what is thunder bay known for-nature scene with calm water before waterfall

Sunset under the Ringling Bridge in Sarasota

Here are the best Sarasota beach activities for couples when you want something fun and romantic to do in Southwest Florida…

The beaches of Sarasota are some of the best in the nation. With over 35 miles of sand and 38 public access points, your “best beach” depends on the beach experience you’re looking for. Sarasota County has six barrier islands. Imagine crossing over a bridge and leaving the mainland behind to get to your spot in the sand! That alone promises a unique beach day. 

Stretching from Longboat Key to Manasota Key, Sarasota is the fun-in-the-sun destination for couples. 

Now, let’s dive a little deeper into what each beach has in store for you as you spend some time with your special someone.

Longboat Key

view of anna maria island sarasota florida

When you drive the the furthest point north, you’ll reach Anna Maria Island in Manatee County

Starting from the longest barrier island on the north side of Sarasota, upscale Longboat Key is a skinny stretch of land with breathtaking views of water to the east and the west. Look out one window and see the Gulf Coast; look out the other and see Sarasota Bay. In fact, when you’re standing on the expansive outdoor patio at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art and look across the water, you see Longboat Key. This is where the Ringlings once owned an impressive amount of real estate. During the roaring 20s, they bought hundreds of acres, all of St. Armands, and 38 acres for the Ringling winter residence.

Fast forward to today, and driving up the island’s artery gives you a tropical vacation vibe. If you venture to the northern tip, you’ll find yourself on Anna Maria Island, a charming Florida beach town in Manatee County.

There are 11 public beach access points along Longboat Key.

If your ideal beach experience is steeped in romance and luxury, consider a stay at a lavish waterfront resort.

The Resort at Longboat Key Club has several restaurants and golf course facilities. You can lounge by the pool overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, or enjoy a 60-90 minute couple’s massage at Opal Spa. This would be ideal for a romantic weekend escape. Note: You must be a guest or member to enjoy the resort and its amenities.

For a memorable dining experience with captivating water views, try Dry Dock Waterfront Grill. This was one of my first fine dining experiences after moving to Florida, and they definitely set the bar high. Whether you dine indoors where a stunning wall of windows frames the water, or opt for the charming al-fresco patio below, eating here will put you in the mood. A great meal and beautiful setting invite couples to deepen their relationship!

*see map below

Lido Key

views of Turtle beach near siesta key florida - great things for couples to do on the beach in Sarasota county

Each beach in Sarasota County is fun to explore. Whether your soaking up the sun, or paddling the waterways, couples can enjoy their own type of beach adventure!

“Il Lido” is how Italians say strand or seashore. So when John Ringling, a fan of everything Italian, referred to this three-mile-long barrier island as Lido, the name stuck. After crossing over the John Ringling Causeway bridge, which lights up at night with a flood of colors, you’ll drive around St. Armands Circle to get to the beach. It’s an easy after-dinner walk from St. Armands to the beach, and because the popular destination can be congested, walking is a great way to travel! Drive to South Lido Beach Park when your beach day involves paddling, walking nature trails, or playing volleyball.

St. Armands Circle has many dining options. You can literally walk in circles to find what looks good! For your convenience, view the St. Armands Circle Directory. Columbia Restaurant is popular for Spanish food and has a large dining area; Tommy Bahama Restaurant, Bar and Store has an upstairs bar area where you can watch the activity on the street below; Venezia Ristorante has a small outdoor seating area in addition to inside dining and wood-fired pizza that is consistently good. Be sure to check the restaurants off the central circle too!

*see map below

Siesta Key

siesta beach near the village - couples can enjoy restaurants and sunsets at this Sarasota beach

The beach near Siesta Village is a perfect spot to watch the sunset, or the clouds roll in, as you wait for your dinner reservation.

Most people know about Siesta Key from the top ranking given by “Dr. Beach” or the trendy MTV show. What locals and visitors love about Siesta Key are miles of wide, quartz-crystal sand that is easy on the feet even during the hottest Florida days. This 8-mile-long island is an excellent place for couples to enjoy some beach time. If you love to run together, this is your beach.

