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Getaways: Easygoing isle

Florida's Siesta Key a favorite Gulf retreat

By Jeff Book
Coastal Living magazine


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Beachgoers relax on Siesta Key.

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Florida
Tourism and Leisure

(Coastal Livingexternal link) -- "Over millenniums, sand grains were carried by rivers into the Gulf and down the coast," reads a landmark plaque on Siesta Key. It goes on, but the message boils down to this: In the beginning was the beach.

And if honoring that with a monument seems pompous, consider that this 8-mile-long island off Sarasota, Florida, possesses sand of award-winning purity and allure.

Loaded with quartz crystal, Siesta Key's grains glitter like snow in the high Sierras. Some say the quartz carries a metaphysical charge that heightens well-being. Whether you believe that or not, it's nearly impossible not to relax here.

Though linked to the mainland by two bridges and hugely popular with both locals and tourists, Siesta Key somehow retains a laid-back island identity.

Water views pop up everywhere: the Gulf of Mexico to the west, the Intracoastal Waterway and sheltered bays to the east, and miles of canals threading the interior. Tropical foliage thrives. Sightings of herons, wild parrots and bottlenose dolphins are common.

This remains the sort of place where a lost schnauzer makes the front page of the local paper. Where the deck of the Siesta Key Oyster Bar has a "Pelican Crossing" sign -- and you wouldn't blink to see one waddle past. Where the chalkboard on a lifeguard station gives water conditions and the lifeguard's name (implying, in friendly waiter fashion, "I'm Brian -- I'll be your rescuer today"). Where plastic manatee mailboxes look perfectly normal.

The classic Siesta Key holiday is a family affair, and the basic formula hasn't changed since the '60s and '70s, when most of the accommodations were built: Laze on the beach, take a dip in the Gulf or pool, throw some burgers on the grill, and watch the cold-drink cans sweat in the balmy air.

Those curious about year-round life here should meander along the quiet streets with such evocative names as Primrose Path and Featherbed Lane. And everyone should get on the water: Opportunities for fishing, sailing and kayaking are plentiful.

For couples, the romantic Turtle Beach Resort boasts 10 cottages in a Caribbean-style setting on the bay. In Siesta Village, visitors cool down with Big Olaf Creamery's ice cream or dig into The Broken Egg's hearty omelets. Those with a taste for exotic fare can sample Peruvian cuisine at Javier's Restaurant and Wine Bar or the ostrich filet at Maximo Restaurant & Safari Bar.

Eventually everyone unwinds at indoor-outdoor eateries such as Daiquiri Deck, where tropical potions swirl hypnotically in a wall display of mixers like laundry in a Laundromat.

Beyond the bridges lie Sarasota attractions. But in the end, it's all about the island.

"People come here time and time again to stay at the same place and sit on the same patch of sand," muses Glynis Chapman of Siesta Sports Rentals. "They associate Siesta Key with being carefree."

That's true of those who gather on the beach for the Sunday evening drum circle. Pounding rhythms rise and fall like waves, fueling free-form dancing. As the sun dips into the Gulf, a man plays an otherworldly tune on a didgeridoo.

At such times it's easy to believe Siesta Key's celebrated sand magnifies the island's good vibrations.


Copyright 2005 COASTAL LIVING Magazine. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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