A perfect example of a planned city, Venice came about in the mid-1920s and grew steadily as the 20th century progressed.
Today Venice is an official Florida MainStreet City, with beautiful architecture modeled on the Italian Venice, and streets lined with palms and live oaks. Downtown Venice combines this elegance with first-class shopping, dining, entertainment and culture.
I haven’t even talked about the shore yet. Venice is on a truly special stretch of the Gulf Coast where the sands are laced with countless fossilized sharks’ teeth.
Bring a sifter to spots like Caspersen Beach and the main municipal beach. Come to town in April and there’s even a whole festival dedicated to these fossils.
1. Venice Beach
The main municipal beach is at the western end of Venice Avenue, fringed by low dunes with sea oats.
This is Venice’s most convenient and most popular beach. Something I adore here is the Space Age pavilion, a Venice emblem since 1964.
You can comb these sands for sharks’ teeth, while scuba divers can explore a reef a quarter mile offshore. A nice touch is a concession stand/convenience store at the pavilion, open during the day.
Towards sunset most nights the pavilion becomes a stage for live music. There’s also a new age vibe to this beach, with regular yoga sessions, and a weekly drum circle around sunset on Sunday evenings.
2. Downtown Venice
One of the best things going for Venice is the award-winning downtown. This flourishing district is threaded by W Venice Ave, but is spread out over quite a large area on intersecting Tamiami Trail and, Nokomis Ave and Nassau St.
The townscape is refined Mediterranean Revival architecture from the 1920s, lush palms, enormous banyans, and stately live oaks. Pedestrians and bicyclists can get around with ease, and the central Centennial Park is right here if you need a break.
More than 100 independent businesses are thriving in this picture-perfect setting. There’s a dynamic shopping and dining scene, especially along W Venice Ave. Make sure to stop by on a Saturday morning, in time for the weekly farmers’ market.
I also can’t get enough of downtown’s effervescent culture, at the Art Center, and the renowned Venice Theatre.
3. Venetian Waterway Park
Venice prides itself as a bicycle-friendly city, and you’ll be left in no doubt when you visit the Intracoastal Highway here.
On both sides of this waterway are almost ten miles of paved trails. These lead you straight through downtown Venice where they connect with the Legacy Trail at the 1927 Historic Venice Train Depot. That trail continues for almost 20 miles through Sarasota County.
Back in Venice, you can use the Venetian Waterway Park to get from downtown to places like the Airport Festival Grounds, and Caspersen Beach at the southern end. Look out for wildlife on the route, from gopher tortoises to osprey and alligators.
4. Caspersen Beach
Source: Jim Schwabel / shutterstock
Caspersen Beach, at the south end of the Venetian Waterway Park trail, is easily one of my favorite beaches in Venice.
Heading here from downtown you could combine a visit to the beach with a ride or walk along the trail. The beach is beautiful, with a much more rugged shoreline and a more secluded location than Venice Beach.
A long nature trail leads you through the coastal hammock behind. Meanwhile, if you’re hunting for sharks’ teeth I think Caspersen Beach should be your priority. If you bring a sifter you can often scoop them right out of the sand here.
5. Venice Museum and Archives
If you’re interested in learning more about the city’s history, take a trip to the Venice Museum and Archives. On the Cultural Campus that includes the municipal library, art center and community center, the museum building dates back to 1927.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1996, this was originally the Triangle Inn.
The main exhibit is Venice’s Inhabitants, which looks at the various people who have lived in the area, from the Tocobaga and the Calusa Native Americans to the author Walter Farley.
Given the finds that you can make on the beaches in Venice, I was particularly interested in the Fossils: Venice’s Land Before Time exhibit.
6. Historic Venice Train Depot
One of the most impressive projects when Venice was developed in the 1920s was the southern terminus for the Seaboard Air Line Railroad.
In the heart of downtown Venice, this was completed in 1927, while the complex was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. On show are a caboose and an 85-foot retired circus car.
Passenger service arrived in 1971, and since then about 20 miles of the old railroad have become the multi-use Legacy Trail. I appreciate how the depot is still a transport hub, served by buses run by Sarasota County Area Transit.
The depot building is beautifully preserved, and you can join a guided tour for the inside track on its history.
These take place on Saturdays 10:30 am to 1:00 pm year-round, and on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays 10:00 am to 3:00 pm, November through April.
7. Centennial Park
With downtown Venice’s shops and restaurants all around, Centennial Park is a green oasis dotted with palms.
If you’re a family with younger children, I can bet that you’ll spend some time here on hot days. There’s an awesome interactive fountain that will keep kids entertained for at least an hour.
Elsewhere the ADA-accessible gazebo is the venue for Venice’s Friday Night Concert Series, with shows on the second and fourth Fridays of the month.
In April Centennial Park also welcomes the Venice Sharks Tooth Festival, which I’ll talk about later in my list.
