15 Best Things to Do in Longboat Key (FL)

Written by Bart Meeuwesen
Updated on
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Arcing around Sarasota Bay, Longboat Key is a Gulf Coast town on a wondrous barrier island. By the Gulf are unblemished white sandy beaches, while the calm inward waters of the bay are wreathed with mangroves.

For me, getting the most out of somewhere like Longboat Key means embracing island life. You can paddle out among dolphins and manatees, or plot a course for some secluded beach, island, or sandbar. 

None of this is to say that the island is isolated, with Sarasota so close, and yet more jaw-dropping beaches on neighboring islands. Much of the town is also occupied by the 410-acre Longboat Key Club, which has 45 holes of golf among its facilities.

1. Longboat Key Public Beaches

While Longboat Key may be dominated by waterfront residences, resorts, clubs, and condos, there are still a lot of public access points. In fact I counted 11 in total, and all had been the subject of enhancement projects before I came. 

The Gulf shore is heart-achingly beautiful here, but also is an important habitat for wildlife. For instance, sea turtles nest on the beaches May through October. Meanwhile, a number of shorebird species feed, nest and court here.

A couple of more practical options are 2825 and 6399 Gulf of Mexico Dr, where there are more parking spaces.

2. Bayfront Park

Bayfront Park, Longboat KeySource: WebsitesFL / shutterstock
Bayfront Park, Longboat Key

With a glorious view of Sarasota Bay, this public park is home to many of the town’s public recreation amenities. Bayfront Park had just undergone a big renovation when I was here. 

Among the many amenities are a dog park, a nautical-themed playground, a fishing pier, and an area to launch kayaks. Sports facilities include shuffleboard, tennis, pickleball, and basketball courts.

There’s also a recreation center, hosting a ton of classes throughout the week, with pilates, yoga, and nia. Bayfront Park is the prime place in Longboat Key to begin a paddling tour of the bay, and I’ll cover this aspect later.

3. Kayaking and Paddleboarding

I’d challenge anyone to stand on the shore at Bayfront Park and not feel the urge to explore. The smooth waters of Sarasota Bay, the breaching dolphins, and the rich greenery of the mangrove islands are just too much.

Two rental companies, Happy Paddler and Longboat Key Paddleboard and Kayak are located right next to the park. It’s only once you’re out there in this environment that you realize just how much there is to see.

You could spend hours navigating the mangrove tunnels, with a small world of surprises on your trip. This might be manatees grazing on the lagoon’s seagrass, or a cormorant suddenly coming up for air.

Happy Paddler offers single, tandem and fishing kayaks, as well as paddleboards in half-day (four-hour) slots. You’ll get a quick paddling lesson, a map of paddling routes, and dry storage for your valuables.

4. Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium

Mote Marine Laboratory and AquariumSource: LimpingFrog Productions / Flickr
Mote Marine Laboratory And Aquarium

This crucial marine life research facility and visitor attraction is just across the water from the Longboat Key’s southern tip. 

Founded in the mid-‘50s, the Mote Marine Laboratory And Aquarium is dedicated to the study and preservation of the area’s natural environments and wildlife.

The aquarium portion of the facility is open to the public and includes hundreds of local marine animals, including turtles, otters, manatees, and fish of all stripes including sharks.

Of course, kids will have a blast interacting with harmless wildlife at the touch tanks. What I found truly extraordinary though was the preserved giant squid, which was even larger than I expected.

5. Coquina Beach

For yet another fabulous beach you can head over to Anna Maria Island. Right away you’ll be at Coquina Beach, a breathtaking gulfside park with a long and broad expanse of perfect white sands, traced by nothing more than a long row of pines.

This is hands-down the best public beach for miles, and has the amenities to match. As well as a lot of parking, there are extensive picnic facilities, BBQ pits, showers, restrooms, bike racks, and volleyball courts.

You can also spend some time on foot exploring the Leffis Key Preserve, just behind, which I’ll outline later.

6. Joan M. Durante Community Park

In the 1990s a rare piece of empty bayfront space became a long-term habitat restoration project. This involved building dunes, protecting native plant life growing here, planting yet more indigenous trees, and removing invasive species.

Some 30 years later, the Joan M. Durante Community Park is a wonderful coastal hammock and wetlands preserve. As I’m sure you can imagine, this space is for passive recreation.

You can wander along the boardwalks, and contemplate the lagoon from the various overlooks. As with all of the mangroves around Longboat Key, I’d recommend applying bug repellent before you enter.

7. Quick Point Nature Preserve

Facing off against the Mote Aquarium, the Quick Point Nature Preserve protects a parcel of wetlands and mangroves at the south end of Longboat Key. 

Now, at just over 30 acres, it’s not a massive property, but feels tucked away thanks to the denseness of the mangroves. Trails, with stretches of elevated boardwalk, will take you past natural and man-made lagoons.

The former is crowded with mangroves and survived the extensive and damaging development that took place in the 20th century. The latter was purposely excavated to attract wildlife, including majestic wading birds like egrets and ibises.

8. Cannons Marina

With a sublime lagoon, little islands and hard-to-reach beaches all around, I think it’s a good idea to rent a boat. 

