At the end of my four-day solo travel experiment, my long-time friend Gail joined me on Siesta Key. The slow pace quickened immediately to a flurry of activity. Morning walks, paddleboarding, dinner at different restaurants each night, boating, visits with various friends in the area, and a trip to urgent care for Gail’s bronchial infection interrupted our number 1 priority, beach time. Here are the highlights.
Siesta Beach is my clear all-time favorite with a wide beach and soft, fine, white quartz sand that stays cool under the feet. Most mornings we joined other walkers getting their exercise in this beautiful setting directly across the street from our condo.
When our walks took us off the beach, we twice succumbed to the temptation to stop for breakfast. Sun Garden in the village and Toasted Mango Cafe on Midnight Pass Road both got high marks from us.
My daughter-in-law’s mother, Tricia, kindly invited us to Ft. Meyers for a day of boating. A sunny day on the water was irresistible. I hadn’t been to the Ft. Meyers area previously so seeing more of this part of Florida by water was fun and Tricia and Gary were excellent hosts.
Our hosts, Tricia and Gary
Tricia and me- the mothers
Gail and me at lunch
Another day we drove north from Sarasota to Anna Maria Island, stopping at several beaches along the way. As we drove through Sarasota, I snapped a photo of the 25-foot tall sculpture by Seward Johnson, Unconditional Surrender, based on a photo taken on V-J Day in Times Square.
Unconditional Surrender sculpture
Following lunch at the Sand Bar on Anna Maria, we relaxed on the beach for awhile and then checked out several of the piers in the area.
Lunch at the Sand Bar
My beach umbrella and Gail’s beach blanket at Anna Maria Beach
Anna Maria Beach
Rod and Reel Pier
Anna Maria City Pier
View from Anna Maria Pier toward the Sunshine Skyway Bridge
Anna Maria Pier
Ever since we discovered Dan at Siesta Key Paddleboards, we rent boards from him each year. He delivers the boards to us at Turtle Beach and we paddle through the canals to a secluded beach that only boaters frequent. Recently, a friend asked me if there are alligators in the canals. This is salt water and the gators prefer brackish water so no, we have never seen an alligator here…thankfully. We did see a dolphin in the canal, however.
Our man, Dan, setting us up with paddleboards
It’s always fun to see friends from home while we’re in Florida. We visited Gail’s friends, Jenny and Jeff, who now live full-time in Venice and my friends, Nancy and Jamie, who winter at a golf community just south of Siesta Key. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to visit our friends, Deb and Dan, in Naples this year but we hope to see them soon.
Jenny and Jeff
Nancy and Jamie
Finally, we had some outstanding meals during our stay. Casey Key Fish House and Indigenous were my favorites.
Gail and I have been friends for over 50 years. Check back in the next 50 for more of our adventures together on Siesta Key and beyond.
My friend, Gail, and I have spent a week together in Florida at Sarasota or on Siesta Key in March for the past 5 years. In 2016, in order to extend my stay to two weeks, I planned to spend the first 4 days alone. Most condos in Siesta Key rent by the week from Saturday to Saturday and Gail couldn’t get there until Wednesday. I’ve never particularly aspired to solo traveling but my husband consistently declines to join us on this trip. Regarding the opportunity as a growth experience, I was willing to give it a try to get out of the winter cold in north Iowa for a little longer.
In the past, I’ve flown into Tampa, met Gail at the airport, picked up our rental car, and Gail drove the 72 miles south to Siesta Key. This time, I flew into St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport where I found a cheaper flight and picked up my rental car and faced my first challenge with trepidation: driving the Sunshine Skyway Bridge across Tampa Bay. As a recovering acrophobe, I knew this would be a definite test. Frankly, I was very nervous and I talked out loud to myself to calm my fears. Meanwhile, Siri was also talking out loud to give me directions on my I-phone. Safely taking a photo under those conditions would have been totally impossible for me so the pic below was taken 2 weeks later on the way back to the airport with Gail driving. (As you can see, it was also raining so it was a good time to leave.)
I made it! The worst part was in my head– seeing it and thinking about it. Actually doing it wasn’t nearly as bad.
After a stop at the grocery store in Sarasota, I headed out to the island to check into La Siesta Condominiums. Aah…that view. Yes, I know there’s a pool, a clubhouse, a street, and a parking lot between me and the Gulf but it’s heaven to me.
I planned to return my rental car the following morning in Sarasota and walk back to Siesta Key. Until Gail arrived I would relax on the island, walk the beach, eat my meals on the lanai with a view, read a little and write a lot.
