By Charlene S. Mixa
Get Relaxed, Refreshed and Rejuvnated!
Sarasota, FL and Her Islands are a perfect paradise playground – from satiny white sandy beaches to abundant cultural amenities to outdoor recreational opportunities available year-round. Her Islands include the famous Longboat Key, Lido Key, and Siesta Key, each offering its unique blend and personality for a vacation retreat on the beautiful Gulf of Mexico. Take a morning stroll on the beach, search for sea shells, relax under a beach umbrella, soak up some sunshine, swim in the blue waters of the Gulf or enjoy a tantalizing cocktail at a tiki hut. Whatever you choose let the islands work their magic taking you to paradise.
Anxious to get away and to celebrate our anniversary, my husband, Richard, and I head to Longboat Key, FL, a gorgeous barrier island with an elegant beach atmosphere. Crossing Sarasota’s unique Ringling Bridge we take the first right turn at the St. Armands Circle roundabout toward Longboat Key with its elite estate homes and luxury retreats.
With relaxation our primary goal, we check in at popular The Longboat Key Club, an AAA Four-Diamond Florida resort. A true paradise! The Longboat Key Club has it all! Boasting a private white-sand beach on the Gulf, 45 holes of championship golf, a new tennis garden, the Island House Spa and five-star restaurants, the Resort is a wonderful get-a-way and hide-a-way.
Our newly renovated Club Suite is terrific! With 650 sq. ft., the tropically decorated Suite offers one king-size bed, a 42” Plasma TV and a cozy seating area with a queen-sized sleeper sofa and comfortable chairs. The large dressing area includes a long vanity with a sink as well as two big closets. A separate full bathroom includes another vanity and sink. Walking out onto the balcony with its spectacular Gulf view, there is a table with four chairs and chaise lounge for enjoying the outdoors in privacy. All the necessities and appliances for “dining in” are available in the kitchenette with its table for four, plus a washer/dryer. The Suite is has all the comforts of home in an elegant tropical setting.
Slipping into our swimsuits and smoothing on sunscreen we head to the private beach. The large popular Gulf-side pool has a casual poolside bar and grill. We pick up our complimentary beach towels and take the boardwalk to the pristine white-sandy beach. Quickly, locating a couple of beach chairs with an umbrella, we prepare for an afternoon of sun and surf. The sky is a bright blue as is the Gulf as we walk up the beach. Along the shoreline the sand is firm and great for walking while gazing out to sea or admiring the numerous high-rise condos and large private homes. Taking a dip to cool off the Gulf is refreshing. The salt water works its magic as we relax. Ah- this is Paradise!
Relaxed, refreshed and rejuvenated it’s time for window shopping and dinner on the famous St. Armands Circle. John Ringling, one of America’s leading circus magnates, initially had the vision for a unique shopping plaza designed around a circular roundabout on St. Armands Key. The Depression crushed this dream. Then in the late 1950’s shops and restaurants began to blossom on St. Armands. Today, St. Armands is a thriving shopping paradise offering an exquisite blend of luxury boutiques and delectable dining among its 140 stores.
Easily finding street parking, we stroll the St. Armands Circle noting the many unique shops and galleries. No “touristy shops” on the Circle! Dining options are many from cafés to elegant restaurants. It seems every block has an ice cream shop! Around the circle, we see Ringling’s touch as the roundabout is the center with palm-lined streets, lush tropical landscape and glimpses of Italian statuary such as the Seven Muses from Ringling’s collection. Having had an afternoon snack, we savor our tasty dinner at well-known Columbia Restaurant of Spanish Bean Soup and the infamous “1905 Salad.”
Back at the Longboat Key Club we end the day watching a gorgeous sunset glowing with deep reds and pinks as it drops into the Gulf of Mexico.
An early walk along the beach and a dip in the refreshing Gulf starts our day. Resisting temptation to “hide-a-way” at the Longboat Key Club, we opt to do some sightseeing and tour more of the property. While golf is not on the agenda this trip, we stop by the Pro Shops at the Longboat Key Club finding some great values. Driving through this huge property we locate the new Tennis Gardens, the marina, and restaurants on the bayside.
On an island between St. Armands and Longboat Key is the Mote Aquarium. Getting our tickets, we begin the tour of this amazing aquarium with its interactive exhibits. As a private marine research facility, the focus is on research and still provides an excellent Aquarium for visitors. Admiring the numerous displays of fish, turtles, and over 100 species of marine life, it is fun identifying fish and finding them hidden under rocks. Bright colors of yellow, orange and blues makes some easy to spot while others are well camouflaged. Seahorses are intriguing and jellyfish glow in their tank floating elegantly. A volunteer points out a “huge Moray Eel”. At the touch pool, a “ray” swims by allowing us to feel its soft skin. Sharks are constantly moving at the shark tank. Following the path of manatees and turtles to a separate building we find pools of huge loggerheads and sea turtles. A volunteer introduces us to “Edgar”, a female turtle (they didn’t know it was a girl when they named it) who’s skin lacks pigmentation and can’t be exposed to the sun. In another huge tank, manatees are munching on heads of lettuce. Manatees eat hundreds of pounds of food a day spending their day between eating and sleeping. Imagine, sailors thinking the manatees were mermaids. A sign nearby asks, “Do you think the sailors had been to sea too long?” Yes, we do!
