On laid-back Siesta Key, residents pedal to their destinations on weathered Raleigh bicycles, tourists exclaim over the crystal white sand that stretches from Turtle Beach at one end to Crescent on the other, and everyone gathers to take in tropical sunsets.
The hub of this island is the Village, a collection of restaurants, nightclubs, and shops, including the Beach Bazaar, where you can buy everything you need for the beach and Florida-themed souvenirs of every sort. Other shops range from Foxy Lady, with an outstanding collection of contemporary fashions, to specialty clothing, jewelry and surf shops. You can find deli sandwiches, fresh meats and a surprisingly good wine selection at the Siesta Market, and the lines at Big Olaf Creamery often extend out the door. There's also an open-air laundromat.
The Daiquiri Deck is a favorite place to cool off with a frozen concoction after hours in the sun, and the upstairs bar bulges with beautiful young people on nights and weekends. The food is typical Florida fare, and drinks are two-for-one at happy hour.
The Beach Club is a hot spot at night, where sunburned tourists and longtime locals relax to the pulse of Latin, rock and blues bands, but it also offers family-friendly dining. The Old Salty Dog recently added a bar where sports fans lap up the beer specials with their grouper specials and clam chowder.
The Siesta Key Oyster Bar (S.K.O.B.-pronounced "scob" by locals who want to save their breath) draws crowds to its open deck and nightly entertainment, which includes an often raucous amateur night. You can also find pizza and other Italian fare in the Village, great sandwiches at Anna's Deli and wonderful breakfasts at The Broken Egg.
Many of the bars, shops and restaurants have been remodeled in recent years, and the area behind the Village is sprucing up, too. Single-story residences are giving way to multi-tiered vacation condominiums. If you're looking for a great photo op that doesn't include a sunset, check out King Neptune at the Beachpoint Resort on Beach Road.
One place clinging to its grunge roots is the tiny Crescent Club, located away from the Village just south of the Stickney Point bridge and said to be the inspiration for the bar swept away by a killer hurricane in John D. MacDonald's novel, Condominium. The atmosphere is worth any respiratory damage you might incur.
Besides, you can always refresh your lungs with the clean, salt air on the beaches. The most popular is Siesta Key Public Beach (with free tennis courts and shaded picnic tables), where parking can sometimes be a challenge. Seasonal visitors seem content to boil in the parking lot, but locals seldom waste valuable tan time creeping back and forth through the congested aisles. Some bike from the public lot behind the Siesta Market in the Village, while others take advantage of the lot at St. Boniface Episcopal Church. At 5615 Midnight Pass Road, St. Boniface is a short stroll to Fire Station 13 at the corner of Midnight Pass and Beach Road. Just to the left of the building, a nature path provides access to the beach. The church generously allows beach parking daily and on Sunday after regular services. All they ask is a minimal donation.
Of course, Siesta Key has more to offer than hot sand and cool beverages. Take time to explore the island's canopy-covered single- lane roads that wind through laid-back neighborhoods of year-round residents, or rent a canoe or kayak and paddle around the mangrove islands in Little Sarasota Bay.
At CB's Saltwater Outfitters (just off the Stickney Point bridge) you can charter a boat for the day or grab fresh bait to fish. Half the building is devoted to clothing, but make no mistake, this is a serious bait shop, where the staff knows who's catching what where, and what they're catching it on. They're happy to share, so stop in on your way on or off the Key.-Pat Haire
BEACH ACCESSES FOR SIESTA KEY
#1 North Shell Road
#2 Avenida Messina
#3 Columbus Boulevard
#4 Avenida Navarra
#5 Ocean Boulevard
#6 Tenacity Lane
#7 Calle de la Siesta
#8 Plaza de las Palmas 1
#9 Plaza de las Palmas 2
#10 Calle del Invierno
#11 Avenida del Mare
#12 Stickney Point
#13 Point of Rocks