Where family adventure comes with sand, sun, rivers, aquariums and more.
There’s not much time left to visit Siesta Key in the year it earned the title as the Nation’s #1 beach. Professor Steve Leatherman of Florida International University conducts an annual survey, and gave Siesta Key the 2011 honor because of its sand, facilities, water quality, gentle currents and the area’s weather.
Siesta Key’s sand is 99 percent pure quartz, which makes it beautifully white, wonderfully soft, and never hot. “It feels so good,” my daughter said as we walked barefoot to the water. “Like a massage on my feet.” I loved strolling along the beach, hunting for shells, and enjoying the warm water, comfortable even in November. The kids spent hours digging in the sand, creating sand sculptures and cooling off in the gulf. They splashed, floated in rings, and caught waves with their boogie board. I watched from a cozy beach chair, keeping an eye on them, and on the many weddings happening on the beach.
We spent most of our time at the gulf, but also enjoyed our accommodations at Sunset Royale Condominiums. Our condo had an amazing view of the beach, but we did have to cross the street to get there. (Since my kids are older now, that was fine, but crossing the street could be scary with little ones. Be certain to check before making reservations.) We loved our condo’s comfortable furnishings and tropical décor, and I especially liked the full kitchen. We saved lots of money by stocking up at the Publix minutes away. The condo also had laundry facilities, allowing us to pack less, but also making me do laundry on vacation.
Of course, Siesta Key, and nearby Sarasota, offer much more exciting things to do than grocery shopping and laundry. Besides the beach, we visited two other area attractions, among the many available. Mote Aquarium features all the fun fish we expected to see, along with several surprises. We found tanks with exotic tropical fish, scary squids, Nemo and Dory, and jellyfish floating peacefully. We touched horseshoe crabs, stingrays and other sea creatures and watched sharks and dolphins. We also saw performing big sea turtles. Even Mote Aquarium’s trainer thought that was unique. “I couldn’t believe they were doing that here,” she said. “It requires a lot of positive reinforcement to get them to learn. Big sea turtles literally have a brain the size of a peanut — without the shell.”
We saw many of the sea turtles’ reptilian cousins at Myakka River State Park. Trees dripping with Spanish moss shaded our car as we drove along the scenic road to the Myakka Outpost and bought tickets for a boat tour at the concession stand. (Boat rides fill quickly — call ahead for times and reservations.) We soon boarded and set sail on a cruise through the Upper Myakka Lake, an area that’s home to sandhill cranes, vultures, wild boar and alligators. In fact, we spotted several alligators as the captain narrated facts about the animals, land, and history of the park.
The park offers several other activities for outdoor enthusiasts, including camping, hiking, and fishing. Adventurous souls can even canoe or kayak in the alligator filled waters.
While that seemed a bit too adventurous, we did take advantage of the park’s unique Canopy Walkway. We parked at the trail entrance, and hiked a flat, shaded trail to a large tower. Next, we climbed flight after flight to the top of the tower. At the top is the Canopy Walkway, 100 feet of swinging bridge over oak and palm trees, with another tower at the end. There, we climbed even higher, and from the platform 74 feet above the ground, we enjoyed an amazing view of Florida’s wildlife and treetops.
Barbara Littner David is a local writer and mother of five. She is also the author of Cincinnati Trips for Kids, a collection of more than 40 great Cincinnati-area attractions.
Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce
Sunset Royale Condos
941-349-6260 • sunsetroyale.net
Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium
1600 Ken Thompson Pkwy.
Sarasota, FL 34236 941-388-4441 • mote.org
Myakka River State Park
13208 State Road 72
Sarasota, FL 34241
941-361-6511 • myakkariver.org