Sarasota, Florida, boasts 40 miles of coastline on the Gulf of Mexico, including the famed Siesta Key Beach. The destination spot sits roughly 60 miles south of Tampa, and its quartz-crystal sand and soft waves are part of what make Siesta Key a favorite destination for beachgoers visiting the area. A large parking lot and concession stands line the beachfront for travelers, while trolleys make their way through town to provide exceptional accessibility to the city. During peak traveling months, parking can be difficult to find near the beach, so pack your patience and arrive early for a full day of sun.
Flying there brings spectacular oceanfront views and enriching cockpit management as you navigate the Sarasota Class C airspace. If arriving from the north take time to familiarize yourself with the Tampa/St. Petersburg area. The Class B airspace encapsulates several different international and regional airports, and is bustling with commercial flights no matter the time of day.
If you prefer to avoid the Class B airspace, it is possible to navigate below the 6,000-foot msl outer shelf by flying just off the coastline. Or you can navigate over Lakeland Linder International Airport’s Class D airspace, east of St. Petersburg and Tampa, and remain overland for the duration of the flight. Given the high volume of traffic in the area, I’d recommend requesting flight following and remaining in contact with air traffic control during the duration of your travel.
Sarasota/Bradenton International Airport has two paved runways, with the longest measuring 9,500 feet, and features ILS, GPS, and VOR approaches to accommodate commercial and general aviation operations alike. The airport is attended 24/7 and has two FBOs on the field, Dolphin Aviation and Ross Aviation. Both offer self-service fuel, hangar space, and rental cars and can make accommodations as needed. Call ahead for local recommendations or to reserve hangar space prior to making the trip.
Relaxing on the beach is a must, but after days of sun and sand, other activities will keep your trip flying high. For the golf enthusiast, the Sarasota coast gives visitors year-round access to playing 18 holes. More than 30 courses and driving ranges are scattered throughout the community, but if you’re looking for an A-plus putting championship for all ages, stop by Smugglers Cove. Navigate through pirate ships, feed the alligators on the course, and play for the coveted family bragging rights after hitting a hole-in-one on the putt-putt course. The fun terrain keeps everyone on their toes, creating memories for the young and the young at heart.
Oma’s Pizza and Italian Restaurant is a hidden gem in a swarm of fresh seafood cuisine. An immigrant family retired just north of the Sarasota area after living in New York City for the majority of their lives. Yet retirement couldn’t keep the family from cooking, and after opening under the name “Roma’s Pizza” a trademark dispute forced the family to remove the R and rebrand to “Oma’s Pizza.” The owner’s wife told our table, “Oh honey… Everything’s bigger at Oma’s,” and she was right. The hand-tossed pizzas and Italian cuisine will take your taste buds straight to Italy, where everything is handmade and no corners are cut.
However, when on the Gulf Coast seafood is king. The Seafood Shack and Swordfish Grill and Tiki Bar are local spots that feature the fresh catch of the day. Fishing boats depart the restaurant docks early to reel in local catches, and executive chefs incorporate the freshly caught fish into specials on the dinner menu each night. Both restaurants offer oceanside seating and provide entertainment dockside, weather permitting.
Condos and hotels line the keys, but on our previous two trips our group elected to look for Airbnbs and Vrbos to accommodate our stay. The plethora of private residences available provide multiple bedroom accommodations, hot tubs, pools, and kitchens to prepare your own meals. Beach access is often available, and if you’re looking for budget-friendly accommodations, going just a bit inland can keep costs down.
While Sarasota can often be booked, looking a few miles north to the Bradenton Beach area can unearth a hidden gem. Often less crowded, Bradenton provides more beach access with parking accommodations and offers a great space to venture.
Step into the Sarasota airport terminal and you’ll be greeted by statues of manatees throughout. Often referred to as sea cows, the animals are protected under the Endangered Species Act, and can be seen throughout the Sarasota area. Manatees frequent shallow waters with warm temperatures, so look for inlets off the intracoastal waterways and the Gulf. If you’re on a boat, it’s important to follow “no wake zone” signs as the mammals are often intrigued by the sounds propellers make and the animals are at risk of injury if they get too close.
For the road warrior, or on your departure, be on the lookout for Tampa Bay’s Sunshine Skyway Bridge linking Tampa and St. Petersburg to Sarasota. Rising 193 feet into the air and spanning 4 miles, the bridge provides uninterrupted vehicle access for those traveling the Interstate Highway 275 corridor. It simultaneously allows freight ships and cruise ships to pass through the bay without requiring a drawbridge. The trip over the bridge is unique, as is fishing off the pier overlooking the bridge—both can be accomplished for under $5.
Finish your trip with a visit to St. Armands Circle to fill your bags with local apparel and tropical looks before your flight home. Boutique shops and local eateries line the streets for visitors to stop by and widow-shop. On a recent trip, I managed to forget to pack a belt, and St. Armands presented the most Florida belt possible, featuring octopuses and fluorescent colors. As tradition, it’s now broken out anytime our crew ventures to the Florida coast.