My Weekend on Longboat Key

North_Longboat_KeyBy Rich Highfield

Living in Jacksonville, Florida I like to get out of the city whenever I can. I have always loved going down to Key West, but I had never spent much time on Florida’s west coast, so I decided to plan a weekend on Longboat Key.

I left work early on Friday and after a four-hour drive I arrived into Sarasota. Longboat Key is an idyllic barrier island set between the Gulf of Mexico and Sarasota Bay, just south of Anna Maria Island. I checked into my hotel and watched the spectacular sunset from the balcony of my fourth-floor room. I was immediately struck with the beauty of the area, the leaves of tall palm trees waving in the ocean breeze and the blue ocean water that seemed to go on forever. I could see most of the island from my balcony, with the eastern shore being covered with dense mangroves and the opposite western shoreline made up of open beaches merging into the Gulf of Mexico.

After watching the sunset I went down to the hotel lounge and had a quick bite while chatting up the cute bartender who told me about a street festival that evening. Rather than try to find my way around an unfamiliar area, I hailed a taxi and went downtown to check out the festival.

Longboat Key has an eclectic collection of unique shops, cafes and small gourmet grocery stores scattered along the island, all set in a lush topical landscape. Many of the local restaurants had booths set up at the fair and I found myself wishing I hadn’t already eaten. There was a local band playing and an area was set up for dancing. Even though dancing with a few locals and just enjoying the warm night air on the beautifully manicured island setting was fun, I was tired from work and the long drive down, so I headed back to the hotel.

The next morning I headed for the beach. While the beaches of Longboat Key don’t have the same soft powder-white sand as the southern Florida Keys, Longboat also doesn’t get the throngs of beachgoers. On a very warm and sunny Saturday there was at least 100 yards between myself and the next closest beachgoers. I walked over to one of the marinas for lunch and inquired about renting a boat for the next day. I used to go fishing quite a bit when I lived in Ft Lauderdale and thought it would be fun to try my luck around the picturesque mangrove-lined inlets.

I headed back to my spot on the beach and the warm sun put me right to sleep after my meal. After my nap I took a walk down the beach and meet a charming young couple from France who spoke remarkably good English and then a man from Montana, a psychology professor, who was down visiting his parents who had retired to Sarasota. We talked for quite a while and watched the sunset glimmering like gold off the ocean waters. After living in the city for so long it took me a little aback as to how friendly everyone on Longboat Key was.

The next day I got to the marina early and took out a small fishing boat. As I had to be back at work in Jacksonville the next morning, I only planned to stay out a few hours. Even though I didn’t catch any fish, being among the beautiful mangroves with sunlight filtering through the tree leaves onto the blue-green water for a few hours was a great way to end my first weekend on Longboat Key. I plan to go back, soon.