Longboat Key is located in the center of a long barrier island that sits between the Gulf of Mexico to the west and Sarasota Bay and the mainland to the east.
At the time of the last census, Longboat Key had about 7,500 residents, and it straddles the border between Manatee and Sarasota Counties.
The town was incorporated in the mid-‘50s and has always been a favorite destination of sport fishermen and nature lovers. It’s close enough to plenty of big-city attractions to make it a good fit for those interested in cultural and historical activities as well.
Below are 15 things to do in Longboat Key, Florida.
1. Turtle Crawl Inn Longboat Key
Like many of the coastal towns in the area, Longboat Key tends to draw beach lovers, anglers, and nature enthusiasts. It sports a decidedly chill atmosphere that couldn’t be more different than many of the state’s more commercialized areas.
Turtle Crawl Inn is a popular destination for those who’d rather forego swanky digs in favor of good value and easy access to a variety of natural amenities.
Though small, the inn’s units feature private beachfront balconies and small kitchenettes that are perfect for couples and small families. Due to their west-facing orientation, they’re great places to catch an amazing Florida sunset or two.
2. Bayfront Park
Featuring a designated dog park, playground, fishing pier, and an area to launch kayaks, Bayfront Park is a popular destination for those staying in the area who’d rather not spend an arm and a leg or hours in the car to experience the great outdoors.
The park is a municipal facility managed by the town of Longboat Key, and it’s a big hit with both locals and tourists.
The park has just undergone an expensive and lengthy renovation that has produced more trails, shuffleboard courts, and a variety of sports fields that are generally open on a first-come-first-served basis.
3. Lake Manatee State Park
Though it’s technically on the outskirts of nearby Bradenton on East State Road 64, Lake Manatee State Park is a premier area attraction for fit outdoor lovers and is comprised of more than 500 acres.
The park is particularly well-known for its great freshwater fishing, kayaking, boating, and swimming areas, and there are a variety of inland environments nearby, including pine forests and marshes that are great places to explore.
Camping is also popular inside the park, and previous guests have noted that though the campsites were in a natural setting, there were ample amenities, like showers, restrooms, and electricity hook-ups.
4. Dry Dock Waterfront Grill
From scallops and grouper to stone crabs and jumbo gulf shrimp, Dry Dock Waterfront Grill has a little something for just about every seafood lover.
As its name implies, Waterfront Grill offers guests fabulous views too; though they’re stunning for everyone, they’re especially so for those visiting from distant, landlocked states.
Previous guests have noted that in addition to great food and a prime location, the staff were knowledgeable and attentive, and everything thing seemed to mesh together flawlessly.
The restaurant is located on Gulf of Mexico Drive in Longboat Key and tends to fill up quickly during peak times, so plan accordingly.
5. Lido Beach
Lido Beach on Lido Key is just a few minutes from Longboat Key; more so than other local beaches, it attracts a decidedly international crowd.
Lido Beach’s amenities include a playground and an observation platform that’s accessible to strollers and wheelchairs. For those who are visiting from out of state, there are beach chairs and umbrellas available to rent.
During the winter months when the gulf can get a bit chilly, many visitors opt for the on-site heated pool; it costs less than five bucks for an adult to spend an entire day, and even less for children.
6. Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium
Located on Ken Thompson Parkway in nearby Sarasota, the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium is a unique research facility that’s dedicated to the study and preservation of the area’s natural environments and wildlife. It was founded in the mid-‘50s.
The aquarium portion of the facility is open to the public and includes hundreds of species of local marine animals, including turtles, fish, and sea horses, to name just a few.
Sharks are also popular inhabitants, and the aquarium’s staff offer regularly scheduled feedings that are big hits with kids and adults alike. Especially during the summer, there are a variety of activities and classes offered aimed at children.
7. Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary
It comes as a big surprise to many first-time visitors to the Sunshine State that there are still panthers living in the wild.
Located on Palmer Boulevard in Sarasota, Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary was founded more than 30 years ago and is dedicated to protecting both big cats and other animals that have been abandoned, injured or orphaned.
In addition to its rescue and rehabilitation roles, a big part of what the sanctuary does is provide educational opportunities for visitors. For many guests, their time on-site is one of the most memorable experiences of their trip.
