More Treasures South of Sarasota

nj-intracoastal

South of the city of Sarasota and Siesta Key, there are ample opportunities for rest and relaxation.  When you’re in Casey Key, Nokomis and Osprey exploration and experience abound in a variety of gorgeous settings. Whether your ambitions are for some relaxing beach time, some refreshing time with nature, or any number of other activities, you’re covered in this charming region of Sarasota County.

Casey Key’s stunning beaches

Casey Key has seclusion, beaches, and the aura of a well-kept Floridian secret.  For visitors, it is perhaps best known as a beach destination, though it is also home to luxurious houses of the rich and famous (example: writer-legend Steven King is a resident.) Far less crowded than the more famous neighbor Siesta Beach, Casey Key’s two beaches (Nokomis Beach, North Jetty Beach) are for those seeking all the same natural beauty without any of the parking hassles.  In fact, if you’re planning on staying on the beach during your visit, you can book lodgings at A Beach Retreat on Casey Key, whose resort grounds extend from the bay to the beach.

Take Casey Key Road at the southern tip of Casey Key to get to North Jetty beach.  From there, you can make your own adventures, making use of the many amenities: volleyball court, fishing areas and nearby bait shop, year-round lifeguards… all surrounded by a beautiful view where you can see the Intracoastal Waterway to the Gulf of Mexico.  When you get hungry, you can visit the concession stand and grab a burger, hot dog, polish sausage, or other refreshments to enjoy in the picnic area.  You’ll enjoy all these things in a more luxurious share of space to yourself than you would at many other famous beaches, with all the same attraction and allure.

For another public beach experience with a private feel, take the drawbridge over Albee Road in Nokomis to get to the family-oriented Nokomis Beach, which is Sarasota’s oldest public beach. It’s dune walkovers and boardwalk make for a refreshing and contemplative exploration opportunity, though this beach is also a great destination for paddleboarding, fishing, and picnicking.  Its boat ramps also allow for watercrafts to set off into the intracoastal waters, for those visitors looking to explore beyond the shallow ends.  The community room and plaza (which is an architectural example of the Sarasota School of Design) also serve for the occasional wedding or other small events, apparently even including the occasional art show.

If your appetite for beach exploration is still strong, you can also check out the neighboring Venice Beach. Try sifting for sharks teeth, as this beach is a world-famous spot for an overabundance of fossilized sharks teeth.  It may be the easiest souvenir you collect on your whole trip.

For any of these beaches, you can hire out a more guided adventure if that’s your preference. You can book a jet ski sunset tour with Cool Breeze, rent out a Stand Up Paddleboard through Silent Sports Outfitters (who also does tours), parasail at a birds-eye view with Venice Parasailing, or hire out a more leisurely tour through Sail Venice which includes dockside lunch stops at a number of eateries.  Consider following your adventures up with a bite at the Casey Key Fish House or a drink at the attached Casey Key Tiki Bar (try the daiquiris!) while you get your picture taken with the Captain Morgan statue on premises.

Nokomis’ bountiful eco adventures

Nokomis has a lot more to offer than just eco-destinations, but the campgrounds and other eco-amenities are (quite honestly) one of the most sought set of attractions in the area.  There are at least two stops that are highly recommended for the eco-inclined, with this in mind: Venice Myakka River Park and Scherer Thaxton Preserve.

Venice Myakka River Park in Nokomis is a modestly-sized camping spot along the Myakka River whose natural lagoon environs provide all the usual canoe and kayaking opportunities as other area parks.  For those with more dry camping ideas in mind, the facility provides pavilions, playgrounds, and picnic shelters with fireplaces.  There are walking and biking trails under palm trees and oaks for those who want to explore on foot. The park is also — perhaps most notably — a perfect destination to visit if you want to see literally hundreds of alligators in the wild, especially with the aid of one of the air-boat rides available to park visitors.

Scherer Thaxton Preserve in Nokomis (where Honore Avenue runs into SR 681) accommodates all the staples of good Gulf Coast Floridian camping to-dos within its 287 acres.  It’s perfect for hiking on unpaved trails (or even running along the fitness trail bordering the lake), where one can also catch an eyeful of the native flowering plants depending on the season.  Take a rest from your hike or jog by reclining in the mesic hammocks or by taking a seat on one of the benches facing the lake.  On the topic of this picturesque 5-acre lake coursing through the depressive wetlands: it is a soothingly quiet and peaceful set of waters to cast a fishing line for some bluegill or largemouth bass, or to do some canoeing & kayaking without any fishing ambitions.  The preserve can also be reached off the Legacy Trail, for any bicyclist already exploring that path.

There are a few other things to see in Nokomis even if you’re not in the mood for an eco-adventure. Another popular spot is Nokomis Groves, which actually consists of two different attractions: the first is an orange orchard open seasonally (opens in fall, closes in spring) that has been in operation since 1948, and the second is a storefront, where you can both sample and buy oranges.  Visitors can purchase related gifts including gift boxes of baskets of fruit, and ice cream is served year round.

