After a year like this, we’re ready for a vacation, and here at the magazine we’ve been dreaming about the perfect summer getaway. Associate editor Hannah Wallace wants to stay in a boutique hotel in a happening city; managing editor Ilene Denton is imagining a romantic interlude with her husband; and I’m ready for some old-fashioned family fun by the shore. And just one more thing: We want to do all that and more without leaving town—and without spending a fortune.
Enter the "staycation," the latest trend in tourism, born out of a sinking economy that’s boosted interest in vacationing close to home. That might not be much fun in Kansas, but Sarasota is a vacation wonderland; and after a tough tourist season, local hotels are offering some great prices to attract the summer visitors they need. We talked to tourism officials, hoteliers, and well-traveled friends to come up with five dream Sarasota staycations; and to make the dream even sweeter, each one includes a special offer just for our readers.
An alligator-themed purse from Anna Maria’s Room with Hue; duck salad at the Beach Bistro.
Dream No. 1: I want to rediscover the funky old Florida You can time travel back to Anna Maria Island, where the seven miles of beautiful Gulf beaches are lined by modest cottages and little motels, and the pace is deliciously slow. No high-rises, no fast-food chains—but surprisingly good shopping (Egret’s Nest for clothes and accessories, A Room with Hue for gifts and handbags) and restaurants (Beach Bistro, intimate, right on the Gulf and one of the best restaurants in Florida; also wonderful, Sign of the Mermaid). Stay at the Harrington House (778-5444), a three-story, coquina-block bed and breakfast that was built in 1925 as a home for the then-mayor of Cortez. (Summer rates from $149-$249 per night, 10 percent off if you tell them you’re a Sarasota reader.) The epitome of beachy charm, this place is peace incarnate. that was.
You could just sit on your balcony and gaze out at the sparkling Gulf, but why not hop the free trolley and explore this old-fashioned Florida beach town? (Stop for coffee and local color at Ginny and Jane E’s funky café and shop; duck into the Anna Maria Museum on Pine Street.) You must experience the all-you-can-eat pancake, eggs and sausage breakfast at Café on the Beach, praised by The New York Times—come in your bathing suit, order at the walk-up window and eat at a picnic table overlooking the water.
The Rod & Reel Pier has fishermen reeling them in, an OK restaurant and the cutest little bar you’ve ever seen, right at the very end. And join the nightly crowd at the Sandbar to bet on the exact time the sun sinks into the water—the winner gets treated to champagne.
Dream No. 2: I’m a total tennis nut, and I’m ready to take my game to the next level. Sports warriors, rejoice, because the world’s most famous tennis academy (it’s also a golf, baseball and all-around sports performance training academy) is right in your back yard.
You may think of Bradenton’s IMG Academies as the training ground where famous pros such as the teen-aged Andre Agassi and Maria Sharapova honed their games, but about 500 adults attend their sports programs every summer. In the five-day tennis program, you’ll get one-on-one analysis of your game, hours of instruction and matches on court—plus massages, meals and even mental training, if you like. The expert coaches tailor your experience to your goals, whether you’re just learning to serve and volley or you’re a club champ who plays seven days a week. (You could also do a golf/tennis combo, if you prefer.)
Stay in a villa on the campus, a world of its own that’s humming with energy from all the athletes. And bring your family along; they can hang out in the clubhouse or by the pool, work out at the gym and spot some genuine stars, like NFL top draft pick Tamba Hali, along with all the young phenoms. Programs can be personalized in many ways, but a general range for the five-day summer tennis program is from $1,800 (training for one person and accommodations in a single-room villa) to $5,000 (maximum training for one person plus a four-bedroom family villa) Ask for the discount for our local readers. Info: 752-2526.
