Siesta Key island is ideal for a more laid-back visit to the Sarasota area, with a popular beachfront that boasts award-winning sand and stellar sunsets. With its sugary white, fine sand and crystal clear warm water, it’s no surprise that Siesta Key is a perennial contender for the best beach in Florida and beyond.
The barrier island off the coast of Sarasota, between the Gulf of Mexico and Roberts Bay, has the long list of accolades to prove it, too. For example: Siesta Key Beach is one of only a handful of beaches from around the world to be named the No. 1 Beach in the world, not once but twice, by Dr. Beach himself, Dr. Stephen Leatherman, a coastal ecologist at Florida International University.
Sarasota is a popular destination for snowbirds, the seasonal residents from Canada and northern states who flock to Southwest Florida in the winter months to avoid the cold weather. But the once sleepy seaside city has grown to attract international tourists year-’round.
Sarasota’s bay was once called “Zarazote” by native populations before the region was renamed “Sarasota Key” by European cartographers in the early 1500s. Major development reached the island in 1907, when “Siesta on the Gulf” was dredged and platted. The island was only accessible by ferry until 1917, when a bridge connected it to the mainland. The name “Siesta Key” popped up in the 1920s, and became the island’s official name in 1952.
Siesta Key is different than other popular beach destinations in Florida in that there aren’t many hotels that dot the shoreline. Instead, visitors often stay in mom- and pop-owned condominium units or vacation rental houses. Those rentals fill up fast, especially in the cooler months.
A small portion of the island is part of the Sarasota city limits, but the rest is Sarasota County. The key has a strong collection of locally-owned restaurants, bars and shops that flank the north and south ends of the island, and offer amenities like mangrove kayaking and boat rentals, paddleboarding and other water activities.
Every Sunday, hundreds of locals and visitors gather on the beach for the weekly drum circle at sunset for dancing, or just to enjoy the scenery. Another interesting note: There’s a strong Amish and Mennonite contingent around Siesta Key and Sarasota, which is a popular destination for the societies to go on spring break or work in the community of Pinecraft.
Siesta Key’s beachfront is broken up into three large sections: Siesta Key Beach, Crescent Beach and Turtle Beach. There also is tiny Shell Beach at the northern end of the key, which is so small the access point only has a couple parking spaces but a great view of Lido Key.
The beaches all offer a diverse crowd, usually with local families and small children, some teenagers and students around Spring Break, plenty of seniors and sometimes international tourists.
Siesta Key Beach
The main beach on the island, sometimes called just Siesta Beach, is wide, and requires a good deal of walking from the parking lot off Beach Road to the actual surf. Be prepared to haul coolers and chairs a good distance. Because the beach is so wide, visitors have plenty of room to stretch out. There’s ample room for volleyball nets or other games back off the shoreline. There’s also a playground, pavilion and restrooms.
There’s no need to worry about rocky conditions on bare feet on Siesta Key. The sand is fine and soft. It’s a great beach to look for unique shells and shark teeth. The water tends to be warm and shallow and there are rarely strong currents. The gulf comes with some risk factors, like stingrays (you’ll want to learn the “stingray shuffle”) and red tide, a toxic algae that kills fish and can be irritating to humans. Advisories are often posted when red tide washes in.
Smoking is permitted on the beach, and alcohol is fair game (just no glass).
Crescent Beach is basically the southern end of Siesta Key Beach, but is much quieter and laid back, almost like a private beach. It’s still open to the public, just with much less access.
You can get onto this beach, which is not nearly as wide, at either Stickney Point at the north end or Point of Rocks at the southern end. If you’re not staying at the condos or resorts along Crescent Beach, you’ll be stuck trying to find one of the few roadside parking spots along the beach access points.
The beach’s big claim to fame is being rated “the World’s Finest, Whitest Sand” at the 1987 Great International Sand Challenge. The legend goes that Crescent Beach beat more than 30 other competitors to win the honor.
Turtle Beach is a stretch of beach on the south end of Siesta Key near Casey Key. It’s mostly home to private residences, but there is a public beach access not far from a local campground. There’s also a marina at this end of the key and a few restaurants, shops and businesses.
Turtle Beach tends to be a little more “natural” than Siesta Key Beach, in that the water is choppier, the waves are bigger, and the sand is more coarse and less manicured. The beach area is smaller too. In some places at high tide, the water laps at the edge of sea walls of private homes.
