Off the beaten path in Siesta Key, FL

Siesta Key is a hidden gem on the Gulf Coast of Florida that offers a slower pace of life from a time gone by. Florida’s entire West Coast is often thought of as an antidote to the hustle and bustle from Jacksonville to Daytona, and Disney to West Palm and Miami. But the west coast from Tampa to Naples is still awash in condos and high rises, even if not quite as crowded as South Beach. For an affordable Gulf Coast experience that brings back the authenticity of old world Florida, from a time when pirates and privateers would make the rounds along the panhandle to New Orleans, Siesta Key is an undiscovered treasure.

Located just southeast of Sarasota, about eighty minutes from the Tampa airport, Siesta Key is a small (3.5 sq. miles) barrier island. The island is so narrow that its land mass is stretched over 12 miles north to south. On the Gulf side it is all beach. About half of that length is beyond the reach of public roads and remains undeveloped because the beach backs right into the swamp. This means that Siesta Key has miles of undeveloped beach that can only be accessed by boat.

This is most definitely life in the slow lane. My recommendation is to get up early and grab some groceries for your cooler. Pack the sunscreen and rent a small fishing skiff with an outboard motor and a sun awning. Boats are available all over the inhabited part of the island. Once you have your supplies and craft, then it’s just a short trip south to anchorage on the swamp side of the dune. As you come over the top (less than 15 yards), you are greeted by a perfectly unspoiled beach being lapped by the warm and clear Gulf of Mexico. It is paradise, especially if you’ve packed enough provisions to watch the sun gently drop into the Gulf at the end of the day.

Boating in the area needs to be carefully handled. There is almost no draft and a lot of vegetation. The channel is clearly marked in the inhabited part of the island, but once you get south of Midnight Pass, you are pretty much on your own. This means you go slow. Some of the funky little motels that line the bay include kayaks and canoes, which are a great option if you are not in a hurry.

Don’t bother renting a car. There is a free shuttle that runs up and down the inhabited part of the island, so access to the commercial village at the north end of the key is always available. Honestly, there is not much up there, but the unique white beaches (99% quartz) are worth a look.

If you are ready to get away from it all and do nothing while surrounded by untouched tropical wonder, Siesta Key is closer than you think.