When seeking out other Nokomis stops — for those visitors who may have already checked out the ecological attractions and orange-groves — there are a few standout picks.  Check out Sarasota Trap Skeet and Clays, where you can shoot at clay birds with rented shotguns and get into all sorts of other (safe, supervised) shooting shenanigans.  Pick up some original (and very idiosyncratic) local art, ephemera, and maybe even some antiques at Art in the Cottage, located behind Cafe Evergeen.  Shoot a few rounds of target-optimized golf at the tree-lined fairways within Calusa Lakes Golf Club; avoid the water traps, as there are more than a few on the course (thus adding nicely to the challenge factor).  When you’ve built up an appetite from these other stops on your itinerary, check out the fresh seafood (including many savory items smoked on site) at Captain Eddie’s Seafood either as part of an on-premises dining experience, or take your seafood goods to go by shopping in the attached seafood market.

Osprey’s leisure dining and historic preservation

My own personal favorite things about Osprey are (in order): 1) sampling the menu at the Saltwater Cafe and 2) soaking up the historical and ecological experiences in the area, as it is rich with both.

One of the first things to mention about Saltwater Cafe is that it has literally more than 300 menu items; plenty of surf and turf, excellent steak or (my favorite) prime rib, gluten-free items, crab legs, and an all-day Monday Happy Hour.  After I’ve stuffed myself full of a tasty lunch, I’m usually ready for something else to do Osprey; usually including walking tours of the history and outdoors settings.

For those in the mood for a bit of immersive learning, Historic Spanish Point is a glimpse into early Floridian history of many eras, ranging from prehistory to late nineteenth / early twentieth century historical homes.  For the more ancient pieces of preserved history on site, the archaeological site within the grounds offers a glimpse into ancient Floridian natives’ lives through an exhibition literally built into a huge prehistoric shell mound.  For the history closer to our own modern period, there are a number of preservation attractions protected by the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast. This encompasses the various inspiring gardening experiences weaving into one another, including Mrs. Potter Palmer’s Jungle Walk, the Sunken Garden, and the Butterfly Garden.  Aside from garden-related experiences, there are a number of other stops to include on your history tour of the Point: Sarasota’s first produce packing house, a pioneer chapel (and cemetery), and the preserved Guptil House (built in 1901). Also worth noting, for you pet lovers: you can even bring your dog along for a lot of the tour experiences.

As a convenient transition into exploring ecological features of Nokomis, Bay Preserve’s 4.2 acres of park area may not have the same space and dimensions of other area parks, but it has more of an intimate feel (like you’ve been let in on a secret spot, cherished in someone else’s yesteryears) and an old Sarasota charm.  It is located just outside of Historic Spanish Point and has paths to the nearby historic Burrows-Matson house, so transport to a not-so-distant past is easy enough to experience; perhaps by staging a romantic picnic amidst the Spanish-moss draped live oaks; or perhaps by killing time on either the bayside pier or the Honore T. Wamsler Wildlife Observation Platform.  Visitors can fish for snook and tarpon or take out a kayak or canoe, possibly even running into the Sarasota Crew rowing team which practices there.

For a more expansive outdoors experience, Oscar Scherer State Park is one of Sarasota’s most cherished camping destinations, and one of Osprey’s most asked-after attractions more generally.  It features 1381 acres of natural scrubby tranquility, with its 15 miles of trails perfectly suited for hiking (or even running or bicycling for the more sporting guests).  You’ll be able to see many sorts of wildlife if you keep an eye open, including deer and bobcats on the ground-level, and scrub jays (a local and endangered bird) and even bald eagles up above.  There’s also plenty of freshwater in the park for swimmers or for those interested in a bit of kayaking and canoeing.

Another fun thing to check out in Osprey: grab a tumbler (or a handful of them) at the Tervis Tumbler Store, whose headquarters are also located nearby.  I’m personally a huge fan of these wares, as they have proven to be virtually indestructible over the years, even in my own long and distinguished (often clumsy) career of drinking from portable beverage containers.

When the sun goes down, another recommendation for Osprey visitors: grab one of the Tiki-style drinks (especially the margaritas; perhaps with some shrimp appetizer or a burger) at the Lono Tiki Bar attached to Bentley’s Boutique Hotel.  For the more adventurous drink-seekers, check out the Hoosier Bar for a classic rock soundtracked motorcycle-themed bar experience (including a permanent chalk body outline).

The Legacy Trail

A discussion of these three places would hardly be complete without mentioning the Legacy Trail, whose 12+ miles of trail runs through Sarasota to venice, including 15 trailheads / bike access points (including one in Osprey, two in Nokomis).  It’s a gorgeous stretch of nature-flanked biking trail, within which you should consider taking photos when making odd stops and breaks along the way.  It’s a cyclists’ dream, though it is also a great stretch for runners, who also share the trail at times.

This info has been provided by Visit Sarasota.org.

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