden.
Photo by Nancy Guth

You’ll find this ¼-mile stretch of nature, art and sound about six miles east of Lakewood Ranch Blvd. What will you find? The sign at the path entrance says it all: “All are welcome. Walk, meditate, rest and pray.” 

Jamie Reagan and Toni Muirhead created this path a few years back. For them, it was both a labor of love and an act of faith. Building a community of peace is their church’s mission. They saw the Peaceful Path as a step in that direction.

According to Reagan, this path is good for both body and soul.

 “People are searching for a safe, quiet place to relax and think, and breathe,” says Reagan. “Walking in nature increases your health and psychological wellbeing.”

Muirhead notes that the Peaceful Path is constantly evolving — like nature itself. “We were originally only going to have natural artwork,” she says. “But after someone deposited a giant porpoise statue, we had a major philosophical change.” She adds that hundreds of painted “kindness” rocks soon joined Flipper. Who painted them? “The artist is still a mystery,” she says.

The Path’s evolution didn’t stop with these new arrivals. Thanks to grants, a children’s outdoor sensory musical environment boasting a giant xylophone and five outdoor musical flowers were also added. Most recently, the co-directors, working with the University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, completed a plant identification project, and a “happiness trail,” designed to evoke laughter, is being planned. The first female Eagle Scouts of Manatee County also created the small labyrinth at the trail’s end.

If You Go: Peace Presbyterian Church, 12705 State Road 64, Lakewood Ranch;

For the birds

Sarasota Audubon Nature Center at the Celery Fields 
Join bird naturalists on guided birding trips, family fun days and a host of conservation projects at Celery Fields.
Photo by Nancy Guth

The Sarasota Audubon Nature Center is a haven for birds and heaven for bird-lovers. This ornithological oasis is located on one acre of the Celery Fields, a 400-acre site that’s part of the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail. 

The Nature Center is an all-volunteer teaching environment staffed with “bird naturalists” (aka docents). You can join them on guided birding trips, family fun days, and a host of conservation projects. Or you can sit and enjoy the view. 

Jeanne Dubi, Sarasota Audubon’s president recommends the gazebo in the bird-feeding area. “If you sit there patiently, you’ll see painted buntings, parakeets, and other birds come to feed,” she says. 

Depending on the time of year, bird naturalists are stationed each day on the two boardwalks by the Celery Fields, equipped with telescopes and answers to birding questions. As the boardwalks overlook the wetlands, expect to see herons, egrets, ibis and the brilliantly colored purple gallinule. 

According to Dubi, more birds will be flocking here in the future. That’s no accident. Thanks to a partnership between the Sarasota Audubon Society and the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, a 27-acre woodland habitat will be developed to attract cardinals, woodpeckers, and many more “backyard” birds. 

If You Go: 999 Center Road, Sarasota; 941-312-6533;

Beyond the mat

Heartwood Yoga Institute 

The yoga retreat on this 7-acre property offers a full spectrum of yoga and meditation classes, therapy, teacher training programs, workshops and spiritual retreats. 

Its treasure trove of meditative and spiritual environments also includes a chakra garden, meditation gazebo, medicine wheel and an 11-circuit labyrinth. It’s all designed to provide a deeper yogic experience to students.  

If You Go: 17507 Waterline Road, Bradenton; 745-5719;

Good vibrations

The Yoga Barre
Janette Brown, owner of The Yoga Barre, says that yoga opens the door to physical, mental, and spiritual unity.
Courtesy photo

This one-stop wellness center, founded by Janette Brown, lets you practice many forms of yoga (including Himalayan!), learn about healing botanicals, create art from objects found in nature, and attend spiritual and healing workshops.

Zooey Seraphine Ibarra’s Full Moon Sound Bath uses power of sonic vibration to release stress, quiet the mind, and send the listener on an inner meditative and healing journey.  

If You Go: 4124 Lakewood Ranch Blvd. Lakewood Ranch; 941-867-0812;

Take a walk on the wild side

“EcoWalks” Guided Nature Tours

Dr. Katherine Clements is a natural resources educator and nature lover. Clements developed her “EcoWalks” to share that love. According to Clements, “They’re interpretive, guided walks through Sarasota County’s various preserves and natural areas.” Most EcoTours explore the plants and animals of our regional ecosystems. These ecological encounters are grounded in science and stress the connection between a healthy natural environment and individual health. Clements “Meditations in the Parks” are grounded in the Japanese meditative practice of “shinrin-yoku” or forest bathing. EcoWalks are always free, whatever form they take.

If You Go: For questions, call 861-5000 or email [email protected].

A rose is a rose

Don’t forget to stop and smell the roses. Take a break in your hectic routine and savor the beauty right in front of you.

Did you know you can eat a rose? In fact, they’re healthy. 

Roses contain antioxidants and are high in vitamin C and vitamin A and rose petals make a sweetly fragrant tea. 

How about brightening your life with a beautiful bouquet? Fantasy Flowers of Lakewood Ranch can make your rose fantasies come true. 

If You Go: 8111 Lakewood Ranch Main St., Building J, Suite 101, Lakewood Ranch; 500-1000;


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