Sun, Sand, and Surf on the Gulf Coast
I fully expected to spend a lot of time at the beach on my recent trip to Florida’s Gulf Coast; I had no idea I’d be swimming in the Gulf of Mexico within three hours of landing at Tampa International Airport. But that is exactly what happened. (Nothing ― and I mean nothing ― cures jet lag like a swim in the ocean.)
Unfortunately, the temperatures cooled off and the wind picked up after that first day (polar vortex, anyone?), so my friend and I stuck to beach walking for the rest of my visit. Beach walking is good fun and great exercise; the shore birds we played with made it even more fun, and if you keep your eyes to the ground, you never know what treasures you’ll find.
What’s amazing about Florida’s Gulf Coast is that you can visit a different beach every day of your holiday and still not hit all of them. After we had been to a few, my friend and I decided to rate the beaches we had walked. Her mother suggested (rather wisely, I thought) that beaches shouldn’t be rated, but simply enjoyed. We considered that ― and then went ahead and rated them anyways.
And so, here are my top three of Florida’s Gulf Coast beaches.
# 1: Stump Pass Beach: This beach gets my top rating simply because it is so beautiful and so unique. Scattered along the waterline are the dead stumps of Australian Pine ― an invasive species that the park rangers decided had to be killed off. The stumps have been carved by the surf into artistic lengths of driftwood, which offer terrific opportunities for photographers (see below).
Stump Pass Beach is south of Englewood on Manasota Key. Because it is a state park, it has an entry fee. The parking lot is minuscule, so get here early or come in the late afternoon.
# 2: Siesta Beach: In 2011, this beach was designated No. 1 Beach in America, and it’s not hard to guess why. Its sand is made of quartz so it’s icing-sugar fine and doesn’t get hot. I’ve never felt anything like it ― my toes were screaming in delight.
Siesta Beach is south of Sarasota on Siesta Key. Because it has all the facilities you could possibly need, it’s the beach I would choose if I were going to spend the entire day at the beach or if I had a pack of kids in tow. It’s also massive ― incredibly wide and long ― so I would think there’s room for everyone, even on the hottest of days. (Let me know if I’m wrong about that!)
# 3: Caspersen Beach: This is the beach where I was swimming within hours of my arrival in Florida, so I’ve rated it third because it was my best swim (well, technically, my only swim) on the Gulf Coast. Caspersen is located in Venice and has something for everyone: swimming, beach walking, trail walking, bird watching, shell hunting, shark-tooth hunting (yes, you read that right) …
Fossilized sharks’ teeth millions of years old are so common along this part of the Gulf Coast that Venice is known as the Shark Tooth Capital of the World. And it was at Caspersen where I saw the serious shark-tooth hunters ― the ones with their wire-mesh shovels who carefully sift and sort through shovelfuls of sand, looking for all the world like panhandlers mining for gold in the Klondike. I myself have a shark’s tooth ― my friend’s mother picked it up within minutes of our arrival at Caspersen and handed it to me as a souvenir of my visit.
So, there it is: my top three beaches. My goal for my next visit to the Gulf Coast? To come up with a top ten list.