The Ultimate Guide to Sarasota’s Award-Winning Beaches
In Sarasota, life’s a beach. Lots and lots of beaches—35 miles of them in all. And each beach has a look and personality all its own. We have beaches that buzz with activity from morning to night, with sports courts, yoga and hula-hoop classes, kayak and paddleboard rentals, tiki-style restaurants and watchful lifeguards monitoring the crowds. We have beaches that look just the way nature designed them, splendid sweeps of empty white sand fringed by sea oats and waving palms. We have big beaches, small beaches and those in between, beaches with hard-packed sand that make for easy walking and beaches so soft you trudge slowly down the shoreline. But what we don’t have is a bad beach—not a single one.
And at every Sarasota beach, you’ll experience the restorative power of what scientists like to call our “blue mind,” that blissful state of calm and happiness that sea and sand impart. Whether it’s the ion-rich atmosphere, the dazzling colors and scenery, or the vastness of the Gulf and sky, Southwest Florida beaches ease stress and put our worries into proper perspective.
Beaches are also a safe haven during the time of Covid. Wide-open outdoor spaces have been shown to have a low rate of airborne viral transmission. In addition, sunshine breaks down virus particles, and moist sea breezes scatter and weaken droplets. All bets are off, of course, if you crowd into an enclosed locker room or stand elbow-to-elbow at the snack bar. But if you keep your distance on the sand and in the water, you should be fine.
We’ve included 14 Sarasota County public beaches along with three from Manatee County and one from Charlotte County. Here’s your guide.
Anna Maria Bayfront Park
310 N. Bay Blvd., Anna Maria Island
The northernmost beach on Anna Maria Island, this low-key stretch of sand and shade trees feels like a park as well as a beach. And it’s a beach with a unique view, with both the Sunshine State Skyway Bridge that links Manatee to Pinellas County and Egmont Key visible in the distance. Families can take a break from sun and swimming to grill and picnic under the pavilions and enjoy the playground. There are restrooms and showers as well. A short stroll takes you to Bean Point, the very tip of the island, where George Emerson Bean established his 160-acre homestead in 1892 and began to develop Anna Maria. Birds and wildlife have replaced the vanished homesite, and the point is a popular spot at sunset because of the sweeping, unobstructed view of the Gulf. And despite its rustic, natural character, Bayfront Park is in the heart of the town of Anna Maria, close to restaurants, shops and both the City Pier and the Rod and Reel Pier.
Manatee Public Beach
4000 State Road 64 and Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach
Right in the middle of seven-mile-long Anna Maria Island, Holmes Beach is a laid-back little town with lots of charm—and a big, busy beach that’s almost a small town in itself. An easy walk from the town’s many vacation rentals, Manatee Beach is also a stop on the trolley that travels up and down the island all day long. Its many amenities include lifeguards, changing cabanas, restrooms, beach wheelchairs, picnic tables, volleyball courts and a concession that rents beach and watersport equipment. It even has a gift shop where you can buy a new bathing suit, sunscreen and more. Early birds flock to the Anna Maria Island Beach Café, right on the sand, for breakfasts that begin at 7:30 a.m. and include eggs Benedict and its famous all-you-can-eat pancakes. The café also serves a full menu of lunch and dinner specialties, from wraps and tacos to seafood platters. Add a tropical drink from the Bamboo Bar and your attitude is guaranteed to adjust.
Gulf Drive South, Bradenton Beach
With a big swath of wide beachfront, busy Coquina Beach has room for everybody and offers just about every imaginable amenity, including lots of parking, changing cabanas, sand volleyball courts, pavilions, playgrounds, lifeguards and a paved trail for joggers, bikers and parents pushing strollers. It even has its own gift shop and the Coquina Café, where you can listen to live music on the outdoor deck while enjoying a fresh-catch platter or burger with a frozen tropical drink. (It’s also a glorious spot for breakfast, with a full menu of early-morning options.) On Wednesdays and Sundays from November through June, browse the bustling outdoor beach market, offering arts and crafts, produce, flea-market finds and more. A nature trail across the street from the beach leads to wildlife encounters and bay views.
