The best beach destination—you likely didn’t know existed—is closer to home than you might imagine.
Does the idea of seemingly endless white sand beaches—fringed by the dazzling water of the Gulf of Mexico, which ranges from glowing emerald to deep turquoise, sound appealing? How about culinary delights ranging from fantastic fresh seafood and delectable desserts to a diverse brunch scene? What if this picture-perfect destination not only offered the chance to stroll secluded beaches and enjoy epic sunsets that visitors describe as “the best in Florida,” but also swim in idyllic waters, participate in yoga on the beach, or enjoy a kayaking or paddleboard excursion? Would you be surprised to learn that it is also a gateway to some of the region’s most cosmopolitan cities and rich culture and arts? Now imagine that this very experience awaits you just a few hours away by car.
Longboat Key offers all of this plus a variety of diverse accommodations including top-rated luxury resorts, manicured surroundings, friendly locals and upscale amenities.
This serene vacation spot has earned numerous honors including a Readers’ Choice Award as one of 10 Best U.S. Islands as ranked by Condé Nast Traveler and two of Longboat’s premier resorts, including Zota Beach Resort, were also named to the luxury lifestyle magazine’s 30 Best Resorts in Florida. It was also awarded a “World’s Best” reader’s survey ranking as part of the Travel + Leisure list of the Top 15 Islands in the Continental U.S.
Although considered a hidden gem by its many return visitors, this barrier island has been a prime vacation destination for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Before any significant settlement was recorded there, the Timucuan and Calusa tribes are said to have spent time on the island. Some believe they were the first tourists to this magical natural oasis, as evidenced by excavated shell mounds that reveal evidence of “picnics and community fish fries” which were enjoyed on the secluded island. The tribes were said to have lived on the mainland east of the island and were drawn there by the pristine beaches and bountiful fresh seafood—which are among the same features that continue to attract visitors today.
The island itself has a vivid heritage that predates the town’s incorporation in 1955. From the enterprising homesteaders who fished and farmed the island in the 1880s, to the arrival of wealthy industrialists, like John Ringling and his protégés, who arrived in the 1920s, the history of Longboat Key is a rich one involving Native Americans, explorers, pirates and pioneers.
Today, it is an ideal destination for all types of travelers, families, seniors and couples seeking a romantic getaway—in fact, it has become an increasingly popular destination for weddings and family reunions. The reason is that it has something to offer for every type of traveler, from the beach bum to the adventurer.
There’s not one best time to visit Longboat Key, though peak visitor season is usually from February through April. The average temperature of Longboat Key is around 81.3°F. August is the month with the warmest water temperature at 86.5°F and February has the coolest average water temperature (around 64.2°F). June is typically the wettest month and August is the hottest. Many favor the summer months for their annual summer beach trip.
“Longboat Key Is America’s Best Beach,” proclaims Holee Abee of Tifton, Georgia, declaring it her family’s favorite beach destination. “We wanted a beach that would suit all of us—one with that perfect combination of sand, surf, weather, restaurants, available activities and friendly natives.”
You may even want to celebrate the Fourth of July on Longboat Key, when the Longboat Key Chamber of Commerce hosts the charming small-town classic Freedom Fest celebration, with what is described as the “world’s shortest parade” including a group of adorable pooches walking Bay Isles Road in the Hot Diggity Dog! contest.
Things To Do
While it is noted for peaceful beach days and tranquil nights, Longboat Key offers plenty of opportunities to create interesting itineraries and partake in activities both on and off the island.
Longboat Key is great place to ride bikes, offering flat, safe bike paths. Rent a bike and explore the 10 miles of paved bicycle paths.
From birding opportunities to dolphin and manatee encounters, get up close and personal with some stunning wildlife. Visit the Joan M. Durante Community Park to explore a wetland and coastal hammock forest ecosystem.
Hunt for the perfect seashell or sharks’ teeth along Longboat Key’s 11 miles of gorgeous beaches.
From deep sea charters to pier fishing, there are ample opportunities for anglers. The deep grass flats off Longboat Key in Sarasota Bay offer some of the best fishing in the area.
Rent a boat and explore Sarasota Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.
With 10 soft clay courts, daily events and teaching professionals on staff, the Longboat Key Public Tennis Center is open every day but requires advance notice to reserve a court.
There are plenty of opportunities for retail therapy from The Centre Shops, Shoppes of Bay Isles and Whitney Beach Plaza.
World-class attractions are just a short drive away, from the Florida Maritime Museum, Robinson Preserve, Ringling Museum of Art, Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, Sarasota Jungle Gardens and the Sarasota Classic Car Museum to the Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay.
