Just Add Water
Windsurfing is visceral, immediate and exhilarating. "There’s nothing like it," says Laurel Robertson Kaiser of Island Style Watersports. "The sailboard becomes an extension of your body." A certified windsurfing instructor since 1987, Kaiser guarantees that after her two-hour class, you’ll be up and flying—and in love. You don’t need to be young or super-strong to succeed; Kaiser says she’s "perfected my training techniques" for students from kids to seniors. $225 for one person; $175 per person for groups up to four. 2433 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota; (941) 954-1009.
Experience the legendary performance and vintage style of a Grand Banks trawler yacht through Chitwood Charters, which has a fleet of seven (36 to 53 footers) of these gorgeous boats. Four days is ideal to explore the waters and towns of Florida’s southwest coast, passing through Charlotte Harbor, Pine Island Sound, Boca Grande Pass (famous for tarpon fishing), and onwards to Captiva and Sanibel islands. The 42-foot yacht has two staterooms—perfect for two couples or a family. $1,895 without captain; add $600 with captain. (941) 383-5232.
To encounter strange new life forms, you don’t need to visit outer space. Around the Bend’s Critter Catching Family Adventure is a dip-netting investigation of the denizens of the grass flats of Sarasota Bay. Owner and naturalist Karen A. Fraley will introduce you to "wondrous creatures," including crabs, shrimp, mollusks, shells, sea horses and starfish. "It’s an unforgettable learning adventure for the entire family," she says. "If your children ask to be marine biologists after this, don’t be surprised!" $120 for entire family. (941) 794-8773.
You live in a sailor’s paradise, and in just two days you can learn how to join in the fun. Sara-Bay Sailing School’s introductory course includes 12 hours of hands-on training in sailing terminology, boating safety, basic knots, rules of the sea, tacking and jibbing, points of sail, man-overboard recovery and more. At journey’s end, you take a test for Basic Keelboat Certification and can begin to launch a lifetime of adventures along our beautiful coast. Advanced training and certification are also offered. $350. (941) 914-5132.
It happens at night—snook fishing, that is. C.B.’s Saltwater Outfitters’ Snook Alley Evening Trip takes snook fishing fanatics down the Intracoastal Waterway where the snook, attracted by lighted docks, are fishing for their own late-night snacks. Anglers looking for a challenge will get one; snook are formidable gamefish and put up a great fight. Snook in these parts can grow up to 30 inches, but don’t get out the skillet. It’s catch-and-release season through August. $400 for four hours. 1249 Stickney Point Road, Sarasota; (941) 349-4400.
Chris Oliver and Kris Fehlberg, a husband-wife team of wildlife biologists, make science exciting and even luxurious on their Biotica EcoTours. For the sweltering summer, they recommend their Rum Island Springs Retreat package. This three-day/two-night trip features guided kayak tours down the Santa Fe River, snorkeling in the cool Rum Island Springs, nature walks and an evening exploring Gainesville’s urban offerings. Guests stay in a charming riverside cabin, and all meals feature local and organic ingredients. $350 per person; minimum of six people is required. (941) 350-4905.
Dive into the wonders of the Gulf with Florida Underwater Sports. The daylong dive tour begins with a catered breakfast as you cruise 30 miles off the coast of Venice to explore the wreck of the Bayronto, a 400-foot freighter beneath 100 feet of water. After a hearty lunch, the group cruises to the "boneyard" of fossil deposits off Venice, where divers hunt for ancient marine and terrestrial fossils, including teeth from the megalodon, the great white shark’s prehistoric ancestor. $3,400 for six people. (941) 870-4461.
We live right in some of the best tarpon-fishing waters in the world, and landing one of these magnificent creatures is the thrill of a lifetime. Capt. Joseph Peters of Native Angler Charters is a fourth-generation native Floridian who has been fishing these waters for 30 years. His eight-hour fishing trip, 20 miles offshore, is geared for four people. Although the tarpon are released, Peters promises that each guest will return with a great fish story. $550 for four people. (941) 232-2140.
Philip Buri of Walk on the Wild Side, a master naturalist, offers the ultimate guided canoe adventure through Myakka River’s Wilderness Preserve. The eight-hour journey meanders 12 miles downstream through a serene landscape that harbors bald eagles, wading birds and alligators. Canoeists explore Deep Hole, a 140-foot-deep sinkhole submerged in lower Myakka Lake; enjoy a lazy riverside picnic; and even do some hiking through the woods. At the end of the day, you’ll be tired but newly appreciative of Florida’s wild side. $125 per person. (941) 351-6500.
The time-challenged will mellow out fast on a three-hour luncheon sail aboard The Kathleen D, a graceful, 41-foot, 20-passenger sailing catamaran. You set off down the grand Manatee River (with majestic homes lining the river banks), then go into Tampa Bay toward Egmont Key, a small island that sits against the scenic backdrop of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. The sail includes a gourmet lunch catered by Mattison’s Riverside. Bring along 19 friends—or say hello to 19 new ones. $59 per person. (941) 870-4349.
Our 10 Best lists are not ranked in order of numerical preference.