The main beach access has the most parking spaces (about 900) and a beach pavilion. It is where the famous Siesta Key Drum Circle and Annual Siesta Key Crystal Classic International Sand Sculpting Festival are held. The beach is very wide, so you will likely find your spot in the sand even on a busy day. When you want a little more privacy, fewer crowds, and are okay with fewer amenities (no Pavillion), there are little parking pullouts along Beach Road. There are fewer parking spots, which means fewer people to share the sand with!

The beaches near Siesta Village are perfect for heading out around sunset if you’re waiting for your reservation at one of the restaurants. This section of the beach gets very congested, and parking can be challenging during busy times of the year. If you’re parked at the beach somewhere along the Key, consider leaving the car, jumping on the trolley, or walking to the Village. A favorite dining spot I return to again and again is SKOB (Siesta Key Oyster Bar) for its easy beach vibe and live music most evenings. Oh, and oysters enjoyed in the large tiki hut…of course!

Camping on Siesta Key

The southernmost point of Siesta Key is home to Turtle Beach and Turtle Beach Campground. If camping is your thing, there are 39 RV and tent sites, an Old Florida vibe, fewer crowds, and a place to paddle your kayak or SUP. Manatees were swimming in the lagoon under and around the kayaks the last time I was there. Couples paddling on the water enjoyed watching these gentle giants up close in their natural habitat.

Leave your car parked and take the free trolly between here and Siesta Village.

A great way to spend time around this part of Siesta Key is to bring or rent a kayak, launch it at Turtle Beach, and paddle around the 35 acres of land at Jim Neville Marine Preserve. Explore mangroves, and enjoy wildlife viewing like great blue herons, bald eagles, pelicans, egrets, osprey, plenty of fish, and possibly dolphin and manatee. When you get to the Preserve’s north side, you may have the water-only access beach all to yourself. If you go here, bring everything you need for a day of beach and water adventure, and be sure to pack out everything you bring in.

Finally, after a beach day on the south side of Siesta Key, a favorite place for casual dining and great fish is Spearfish Grille. It’s located on the mainland just over the Stickney Point Bascule Bridge by the boatyard (you’ll see the stacks of boats by the little channel). After dining, you can walk to the end of the street for channel water views or cross the street to Crescent Beach and watch the sunset.

*see map below

Casey Key

the beach near nokomis-blue skies with puffy clouds around sunset-couples romantic date night

Head to the jetty in Nokomis to watch the sunset and then grab dinner at one of the restaurants nearby.

Driving along the single road on Casey Key is like going through millionaire’s row. The homes are stunning, but you won’t find beach access on the north side of the Key. Nokomis Beach is a local favorite and the oldest public beach in Sarasota County. You can launch your kayak at the point and either paddle up the waterways of Lyons Bay and Roberts Bay or take a short paddle to the tiny island in the middle of the boat lanes between North Jetty Beach in Nokomis and South Jetty Beach on the Venice side. It’s a great place to watch the sunset, watch wildlife, surf when the conditions are good (but when there are waves, the area gets crowded, fast!), and watch boats passing by. You can fish from the Jetty.

There are some great dining options after your day in the sun. On the north end of Casey Key Road, by the bridge at Blackburn Point Road, you’ll find a laid-back vibe at Casey Key Fish House. The restaurant and tiki bar have parking in the dirt lots on both sides of the street. If sushi is on your mind, head to the newly opened Kiku Sushi and Grill in the Publix shopping center. I recommend Local Pizza in Osprey for wood-fired pizza and other dishes, a small patio area when the weather is good, and a cozy bar. Closer to Nokomis Beach, Nokomo’s Sunset Hut on Shakett Creek is your tiki hut on the water. It’s right on the main road, but it’s like stepping into a Caribbean restaurant with a little beach once inside. The breeze off the water is refreshing, the drinks are cold, and they often have live music. If you are looking for a great breakfast spot before hitting the beach, go to Max’s Table. They also serve lunch, and I’m sure it’s just as delicious as their breakfast.

