Looking for an island getaway that’s easy to reach but hard to leave? Located just outside Sarasota, Siesta Key is a one square mile barrier island that connected to the mainland by two bridges. Driving to Siesta Key gives you access to beautiful white sand beaches and the funky cool beach town of Siesta Key Village. It’s the perfect place to play in the water, lay on the beach, or sip some liquid sunshine in the shade.
The Beaches of Siesta Key
Siesta Beach(sometimes known as Siesta Key Beach) is the namesake beach of Siesta Key for good reason. Instead of the usual pulverized coral, the sand is 99% pure Quartz (Silica sand) washed down from the Appalachian Mountains. A million years in the making, this beach is a natural masterpiece. It’s so wide that walkways were put in between the parking lot and shore. Shallow waters and frequent lifeguards make this an exceptionally safe place for children to swim, assuming you can tear them away from building sandcastles. What’s more, silica sand is soft and cool on the feet, no matter how bright the sun is shining. No wonder Siesta Beach has won so many awards:
- The Great International Beach Challenge (1987)–>”The whitest and finest sand in the world”
- The Travel Channel (2004)–>”The Best Sand Beach in America”
- Dr. Beach (2011, 2017) –> “The Best Beach in America”
- TripAvisor (2015) –> “#1 U.S. Beach”
Crescent Beach lays on the southernmost portion of Siesta Beach. There is no public parking here so plan on taking the shuttle to reach Crescent Beach or taking the 3-mile round trip beach trek from the Siesta Beach parking lot. Crescent Beach is known for snorkeling by the sea wall at Point of Rocks. Snorkeling here is hit or miss as it’s subject to the full on waves (such as they are) from the Gulf. The best conditions should exist in the two-hour window before an early morning slack high tide. This is the optimal time for calm seas and good visibility.
Turtle Beach is known for nesting sea turtles. From May through October turtles climb onto this beaches at night to lay their eggs. We visited Siesta Key in late May and saw our first sea turtle nests here. Sea Turtle Patrol volunteers from Mote Aquarium mark these nests with stakes and conduct turtle surveys. More than 600 loggerhead and green turtle nests were counted on Siesta Key during 2017 with numbers increasing every year. Turtle Beach is also the boat access point for Blind Pass and Jim Neville Nature Preserve and home to a small campground.
Drinking and Dining on Siesta Key
Why does drinking come first? You’re on a tropical island with free shuttle service anywhere you want to go. No wonder MTV films a reality show here. If you do come for a day-drinking vacation, be sure to take the shuttle.
- Daiquiri Deck – Home of a legit happy hour from 3-7. These frozen concoctions will help you hang on after a long day on the beach or pre-game a sunset stroll. They also feature in-house live music and are close enough to the Siesta Key Oyster Bar that you can sneak a listen to their stage too.
- Cafe Gabbiano won a 2018 Open Table Diner’s Choice Award and 2018 TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence for their gourmet Italian fare. They have $5 drinks and appetizers at the bar from 5-6: 30. Their “Sunset Baskets” are a perfect to-go meal to take to the beach for nature’s greatest show. What’s more, they have ample free parking for patrons so you get-in and get-out with ease.
- Made in Rome Gelato makes small batch traditional Italian gelato with organic milk and fresh ingredients. It’s our favorite gelato east of San Diego. Here’s the story about how Coleman Concierge inspired their new flavor “Charcoal Vanilla”. We were shooting the breeze with the owner, Diane Theron, talking about all of the great gelaterias we have been to and how Rome Gelato deserves to be on the list. She asked what unusual flavors we had tasted, and we told her about charcoal vanilla and how the activated charcoal can balance the flavors. The next day we stopped in, and Diane excitedly shared her version with us, and it’s still on the menu today. Here’s some more cool backstory about Made in Rome Gelato for the link lovers out there.
- The Cottage Billionaire Burger was so good; we had to eat there twice. Chuck short rib/brisket blend patty topped with double butter brioche, onion jam, truffle aioli, and melted Tillamook aged cheddar makes for one beautiful burger. Make sure you get a side of that truffle aioli for your seasoned fries too. We loved the patio seating where they have live music 12-4 and 6-9 daily.
- Lelu Coffee was the perfect pick-me-up for the drive home. Street parking was a breeze for breakfast. We shared a giant breakfast burrito on the surf-themed garden patio and savored a seriously good cup-o-joe.
Siesta Key Shuttles
Siesta Key offers several free services to reduce traffic congestion and parking problems:
- Siesta Key Breeze Trolley – regulated by the Sarasota County Area Transit (“SCAT”) and operates 10 a.m. and 10 p.m in 30-minute intervals from Siesta Key Village to Turtle Beach. Tipping prohibited. Check out Siesta Key Trolley Map for details.