Where To Eat
Longboat Key is home to a variety of wonderful eateries, but here are a few standouts we found particularly noteworthy.
Harry’s Continental Kitchens is an upscale eatery with a relaxed vibe serving breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner. With such mouthwatering breakfast favorites as Huevos Rancheros, Old Fashioned German Pancake and a grilled Gulf Shrimp Eggs Benedict, it’s not surprising that Harry’s is a favorite brunch and breakfast spot on the island. Visitors also give high marks to such menu items as the Shrimp-Cargot starter, crab cakes, tacos and Gulf of Mexico grouper dishes and their wine list was awarded Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence. You can dine inside or al fresco on their garden terrace. Call for same day reservations. Harry’s also has a corner market, as well as a deli and bakery where you can take away sandwiches, salads, prepared meals, a great bottle of wine and tempting bakery items. www.harryskitchen.com
Euphemia Haye Restaurant & The Haye Loft is a locally renowned, award-winning, fine-dining eatery known for the romantic ambiance, old Florida interiors, gourmet cuisine, excellent wine list and mannered service. An eclectic à la carte menu is offered in their downstairs dining rooms and visitors praise delicacies such as the escargot, pâté, Key West Snapper and Prime Peppered Steak. Following dinner, a table can be arranged upstairs in The Haye Loft dessert room and lounge, which features live music, a lighter fare menu, full bar and a selection of delectable confections. They are open for dinner every evening but Monday and it is encouraged to call ahead as hours may vary seasonally. Reservations are not accepted for The Haye Loft. www.euphemiahaye.com
The Lazy Lobster is a popular seafood restaurant known for its fresh locally sourced ingredients, cheerful staff and great value. The atmosphere is inviting and airy, decorated with nautical accents and a tropical Floridian flair. The lovely outdoor garden terrace is framed in greenery with colorful umbrella-topped tables. With the word lobster in their name, it makes sense that the Maine Lobster Roll, Lobster Tacos and the Lobster Mac & Cheese are among the most popular items. In fact, one visitor called the lobster roll “Heaven on a bun” in a recent review. But the extensive menu includes other standouts, including their Fried Green Tomatoes, Creole Shrimp Mac & Cheese and Seafood Gumbo. Don’t miss their signature Chocolate Brownie Creme Brulee. Open for lunch, early dining and dinner, reservations are suggested. www.lazylobsteroflongboat.com
Diners describe the Blue Dolphin Café, serving breakfast, brunch and lunch daily from 8am to 2pm, as a hidden gem with friendly service and bottomless cups of coffee. The café offers a wide array of tasty favorites from omelets, waffles, pancakes and French toast to burgers, hot dogs and wraps. They receive high marks for well-prepared menu items dished out by their friendly servers. Customer favorites include their Bananas Foster French Toast and Eggs Benedict, as well as the Reuben, Rachael and BLT sandwiches. This laid-back and affordable café is located in the Centre Shops of Longboat Key. www.bluedolphincafe.com/longboat-key-restaurant
Whitney’s is a delightfully retro restaurant and bodega on Longboat Key’s north end. It is one of the newest and most talked about spots on the island. Situated directly across the street from a public beach access point, this laid-back classic “diner style” eatery is perfect for attracting beachgoers in search of an affordable breakfast or a bite of lunch after a day in the sand and surf. Occupying a renovated 1950s-era Chevron gas station, this casual-dining option has a fun Americana vibe and great classic menu items—including tacos, burritos, burgers, fries, beer and cocktails, as well as breakfast staples like egg sandwiches, strong coffee and donuts that visitors rave about. Whitney’s is first come, first served and does not take reservations. www.whitneylbk.com
La Norma is a cozy dinner destination full of old-world charm. Their “Italian food made by Italian hands” is created by using a combination of fresh, farm-to-table local ingredients and imported-from-Italy specialty items such as San Marzano tomatoes. Their signature dish, Pasta alla Norma, is a tribute to the Sicilian opera and has been called “the quintessential Sicilian pasta dish.” Guests rave about their freshly made pasta, authentic pizzas and extensive wine list. Just make sure to save room for their luscious tiramisu! www.lanormarestaurant.com
“This is our home; this is our family,” is how the Solorzano family describes Solorzano’s Pizzeria Longboat Key. The owners of this family-friendly eatery pride themselves on serving “real Jersey pizza” by the slice or by the pie, and their recipes have been perfected over three generations using the traditional simplicity of their Italian ancestors. Locals and visitors alike crave their specialties such as Buffalo Chicken Pizza, garlic knots and hot-from-the-oven subs, and they offer gluten-free options. Dine in for lunch or dinner or call for delivery anywhere on Longboat Key. www.nobodymakespizzalikewedo.com