Just about a 12-mile drive from Sarasota, the quaint Longboat Key is sandwiched between the Gulf of Mexico and Sarasota Bay; as such, the water becomes the main stage for experiences and activities. When not taking in rays on the beach, travelers can embark with various charter companies for a fishing trip, or skip the labor and sit down on a beachside seafood restaurant to nosh ahi tuna or parmesan-crusted flounder.The Beach on Longboat Key rents out bikes for free, which can be used to coast along the scenic roads and then stop under the shady trees of Bicentennial Park to prevent the bike from getting a sunburn. Just a short trip down Gulf of Mexico Drive resides Sarasota, which features more than 30 golf courses in its area and the Mote Aquarium, where families can catch a glimpse of manatees and sea turtles.
Blue Dolphin Cafe's team of culinary wizards uses fresh ingredients to conjure up its menu of café fare. Satiate late-rising appetites and confuse alarm clocks with all-day breakfast options such as the corned beef hash, blanketed with a duo of eggs ($9.99), or the Blue Dolphin omelet, which outfits sausage and green onions in an eggy overcoat ($8.99). Bread-bookended bites include a chicken-salad sandwich ($7.99) and Jet's Jewel of a Sandwich, which layers roasted turkey, cranberry sauce and tarragon mayonnaise between slices of grilled rye bread ($9.99). Blue Dolphin Cafe also caters to both ends of the carnivorous spectrum, with the Surfer Burger ($8.99) riding a wave of fresh chopped beef and a bowl of veggie chili ($5.75) available to those wishing to act on their anti-meat desires.
The warm, sunny weather and postcard-ready sunsets of Florida's Gulf Coast draw vacationers to Anna Maria Island year-round, but visitors don't have to worry about sprawling high-rise hotels blocking their beachfront views—tall buildings are strictly forbidden. The historical Anna Maria city pier bustles with beach-themed stores and a popular ice-cream shop. The Anna Maria Island Historical Society displays regularly changing exhibits of period costumes and rare photographs in a museum located next to an old local jail open for tours or self-administered claustrophobia tests. The region's lush flora blooms at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, which encompasses 14 acres abounding with more than 20,000 exotic plants and trees. After a day of culture and horticulture, visitors kick back in eateries serving fresh seafood and fruity cocktails at tables set right out on the beach.
• For $25, you get a 90-minute sunset cruise for two (a $50 value). • For $30, you get a two-hour sightseeing cruise for two (a $60 value). Captain Mark’s Water Taxi glides along the glittering coasts of Cortez, Anna Maria Island, and Longboat Key, slipping past notable sights ranging from the arcs of leaping dolphins to the City Pier’s commerce-laden shores. Both tours shove off from Cortez Kitchen, where explorers can snag a bite before boarding the 26-foot Red Skyy, which ferries small groups of wayfarers through a backdrop etched with fishing boats, pelicans, and aquamarine waters. Ninety-minute sunset cruises slip past pods of feeding dolphins, staging ideal opportunities for photos and pitch-tuning vintage porpoise whistles. Cut a watery path toward Longboat Key during two-hour sightseeing tours, stopping intermittently for optional snacks at Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant and Pub, shopping excursions at Bradenton Beach City Pier, and searches for sand dollars with which to bribe crabby bartenders. All trips return explorers to the docks at Cortez Kitchen with their eyes full of seaworthy sights and their brains full of plans for flipper implants.
Captain Anthony Leverett, the man behind Kingdom Business Charters, has fished the waters around Tampa Bay for more than 15 years. After casting countless lines, he mastered the finer points of catching snapper, grouper, kingfish, and cobia. Today, he passes this expertise onto others during fishing charters aboard his deep blue, 1988 classic Pro-Line fishing boat. The vessel features an illuminated cockpit and underwater LED lights, which allow Captain Leverett to fish at night or on days when the sun calls in sick.