Kitchen at the condo
Siesta Key Beach
Breakfast at the beach
Beautiful Siesta Key Beach
Gulf view from Siesta Key Beach
Day’s end on Siesta Key
So how do I feel about solo traveling? It’s definitely not my preference. Although I’m perfectly capable of entertaining myself and I love to spend time alone especially in the morning, I tend to do less when I’m alone. That’s probably because I’m kind of a scaredy cat and somewhat shy. So I did the things I enjoy doing alone like walking the beach, meditating, reading, and writing, but I didn’t go out to eat or socialize. If I traveled alone more often or for longer periods, I’d have to make a greater effort to plan activities to prevent feeling isolated. Fortunately, I have several great travel partners so, at least at this stage of my life, I won’t be traveling solo too often.
It began like most trips. I had an early morning flight out of Des Moines, Iowa, so I was up by 4 am and my husband dropped me off at the airport at 5:00. The plan was to meet my friend, Gail, at the airport in Tampa, pick up a rental car, drive an hour and a half to Siesta Key, and stay at the same condo we rented last year–a Siesta Key retreat reprised, so to speak. It turned out a little different from the plan, however.
My flight from Des Moines arrived in Tampa at noon. When I arrived, I found a text from Gail saying that her 11:30 am flight from Columbus, Ohio, was delayed. That was the beginning of a long day in the airport. You know how it goes. Or maybe you don’t. The airline can’t predict how long a delay will be. The staff tries to keep the passengers informed but it’s a guessing game for everyone. There was a mechanical problem with the plane which they thought they could fix but one delay led to another and another. Consequently, I spent the day waiting, calling, texting, and exploring TPA. It’s a nice airport with great amenities and now I know almost every inch of it.
Gail called the rental car company only to learn there was good news and bad news. The good news was they would hold the car until 1 am. The bad news was I couldn’t pick up the car even if we added me as a driver because Gail had rented the car in her name. We’d have to cancel the booking and rebook at a higher rate. So, I was stuck at the airport.
Finally, at 5 pm I decided it was time for a glass of wine at Wine Flight while I pondered my situation. I checked shuttle and taxi rates to Siesta Key and found it would cost me over $100 to get there. I checked with Uber and with a $20 coupon, the cost was about $80. At 5:30 Gail called to say she was scheduled to leave Columbus on the 8:30 pm flight which would arrive at TPA about 11. If anything delayed that flight, I’d be forced to stay in a hotel at the airport when we’d already paid close to $200 a night for the condo in Siesta Key. Decision made.
I contacted Uber. If you’re not familiar with Uber, keep reading. Uber is a phone app that launched in 2009 and is now available in 55 countries and 270 cities worldwide. In short, you “request, ride, and pay via your mobile phone.” (Uber.com) I downloaded the app, entered my credit card information, and requested a ride. Within 5 minutes I had a text that said my ride was 5 minutes away. I jumped up, paid my wine bill, and flew (no pun intended) through the airport having no idea where Uber would pick me up.
I’d read about the conflict between Uber and the taxi companies in Tampa so I should have expected trouble when the fellow at the taxi stand, seeing my distress, said, “Can I help you?” and I responded, “Probably not, I’m looking for my Uber ride.” Well, that elicited a stronger reaction than I expected when he started yelling that Uber better not show up there and they would pay a $10,000 fine if they did. I raced away from the taxis and went back inside to hide. There I texted back to Uber asking where they would pick me up. The response was, “Sorry we’re not sure what you want. Download the Uber app at uber.com/app. Std msg data rates may apply.”
I opened the app and saw a picture of Nader, my driver, his car information and phone number, and a map showing his location approaching the airport. Just then my phone rang and it was Nader asking where I was. I told him my location and within minutes, he arrived to pick me up. It was that easy…once I knew what I was doing.
Whew! After observing the obligatory social conventions with Nader, otherwise known as giving him the third degree about his background, family and job, I called my husband to report my whereabouts. When I told him I was riding to Siesta Key with Nader from Uber, he said, “Oh, the company I’ve read about having some problems with sexual assaults.” Great. That gave me confidence.
Obviously, I arrived alive and unharmed. After all, you’re reading the story. I had a positive first experience with Nader from Uber and I would recommend giving Uber a try. By the way, after your ride, you rate the Uber driver on the app and the driver rates you, the customer. Interesting. Although it actually wasn’t much cheaper than a taxi or a shuttle, with the coupon I saved some money.
Siesta Key Condominiums
I finally arrived at Siesta Key about 7:30 that evening, but Gail didn’t arrive until many hours later. But that’s another story.
If you’re looking for a great escape from cold and snowy winter weather, Siesta Key, just off Sarasota on the gulf side of Florida, has to be a strong contender. You may think it’s a little early to plan now for winter but I just made my reservation for March, 2015, and it was already a challenge to find a place. Everything is booked! Well, not literally everything but it seemed that way to me. This will be my fourth spring break at Siesta Key and by now, I believe I’m somewhat of an expert.
