Newcomer’s Guide: How to enjoy Suncoast waters

Published March 17, 2010

FISHING
Saprito Pier at Ringling Bridge Causeway Park, 420 John Ringling Causeway, Sarasota, 365-2200 or sarasotagov.com
A great spot to cast a line is the Saprito fishing pier under the east end of Ringling Bridge. Hart Landing, just south of the pier, offers a bait shop, gazebo, picnic tables, concessions and restrooms, providing everything you need for a day of fishing bliss. Show up around sunset for some killer views of Sarasota Bay.

KAYAKING
Jim Neville Marine Preserve: Little Sarasota Bay, Sarasota, 861-5000 or scgov.net; Ted Sperling Park at South Lido Beach: northern entrance, 190 Taft Drive, Lido Key
Some of the area’s natural gems are accessible only by boat, like the 35-acre Jim Neville Preserve in Little Sarasota Bay with its maze of waterways and top-notch bird watching. Ted Sperling Park features a kayak launch leading to South Lido’s famous mangrove tunnels, giving paddlers an intimate view of mangrove wildlife with frequent dolphin and manatee sightings.

PARASAILING
Siesta Key Parasailing: 1265 Old Stickney Point Road, Sarasota, 586-1972 or siestakeyparasailing.com; Siesta Key Watersports: 1536 Stickney Point Road, Sarasota, 921-3030 or siestakeywatersports.com
You can’t explore the Suncoast unless you can see where you’re going, and what better way than from the air in a Gulf Coast parasail flight. Both of these south Siesta Key parasailing companies offer single, double or triple flights, giving you views like none other of all the beautiful Siesta, Lido and Longboat beaches.

KITEBOARDING
South Lido Beach, 2201 Ben Franklin Drive, Lido Key, 861-5000 or scgov.net
You’ll see kiteboarders catching the breeze at spots all over the area, but one of the most popular places is the pass off South Lido Beach. There are a number of businesses in the area that offer lessons and these are the usual training grounds, or waters. The wide-open south point enjoys abundant winds making for perfect opportunities to get airborne.

AIRBOAT RIDES
Myakka River State Park, 13208 State Road 72, Sarasota, 361-6511 or myakkariver.org
One of Florida’s oldest and largest state parks offers tours aboard the “world’s largest airboat” for an exhilarating ride and a chance to see gators in the wild. These hour-long narrated tours will teach you about Myakka’s preserved lands while you’re strapped to a huge fan skipping you across the water. You’re not in Florida until you ride an airboat.

BOOZE CRUISE
LeBarge Tropical Cruises, 2 Marina Plaza, Sarasota, 366-6116 or lebargetropicalcruises.com
Taking off from Marina Jack on the bayfront, LeBarge is a cool way to explore Sarasota’s waters and history. The vessel offers private charters, special events and late-night booze cruises in addition to its three regular tours. Dolphin watch cruises, narrated sight-seeing cruises and sunset cruises with live entertainment, a light menu and a full bar depart regularly throughout the week.

SNORKELING
Point of Rocks, south end of Siesta Public Beach, 5118 Ocean Blvd., Sarasota, 861-5000 or siestakeychamber.com
One of the premier places to snorkel on the entire Gulf Coast is right here in Sarasota at Point of Rocks on Siesta Key. The long reef just offshore lies about 15 to 18 feet below the surface and gets 20 yards wide in some places. It is home to all kinds of sea life, including the odd shark, snook, small grouper and many other tropical reef fish. Go from June to September when the waters are nice and warm.

SCUBA DIVING
Unda da sea off Suncoast shores, Gulf of Mexico
Venice is known worldwide for its shark tooth dives, but 30 miles off the coast lies The Bayronto, a 400-foot-long British freighter that sank in 1919. The Crane Barge rests 29 miles off Sarasota and is a great wreck for spear fishing. Sugar Barge is a popular dive 100 yards off Bradenton Beach, and is easily located by the metal post sticking through the ocean surface.

BOAT LAUNCH
Turtle Beach Park and Boat Ramp: 8918 Midnight Pass Road, Sarasota, 861-5000 or scgov.net; Centennial Park and Boat Ramp: 1059 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, 365-2200 or sarasotagov.com
No matter where you’re boating or what you’re floating, you’re gonna have to get that vessel in the water. The two best launch spots are the 10th Street boat ramp just north of downtown, with access to Big Sarasota Bay, and the Turtle Beach boat ramp on south Siesta Key, leading to Little Sarasota Bay. Take your pick — it all leads to the gulf anyway.

SAILING
Sarasota Sailing Squadron, 1717 Ken Thompson Parkway, Sarasota, 388-2355 or sarasotasailingsquadron.org
If you’re looking to get some wind in your sails you better head to the Sarasota Sailing Squadron on City Island. The sailing club offers memberships for captains and crew of all skill levels and boat sizes, with races, cruises and sailing instruction courses featured throughout the year. If you just want to get your feet wet you can stop by and try to hop on a crew.

Photo courtesy flickr.com/srqpix

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