Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

January 22, 2022

Longboat Key, Florida.

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The lure of Longboat

Get a taste of Old Florida at this quiet key on the Gulf of Mexico

You’d never notice it unless you look. Drive from downtown Sarasota along the expansive Gulf of Mexico Drive to the edges of the seemingly uninteresting Longboat Key and you’ll find something rare in North America — privacy, sometimes for the better part of its 19-kilometre-long beach.

Longboat Key is half in Manatee County and half in Sarasota (see map page 38), between the busy tourist-packed Lido Key and the slower, more laidback Ana Maria Island. Like much of Florida, residents and regulars are mainly retired — people who appear to happily bike, walk or jog their way through most of their day. They also seem content to keep the crowds away, preferring instead a certain quiet elegance that comes with a zoned paradise.

It’s a good place to catch glimmers of what a quieter Florida must have felt like a generation or two ago. Most of Longboat’s beach is lined with condos and hotels, but a small portion is dotted with mansions, all with a decent amount of space between them.

While the whole beach is legally public to the high-water line, and there are 14 public access points, chances are that even a year-round resident couldn’t find those access points. They have no parking lots and aren’t easy to spot. This essentially makes Longboat as private as any beach gets.

You wouldn’t know it from the road but among those mansions are two properties that have been around for decades, each renting out small self-catering cabins. Operating since 1955, Cannons by the Sea (tel: 941-383-5661;; from US$1300 weekly) rents four spacious, upscale, efficiency cottages. The two closest to the beach are surrounded by tall grasses and palm trees and are steps away from the Gulf of Mexico. The two closest to the road entrance come with some traffic noise.

Around since 1948, the eight cottages at Rolling Waves (tel: 941-383-1323;; from US$995 weekly, or US$1150 beachfront) are smaller, funkier and less appointed, but also less pricey. The two beachfront cottages also offer nicer views than Cannons, lots of beach toys for the kids, an outdoor shower and a large fire pit.

If you book at either property during low season like we did, you may get the entire compound to yourselves during week nights. While we found the Gulf of Mexico colder than we had hoped in early November, we swam nonetheless. We also ate outdoors, tried to name star constellations around the fire and took our morning coffee with us to the beach.

You see, Longboat’s main attraction is nothing — besides counting the dolphins just a few feet off shore or studying the surprisingly graceful, stocky brown pelicans and the odd assortment of shorebirds going about their business.

This being Florida, there’s obviously more than enough to do when the sun gets hot. Sarasota’s most famous resident was circus king John Ringling, and the Ringling Museum of Art (tel: 941-359-5700;; adults $15, 12 and younger free) has a section devoted entirely to the circus. Ringling’s movie-set gilded home, Cà d’Zan, is worth a visit, especially for the view from the 18-metre Belvedere Tower.

When they’re not power-walking or jogging, well-heeled Longboat Key residents gravitate to the upscale shops at St. Armand’s Circle in Sarasota, an outdoor shopping centre whose merry-go-round shape and ostentatious fountain were apparently inspired by Ringling’s circus.

The Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium (tel: 941-388-4441;; adults $12; 4 to 12, $8) is one of those Floridian oldies but goodies. Since 1955, the aquarium has saved and studied manatees, sharks and an array of other local sea inhabitants. Highlights include a manatee that greets you by banging its blubbery face against the glass, another that eats lettuce and the always intriguing shark tank.

It’s a far cry from SeaWorld, but like much of this area, the small Mote Aquarium is a reminder of what Florida used to do best: understated yet totally memorable.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.


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