For many, the beach is the epitome of comfort, a warm cradle of sugary sand where you can soak up the sun until your body collapses into absolute calm.
Most summer days, the beaches are strewn with vestiges of childhood: plastic shovels and sand pails, miniature floats and flip-flops the size of small teacups. Other days, winter chills spurn most visitors and leave the dunes gloriously desolate for evening strolls.
Our waters are filled with dolphins churning the surf in search of live mullet; and on calm summer evenings, keen eyes can spy the massive humps of manatees as they roll along with their youngsters. In the sky, soaring pelicans break from squadron formations to plummet into schools of fish, while an amazing variety of terns, seagulls and sandpipers skirt the shoreline.
The scenery on dry land isn't bad, either, especially in March when spring breakers from across the country descend for several weeks to enjoy a quieter and more relaxed hedonism than that of their eastern Florida counterparts.
Sarasota's beaches are world-renowned, and with nearly 20 of them spanning the distance between Venice and Bradenton, you're bound to find your perfect hideaway somewhere. And our multi-purpose shorelines also play host to fishermen, kayakers and windsurfers.
You're safer in our waters than in most other places, too, since Florida is one of the few states that regularly checks water quality. Parking is generally adequate and free. Beer is permitted in cans only-no glass containers. And no pets, please, except in specifically designated areas.
Bean Point. North of Sarasota on Anna Maria Island, Bean Point enjoys a view of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and Egmont Key.
Bayfront Park. Fishermen, boaters, kayakers and canoeists flock to this spot on Anna Maria, just north of Pine Avenue near the Anna Maria City Pier.
Manatee Public Beach. Right off Gulf Drive in Holmes Beach. Showers, restrooms, lifeguards, concessions, and a kids' playground.
Palma Sola Causeway. A few miles east of Manatee Public Beach on Manatee Avenue; popular with jet skiers and tailgaters.
Cortez Beach and Coquina Beach. Further south along Gulf Drive in Bradenton Beach. Lots of trees, shelters, shells and picnic facilities.
Whitney Beach. On the north end of Longboat Key. It has limited parking, but lots of white sand and seclusion. No amenities.
North Lido Beach, just off St. Armands Circle at the north end of Lido Key. Flanked by Australian pines and plenty of privacy.
Lido Beach, just a bit further south, features restrooms, concessions, lifeguards, a gift shop and cabana rentals.
South Lido Park, at the tip of Lido, offers picnic tables, barbecue grills, nature trails, an observation tower and dangerous currents. No swimming here.
Siesta Key Public Beach, along Midnight Pass Road on Siesta, is wide, long, and famous for its quartz sand, judged the "whitest and finest sand in the world." Newly renovated concession area, showers, volleyball nets, tennis courts, fitness trail and a big parking lot. Some believe that Siesta Key Beach, with its 90 percent quartz crystal, has metaphysical powers that reduce stress and strengthen healing abilities.
Turtle Beach, located on Midnight Pass Road at Siesta Key's south end. A large picnic shelter and free boat ramps allow easy access to and from Little Sarasota Bay. There are also a playground, volleyball court and dune walkovers.
Palmer Point, at the southern tip of Siesta. It continues to the north end of Casey Key, and you can walk all the way there if you're careful of the tides. Be aware, though; this secluded beach is accessible only by boat, as private homeowners control entry to the road leading up to it.
Nokomis Beach on Casey Key, in southern Sarasota County, comes with 22 acres of beauty, a boat ramp, boardwalk, restrooms and a concession pavilion.
North Jetty Park, on the southern tip of Casey Key, is one of our best surfing (and fishing) beaches. Horseshoe and volleyball courts here, terrific fishing, picnic shelters, restrooms and concessions.
Venice Municipal Beach, just off downtown Venice, offers sharks' teeth and scuba diving along the coral reef a quarter-mile from shore. A pavilion, concessions, and restrooms, too.
Caspersen Beach, south of Venice Airport. Caspersen offers a boardwalk and nature trail and a new fishing pier.
Brohard Park, north of Caspersen, home to the Venice Fishing Pier and a wetland area that makes it ideal for bird watching. Visit the snack bar and bait shop.
Manasota Beach, on Manasota Key at the west end of the Manasota Bridge. Its scenic boardwalk on the Intracoastal side winds through the mangroves. There are also picnic shelters, restrooms and a boat ramp.
Gasparilla Island, south of Englewood and across the bridge to Boca Grande, offers seven more miles of unspoiled beaches. Pick your spot.