Longboat Key has 10 miles of gorgeous, uncrowded beaches, but unless you reside in a Gulf-front neighborhood or condo, it’s tricky to get to them, as there is limited public access and even less beachside parking. (The town’s website lists those access and parking sites.) Your best bet may be to park in the big lot at the new Bayfront Park in the middle of Longboat Key and walk across Gulf of Mexico Drive to the public access there.
Bayfront Park is a great destination of its own, with basketball and pickleball courts, bike trails, a playground and even a dog park with a water view. Once you head to the beach, which is lined by dunes planted with native shoreline species, you’ll find great shelling, bird-spotting and on most days, very few people. Walking north or south you can admire beachfront mansions, luxury condos and the rare surviving Old-Florida cottage.
Lido Public Beach
400 Ben Franklin Drive
Just a short bike or car ride from downtown and a five-minute walk from St. Armands Circle, Lido Beach, which was once the site of the iconic Art Deco Lido Beach Casino, has hosted generations of family gatherings, school outings and civic celebrations, including the postcard-perfect Miss Florida beauty pageants in the ’60s. It has a public swimming pool and lifeguards, a small concession, which is currently closed due to Covid, and big parking lot, which fills quickly on holidays and weekends. Birdwatchers enjoy the large population of black skimmers that happily coexists with human visitors. Check out the charming new historic murals in the pavilion.
If you’re seeking seclusion, stroll up the white, hard-packed sand to North Lido Beach, a beautiful stretch of shoreline that was once favored by nude sunbathers. You probably won’t see any of them these days, but you will see all sorts of birds and a few beachcombers enjoying the quiet and natural vistas. You can walk all the way to New Pass; if you like, return via the trail that winds through a forest of Australian pines.
Ted Sperling Park at South Lido Beach
2201 Ben Franklin Drive
South Lido Beach is a world all its own, a nature refuge at the tip of the island that offers diverse environments and adventures. Stand at the end of the beach and enjoy an exhilarating view of the Gulf, Big Pass and Sarasota Bay. No swimming here, though, as there are no lifeguards and strong currents. You can launch a kayak at Ted Sperling Park, 190 Taft Drive (rentals are available), and paddle through mangrove tunnels into pristine Bushy Bayou. (No motorized boats allowed.) Expect to spot manatees, raccoons and birds, from diving kingfishers and stately herons to roseate spoonbills. A secluded little beach on the bayside called Sandy Point is a popular destination for paddlers, boaters and picnickers.
948 Beach Road
The star of Sarasota beaches, Siesta Beach has been named Best Beach in America multiple times by TripAdvisor and “Dr. Beach.” The wide crescent of soft white sand slopes gently towards the Gulf, where swimmers frolic in a long expanse of safe and shallow water. The secret of that dazzling sand? While most beaches are pulverized coral, Siesta is 99 percent pure quartz crystals.
People of every age, shape, state and country flock here to sunbathe, play volleyball, picnic, attend the Sunday-night drum circle or simply watch the passing parade of other people. All those people mean the 976 spaces in the big parking lot fill quickly; be prepared to circle for a while or come early in the day. Hard-compacted sand along the waterline makes this Sarasota’s best walking beach and during summer, the site of weekly family “fun runs.” It’s 3 ½ miles north and back to Point of Rocks, an outcropping of limestone rocks that marks the northern end of the crescent; legions of walkers make the trek every day.
A recent renovation reflecting the region’s midcentury modern architectural heritage expanded the facilities, which include restrooms, a playground, an excellent snack bar, picnic tables and grills and covered shelters and a two-story pavilion with a small bar and fantastic beach view. A free trolley gets you to nearby bars and restaurants and goes south to Turtle Beach. Year-round lifeguards and accessible design and beach wheelchairs.
8918 Midnight Pass Road
A few miles south of famous Siesta Beach, Turtle Beach has a relaxed, end-of-the-island feeling all its own. Walkovers lead across dunes that slope down to a narrow beach. The 2,600-foot-long beach is a favorite with surfcasters, who land grouper, cobia, sharks and more.
Although the sand is too soft for easy hiking, a hard-packed path leads north along the dune line to Sanderling. After just a few minutes, you’ll look down at a grand expanse of nearly deserted beach, where crystal-clear wavelets lap at nearshore sandbars and shorebirds chase the incoming surf. Settle in on one of the benches along the path to read or watch for tortoises lumbering by. Always popular, it’s become so sought-after during Covid shutdowns that you must book almost a year ahead. Turtle Beach has no lifeguards; the parking lot includes a new shaded playground, showers, restrooms and small pavilions with grills that overlook a boat launch into an inlet leading to Little Sarasota Bay. Kayak and paddleboard rentals and tours are available.