A lot of local kayak and stand up paddleboard enthusiasts hang out here on this quieter stretch of beach. You can paddleboard or kayak through the intercoastal area between Sarasota and Siesta Key through mangroves clusters, then come out at the other end on Turtle Beach.
This end of the island is the home of the controversial “Midnight Pass” closure, in which local officials closed off the inlet in between Siesta and Casey keys in the 1980s, forever altering the wildlife and natural water flow in that area. The neighboring Casey Key to the south is home to a few celebrities, including author Stephen King, fashion designer Michael Kors and, in the past, actress Rosie O’Donnell.
Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium
Mote is a marine science research laboratory with an aquarium that’s open to the public. From manatees to sea turtles to tropical fish and sharks, it’s a great place to spend a rare rainy day or just enjoy the water without baking in the sun at the beach. The aquarium is located on the neighboring Lido Key, about a 20-minute drive from Siesta Key.
Food & Drink
Siesta Key Oyster Bar
Located in the heart of the Siesta Key Village business district, this is a no frills, casual restaurant. Don’t let the divey atmosphere fool you, the food is good. Get the oysters. Sign your name on a dollar bill and staple it to the wall.
Ophelia’s On the Bay
A longtime, elegant fine dining option on Siesta Key. It offers beautiful views of the water and excellent, chef-inspired cuisine. It’s great for a romantic date night. No dress code though, so feel free to wear shorts.
Another well known restaurant for its seafood. This is a smaller space, but it offers a quaint and eclectic atmosphere. If the weather is nice, opt to sit outside on the front porch and people watch, or sit out back in the garden to enjoy live music. Get the ahi tuna — you won’t regret it.
This landmark originated on Lido Key, but a new double-decker location recently opened at the south end of Siesta Key, near the intercoastal waterway at the south bridge. Known for fried seafood and American fair, but it also has an impressive list of frozen adult beverages.
Sun Garden Cafe and Toasted Mango Cafe
Looking for brunch? There are two top-tier brunch spots on Siesta Key. The first is Sun Garden Cafe, which prides itself on its organic, fresh breakfast offerings. But don’t be fooled, there are some hardy, savory meals too. Then there’s the Toasted Mango Cafe, which recently opened on the south end of Siesta Key. If you’re a waffle or pancakes person, don’t pass it up.
Yoder’s Restaurant & Amish Village
Since we mentioned the Amish earlier, no visit to the Sarasota area would be complete without some apple pie at this Amish-run restaurant. There’s also a deli and a gift shop.
JDub’s Brewing Company
One of Sarasota’s first and perhaps most well-known brewery, this is a must-stop for craft beer lovers visiting Siesta Key. The brewery’s taproom and outside beer garden is a 1990s-centric spot to enjoy some Florida beer.
Big Top Brewing Company
This brewery is somewhat hidden out by the interstate, with a circus theme (as a nod to how Ringling Bros. made Sarasota its winter camp) and a penchant for adding oddball flavors to their beers. How odd? They made one with Old Bay seasoning that grows on you after awhile.
Sarasota Brewing Company
A brewpub that makes its own beer. This may be the best place for a guaranteed bite, since they have their own menu, including Chicago deep dish pizza.
A growing operation that makes beers with aquatic-themed names. This may be the best variety for grabbing a bite, thanks to the rotating food trucks.
Brew Life Brewing
A microbrewery not far from Siesta Key that offers several brews. They also have started offering their core selections in cans.
Most of the accommodation offerings on Siesta Key are small condominiums and private vacation rentals. There’s only one true traditional hotel on the whole key.
Siesta Key Resort and Suites
A motel-like hotel at the tail end of the Siesta Key Village business district. Room rates vary depending on the season, but the resort offers basic hotel accommodations.
Tropical Breeze Resort
A good example of the cottage-like offerings on the key. Room types vary on the property, but most offer some limited or full kitchen amenities. This is a quaint and quiet way to enjoy Siesta without the hustle and bustle of a big hotel chain.
Best Western Plus Siesta Key Gateway
While this hotel isn’t technically on the key, it’s very close. The hotel is located just off Stickney Point Road, the main road to the beach on the mainland side, on U.S. 41. Its south bridge access offers a wider array of restaurant and nightlife options in south Sarasota, too.
This is a new hotel located in downtown Sarasota, which is a 15-20 minute drive to the beach, depending on traffic. It has a more urban feel and is walking distance to restaurants and shops in the downtown district. There are more traditional hotel offerings in the urban core of Sarasota, including a Westin, Hyatt and Ritz-Carlton property.