Holle Abee and her family love going on beach vacations in the South, and Longboat Key is their favorite beach destination by far.
My family members and I are all lovers of the beach. As often as we can, we enjoy wonderful beach vacations. Over the years, we’ve searched high and low for the perfect beach, and our travels have taken us to the coasts of Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, and all over Florida. In fact, my hubby and I have even checked out a few beaches on islands in the Bahamas. What were we looking for, exactly? 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. Last year, we finally found our saltwater nirvana (conveniently located only five hours away from our hometown): Longboat Key, Florida!
You’ve never heard of Longboat Key? I’m not surprised. I think the Longboat Key fans want to keep this paradise a secret. You see, the pristine, uncrowded atmosphere is a big part of the island’s charm. The only time we've ever seen it crowded was on July 4th. This small isle is located in Southwest Florida, south of Tampa. It’s just off the coast of Sarasota, and obviously, it’s surrounded by water. At the north end is Longboat Pass, on the east is Sarasota Bay, at the south end is New Pass, and on the west lies the glorious Gulf of Mexico. Since the island is narrow, you can stay in a house on the bay and simply walk across the street to the Gulf beach.
The sand at Longboat is soft and warm. It’s also wide even at high tide, so you never have to worry about not having enough room to spread out all your beach gear. At the edge of the sand are palm trees and flowering shrubs.
Now for the best part: this place is beautiful! The water is the prettiest I’ve ever seen. It’s literally as clear as tap water. The colors are amazing, too. In the shallows are pale shades of glowing emerald, and where the water is deeper, it ranges from teal green to deep turquoise. Also, we’ve never seen any floating bits of grass or seaweed in the water at Longboat Key. In fact, we rarely even see any fish, crabs, or other critters in the Gulf waters at the island beaches.
I have ten grandchildren, and at least some of them usually go on vacation with us. Some of the grands are small, so a child-safe beach is important to us. Longboat Key fits that bill, as well. There’s barely any surf, and really no undertow to speak of. The water gets deeper gradually. We’ve never found any steep drop-offs or holes. Even the toddlers can play safely in the water without having to battle waves or strong undertow.
Things to Do on Longboat Key
Longboat Key is super laid back, without chain restaurants or shopping malls. There are still plenty of things to do, however. Believe me, once you experience this beach, you’ll want to plant yourself on it and never leave! You’ll spend a lot of time swimming, sunning, boogie boarding, searching for seashells, building sandcastles, and just relaxing. Rent a boat and do some island hopping on your own. Cross the northern bridge to Anna Maria Island, and you'll find more to do. There, you can go horseback riding on the beach, take an eco-tour, see the island aboard a Segway, rent a paddle board, or go parasailing.
Sooner or later, of course, you’ll have to eat. You’ll find some wonderful restaurants right on the island. Fresh seafood is the star of the restaurant scene, including popular dishes like shrimp, crab, local fish, scallops, lobster, octopus, and conch. You’ll also find eateries that serve steaks, burgers, sandwiches, Italian food, French cuisine, and southern food. If you want a larger repertoire of eateries, all you have to do is cross the bridge to Sarasota.
We’re a family of anglers, so we do a lot of saltwater fishing while we’re on Longboat Key. All in all, it’s our favorite place to fish. The bay, the passes, and the canals are loaded with snook, redfish, trout, black drum, grouper, mangrove snapper, flounder, sheepshead, sharks, pompano, and sand trout. Blue crabs and stone crabs are easy to catch in the bay, and if you can toss a cast net, you’ll catch your fill of huge mullet. Nothing beats a super fresh seafood dinner you catch yourself!
Like I said, you won’t find any shopping malls here, but you will find a few charming shops with unique items. There’s also a great Publix grocery store, so you don’t have to leave the island to buy necessities. For a wonderful shopping adventure, however, famous St. Armand's Circle is just a few short miles away.
The Best of Both Worlds
With a Longboat Key vacation, you get the best of both worlds. Kick back and enjoy the peace and quiet of the island, while soaking in the charm and nature's beauty. For more excitement and entertainment, simply cross the bridge into Sarasota, a bustling city that offers practically anything you want: opera, live theater, symphony, museums, botanical gardens, circuses, an aquarium, historic sites, a planetarium, amazing restaurants, and world-class shopping.
Longboat Key is a great place to call your temporary home while you enjoy more of Florida, too. A short drive will take you to Disney World, Busch Gardens, SeaWorld, Legoland, Universal Studios, and more. Once you've had a hectic day at a theme park, you'll be more than ready to chill on Longboat Key!
Why Longboat Key Is America's Best Beach
Yes, I proclaim Longboat Key to be the best beach in the U.S. Why? Because it has everything we want in the way of a beach vacation. There are several different types of vacation rentals with a wide range of prices. The island is uncrowded, and the sand and water are both beautiful and unspoiled. The vibe is laid back and friendly, and the pace is slow and serene. We enjoy seeing all the birds, fish, and marine mammals, too, along with the abundant vegetation. Also, should we get the urge to visit a much larger city, Sarasota is just minutes away. Longboat Key is a very safe place, which gives us a good feeling about our family beach vacations. This place really is “old Florida,” in every sense. Book a trip and see for yourself!
Marcy Bialeschki from Cerro Gordo, IL on April 29, 2020:
Always looking for a great laidback vacation spot/ This place sounds amazing.
Suzie from Carson City on May 26, 2018:
Habee!! So GOOD to see you, stranger. Even better to know you & your beautiful family are well & happy and loving life in a paradise-like beach! Wonderful article. The tourist organizations should hire you!!
Enjoy every moment. Peace, Paula
Barbara Bethard from Tucson, Az on May 26, 2018:
wonderful hub Habee as always:) but stay safe this weekend friend!
Yves on May 26, 2018:
Let me first say that you have a beautiful family. Loved your pictures: the ocean water really is as clear as tap water. I've never seen anything like it. It's also great to know that families do not have to worry about undertow. That's the thing that always concerns me. And the fact that everything a person needs is either right there or a boat ride away is perfect. I enjoyed this well written article very much.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on May 25, 2018:
What a wonderful sounding place to stay for a vacation. That beach on Longboat Key looks amazing. I have visited Sarasota but not any of the islands off of the west coast in Florida. Pinning this to my Florida board.
Elayne from Rocky Mountains on May 23, 2018:
Serious looks amazing. I lived in Hawaii for 21 years and the South Pacific for 15 more years. There are some beaches that may rival your chosen beach, especially in Tonga. You can also swim with the whales there. I haven't been to Florida yet, but hope to one day. Great hub!!
Jo Miller from Tennessee on May 23, 2018:
This really does sound like a wonderful beach, Holle, Just the type of beach our family would love. But now after your great article it will probably become crowded.
Randy Godwin from Southern Georgia on May 22, 2018:
What the hell is a longboat?
Great article, Holle! Wish I could go down there, but your best friend is too fragile......or something! :P