One of the earliest planned cities in the United States, Venice is known for its charming historic downtown district, scenic parks and spectacular beaches. Venice has long been favored as a retreat from the hustle and bustle of contemporary city life; the people who vacation and live here choose the area for its graceful ambiance, quiet elegance and preserved natural environments.
Originally called Horse and Chaise because of a tree formation that served as a locating marker for fishermen, the city changed its name to Venice in 1888, when Florida pioneer Frank Higel was reminded of the Italian city because of the area's systems of canals and proximity to water. In the early 20th century, Dr. Fred Albee purchased a great portion of the area with dreams of developing it into a thriving coastal paradise. This dream wasn't realized until 1925, when the Seaboard Railroad and its Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers selected the area as its retirement haven. Their civic design called for a distinct Italian Renaissance architectural style, and Venice continues to wear this heritage with pride.
Today, tall palm trees line Venice's downtown district with its artfully designed courtyards and plazas, cobblestone walkways, art and antique galleries, clothing and jewelry boutiques and outdoor cafés. Just a block from the main thoroughfare, West Venice Avenue, Venice Little Theatre presents award-winning mainstage, cabaret and children's theater year-round.
Venice also boasts its own symphony, the Venice Symphony, which performs orchestral, pops and chamber concerts throughout the year. Arts and crafts festivals, including The Downtown Art Fest held every November, liven up the downtown streets on a regular basis. A few blocks from the business district, elegant Mediterranean-style residences grace the spacious streets. The Banyan House, a European-style bed and breakfast, is an ideal place to stay while visiting the area.
Venice is the "Shark Tooth Capital of the World." These teeth, which often measure larger than four inches, are crafted into jewelry and other art objects and exhibited at the spring Sharks' Tooth Festival. Just steps from downtown, Venice Municipal Beach is a shark-tooth hunting haven also sporting a picnic area, concession stand and volleyball courts. A coral reef located a quarter mile offshore is a favorite exploring spot for divers.
For those who prefer more seclusion, Caspersen Beach, toward the southern end of the island, offers beachcombers ideal terrain. Because so much of this lengthy beach has been left in its natural state, freshwater and saltwater marshes, mangrove areas and tidal flats thrive here. A boardwalk allows you to get up close and personal with coastline flora and fauna.
Dog lovers and fishing enthusiasts flock to Brohard Park on the Venice Airport property off Harbor Drive. The park's lengthy fishing pier is a terrific place to cast your rod or just sit and watch the shimmering Gulf waters dance in the sunlight. A sizable portion of the park is fenced off to allow dogs and their favorite humans space to frolic.
When cocktail hour comes along, enjoy something refreshing at Sharkey's on the Pier, overlooking the Gulf of Mexico at the end of Brohard Park. Sit inside or outside on one of the bi-level decks and experience the Florida lifestyle as it was meant to be-relaxed and close to nature.
Englewood, spanning both Sarasota and Charlotte counties, is a delightful beach community that recalls the days before high-rises and gated communities. With small offshore islands and magnificent beaches, Englewood is home to cultural events, nature parks, shops, restaurants and seasonal residents and vacationers.
Englewood's four beaches stretch along the tiny barrier island of Manasota Key-a tranquil, one-main-road paradise for a few thousand residents and seasonal visitors. Resort accommodations, Old Florida cottages and exclusive private homes peek from behind tropical landscapes and burgeoning native flora. Manasota Beach offers 14 acres of beachfront, along with sheltered picnic areas, barbecue pits, boardwalks and bathhouse facilities. The Hermitage Artist Retreat, a restored 1907 homestead, sits directly on the beach under the gentle shade of Australian pines, attracting regional and international visual artists, composers, writers and others who come to pursue their work in a tranquil, inspirational setting.
Blind Pass Beach is the most isolated beach on the key and a lovely spot to commune with nature. The 60 acres of secluded trails wind past rippling sand dunes and colorful bursts of wildflowers. Boaters can use the convenient docking area to anchor down and enjoy the beach.
Englewood's main business district stretches down Dearborn Street, a little avenue of art galleries, cafés and open-air arts festivals. It's worth a visit to the Green Street Church Museum (built in 1926), which used to function as the town's only church and is now owned and operated by the Lemon Bay Historical Society.
The area surrounding Englewood offers a wealth of opportunities to explore Florida's natural environment. Don Pedro Island is a state recreation park nine miles south of Englewood, accessible only by private boat or ferry. If you're lucky, you might catch a glimpse here of West Indian manatees, gopher tortoises, bald eagles or an American oystercatcher on one of the many trails that weave around the island.
With nine miles of beaches, five acres of hiking trails and acres of pine forests, oak-palm hammocks, and mangrove swamps, Cayo Costa State Park is a nature lover's paradise. You can arrive by boat and spend the day surrounded by nature. Nearby, Gasparilla Island State Park is another natural retreat offering great swimming, shelling, snorkeling, picnicking, fishing and nature study. The centerpiece of the park is the restored Boca Grande Lighthouse built in 1890.