8. The Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall
Located on North Tamiami Trail in Sarasota, The Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall is a local live entertainment icon that seats more than 1,500 guests and his been around since the late-‘60s.
From comedy and dramatic theater to dance and music in a variety of genres, the facility is also architecturally unique. It has a pleasant mix of old-time charm and up-to-date lighting and sound systems that make it truly one-of-a-kind.
They offer a full year-round schedule, so it’s best to peruse their website before heading out. Though there’s lots of seating, it often goes quickly for the most popular shows.
9. Emerson Point Preserve
The Manatee River is one of the central Gulf Coast’s outdoor recreation centerpieces, and Emerson Point Preserve is a convenient and inexpensive way to take advantage of it without spending hours in the car going to and from other larger parks in the region.
The preserve is comprised of more than 350 acres of pristine natural environments and includes a number of historic and prehistoric sites as well.
The preserve’s multi-use trails are open to walkers, bikers, and joggers. For those who’d rather not get wet and muddy, there are several elevated boardwalks that are great for wildlife viewing as well.
10. Ed Smith Stadium
For nearly a decade, Ed Smith Stadium on 12th Street in Sarasota has been the spring training home for Major League Baseball’s Baltimore Orioles.
In recent years, the nearly 8,000-seat stadium has undergone some renovations, including refurbished seats that are actually leftovers from the original Oriole Park at Camden Yards in the team’s home city of Baltimore, Maryland, more than 1,000 miles away.
The spring training season is a great way to catch a few games and enjoy the pleasant Florida weather without paying big-league prices for hot dogs and beer, as you would do during the regular season.
11. Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
With its abundant rain, sunshine, and year-round growing season, Florida is home to more world-class botanical gardens than just about anywhere else.
Marie Selby Botanical Gardens are located on South Palm Avenue along scenic Sarasota Bay. For those who’ve tired of the crowds at the more touristy destinations, they’re the perfect place to spend a few hours communing with Mother Nature.
The gardens feature extensive collections of both native and exotic plants, flowers, and trees, and the grounds are connected by well-marked paths that include lots of seating areas, greenhouses, distinct cultivated areas, and informative signs.
12. Village of the Arts
Set amid more than 30 secluded and serene acres, the Village of the Arts on 12th Avenue in Bradenton is a popular destination for lovers of art and the Bohemian lifestyle.
In many ways, the village is the region’s art and creativity epicenter; it’s comprised of nearly 100 galleries, studios, homes, and cafés that make it the perfect place to spend a few afternoon hours.
The village’s homes and businesses are architecturally unique, and it’s definitely different than most other area attractions. During the year, there are a variety of fairs, festivals, and art-related programs offered as well.
13. Cortez Historic Fishing Village
Commercial fishing has always been big business along Florida’s Gulf Coast, but for many centuries, it was much less mechanized than it is today.
The historic village of Cortez just north of Longboat Key is fascinating and free to visit; there’s no better place to see the coast and fishing industry the way it was in eras past.
The village’s downtown area is easily walkable and includes marinas, restaurants, and historic buildings. There’s also a museum and cultural center full of historical photographs, fishing equipment, and first-hand accounts of those who worked in the industry.
14. Artist’s Guild of Anna Maria Island
Florida has always had its fair share of artists and writers who’ve taken up residence in the state hoping to be inspired by the natural beauty.
The Artist’s Guild of Anna Maria Island is a not-for-profit cooperative focused on showcasing and promoting the works of local and regional artists. Throughout the year, their facility on Marina Drive hosts a variety of exhibits, fairs, and educational programs aimed at established artists and up-and-comers.
The guild has been around for nearly 30 years and is open to the public from Monday to Saturday between 10 AM and 5 PM.
15. De Soto National Memorial
In the first half of the 16th century, Hernando De Soto landed on the coast near Bradenton. According to historians, he was looking for cities of gold and the ever-elusive Fountain of Youth.
Located on De Soto Memorial Highway, the Do Soto National Memorial is a monument commemorating this historic event.
The memorial and surrounding park are set on more than 20 acres near the mouth of the Manatee River. In addition to its historical significance, the park includes lots of outdoor activity options – like fishing, bird watching, and kayaking, and there are a variety of nature trails as well.