Details: Gulf Islands

Sunday, November 8, 2009

GETTING THERE

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.

WHAT TO DO

The Studio at Gulf and Pine, 10101 Gulf Dr., Anna Maria Island, 941-778-1906, http://www.studioatgulfandpine.com. Owned by Florida's first lady, Rhea Chiles, the multipurpose space features art exhibits, lectures and classes.

Native Rentals, 5416 Marina Dr., Holmes Beach, 941-778-7757, http://www.mysitontopkayak.com. Paddle a kayak on a self-guided tour of the area's mangrove swamps, salt marshes and estuaries, such as Robinson Preserve. Four-hour rental, $29.

Sarasota Bay Explorers at Mote Aquarium, 1600 Ken Thompson Pkwy., City Island, 941-388-4200, http://www.sarasotabayexplorers.com. Learn about the local marine and bird life on the Sea Life Encounter Cruise, which includes a short hike on Beer Can Island (formally known as Pine Key) and a touch tank with species yanked from the bay. $26 per person.

Siesta Sports Rentals, 6551 Midnight Pass Rd., Siesta Key, 941-346-1797, http://www.siestasportsrentals.com. Rent a beach cruiser and bike on the packed sand of Siesta Key Beach or along the island's bike lanes. From $5 per hour, $10 for four hours or $15 per day.

Drum Circle:

Siesta Key Beach, Siesta Key, http://www.siestadrumcircle.com; Nokomis Beach, Casey Key, http://www.nokomisbeachdrumcircle.com

Watch the sun drop to a percussion soundtrack Wednesdays and Saturdays on Nokomis Beach and Sundays on Siesta Key Beach. Free.

Stump Pass Beach State Park, Southern tip of Manasota Key, 941-964-0375, http://www.floridastateparks.org/stumppass/default.cfm Admission: $3 per car.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Bradenton Area Convention and Visitor's Bureau, 941-729-9177, http://www.annamariaisland-longboatkey.com.

Sarasota & Her Islands Convention & Visitors Bureau, 800-800-3906, http://www.sarasotafl.org.

-- A.S.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company