Visitors to Siesta Key won’t ever call a friend and say “You will never believe where I am stuck right now. Please send help.” Voted the #1 beach by all the notable judges (TripAdvisor 2017, Dr. Beach, USA Today and many more) and with its pure white, achingly soft sand that stretches so far it takes three days to reach the water’s edge, we can understand why over a million people visit each year.
It doesn’t take quite 3 days to reach the water, but the walk is not for the faint of heart. Beach wheelchairs are available, and a wheelable beach path – ADA beach access mat – has been recently installed.
Our mission at Beaches, Bars and Bungalows is to steer you away from crowded tourist hot spots. “Serenity, tranquility, peaceful paradise, off-the-beaten-path, lesser-known gems” are our go-to descriptive terms when crafting a blog post. But for us to recommend you skip seeing one of Florida’s most beautiful beaches just because of slowly moving traffic, long waits at restaurants, and parking nightmares, well, we wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. And we’d have to turn in our Top Florida Travel Tips trophy, and I really like how it looks in its spotlight as you first walk in the door.
Siesta Key, like any popular destination, does have its slow seasons. Even the most fun places wilt in the dog days of summer (July, August, September bring eternally high temps and humidity, and fewer tourists) but many of us are restricted to traveling during school holidays, the epic weeks of spring break in March and April, the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and other holidays.
To enjoy this colorful, lively beach town during its busy season, you just need be in the know before you go.
CHOOSE YOUR END OF TOWN
Mid-island near the downtown shops and restaurants will give you the best walkability for your stay. Walk to the beach, the bars, and the family owned Morton’s Siesta Market for groceries. This part of town has peaceful side streets but you’ll see more hustle bustle than the quieter southern areas of town.
Beach Palms Suites and Cottages is our choice for in-town lodging
Moving south down Midnight Pass Road, past the Stickney Point Bridge you’ll find a more residential vibe and fewer tourists. You may however, depending on your fitness level, be dependent on your car to visit the beach and most restaurants. Turtle Beach is a 20 minute walk on a safe wide pedestrian path.
Flip Flop Cottages are located close to the southern tip of the island, backing onto Heron Lagoon which is perfect for kayaking and spotting wildlife
BOOK YOUR HOTEL EARLY
This sounds like when your mom tells you to drive safely as you head out the door – “Duh, Mom. No. I’m going to drive dangerously.” It’s a given, right? You’re going to book early because if you don’t your choices of amenities and location are nil and you’re going to be disgusted with yourself as you sit in your dark stinky hotel room facing the highway.
BOOK LODGING WITH A KITCHEN
Or at least a kitchenette. Bring non-perishable supplies from home (if you’re driving there) and visit a grocery store before crossing the bridge to the island. See the list of local, convenient grocery stores, below. Being able to make food not only saves money but also allows you to spend time relaxing instead of sitting in traffic on your way to a restaurant.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF FREE RIDE SERVICES
Siesta Key has a number of options for professional, reliable free ride services (see links, below.) Don’t forget to tip! On readers’ forums we’ve seen that a $10 tip is reasonable for 1-3 riders; add more for larger groups.
BRING OR RENT BIKES
Biking around town helps avoid slow- or no-moving traffic, and taking in your gorgeous surroundings is way better than by car (even a car stuck in traffic, because then you’re just grumpy.) We advise much caution, though, and make sure young riders are experienced or securely fastened into bike seats: though the bike lanes are wide in most areas, there are some hair-raising intersections that tend to get glutted with other pedestrians and cyclers.
BEWARE THE DRAWBRIDGES
I was going to say “be aware” but it truly is BEWARE, because being trapped in a line of cars waiting for the bridge is as scary as being trapped in an elevator with a member of the opposite political party. There are two bridges that lead onto Siesta Key. The northern bridge, Siesta Draw on Siesta Drive (Highway 758), and the southern bridge, Stickney Point Draw, on Stickney Point Rd (Highway 72.) The schedules are listed on scgov.net. As you read, keep in mind this is a government agency and they may not have written it with us in mind (it’s a bit wordy and confusing.)
We always keep bottled water and snacks in the car in case we’re marooned. The bridges’ opening and closing only lasts for 5-8 minutes, but still, at peak times that interruption of the flow can stall traffic for much longer. And if there is bridge maintenance going on….Well. We’ll hope that the good decision-makers at FDOT plan maintenance for non-peak seasons.
CHOOSE YOUR BEACH
Siesta Key Beach is the famous one, and with fame comes crowds. The beach is so vast that you won’t be towel-to-towel with dubious strangers, but parking can be a nightmare. Use the free ride services, bike, or just arrive super early. At the crack of dawn for a day on the beach, and if you’re planning on taking a million photos of the sunset to put on Instagram, arrive way before sunset. Sunset is an epic event on the Gulf coast, and at Siesta Key especially.
Siesta Key Beach amenities:
- Concession – The Sun Deck – serving more than just burgers and fries. Beer and wine (and possibly drinks like daiquiris; we weren’t able to find out for sure, if you know, tell us!) are available. It is legal to take alcohol onto this beach, just no glass containers.
- Grills, picnic shelters.
- Restrooms, outdoor showers.
- Playgrounds, tennis courts, volleyball courts.
Turtle Beach is a far less crowded beach. The sand isn’t that squeaky baby powder kind, but nabbing a parking spot is easier. Turtle Beach Grill is a great casual eatery just across the street, and their patio is pet-friendly!
Turtle Beach amenities:
- Beach and bay access with parking
- Boat ramp
- Canoe/kayak launch
- Horseshoe court, volleyball
- Picnic tables and shelter
Crescent Beach, an easy walk south of Siesta Beach, offers beautiful vistas for sunset also, but no public parking is available.
Palmer Point Beach, a little-known beach at the southern tip, allows uninterrupted walking down to Casey Key. There are no lifeguards or facilities at this beach.
PET FRIENDLY LODGING AND RESTAURANTS
140 Columbus Blvd.
Siesta Key, FL
5238 Ocean Blvd.
Siesta Key, FL
Many restaurants allow pets on their outside decks in Siesta Key, visit BringFido for the complete list.
AREA GROCERY STORES
205 Canal Rd.
Siesta Key, FL
211 Old Stickney Point Rd.
Siesta Key, FL
PUBLIX SUPER MARKET AT PARADISE PLAZA (Closest to the north bridge)
3825 S. Osprey Ave.
PUBLIX SUPER MARKET AT SARASOTA PAVILLION (Closest to the south bridge)
6543 S. Tamiami Trail
4101 S. Tamiami Trail
FREE RIDE SERVICES
The Triple-B Team has visited Siesta Key numerous times and has (mostly) co-existed with crowds calmly and happily. It’s a learned thing. The first time we were at a standstill in traffic, with my best friend and her husband, our guys were grumbling. Jill and I just looked around at the passing pedestrians (“Oh my god, look at her tiny bathing suit, where is her mother??”) breathed in the warm breeze, and clicked our glasses (of water) toasting ourselves, our patience, and our great fortune to be stuck in traffic together, in Siesta Key.
Let us know in the comments below the ways you patiently co-exist with crowds when on vacation!
Many thanks to local resident Matthew Farace for contributing his expert advice and ideas to our article.
Thanks also to Pexels for the free stock photograph at the beginning of our post.
Siesta Key is located on Florida’s gulf coast, 6 miles west of downtown Sarasota, and 67 miles south of Tampa.