Walking down the 500 feet of private beach from my hotel, the sand, as white and pure as snow, nestles its way between my toes. The blue-green, clear ocean of the Gulf of Mexico washes up to my ankles, rhythmically greeting me. And as the sun leisurely sinks into the ocean without a cloud in the sky, I know I made the right decision to spend the weekend in Anna Maria/Longboat Key.
On something of a whim my girlfriend and I decided it was time for a weekend getaway from the concrete confines of Orlando. We wanted to get away, but we wanted to do it on a tank of gas. We had heard a bit about Anna Maria/Longboat Key from a few friends, so we decided we’d give the area a chance to impress us firsthand.
What we experienced was one of the rarest moments in adult life: when something actually lives up to the hype. Yes, this place would go on to actually meet and exceed our expectations; and I expect a lot – ask the girlfriend. Following a quick (thanks to Pandora) two and a half hour car ride later, we were greeted with a small island paradise, complete with its own culture and laid back locals.
White, sandy beaches. Breathtaking oceanfront views. Chef-prepared cuisine featuring fresh seafood, literally caught down the street in some instances. Live music at every turn. Immediately upon arriving I knew we were going to have a hard time leaving. I remember thinking, “This is the way life should be lived all the time.” In case you’re still interested, I still think that.
We checked in to our hotel, the Casa del Mar Beach Resort to begin our beachfront adventure. We were told of the resort’s 102
individually-owned two bedroom, two bathroom condominiums and how comfortable we would be. What they didn’t tell us was just how spacious, striking and “homey” our suite would feel. Opening the door to our second floor unit I was immediately greeted to a breathtaking view of the Gulf, seen from the open curtains overlooking our private, oceanside patio. I knew where I’d be spending most of my time before I even put my bags down.
After checking out a few more of the resort’s outdoor recreation and romantic surroundings, we headed just a few steps down the beach to catch an informal turtle nest walk with local enthusiast, Karen O’Dowd. From May 1 to October 31, the beaches on Longboat Key are home to Sea Turtle Nesting Season. On our tour we were greeted with 4 nests, each housing hundreds of eggs. In the brief 30 minute session, I learned more about sea turtles and their unique struggle to survive than I have my entire life. For instance, did you know that sea turtles don’t mate until they’re 30-years-old? And when they’re ready to lay their eggs they return to the same beach they were hatched at. It was pretty interesting, and it served to be great dinner conversation and trivia.
Chef-owned and operated since 1980, Euphemia Haye on Longboat Key was our destination of choice for our first meal in paradise. Using local and imported ingredients to create simple and simply fantastic dishes, it was easy to see why the restaurant rates among the top one 1 percent in the nation with ZAGAT. Located inside a historic, wooden cottage, we felt like our table was hidden amongst a scenic jungle of tropical greenery, and with live music gently washing over our conversation, the setting couldn’t have been any better. We ordered their famous roast duck and potatoes gnocchi as our respective meals. I kid you not when I tell you “tender” and “delicious” aren’t strong enough adjectives to describe the melt-in-your-mouth goodness on a plate that was presented in front of us. In retrospect, I only have one complaint: I didn’t save room for dessert. I did however have enough room to take a peek at their dessert bar, and let’s just say I know where I’m headed on my next trip. I wish my stomach was as big as my eyes (read: that was a common theme throughout the weekend).
Our next morning began with a gentle nudge from the sun set to the soundtrack of breaking waves just outside. Somewhat surprisingly, following the feast from the night before, we managed to actually be hungry again. So we headed to a quant restaurant we saw the previous afternoon called The Island Creperie. Immediately upon stepping inside, we were transported to a French bistro. I’ve always said when you walk into an ethnic-themed restaurant and the people working there either speak the language, or have an accent from the region of the food they’re serving, you’re in for a treat. That was exactly the case here. I managed to eat a freshly baked croissant, two hand-rolled crepes overflowing with strawberry homemade jam and a larger than life piece of French toast – on real French bread – and still have room for a bite or two of my girlfriend’s buckwheat breakfast which was stuffed with turkey, mozzarella cheese and two eggs. I swear I could taste the pride that went into the dish.
After gorging ourselves for two meals and lounging on the beach, we decided to explore the sights and maybe even be a little active (gasp!); so we headed to Beach Bums on Anna Maria Island, located just across from the Anna Maria City Pier. Voted Anna Maria’s Small Business of the Year, the shop contains souvenirs, trinkets and plenty of that patented “island attitude” I’ve become so fond and jealous of. They also offer plenty of bike, kayak and golf cart rentals. Feeling like we could use the workout, we decided to take an Eco-Kayak Tour with Captain Scott, a very fun and very informative native who happened to be a qualified sea captain and retired marine biology teacher. Capt. Scott took us on a tour of the vital interconnected waterways of Anna Maria and was sure to point out the local wildlife, including many exotic birds, as we gently kayaked down the smooth, unquestionably clear waters of the area.
As our day came to a close, we headed back to the peaceful beach we couldn’t (and, come to think of it, still can’t) get enough of to catch that beautiful sunset the West Coast of Florida is known for. Simultaneously elegant and daunting, it’s something that shouldn’t be missed by any member of your family, no matter their age.
After catching the sunset, it was time again for our favorite activity – eating! We took a trip to Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant & Pub for a true taste of Florida. Situated bayside on Longboat Key, we sat outside on the covered deck overlooking picturesque Sarasota Bay and the 14 private slip dock the restaurant calls its own. Built in 1913, the property represents one of the oldest structures on Longboat Key, but I assure you the food was some of the freshest in the area as well. Famous for its grouper dishes, we ordered the grouper quesadillas as an appetizer; and, honestly, they may have been some of the tastiest things to ever grace my tastebuds. Feeling adventurous, I went with another house specialty, the Chilean Seabass – let’s just say it was flaky, warm and all but devoured in just a few minutes time. Ending the meal with a slice of freshly prepared key lime pie, we headed back to the resort for one last night of the world’s best soundtrack – calming ocean waves slipping up and down the shoreline.
Our impromptu beach getaway ended just as relaxing as it started – enjoying the beautiful beachside offerings of Anna Maria and Longboat Key, surrounded by tranquility, engulfed in sheer beauty.
When you’re planning your vacations this year, remember that a weekend can be just what you and your family need. It’s about making memories, so do what we did and make the most of yours.
By Corey Gehrold