Sarasota, Fla., provides the closest airport to the central Gulf Islands. US Airways offers nonstop service from Reagan National, with fares from $180 round trip. AirTran, Delta and Northwest offer connecting service for less than $200.
WHERE TO STAY
Tortuga Inn Beach Resort, 1325 Gulf Dr. N., Anna Maria Island, 877-TORTUGA, http://www.tortugainn.com. Spacious rooms with tasteful Old Florida decor. Across the street from the beach. Rates from $120, depending on season and hotel type.
Banana Bay Club, 8254 Midnight Pass Rd., Siesta Key, 888-622-6229, http://www.bananabayclub.com. Full-service villas, apartments and cottages at two locations: on a lagoon (free kayak and canoe usage) or near Crescent Beach. Rates from $89, depending on season and accommodation type.
Inn at the Beach, 725 W. Venice Ave., Venice, 800-255-8471, http://www.innatthebeach.com. Charming lodging across the street from the beach (the island's only hotel with such proximity) and within walking distance of town. Rates from $98, breakfast included.
WHERE TO EAT
Sandbar Restaurant, 100 Spring Ave., Anna Maria Island, 941-778-0444, http://www.sandbar-restaurant.com. Sit outside for Gulf views and sunsets. Seafood is the main event (dinner plates from $20), but burgers, pasta and other entrees are also available.
Euphemia Haye, 5540 Gulf of Mexico Dr., Longboat Key, 941-383-3633, http://www.euphemiahaye.com. Upscale surf and turf, including snails with braised mushrooms ($11.50), pumpkin rum bisque ($8.75), snapper with pistachios ($30.75) and poached veal sweetbreads ($26.25). More-casual dining upstairs at the Haye Loft, with gourmet pizzas, pies and more.
Siesta Key Oyster Bar, 5238 Ocean Blvd., Siesta Key, 941-346-5443, http://www.skob.com. An oyster bar, plus more: fried grouper bites, coconut shrimp oriental salad, burgers, flatbread pizzas, etc. Dishes: $5 to $22.
Daiquiri Deck, 5250 Ocean Blvd., Siesta Key, 941-349-8697, http://www.daiquiridecksiestakey.com. Pair raw oysters, Gulf shrimp and other edibles with a daiquiri concoction, such as the Critical Condition or Cheap Date. Daiquiris from $6.50.
Sharky's on the Pier, 1600 Harbor Dr. S., Venice, 941-488-1456, http://www.sharkysonthepier.com. The island's only beachside restaurant. Seafood is the specialty. Entrees: $15 to $35.