This will grant you a new level of freedom, whether you cruise the serene waters, go fishing, or set a course for a secluded beach or sandbar.

On Longboat Key the easiest option is Cannons Marina, offering rentals by the day, week or month. A valued small-scale operation, this company has been in business since 1955. 

These deck boats and bowriders can hold between 8 and 12 people, with discounts if you rent for consecutive days. A few conditions apply, including previous boating experience.

9. The Market on Longboat Key

There’s a seasonal market taking place several times a year at the Town Center Green. The Market on Longboat Key was trialed in the early 2020s, and had just become a regular occurrence when I was in town.

Taking place on the second or third Monday of the month, December through April, this is a surprisingly large event, way bigger than a typical farmers’ market. You can expect upwards of 100 vendors, selling anything from fresh produce, to home decor and handmade jewelry. 

Arts & crafts made up the bulk of the vendors, but there’s also a lineup of food trucks, so you can stop by for lunch.

10. Leffis Key Preserve

You can cross the Longboat Pass Bridge to Anna Maria Island to visit this gorgeous preserve on the bay. Composed of a system of mangroves navigated by boardwalks, Leffis Key Preserve is a small property, but absolutely worth your time.

I think the best part for me is the sandy hill that rises above the landscape. Although this is barely 30 feet, it’s one of the highest natural points for miles, and grants you a complete panorama of the north end of Sarasota Bay.

Crabs will criss-cross the trails in front of you, while down on the water you’re sure to see a lot of wading birds, and possibly even dolphins.

11. Lido Beach

Lido BeachSource: Ruth Peterkin / shutterstock
Lido Beach

If you want to keep your beach options open, there’s another world-class pick on Lido Key. No more than a few minutes away, Lido Beach is kept spotlessly clean and is a superb place to hunt for shells. 

All of the amenities you could need for some blissful beachtime are right here. You’re also a few steps from a shopping and dining hotspot at St. Armands Circle, bursting with boutiques and eateries.

During the winter months when the Gulf can get a bit chilly, many visitors opt for the on-site heated pool, which you can access for a small fee.

12. Jewfish Key Sandbar

A local highlight reachable only by water, it’s easy to see this sandbar on the bayside as you cross the Longboat Pass Bridge.

The Jewfish Key Sandbar comprises a large sweep west of the eponymous private island. 

You’re likely to find a small strip of exposed sand surrounded by a much larger area of irresistible, twinkling shallow water. You can come to snorkel, swim, or just relax in this piece of paradise. 

I don’t think it’s a mystery why this place is so beloved, but the only issue is getting there. If you don’t have your own boat, there are several tour companies based locally serving the island. 

A few when I compiled this list were AMI Escapes, Tiki Boat Adventures, Island Pearl Excursions, and Captain Sal’s Island Adventures.

13. Dry Dock Waterfront Grill

Dry Dock Waterfront GrillSource: Dry Dock Waterfront Grill / Facebook
Dry Dock Waterfront Grill

From red snapper to grouper, stone crabs and jumbo gulf shrimp, Dry Dock Waterfront Grill specializes in locally caught seafood.

As its name implies, this spot offers breathtaking views too. The restaurant is right on Sarasota Bay, with huge windows inside and a large dockside patio. 

To go with the great food and a prime location, I found the staff were knowledgeable and attentive, and everything seemed to mesh together flawlessly.

If you’re a first-timer here, you need to go with the grouper sandwich. The blackened filets are brushed with a white wine and Worcestershire sauce and served on a brioche bun, with french fries or coleslaw.

14. The Fish Hole Miniature Golf

I’m sure I’m not alone in believing that a game of miniature golf is an essential beach vacation experience. Luckily there’s a fantastic option a couple of minutes away in Bradenton Beach. 

The Fish Hole is packed onto a small-ish plot and crowded with palms and other lush tropical vegetation. These provide respite from the sun, and are aided by misters to make things feel even cooler.

The 18-hole course weaves through this peaceful setting, around a 3,000-gallon pond with koi and turtles that children can feed.

15. The Resort at Longboat Key Club – Golf Courses

Most of the southern end of Longboat Key is taken up by the upscale Longboat Key Club. In turn, much of this acreage belongs to the resort’s two PGA-approved golf courses, with 45 holes of golf between them.

Now, I should point out that these two courses—Harbourside and Links on Longboat—are available only to resort guests and members.

Given the sheer size of the resort, there’s a good chance you’ll be a guest if you’re visiting Longboat Key. Anyway, both courses have recently been given a multimillion-dollar improvement.

Now featuring hardy platinum paspalum, they have bayfront and Gulf views, quicksilver greens, and beautiful native vegetation, from various palms to live oaks.

15 Best Things to Do in Longboat Key (FL):

  • Longboat Key Public Beaches
  • Bayfront Park
  • Kayaking and Paddleboarding
  • Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium
  • Coquina Beach
  • Joan M. Durante Community Park
  • Quick Point Nature Preserve
  • Cannons Marina
  • The Market on Longboat Key
  • Leffis Key Preserve
  • Lido Beach
  • Jewfish Key Sandbar
  • Dry Dock Waterfront Grill
  • The Fish Hole Miniature Golf
  • The Resort at Longboat Key Club - Golf Courses