Palmer Point Beach Park
9399 Blind Pass Road
This remote beach may be Sarasota’s best-kept secret. For centuries, Midnight Pass separated Siesta and Casey keys, but in 1984, when the pass began to migrate and threaten beachfront homes, the county allowed the homeowners to close the pass and relocate the rushing waters. They managed to close the pass, but they couldn’t reopen it, and Palmer Point Beach was born. It’s possible to walk here from Turtle Beach,
although you may have to wade in some places, but most people arrive by kayaks, motorboats or paddleboards from the bayside. Walk over the dune and you’ll feel like you’ve traveled back in time, with expansive views of sand, sea and sky and not a condo in sight.
On most days, you’ll encounter only a few other people. This is a beautiful place to watch a sunset, enjoy a picnic or swim—no lifeguards, though. Note: You can walk south to gape at the beachfront mansions of Casey Key, but expect to dodge security guards hired by owners emboldened by a controversial new law limiting public access to the beach.
100 Casey Key Road
Mega-millionaires and mansions inhabit most of Casey Key, but the southern section is for the people, with a smattering of restaurants, bars, mom-and-pop motels—and Sarasota County’s oldest public beach. In addition to lifeguards, a boat launch, playground, picnic tables and boardwalk walkovers, Nokomis Beach has a beautifully restored midcentury pavilion. Step up to the window at the Shark Tooth snack bar and order anything from coffee and a breakfast sandwich to burgers, shrimp tacos and more. Grab a beer or daiquiri and take a seat at the long counter facing the Gulf. An hour before sunset on Wednesday or Saturday, the drum circle draws dancers and onlookers of every stripe, clapping to the rhythm as the sun melts into the Gulf.
North Jetty Beach
1000 S. Casey Key Road, Nokomis
A hotspot for watersports, dolphin- and manatee-spotting, and socializing, North Jetty Beach hums from morning to night. Surfers—yes, Southwest Florida has them—head here when cold fronts or storms roll in, as the massive rock jetties, installed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to stabilize Venice Inlet for mariners accessing the Gulf, intensify the waves. A steady stream of boaters, paddleboarders and kayakers passes through the inlet; many stop and hang out for a while on the inlet’s little Rattlesnake Island. Fishermen cast and reel from the jetties, and families enjoy the volleyball and horseshoe courts and playground.
A refurbished Ybor City trolley car offers a limited selection of snacks and beer; a newer concession features a varied menu, including breakfast and kids’ meals, and occasional live music. Sunset-watching is a nightly ritual; many consider the view the best in the county, looking north to Casey Key and south to Venice Beach. Year-round lifeguards.
Brohard Beach and Paw Park
1600 Harbor Drive S., Venice
The county’s only dog-friendly beach is in a pretty park between Venice and Caspersen beaches. A good-sized, fenced- in grassy area allows dogs to romp off-leash. They can also race up and down the beach and plunge into the Gulf to retrieve balls or just cool off. Visitors give this beach rave reviews on social media, saying it’s clean and quiet, with well-behaved dogs; one fan calls it “the best dog park in Southwest Florida.”
While your pooped pooch rests in the sand, try to spot some of the sharks’ teeth Venice is famous for. No lifeguards, but there are picnic tables and restrooms along with hoses to wash off dogs and showers for their humans.
101 The Esplanade
Most beaches on the west coast of Florida are on barrier islands, but in Venice, the beach perches right at the edge of the mainland, giving the town much of its picturesque charm. Easily accessed from the historic downtown and central residential area, Venice Beach is at the end of Venice Avenue, with a small parking lot that’s usually close to full.
Underneath the beach lies Venice’s claim to fame: a 35-foot-deep layer of fossilized shark’s teeth, deposited 10 million years ago when the west coast of Flor-ida was submerged. The beach holds so many shark’s teeth that it’s sparked an annual Shark’s Tooth Festival and the city’s proud moniker: Shark Tooth Capital of the World. On this and other Venice-area beaches, you’ll see lots of people stooped over, sifting sand through shark-tooth strainers, searching for the shiny black artifacts.