With sand as soft and white as powdered sugar, this wide beach proclaims itself the #1 Beach in the USA and I wholeheartedly agree. Just look at that sand. It’s 99% pure quartz which explains why it’s soft, white, and cool underfoot even when temperatures soar. They know what they’ve got here, too, so don’t expect any deals during March. It’s pricey but some places are worth it.
Siesta Beach, March, 2014
Every year I meet my childhood bestie, Gail, at the Tampa airport and we drive south in a rental car to spend a week on this idyllic island. Last year we discovered La Siesta Condominiums, stayed there, and now we’re hooked. We wanted to book again for 2015 but due to some miscommunication, it looked like that wish might be thwarted. In the end we got it resolved happily and while we don’t have the condo we had last year, we are still in the complex.
The location of La Siesta Condominiums on Beach Road across from public Siesta Beach is perfect for us.
La Siesta Condominiums
The public beach is well-kept; it’s cleaned and raked every morning with big motorized vehicles nicknamed sandbonis. Lifeguards on duty year round ensure a measure of safety for swimmers, not that I spend much time in the water. The beach is popular and the parking lot is full by 10 a.m., so it’s great to just walk across the street and not have to fight for a parking place. We noticed construction underway of an additional parking lot last spring, however, so that problem may be alleviated for next year. I’ll keep you posted.
Many amenities other than swimming and sunbathing are available at Siesta Beach. There are restrooms, showers, a concession area, picnic areas, and shady places to escape the sun. We attend pilates, nia, and yoga classes in the morning right on the beach and they have a drum circle on Sunday evenings an hour before sunset. The sand volleyball courts get a lot of use especially by the young people. This location is close enough to walk into the village for coffee or groceries or you can just walk the beach for exercise or pleasure.
If we don’t want to go to the beach, we can always enjoy the pool at our condo complex. The pool is never overly crowded and the other guests seem to be mostly retired couples from Ohio and Michigan.
La Siesta Condo Pool
The screened in lanai off each condo is a perfect place to have breakfast and lunch and keep an eye on the action below at the pool or get a sliver of a view of the gulf across the street beyond the beach.
View to lanai from living room at La Siesta Condos
Aside from just hanging at the beach or pool, there are rentals around Siesta Key for boats, kayaks, and paddle boards. Last year we tried paddle boarding and found Dan from Siesta Key Paddle Boards to be very helpful and accommodating. He met us at Turtle Beach with the boards, gave us a lesson, and provided a map and directions to navigate the canals lined with mangroves to another beach and back. Dan was there waiting to take the boards upon our return. I’ll warn you, however, mastery was much easier than recovery. I had no idea how hard I was working until my lats killed the next day… and the next.
After all that exercise, a girl’s gotta eat and there are plenty of good restaurants on Siesta Key. Gail is a bona fide foodie so I usually trust her with restaurant decisions. One of my favorites for local grouper, however, is Turtle Beach Pub. I can get my fish grilled or blackened and avoid the gluten in the fried grouper. Also gluten-free, in 2014 we discovered Vertoris Pizza House in Bradenton. They make the best gluten-free pizza EVER.
Gluten free pizza from Vertoris Pizza
But my new favorite restaurant has to be Owen’s Fish Camp in Sarasota. “Owen’s Fish Camp is southern country-style restaurant set in a cool, comfortable, urban setting,” according to their website. (I think they forgot the word “a” before southern but maybe that’s a southern thing.) My roots are southern so I was immediately intrigued but Gail was doubtful, not being a fan of southern cooking. In the end, we decided to give it a try, and the non-foodie (me) scored one. We both loved it along with all the other people who crowded into the place. Fortunately, they had live music to entertain us while we waited to be seated and The Cadillac Grainer String Band played foot stomping hillbilly blue grass string band music that was a whole lot of fun.
Cadillac Grainer String Band at Owen’s Fish Camp
Gail and Me
But let’s face it, restaurants are ultimately about the food and the food at Owen’s Fish Camp is excellent. I had the market fish of the day (it was local but I don’t remember what it was), blackened, with two sides. I chose cheesey grits and collard greens. Mmmm, good.
Entree at Owen’s Fish Camp
So, I told you I think I’m somewhat of an expert on Siesta Key. Here’s what I know.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Most vacation rentals give first preference to last year’s return renters.
Rental websites are not always reliable so give them a call.
Turtle Beach on the south end of the island sand is not the soft white quartz. It’s brown, coarse, and ordinary. Siesta Beach and Crescent Beach are quartz sand.
Rentals only provide one roll of toilet paper (2 if you’re lucky) so plan ahead and don’t get caught short.