8. Venice Fishing Pier
Source: Linda White Wolf / shutterstock
Venice has had a fishing pier since 1966, although this iconic 700-foot structure has been rebuilt a few times. The most recent work took place in 2019. During that project the pier was given special light fixtures to avoid confusing sea turtles.
One thing I think everyone should do at least once in Venice is visit the end of the pier at sunset. Inspiring a kind of hushed awe, the views will stay with you for a long time.
The pier is pretty much unique in Florida because you don’t need to play a fee to visit. What’s more, you don’t even need a license to fish here. The current benches and fish cleaning stations were all added during the renovation a few years back.
9. South Jetty
In the 1930s a pair of jetties was built along the mouth of the Venice Inlet. On both sides you can stroll out to admire the views, and watch the sun go down.
South Jetty is easiest to get to from downtown Venice, as you don’t need to go all the way around the bay to get here.
Where it differs from the North Jetty is that there isn’t as much sandy coastline along the beach.
So for me the main reason to be here is for the scenery. At the base of the jetty is Humphris Park, with benches and picnic tables below a row of palms lining the inlet.
Stay here for any amount of time and you’re likely to see a manatee or dolphin. With so many people fishing along the jetties, water birds like pelicans are always nearby.
10. North Jetty Beach
On the north side of the Venice Inlet there’s another fabulous coastal hangout in Nokomis. After parking at North Jetty Beach you can wander along the paved path tracing the inlet and running along the jetty.
Both the inlet and jetty are lined with a whole community of people casting their fishing lines. I’ve spent plenty of time watching the boats come and go, and spotting lots of dolphins frolicking in the water.
Further north, the beach is a great place to just relax on the sand and soak up the views. There are plenty of amenities too, making this a great place to spend the whole day, and to linger until the sun goes down.
11. Oscar Scherer State Park
Along South Creek, Oscar Scherer State Park preserves an area of hardwood hammock, scrubby flatwoods and pine flatwoods.
The extensive scrubby flatwoods here are really important for the vulnerable Florida scrub jay. So at this park you’ll get the chance to view the only bird endemic to Florida. Another important species here is the bald eagle, which nests in the pines in the winter months.
For recreation, Lake Osprey is a small but beautiful water body for swimming or relaxing on the beach. You can also make your way through the park’s habitats on 15+ miles of trails, including a stretch of the Legacy Trail, so you can ride here from downtown.
Last but not least, I’d recommend renting a canoe or kayak from near the campground. South Creek is easy to navigate, and leads through a corridor of dense vegetation brimming with wildlife, including a few gators.
12. Venice Theatre
Venice has one of the largest and most active community theater groups in the country. Established in 1950, the Venice Theatre is based at an historic former Kentucky Military Institute building downtown.
Inside there’s the 432-seat Mainstage, and the 90-seat Pinkerton Theater for smaller productions. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say there’s something happening at the Venice Theatre all the time.
Every season is packed with large-scale Broadway musicals, dramas, comedies, cabarets, or unique one-person plays.
When I was in town the Venice Theatre had just been hit badly by Hurricane Ian, but the season was going ahead as normal.
13. Venice Audubon Rookery Park
I was completely unprepared for this enclave of Florida nature, embedded in the urban landscape in the south of the city. What you see at Venice Audubon Rookery Park is an island on a pond, providing a key nesting site.
December through May, a wide array of wading birds build their nests, incubate eggs and raise their chicks here. Among the species at the rookery are snowy egrets, great egrets, great blue herons, glossy ibises, and more.
Any body of freshwater in this part of the state is going to attract alligators. But something neat about this site is that the alligators serve as security, keeping predators away from the nests. Come early in the day or in the evening for the best birdwatching.
14. Venice Performing Arts Center
In 2014 a state-of-the-art performing arts center opened at the Venice High School campus. Seating more than 1,000, this remains an exceptional place to take in some first-class entertainment.
The center is a seat for several important arts organizations, including the Venice Symphony, the Venice Chorale, and the Venice Concert Band.
There are more than 120 events at this venue every year. These range from classical concerts with nationally renowned guest artists to musicals and shows by tribute acts.
I was in town in time for the Venice Symphony’s 50th anniversary season, and came for a memorable performance of Berlioz’s Symphony Fantastique.
15. Venice Sharks Tooth Festival
If I had to choose an ideal time to be in Venice it might be mid-April. Not only is the weather close to perfect, this is when the city’s signature event takes place.
Based at Centennial Park, the Venice Sharks Tooth Festival is two days of fun, celebrating the fossilized sharks’ teeth abounding on the city’s shores.
You’ve got a mainstage with local and regional bands, food trucks for all tastes, and a zone for kids’ activities. The beach and of course Sharks’ teeth fossils are constant themes.
Along those lines, there are fossil talks, displays of amazing fossil collections, and vendors selling impressive specimens discovered at Venice’s beaches.