Choosing a destination the whole family will enjoy can be challenging – especially when princesses and Mickey Mouse ears won’t cut it anymore. As kids grow older and mature, their taste in vacations evolve. (Read: They become interested in fine dining, recreational activities and discovering unique gems worthy of a Twitter, Facebook or Instagram brag post.) As such, choosing a group getaway that fits the bill can be a tall order. Thankfully, Florida’s “Other Keys” meets these criteria, and then some.
Siesta and Longboat Keys
Located on the west coast of Florida, Siesta Key and Longboat Key overlook the Gulf of Mexico and are just a short drive from the Sarasota/Bradenton International Airport. Thing is, once you arrive you feel worlds away from the hustle and bustle of urban life. And despite the fact that the shores of Siesta Key and Longboat Key are there to greet you – and just happen to be renowned for their award-winning sugary white sand and calm waters of the Gulf – there’s so much more to the area than just sand and surf.
To the Beat of Another Drum
You know you’re somewhere special when people are dancing in the rain. Every Sunday, rain or shine, the drum circle at Siesta Key Beach plays one hour before sunset. A community jam session, this ritual was started by locals and has organically taken on a life of its own, attracting an eclectic group of residents wearing everything from gypsy garb to comfy pyjamas. Not only does this festive vibe include the drum circle’s percussive swell, but a local carnival troupe of whirling dancers, spectacular fire jugglers and various street performers also entertain the crowd – all for the joy of performing.
Once things wrap and you’ve worked up an appetite, Siesta Key Oyster Bar awaits. With all the charms of a beloved dive/bar resto, this mom-and-pop eatery serves up serious food and fun. Listen to live music while noshing on SKOBetizers such as fried pickles, calamari and fresh raw oysters, and wash them down with their signature cocktail, The Rum Stumbler – a concoction of light and dark rum with blackberry brandy and banana liqueur, shaken with a dash of sweet grenadine and pineapple juice. Also worth trying is one of their to-die-for entrees, which includes fish tacos, indulgent five-cheese mac’ n cheese and the fresh catch of the day. And no visit to Florida is complete without a piece of house-made key lime pie.
A Feel-Good Aquarium
Exciting as it is to see marine life, with recent documentaries such as Blackfish shedding light on some of the unthinkable abuse sea mammals endure in captivity, the last thing most people want to do is fund a potentially harmful organization. But thanks to The Aquarium at Mote Marine Laboratory, you can get upclose-and-personal with a dolphin, manatee and sea turtle, and still sleep at night.
The non-profit organization, which was founded in 1955, is an informal science education centre that features more than 100 marine species and interactive exhibits highlighting the world-class science of the Mote Marine Laboratory. Among its notable rescues and rehabilitations are Hang Tough, a blind sea turtle injured by a fishing hook, and Moonshine, a young dolphin abandoned by her family. Many manatees, sea horses and numerous other sea creatures have also been protected by this unique organization. An exciting added bonus? Parents and kids alike will love the live shark exhibit and feeding that happens on select mornings.
Just because your kids have outgrown the circus doesn’t mean they won’t be awed by The Ringling museum. Perfect for the young and young at heart, the historic landmark, once owned by John and Mable Ringling, boasts the Ca’ d’Zan mansion, fine art museum, circus museum with interactive activities, and theatre. It’s also home to the Bayfront Gardens, which show cases 66 acres of lush vegetation, roses and majestic Banyan trees.
Shop ‘til You Drop
No visit to the Other Keys is complete without a stop at St. Armande Circle, where you can while away the afternoon in a picturesque locale chock-full of high-end shops, boutiques, galleries and salons. It’s also here that you’ll find both casual and fine-dining restaurants, one of which is Shore Diner. Walk into this airy abode and you’ll feel transported to a trendy hotspot in southern California. Calling upon local growers to supply the freshest ingredients, this resto also features its own roof-top garden where fresh herbs in hydroponic growers are cultivated. Treat yourself to some lobster sliders and comfort classics like fried chicken with creamy, cheesy potatoes while overlooking the shoppers and streets of St. Armande.
After a day of exploring, there’s nothing better than coming back to your luxurious home away from home. In Siesta Key, Lido Beach Resort is a family-friendly accommodation that offers spacious suites overlooking the ocean and pool, and an award-winning Sunday Brunch, complete with a full Bloody Mary bar, mimosas, and “a la carte” items. An added bonus: It’s pet-friendly, so feel free to bring along Fido too.
The Resort at Longboat Key Club serves up opulence and elegance, is secluded along the southern end of Longboat Key, and as the only AAA four-diamond beachfront resort in Sarasota, offers an array of amenities for the whole family. Whether you want to relax at the newly renovated spa, hit a few links at the 45-hole pro-designed golf course, take some paddleboarding lessons or get your zen on with some yoga on the beach, this resort literally has it all.