Our tour of the Mote Aquarium has wet our appetite. With St. Armands Circle just a bridge away, its time for lunch at Hemingway’s Retreat. Climbing the steps to the second floor we enter this classy, hide-a-way restaurant. A balcony offers outdoor seating, but we opt to sit inside on this warm summer day. The tropical décor is welcoming with the beautiful “beach life” theme paintings, hanging potted plants and skylights adding that extra warmth and light. Rikki our waitress takes excellent care of us, sharing insights about Hemingway’s which boasts 20 years success as one of Florida’s most popular restaurants. I decide on a light lunch with the Grilled Shrimp & Avocado-Mango Salad while Richard is tempted by the Lobster Quesadilla. After enjoying our tasty lunches, Rikki tempts us with their specialty, key lime pie made with “real key limes.” The pie is awesome and beautifully presented.
Now back to the Longboat Key Club for an afternoon of beach time and more relaxation. The sun, beach and salt water continue to work their magic. Our shady beach umbrella provides a nice reprieve from the sun. Each time we step onto this spectacular beach we appreciate the picturesque beauty and elegance of this island paradise.
Now, to celebrate our anniversary! A romantic dinner at the award winning Colony Restaurant with its spectacular waterfront dining room awaits us. This classic restaurant, at the Colony Beach and Tennis Resort on Longboat Key, is actually located on the edge of the beach. Our window table provides a fantastic view of the Gulf and the upcoming sunset. The eclectic menu offers a cuisine inspired by regional and global flavors, plus options small or large portions. While we sip our wine and enjoy our NY Chopped Salad, we watch the sun slowly set over the Gulf waters. A perfect photo op! I step out onto the deck for some quick pictures of the scenic sunset. A unique dish is my Tempura Fried Maine Lobster Tail with baby spinach and matchstick potatoes. Absolutely superb! Richard’s Skillet Seared Snapper Colony with a Beurre Blanc, sundried tomato and sweet potato planks is scrumptious. Our waiter Michael provides impeccable service for a true fine dining experience. A surprise is a special anniversary dessert! It has been a wonderful romantic evening and terrific celebration for our 16th wedding anniversary.
Our final morning beach walk is wonderful with a cool breeze, the turquoise blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the powdery white sand. The waters are calm and crystal clear. Fish and shells are easily visible on the seas floor. We bid a fond farewell to the Longboat Key Club and its island paradise.
As a barrier island, Longboat Key is long narrow, island. Driving north we admire the numerous condos and elegant homes. Just before the bridge crossing to Bradenton Beach, we stop for lunch at Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant & Pub on the bayside of Longboat Key. Originally built in 1912, and spared from the hurricane in 1921, this Old Florida style restaurant is considered one of the twelve oldest surviving structures on Longboat Key. Choosing the outside on rustic patio with its view of Sarasota Bay, we have a great appetizer of smoked fish spread. With their website being www.groupersandwich.com, the grouper sandwich is a must. It is delicious as is the “beer battered” French Fries. Lunch is fun as we watch boats pull into the dock and patrons enjoy the patio and outside seating under the trees. We spy several clear plastic bags filled with water hanging on posts around the patio. Why? An old Florida tradition is that the bags will keep flies away. A postcard ending to our Gulf coast paradise vacation is a grilled grouper sandwich, cold beverage, a great bayside view on restaurant patio. What a terrific place!
If you go:
Hemingway’s Retreat, 325 John Ringling Boulevard, Sarasota, FL 34236-1320; (941) 388-3948; www.hemingwaysretreat.com
Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant & Pub, 760 Broadway Street, Longboat Key, FL 34228; (941) 383-2391; www.groupersandwich.com
Mote Aquarium, 1600 Ken Thompson Parkway, Sarasota, FL 34236-1096; (941) 388-4441; www.mote.org
The Colony Restaurant, The Colony Beach and Tennis Resort, 1620 Gulf of Mexico Drive Longboat Key, FL 34228-3499; (941) 383-7576; www.colonybeachresort.com;
The Longboat Key Club, 220 Sands Pointe Road, Longboat Key, FL 34228; (888) 237-5545; www.longboatkeyclub.com