Longboat Key is at the center of a long barrier island between the Gulf of Mexico on the west and Sarasota Bay and the mainland on the east.
At the last census, Longboat Key had about 7,500 residents, and it straddles the border between Manatee and Sarasota counties.
Founded in the mid-50s, the town has always been a favorite destination for sport fishermen and nature lovers. It is close to many big city attractions and is ideal for those interested in cultural and historical events.
Here are 15 things to do in Longboat Key, Florida.
1. Turtle Crawl Inn Longboat Key
Like many coastal towns in the area, Longboat Key tends to attract beachgoers, anglers and nature lovers. It has a decidedly chilly atmosphere, not unlike many of the more commercialized parts of the state.
Turtle Crawl Inn is a popular destination for those who would rather ditch funky digs for great value and easy access to a variety of natural amenities.
Although small, the lodge’s units feature private oceanfront balconies and kitchenettes, perfect for couples and small families. Because of their west-facing orientation, they’re a great place to catch an amazing Florida sunset or two.
2. Bay Park
Featuring a designated dog park, playground, fishing pier, and kayak launch area, Bayfront Park is a popular destination for those who don’t want to spend a lot of time or hours in the car to experience the great outdoors.
The park is a municipal facility managed by the Town of Longboat Key and is popular with locals and tourists alike.
The park has just undergone an expensive and lengthy renovation, resulting in more trails, shuffleboard courts, and various sports fields that are usually open on a first-come, first-served basis.
3. Manatee Lake State Park
Although it’s technically located in the Bradenton suburbs near East State Route 64, Manatee Lake State Park is a premier area attraction for outdoor enthusiasts, spanning over 500 acres.
Known for its excellent freshwater fishing, kayaking, boating and swimming areas, the park also has a variety of inland nearby, including pine forests and marshes to explore.
Camping is also popular within the park, and previous guests have noticed that although the campground is in a natural setting, there are ample facilities such as showers, restrooms and electrical connections.
4. Dry Dock Seaside BBQ
From scallops and grouper to stone crabs and giant bay prawns, Dry Dock Waterfront Grill has something for almost every seafood lover.
As the name suggests, the Waterfront Grill also offers guests fantastic views. While they’re amazing for everyone, it’s especially true for those from far-flung landlocked countries.
Previous guests have noticed that aside from the great food and great location, the staff is knowledgeable and attentive and everything seems to fit together perfectly.
Located on Longboat Key’s Gulf Boulevard, this restaurant tends to fill up quickly during peak hours, so plan accordingly.
5. Lido Beach
Lido Beach on Lido Key is just minutes from Longboat Key; it attracts an international crowd more than other local beaches.
Facilities at Lido Beach include a playground and a viewing platform for strollers and wheelchairs. For those coming from out of state, beach chairs and umbrellas can be rented.
During the winter months when the bay can get a little chilly, many visitors opt for the on-site heated pool; an adult spends less than five bucks for a full day and is cheaper for kids.
6. Mote Marine Lab and Aquarium
Located on Ken Thompson Parkway near Sarasota, the Mott Marine Laboratory and Aquarium is a unique research facility dedicated to the study and conservation of the region’s natural environment and wildlife. It was established in the mid 50’s.
The aquarium portion of the facility is open to the public and includes hundreds of local marine animals, including turtles, fish, and seahorses, to name a few.
Sharks are also popular residents, and the aquarium’s staff provide regular feedings, which are popular with children and adults alike. Especially during the summer holidays, there are various activities and classes for children.
7. Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Reserve
For many first-time visitors to the Sunshine State, it comes as a surprise that there are still black panthers living in the wild.
Located on Palmer Avenue in Sarasota, Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary was established more than 30 years ago to protect big cats and other animals that have been abandoned, injured or orphaned.
In addition to its rescue and rehabilitation role, a large part of what the shelter does is provide educational opportunities for visitors. For many guests, their time on site is one of the most memorable experiences of their trip.
8. Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall
Located on Sarasota’s North Tamiami Trail, the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall is a local live entertainment icon, seating over 1,500 guests and has been in business since the late ’60s.
The facility is also architecturally unique, from comedy and dramatic plays to dance and music in a variety of genres. It blends old charm with the latest lighting and sound system to make it truly unique.
They offer a year-round schedule, so it’s best to read their website carefully before heading out. While there are plenty of seats, the most popular shows are usually quick.
9. Emerson Point Reserve
The Manatee River is one of the central Gulf Coast’s outdoor recreation centers, and the Emerson Point Preserve is a convenient and inexpensive way to take advantage of it without spending hours commuting to and from other larger parks in the area.
The reserve consists of more than 350 acres of pristine natural environment and also includes many historical and prehistoric sites.
The reserve’s multi-use trails are open to walkers, cyclists and joggers. For those who don’t want to get wet and muddy, there are several elevated boardwalks that are also great for wildlife viewing.
10. Ed Smith Stadium
For nearly a decade, Ed Smith Stadium on 12th Street in Sarasota has been the spring training home for the MLB Baltimore Orioles.
The nearly 8,000-seat stadium has undergone some renovations in recent years, including refurbished seats that are actually leftovers from the original Orioles Park in Camden Field, the team’s hometown of Baltimore, Maryland, more than 1,000 miles away. .
Spring training season is a great way to get in a few games and enjoy Florida’s pleasant weather without paying major league prices for hot dogs and beer like you do during the regular season.
11. Mary Selby Botanical Gardens
With plenty of rain, sun, and a year-round growing season, Florida has more world-class botanical gardens than anywhere else.
The Mary Selby Arboretum is located on South Palm Avenue along the scenic Sarasota Bay. For those tired of the crowds of more touristy destinations, this is the perfect place to spend a few hours commune with nature.
The gardens feature an abundance of native and exotic plants, flowers and trees, and the grounds are connected by clearly marked paths, including numerous seating areas, conservatories, unique cultivated fields and informational signs.
12. Art Village
Located on 12th Avenue in Bradenton, the 30+ acre Art Village is a popular destination for art lovers and lovers of the bohemian lifestyle.
In many ways, the village is the artistic and creative center of the region. Comprising nearly 100 galleries, studios, residences and cafés, it’s the perfect place to while away a few afternoons.
The homes and businesses in the village are architecturally unique, and it definitely differs from most other area attractions. During the year, various fairs, festivals and arts-related programmes are also offered.
13. Cortez Historic Fishing Village
Commercial fishing has always been big business on Florida’s Gulf Coast, but for many centuries it was far less mechanized than it is today.
The historic village of Cortez just north of Longboat Key is charming and free to visit. There is no better place to see the coast and fisheries than in the past.
The village’s downtown area is easily walkable, including the marina, restaurants and historic buildings. There’s also a museum and cultural center filled with historical photos, fishing equipment and first-hand accounts of people working in the industry.
14. Anna Maria Island Artists Association
Florida has always had its fair share of artists and writers settling in the state looking to be inspired by its natural beauty.
The Anna Maria Island Artists Association is a non-profit cooperative focused on exhibiting and promoting the work of local and regional artists. Throughout the year, their facility on the Esplanade hosts a variety of exhibitions, fairs and educational programs for established artists and rising stars.
The guild has been around for nearly 30 years and is open to the public Monday through Saturday from 10am to 5pm.
15. DeSoto National Memorial
In the first half of the 16th century, Hernando De Soto landed on the coast near Bradenton. According to historians, he was looking for the city of gold and the eternally elusive fountain of youth.
Located on the DeSoto Memorial Highway, the Dosotho National Memorial is a monument to this historic event.
The memorial and surrounding park are located on more than 20 acres near the mouth of the Manatee. In addition to its historic significance, the park includes many options for outdoor activities—such as fishing, bird watching, and kayaking—as well as a variety of nature trails.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Longboat Key, FL (FL)
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