Snowbirds on the Suncoast
Guides to everything you need to know when visiting the Bradenton-Sarasota area.
White-sand beaches and relaxing Gulf waters aren’t the only things to enjoy now that the weather is warming up on Florida’s Suncoast.
The Sarasota/Bradenton area is full of fun and calming outdoor activities.
Here’s a rundown of beaches to see, places to hike, great places to kayak or paddleboard, and other recreational activities to soak up the Florida sun.
What beaches to see
The beauty of Suncoast Florida is the local beaches that all offer something a little different. The most recognizable and locally popular beach is Siesta Key Beach in Sarasota, due to its cool white sand which has earned it the vote of the #1 beach in America on more than one occasion. And also because of MTV’s reality show of the same name.
But be sure to arrive early enough to find a parking space and a spot on the beach during the busy winter months, especially on weekends.
Siesta Key Beach isn’t the only option. Coquina Beach in Manatee County is a gem to behold, as well as Bean Point Beach on the northern end of Anna Maria Island.
Manatee County Public Beach, Anna Maria Public Beach, Cortez Beach, and many more also dot the island, so there’s no shortage of beach options in the area.
For those wishing to trek a little further south, Venice is known as the “World Capital of Shark Teethand their beaches are a great place to find shark teeth.
Where to hike, bike or walk outdoors
In Manatee County, Robinson Preserve, northwest of Bradenton, has several hiking trails, including one that winds along Tampa Bay. Additionally, there is an observation tower. You can walk or bike one of the trails, and Manatee County Park has restrooms, picnic tables, a campground, and other amenities.
Emerson Point Preserve in Palmetto also has an observation tower and the usual park amenities, but it’s a place where you can see the Sunshine Skyway Bridge from a distance, depending on which part of the preserve you’re in.
The National Park Service oversees DeSoto National Memorialwhich has a nature trail that meanders along the coastline and through different Florida ecosystems, such as a mangrove forest.
It’s named after Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto, and the nature trail features interpretive panels telling about the area’s natural history as well as the DeSoto Expedition of 1539.
You also can’t forget to hike southeast to Myakka River State Park, which teems with alligators all over the park’s vast lake. There are hiking trails, including a canopy walk that leads to a tower that sits on top of the trees.
Back in Manatee County, Rye Preserve is a place to check out in Parrish. It is a 145 acre property that is home to Manatee County’s early pioneer history with a few short nature trails.
Duette Preserve is the largest preserve in Manatee County at 21,000 acres. Located in the northeast part of the county, Duette Preserve has several hiking trails and even offers wagon tours for anyone interested.
Also in Manatee County is the Felts Audubon Preserve, home to 33 different butterfly species, and Palma Sola Botanical Park is a 10 acre estate which has a “warm microclimate and is notably frost-free”.
Little Manatee River State Park is in Hillsborough County but worth a visit for hiking enthusiasts with a 6.5 mile stacked loop trail. There’s the 0.8-mile Oxbow Nature Trail that serves as a short but iconic surprise at the state park.
Benderson Park by the UTC Mall might be known for its rowing competitions — it hosted the 2018 World Rowing Championships — but the concrete pathway surrounding the man-made lake is a popular loop for residents and visitors alike.
And you might spot an alligator gliding. Be careful with animals near the water’s edge.
Where to kayak and paddleboard
The aforementioned hiking spots also offer great places to kayak or paddleboard, but arguably the best place to do so is Sarasota Bay off Lido Key. The mangrove tunnels offer some shade from the sun as well as a peaceful and relaxing escape from all the daily worries.
During the winter months there is a chance of seeing dolphins swimming around the bay. You’ll have to wait for summer and warmer waters to catch manatees in their Sarasota Bay habitat.
Fort Hamer is a place in Manatee County for kayaking, but also for anyone interested in rowing.
Other leisure activities
The Bradenton RiverWalk isn’t just a great place to stroll along the Manatee River, try to catch fish, or take the kids to enjoy a playground. It’s also a place to bring a skateboard and splash around at the skate park.
Since its construction in 2012, the RiverWalk has offered various amenities, including a wading pool, skate park, walking paths, volleyball courts, and an amphitheater.
Want something a little more adventurous? Head to East Manatee County and tackle the zipline at TreeUmph! Travel adventure. The place offers all sorts of obstacle courses and challenges for beginners to the most experienced.
Dotting AMI or all around the island, several parasailing and jet ski companies offer aquatic activities under the Florida sun. Boating is another popular recreational activity while staying in Manatee County.
This story was originally published March 17, 2022 00:00.