Venice Fishing Pier at Brohard Park
1600 Harbor Drive S., Venice
This southern stretch of Venice beachfront may offer the most variety of any county beach, with a fishing pier complete with Papa’s Bait Shop; sand volleyball courts; Sharky’s at the Pier, a casual restaurant and tiki bar that’s been named Florida’s Best Beach Bar and hosts reggae and other bands; and Fins, an upscale seafood restaurant. But there’s plenty of sand, too, for sunbathing, shelling and shark-tooth hunting and castle-building.
You don’t need a license to fish from the pier, where anglers land everything from redfish, jack and snook to hammerhead sharks and barracuda. It’s fun to walk along the pier at night, watching the eclectic crowd, from seniors in baseball caps to families with kids, settle in with coolers and bait buckets to fish, swap stories and watch the moonlight glimmer on the Gulf.
4100 Harbor Drive, Venice
If natural splendor is what you want in a beach, head to Caspersen, an almost two-mile stretch of pristine shoreline. There’s a big parking lot with fancy new restrooms (elevated to escape storm surge); you can also arrive by bicycle, pedaling down the Venetian Waterway Trail, which ends here. At the far end of the parking lot, paddlers can launch their crafts to access Red Lake and the Intracoastal.
On the beach itself, there are no lifeguards, concessions or sports courts; waves, sand and solitude are the big attractions here. This is one of the best Sarasota beaches for shellers, who can find an ever-changing trove of new and ancient treasures, such as fossilized shark’s teeth and even remnants of long-ago mastodons and horses. As you walk down the beach, you will encounter varied coastal ecosystems, including freshwater and saltwater marshes, mangroves and tidal flats. Even the most stressed-out modern spirit should come away with a healing sense of wonder and calm.
Blind Pass Beach
6725 Manasota Key Road, Englewood
Sometimes called “Middle Beach” because it’s located in the center of Manasota Key, this is Sarasota County’s southernmost beach, just a mile above the Charlotte County line. Of all the region’s barrier islands, Manasota Key is the most relaxed. Most of the island is strictly residential, with a scenic road winding between homes—some of them surprisingly low-key—on the bay and Gulf. Manasota Beach is big, 66 acres in all, with 3,000 feet of shoreline fringed with waving sea oats. You won’t find Siesta Beach’s snow-white sand or lifeguards, but there are showers, restrooms, playground, canoe launch and picnic tables. On the bayside, a nature trail leads through a little mangrove forest to a fishing dock over the Intracoastal. On some days, only a few cars dot the big parking lot, making this a great beach for quiet meditation or low-key family fun.
8570 Manasota Key Road, Englewood
This tranquil beach has 14 acres of recreational land and 1,400 feet of beachfront. If you come in the offseason, expect to stake out plenty of empty beachfront for sunbathing, swimming and excellent shelling. But although it can feel like an idyllic private retreat, the beach has a host of amenities, including year-round lifeguards, beach wheelchairs, picnic tables, a new restroom facility and shelters.
Manasota Beach Park also has boat launches and docks along the Intracoastal. From May to October, on this and other Manasota beaches, look for yellow wooden stakes marking sea turtle nests; more loggerhead turtles swim ashore to lay their eggs on Manasota Key than on any other part of Florida’s west coast.
2100 N. Beach Road, Englewood
The centerpiece of 12 ½-acre Chadwick Park, Englewood Beach is at the southern end of Manasota Key. While most of the key is residential, this area is zoned commercial with a bustling little resort village that includes low-key vacation rentals, restaurants and shops. The big, wide beach has great views and shelling, along with all the amenities a family could need to spend the entire day. They include grills; picnic shelters and larger pavilions; a shaded playground; and sports courts for volleyball, basketball and even horseshoes. A 900-foot-long boardwalk has three lookout stations, and “The Beach Guy”—check out his Facebook page—rents umbrellas, chairs and more. This is the only beach on the key that has lifeguards on duty. There is no snack bar or café, but several restaurants are just across the street. Unlike Sarasota, where beach parking is free, Charlotte County has metered beach parking. But at just 75 cents an hour, it shouldn’t ruin anyone’s day.
Special thanks to Sarasota County Parks and Recreation specialist Martin Haire for his expert fact-checking and assistance.