Dream No. 3: I want a hip urban adventure—and I so don’t want to have to get around by car. You can walk almost anywhere you might want to go from Hotel Ranola (951-0111), whether it’s to watch a new indie film at Burns Court Cinema or enjoy dinner at Main Street’s Selva Grill. (Ranola owner Kim Livengood says they’ve never had a guest who didn’t love that restaurant.) Livengood and her husband have given the 1926-era, nine-room hotel a fresh, modern feel; rooms are chic and comfy and equipped with full kitchens and all the latest technology. (Rates run from $99-$119 this summer; Sarasota readers get an additional $10 off most nights; 951-0111)
Start your adventure with a tour on a Segway—those motorized scooters you stand up on. Riding one is a blast, and it gives you a whole new perspective on places like the Rosemary District and downtown’s side streets. Then breakfast on wonderful French croissants and pastries at a sidewalk table at C’est La Vie. Saturday’s Farmer’s Market is always fun (take some flowers or fruit and cheese back to your room), and so is a glass of Italian wine at Carina’s, a lovely wine bar and restaurant next to the hotel. You can discover all sorts of cool boutiques on Palm Avenue, on Pineapple at Burns Square and along First Street near Whole Foods. (Our shopping editor can’t stop raving about the luxurious green fashions at Juno & Jove and the new French boutiques in Burns Square.) Savvy shoppers will also unearth a world of treasures in downtown’s many thrift and resale shops—you’re likely to spot some of the city’s top designers looking for antiques, art and more there.
An urban vacation means arts and nightlife, and you can catch a cabaret show or improv at FST this summer, or, for kitschy fun, eat roast beef and watch Late Night Catechism at the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre. And everyone should have a drink with the cool young crowd at the rooftop bar at Ceviche, in a historic building on First Street.
Dream No. 4: I’m tired of the recession! I’m longing to overload on luxury for just one self-indulgent weekend.We hear your pain. And the place to ease it is at the Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota. It’s elegant but relaxed, with the famous Ritz-Carlton service and all sorts of intriguing amenities. You can even tell yourself you’re being thrifty, thanks to the summer "Reconnect" package, which for $299 includes overnight accommodations, breakfast for two and $100 credit towards resort services. (Tip: Put that towards the spa’s famous energy balancing massage—80 minutes of sensual bliss.) Our readers will also enjoy welcome cocktails in the stylish Ca d’Zan Lounge. (Reserve through Suzanne Willis, 309-2043.)
Golfers may want to get up early to play on the über-private Tom Fazio-designed course out east, but on a steamy summer day, we’d prefer to sleep in and then head out to the Ritz Beach Club on Lido Key to sip colorful drinks by the pool. You can’t do better than the hotel’s Vernona Restaurant for dinner. The chef is a passionate locovore, and the menu is fresh and fantastic. If your weekend sends your romance into overdrive, check out the new Queens’ Wreath Jewels a block or two away on Main Street; the staff designer can create a fabulous memento of your holiday—or a serious ring.
Dream No. 5: Our family wants a simple, wonderful vacation on the beach. People from all over the world head to the white sand of Siesta for exactly that. Many stay in the bustling Village, but the south end of the key has a quiet charm all its own. The Tropical Beach Resort (349-3330) includes a variety of mostly single-story units, some right on wide, uncrowded Crescent Beach. With pretty landscaping, a big pool, and a gazebo in the middle of the grounds, the resort is low-key and inviting. (Summer rates range from about $80-$229; mention Sarasota Magazine and you’ll get another 20 percent off.)
Just cross Midnight Pass Road, and you’ll find coffee, ice cream shops, a drug store, Anna’s famous sandwiches and the Crescent Market, with an excellent wine selection and gourmet take-out. You must have at least one family seafood feast (go ahead and get everything fried—you’re on vacation!) at Captain Curt’s; Javier’s, with wonderful Peruvian specialties, is the spot for an intimate dinner for Mom and Dad.
It’s fun and great exercise to explore the key by bike, and you can rent those right across the street, too. You can rent kayaks at the resort and explore the mangrove islands off South Siesta; you’ll spot everything from diving osprey to roseate spoonbills feeding in the shallow flats. And what would a family vacation be without a grinning kid landing a big fish? You can catch plenty of them in the surf, but consider renting a boat at nearby Mr. CB’s and spending a beautiful day on the water.
And that’s just a sampling of your choices; Boca Grande and sleepy little Englewood would also be wonderful places for a staycation, and lots more hotels have summer specials, including such famous spots as The Colony Beach and Tennis Resort, the Hyatt Regency and the Longboat Key Club & Resort. I’d tell you more, but I’m heading home to throw some things in a suitcase and escape—to Sarasota.