Make Favorite Family Memories in Longboat Key Florida
Your vacation is one you’ll talk about for years
by Lisa Moretti
You could stay in one of those Gordon-Gekko-Greed-Is-Good
perfect condos for a family vacation but if you want something you and your
kids will remember with a smile for years to come, consider Longboat Key and
a small hotel like the Sandpiper Inn.
has a good theory for everything and one is: if you don’t come home dirty,
you didn’t have fun! The
Sandpiper is the perfect kind of place for kids (and dogs too –they’re pet
friendly.) Rooms have direct
access to the beautiful, baby-powder-soft sand and bathtub temperature
waters of the Gulf. There’s a shower outside to wash away the sand before
you come to your room and all the rooms have tiled floors for easy clean up.
Each room also has a small efficiency kitchen for making a quick meal
and a full-sized ‘frig for afternoon cocktails and mocktails when it’s time
to watch the sunset.
the kind of vacation that’s about slowing down and spending time together.
Richard and Mary Lou, the innkeepers, have lots of suggestions about
where to go and what to do; but really, building massive sandcastles and
gathering shells is pretty cool stuff when you’re kid. This is a place where
kids can get dirty, get sandy, and get salty!
They can collect found treasures and make memories that last a
lifetime. Savor your morning
cup of Joe or lunchtime grilled cheese in the seaside gazebo and of course a
long, leisurely stroll down the miles of beach is good for the soul and
wears kids out. (Sadly, the
beach itself is not dog-friendly, but the park across Gulf of Mexico Drive
The operative word when it comes to dining out in Longboat
Key is “laid back.” It’s how they roll old-style Florida -- everything is at
a relaxed pace. Across the
street from the Sandpiper, is the Blue Dolphin Café which is the perfect
little breakfast “dive” that’s anything but!
Be prepared for huge portions and all your breakfast favorites (they
serve lunch too) in a relaxed atmosphere that welcomes flip-flops and
There’s no shortage of great food and fine dining in
Longboat Key and Sarasota if you’re looking for a special meal for one of
your family’s evenings out.
Former Florida Governor Lawton Chiles’ son Ed has some great places that
welcome you and the kids; you can even bring your well-behaved pet if you
want to dine outside – and who wouldn’t want to?!
The Dockside in the Mar Vista area, The Sandbar, and The Beachhouse
on Bradenton Beach are all local favorites for food and ambience.
Arrive a bit before sunset and cheer when the sun dips below the
horizon like all the other locals do!Each restaurant is right on the beach
(you’ll get sand in your flip flops) and the menus are full of fresh fish
and local specialties.
something a little fancy, try the exotic stylings at Patti George’s with
their Asian fusion out-of-this-world
entrees; or for real, homemade mozzarella and Italian foods like mama
made (that will knock your socks off) relax at Alessandro Danieli’s
ReFrederico hidden in the Publix shopping center – who knew?!
All of these restaurants welcome families and have food everyone will
Get Out – Life Can Be a Circus!
some evenings of Monopoly or a killer game of Jenga, venture out to Mote
Marine Aquariumto touch some sea life, see manatees, watch the dolphins
tease each other, and just generally get to know our friends under the sea.
Mote is also a hospital facility for sea life so the kids will enjoy
finding out how sea turtles make a full comeback and how a gentle octopus
likes to slowly show himself to special kids.
is also home to the circus!
John Ringling’s estate on the water along with the Ringling museum dedicated
to the circus arts dazzle – the costumes and Lou Jacob’s little clown car
along with a miniature model circus that takes up an entire football field
are pretty darn cool. If you’re
in town at the right time of year, you can catch special circus events at
the Ringling or get yourself under the big top for a real-live circus with
Circus Sarasota. Dolly Jacobs
honors her father’s legacy (his image is the classic clown icon featured on
a postage stamp) by keeping the circus alive; and Dolly’s no slouch – she’s
one of the top aerialists in the world.
Sarasota was the winter home of Ringling Brothers and many of the
performers and their kids still live in the area.
Circus Sarasota brings top acts from around the world for just 3
weeks every year along with including many of the old-time performers and
clowns like Jackie LeClair, the local Ambassador of Mirth.
something a bit different and close to your hotel, contact Captain Mark Gore
who is a professional fisherman.
Mark likes to fish in front of the Sandpiper and is happy to teach
kids (and adults) how to net some bait fish, cast a line to catch local
fish, and how to release them.
Mark’s also an expert on local wildlife and local lore.
If your kids have a “need for speed,” hook up with long-time local
Captain Jimmy Seaton for a tour on his Liquid Limousine.
Captain Jimmy has the fastest boat on the water, the Blew By You, and
more insider knowledge of who’s who and what’s what than anyone else you’ll
talk to – his family has been in the area for three generations; Jimmy will
zip you across the channels to see the dockside/backside of many posh
estates and celebrity homes while also giving you an up-close look of the
local wildlife/sealife including cool jellies, osprey, and manatees.
Slow Down, You Move Too Fast
hustle and bustle of life, we often forget that what makes for favorite
family memories isn’t stuff you can buy, it’s experiences.
Creating a memorable family experience in Longboat Key is easy.
Because of Florida’s tropical climate, you can also count on warm
weather when it’s freezing up north.
You can dig your toes into the sand year-round and even if it’s
raining there’s still plenty to do.
Whatever you do, take time to appreciate the glow of Forgotten
Florida; there really is something unique about the light at the beginning
and end of each day and the sunsets are breathtaking.
Teaching kids to slow down and appreciate the view will be a gift
that lasts them a lifetime!
If you’re flying in from a distance, book your flight into
Tampa Bay International Airport.
From the airport, take 275 toward St. Petersberg.
Cross Tampa Bay on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, a marvel of
engineering! From 275 take 19
toward Bradenton, merge onto 41 and then turn west onto Cortez Road.
Turn left onto Gulf of Mexico Drive and head south to Longboat Key.
(Total drive time: about 1 hour and 27 minutes.)
You can also fly into St. Petersberg – Clearwater
International Airport on some smaller carriers.
Again take 275 and follow the directions above. (Total drive time:
about 1 hour and 5 minutes.)
There are also some flights into Sarasota-Bradenton
International Ariport. From the
airport, take 41 south to John Ringling Causeway.
Go west across the bridge and turn north on to 789/Gulf of Mexico
Drive. Stop into the Columbia
Restaurant in St. Armand’s Circle on your way to Longboat Key. (Total drive
time: about 22 minutes…unless you stop for empanadas!)
Planning Your Trip:
The Sandpiper Inn –
www.sandpiperinn.com Richard and Mary Lou are your innkeepers
Blue Dolphin Café --
The Dockside, The Sandbar, and The Beachhouse --
Mote Marine Aquarium --
Family-friendly Attractions –
Circus Sarasota –
Captain Mark Gore --
Captain Jimmy Seaton & The Liquid Limousine --
Columbia Restaurant –
Moretti is writer based in Los Angeles, CA and Tampa Bay, FL.
She often travels the highways and byways with her photographer
partner and her trusty team of dogs sniffing out new adventures for the
photos with an iPhone by Lisa Moretti except Clown Jackie LeClair which is
by David A. Monroe, www.damimagist.com