*see map below

Venice Beach

Black lab dog at the beach in Venice with golden sunset

When your dog joins you on your couple’s beach day, head to the Brohard Dog Beach in Venice, FL

Venice Beach is located directly at the end of West Venice Avenue, the main street through downtown Venice. It’s a popular spot, and you may find the beach filled with early-morning yogis. Parking is free, with a concession stand and two sand volleyball courts. If you and your partner enjoy history or beautiful walks, stroll through the Heritage Park Trail. The trail is that wide grassy median separating West Venice Avenue’s two sides. I drove by this for several years, always thinking how pretty it was before I walked it. 

You can start the trail from the beach or downtown. It’s a meandering tree-covered walk covering two blocks that guides you with markers and resting spots through the history of Venice. The epic trees are reason enough to take a stroll. If you dine downtown, you could walk this to the beach afterward.

If you bring your pup on your couple’s day, head to Brohard Paw Park by the pier. There is an enclosed grassy area and a boardwalk leading to their own beach section. Our black lab will jump into the small waves, retrieving her yellow tennis ball until she pukes! (yuck, sorry..I know) All that to say, our four-legged friends have a ball here…literally! One word of caution, though. The sands here are not like the sands in Siesta Key. Unlike the crushed quartz further north, this sand can be scorching, mainly during the hottest summer days. Mind your pup’s paws and check the sand’s temperature. (I say this from experience…poor baby).

Venice Beach Pier

Right next to the dog beach is the Venice Fishing Pier. It has a large paved parking lot, Maxine Barritt Park, and a lovely stretch of quiet beach. This is a great spot for sunsets. All Venice beaches are excellent places to dig for shark teeth. You can learn more about why when you stroll through Heritage Trails! 

If you’re hungry, Sharky’s on the Pier is a popular restaurant with unbeatable views because it’s right on the sand looking at the Gulf of Mexico. If you’re looking for a steakhouse and upscale dining, then Fins at Sharkey’s may be perfect.

Caspersen Beach

At the end of the road on Harbor Drive, you’ll find Caspersen Beach. There are fewer parking spots here, and it’s more secluded than the others. Bring what you need for the day and find your little piece of Old Florida. If you have a kayak or have rented one, head to the Caspersen Canoe and Kayak Launch, which connects Red Lake to the Intracoastal Waterway leading to Lemon Bay near Manasota Key. If biking is your thing, check out the bike path here and around Venice.

Caspersen Beach is narrower than Venice Beach, and the rock outcroppings and vegetation set a completely different beach vibe.

After a day in the sun, there are plenty of dining options in nearby Historic Downtown Venice, FL. For authentic Turkish food, head to Bodrum Restaurant. It’s tucked away off Miami Avenue, and I’m a big fan of the lamb and the beautiful blue decor. This is Venice, so like its namesake, you can look forward to several great Italian restaurants. I have yet to try all of them. Still, some favorites are Cafe’ Venice Restaurant and Bar for its ambiance, live music, and bar, and Trattoria da Mino for great tasting rustic Italian cuisine like you would enjoy in Southern Italy. I love the eggplant and eating outside, but check out their daily specials because there is always something new to experience.

*see map below

Manasota Key

dog at manasota key

The waterview from Magnolias on the Bay where you can enjoy a drink in their backyard before dinner.

You’ll be enchanted by the canopy of trees accompanying you as you drive down Manasota Key Road from Manasota Beach Park on your way to Blind Pass Beach. Less touristy than some of Sarasota County beaches, this is the go-to beach for people looking for a quiet, low-key day at the beach. If you like to be active at the beach, bring your paddleboard or kayak, rent one, and get on the water.

When you work up an appetite or are ready for a cold drink, two spots to check out are Magnolias on the Bay for outdoor fine dining on their covered back patio with views of Lemon Bay, sushi happy hour, and a tasty menu. If you want to keep that “sand-between-your-toes” vibe, try their sister restaurant, SandBar Tiki and Grille for live music, casual beach food, and cold drinks located directly across from Englewood Beach.

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*This article is part of a series about Things to do for Sarasota Couples. Be sure to check out other activities in and around Sarasota.