Other On-demand free ride services:
- Johnny’s Original Free Ride (941-928-9200)- Tip based service that operates from 10 – 2 AM
- Siesta Key Frog Hop ( 844-376-4467) – Tip Based service that operates from 9 – 1 AM.
- Siesta Key Free Ride (941-952-8294) – Tip based service that can accommodate up to 15 passengers.
Paddle Boarding Siesta Key
We heard paddle boarding and kayaking at Siesta Key was super fun, but it wasn’t obvious where to put in. There are canals through Siesta Key Village, the channel between the island and the mainland, and out in the ocean itself. It turns out the correct answer is that there is a paddle craft launch in the Turtle Beach parking area located precisely here (27.219378, -82.516294) and paddle to Jim Neville Marine Preserve. We have a funny story about finding the launch point…
We were following behind a commercial van loaded with SUPs heading to put in. We saw him turn into Turtle Beach, and despite Jenn’s protests to follow the van all the way, I figured we could just go to our campsite since we were camping next door. After all, he was going to the beach right? I hauled the SUPs out to the beach, and we put in. It was a little rough out there, and we only saw one alpha hippie doing yoga on his SUP. The commercial SUPs were nowhere in sight. That was my first clue I had messed something up.
I felt bad about pulling in early (and ignoring Jenn), so I offered to carry the SUPs across the street to a launch spot I could see by Turtle Bay Marina. It was a decent little paddle down to the preserve but hard to access. Along the way, we passed the mouth to the Blind Pass which was a fairly substantial cove heading back towards the beach (my second clue). We paddled back to the Marina, and I carried the SUPs back across the street to our campsite in penance.
After securing the SUPs to the car, we headed to the trolley stop to go into town. There we met a group of girls, one of them with a foot cast. We talked the trolley driver into picking her up back at the beach. She was sitting right in front of the SUP launch. It’s as if the universe was trying to tell me something.
The next morning we took the SUPs out from the actual launch, and it was wonderful. The logistics were super easy. We just parked right in front of the put-in area and unloaded. Paddling through Blind Pass was calm, and there were even a couple of manatees hanging out there. We paddled through the mangroves up to Midnight Pass. There we parked the SUPs and walked across 50′ of sand to a deserted beach on the Gulf. It was about a mile paddle start to finish with lots to see along the way. I could imagine coming back with our kayak to take the waterway all the way to Venice Beach (about 8 miles one way). I could also imagine listening to my wife in the future, especially when she’s right.
Where to Stay at Siesta Key
A lot of condos rentals are available up and down the main road as well as some hotels and even a campground. You should pick your location based on activity. We stayed in the campground by Turtle Beach, which was a wonderfully quiet part of town, but parking was so easy to get in the morning at Turtle Beach, so we didn’t get any real advantage from our location. Parking was non-existent at Crescent Beach so that you’ll definitely have a parking benefit there, but the snorkeling there was only OK when we went. Perhaps it would have been better if we could have left our hotel and just walked there first thing in the morning. Siesta Key Village and Siesta Key Beach are the real highlights of the town so you might consider centering your vacation here so you can walk instead of taking the shuttle.
- Turtle Beach Campground – Great location right on Turtle Beach. Make sure you make a reservation ahead of time. Only suitable for tent camping in the colder winter months (as we discovered when we were one of two tent campers in the campground when we went in May, and we were miserably hot).
- Turtle Beach Resort/ The Inn at Turtle Beach – Hotels with great proximity to the SUP launch at Turtle Beach.
- Tropical Beach Resorts / Captiva Beach Resort – Hotels with great proximity to Crescent Beach / Point of Rocks for early morning snorkeling.
- Hyatt Siesta Key Beach – A 4-star property with great proximity to Crescent Beach.
- The Inn on Siesta Key / Siesta Beach Resort & Suites / Beachpoint Cottages / Beachpoint Cottages
Final thoughts on Siesta Key
There was a lot to love about Siesta Key. The beach is as beautiful as advertised. The silica sand is every bit as white as Panama City Beach but located in Central Florida. The paddle sports are super fun, especially when you use the proper launch (sorry Jenn). Siesta Key reminded us a bit of nearby Cayo Costa. They are both barrier islands with beautiful beaches, but Siesta Key is a lot easier to reach with more infrastructure. We would love to return to Siesta Key but would pass on tent camping in May. There are enough hotels at a reasonable price point that you should just make everything nice and easy.
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