Last Updated April 26, 2023
So you are in Florida, and you are hankering for a getaway from the daily grind, but where should you go? You ask your friends and you get the normal answers; St. Augustine, St. Pete, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Clearwater… all are great places but you have done all of that before.
Where can you go that isn’t as well known, a place that may not be as crowded, may have a cool gulf breeze, stunning sunset, a smaller town with more to do than just lay around on the beach all day. Where is that? Get ready because we think we have just the place you are looking for, Manasota Key.
If you haven’t been don’t worry, we have all the information you need right here to make a well-informed decision as to whether Manasota Key is the place for your getaway.
Manasota Key – A Truly Dream Florida Beach Vacation
With its tropical breezes, white sand beaches, breathtaking sunsets, abundant parks, and low-key crowd you can find a unique sense of relaxation that you can’t get just anywhere in Florida. You have the beautiful gulf coast on the west, and the quaint Lemon Bay to the east, everywhere you go, you are bound to be on a waterfront.
If water sports are your thing, you can’t go wrong whether it is smooth water kayaking, watching the dolphins swim right alongside or feeling the wind in your hair atop a jet ski speeding out in the open water of the Gulf. With the copious amounts of coastline to either side of you, you are also always a few steps away from the perfect “beach” vibe you are looking for.
You can find sandy beaches, rocky beaches, and even more tree-filled natural waterside retreats, and grass flats such as the kind you find in Stump Pass Beach State Park. Measuring at roughly 11 miles long, you will find you have plenty of beach area to spread out your blanket and soak up the rays, without being on top of the stranger next to you.
No Party Crowd. Get the Real Florida Vibe at Manasota Key
While this peninsula does attract a younger crowd, this is definitely not the type of area that attracts a big party crowd, leaving you plenty of headspace and quiet to dive into the latest beach read in your tote. On the eastern shores of Lemon Bay, you can discover the Lemon Bay Aquatic Preserve which is teeming with seagrass communities, oyster ecosystems and submerged mangroves.
Where is Manasota Key in Florida?
Manasota Key’s name derives from a combination of its proximity to Sarasota and the large population of Manatees you can spot in the area. You’ll find this peninsula on the gulf coast of Florida, between two bodies of water, Lemon Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, roughly halfway between Tampa and Ft. Myers. It is a roughly 2.5 hour drive from Orlando, and just over 3 hours when traveling all the way across the state from Miami.
You can access the key from Highway 777, which has direct access from Florida’s I-75 that connects Ft. Myers to Tampa Bay. Due to this easy access point, you will find this vacation spot relatively easy to get to from most parts of the state, as long as you get to the 75. From Orlando, it is a quick jaunt on I-4 over to Tampa and down, and from Miami, a short trip north on the 95, west on 595 and then the 75 connection north.
Things to Do on Manasota Key
You’ll find no shortage of activities for everyone in your party to enjoy in this coastal getaway spot, including things like:
Go Shark Tooth Hunting
Shark Tooth Hunting, which is fun for everyone no matter your age. This area is known to have a plethora of shark tooth fossils and you can find the tools needed for this activity at almost any beach shop in town – check out our article about this to learn all you need to know to set out and find your own shark tooth collection!
Pick a Beach, Any Beach!
The Beach, there isn’t a shortage of sand to spread out on, catch some sun, splash in the water, walk, run, shell hunt, picnic while watching the sunset – whatever your heart desires you are sure to find the perfect spot on the beach for it. With choices like, Englewood Beach, Stump Pass Beach, Blind Pass Beach, and Manasota Beach we are confident you will find the right sandy retreat for you.
Don’t forget the sunblock, because even on cloudy days, those UV rays can come on strong, and you might want to eat lobster, but you don’t want to be one yourself.
Fun on the Water – Kayaking, Boating, Jet Skiing
Want to get out on the water? Check out any one of the local Kayak rental spots! These places are filled with knowledgeable locals running the desks to help you not only get out onto the water safely, but also get you out there with maps and ideas for routes to take to ensure you get the most from your paddling adventure, whether that is spotting nature, or finding the best inlet to “lay anchor” and relax while listening to some island beats.
Visit Stump Pass State Park (maybe see Manatees or Dolphins!)
Stump Pass State Park is just one of the many great parks this Key has to offer. If you are a nature lover, be sure to stop by these nature trails for the chance to spot gopher tortoises, snowy egrets, frigate birds, and West Indian manatees! During the winter months, Ranger-led hikes are available, and parking in the park is $3 per vehicle, with no other admission costs. You simply can’t go to Manasota Key and pass up the chance to explore the beautiful 245 acres this State Park has to offer.
While we’re on the subject of wildlife, you can get your blood pumping with the numerous hiking and biking trails around the Manasota Key area for you to enjoy, totaling in over 92 miles of trail enjoyment! Not all trails are created equal, so be sure to read up on what type of wildlife and terrain you are looking for before you grab the bug spray and put on your hiking shoes.
If watching the wildlife and hiking in nature isn’t your thing, and you are looking for a bit more thrill, there is no shortage of locations for rent jet skis, or get a bird’s eye view from a parasailing adventure.
We have mentioned jet ski, and kayak rentals, but don’t forget you can also take advantage of boat, paddle board and bike rentals from numerous locations along the Key’s shores.
Take a Drive, Admire the Homes!
Maybe you need a break from the sun and salty sea air, crave some air conditioning but don’t want to sit still in a restaurant, then we suggest hopping in the car and going for a ride down Canopy road. Especially if you enjoy fantasizing about real estate opportunities/house hunting. Not only is this drive gorgeous, with the road’s beautiful natural canopy of trees hanging over it, the houses are to die for. Have fun taking notes on who is going to live where when you all “grow up.”
Are you an angler? Surf fishing is a popular activity on Manasota Key, take your chances casting in from knee deep water, or keep yourself dry up on the shore to see what you can catch. You are bound to not only get a bite, but also get some great conversation with surrounding anglers as well. Or maybe you want to see what you can catch in the deeper waters of the gulf, if so, be sure to nab a spot on one of the numerous fishing boat trips that depart out to the deeper waters all around the peninsula’s coastline.
Don’t Miss the Incredible Sunsets
Each morning the sun comes up, which means that at night it is bound to go down. Enjoy the best that a Gulf Coast destination has to offer – a glorious sunset. Sunset viewing is a popular activity anywhere you can get a good view out in the open water, and Manasota Key is no exception to this.
You can’t go wrong no matter where you choose to watch this beautiful daily event, be it from on a boat, the comfort of your beach side rental, or with the sand between your toes and don’t be embarrassed if you feel like giving a round applause after the sun disappears over the horizon – there is a good chance that the person next to you will do the same thing.
While talking of sunsets, Indian Mound Park is one of the best spots on Manasota Key to enjoy the sunset. It is free to access and is open from 6am to sunset daily. The park has links to ancient Native American culture local to the Manasota area, and while it doesn’t have any swimming access, there are great hiking trails, wildlife, picnic areas, clean bathrooms, and even a place to launch your canoe!
Beaches on Manasota Key
Manasota Beach, is likely the least crowded beach on the key, but nonetheless it contains all of the basic amenities you could need. Beautiful sands, a boardwalk, lifeguard and volleyball courts.
Enlgewood Beach is the most popular beach on Manasota Key, and it is ready to accommodate you. Here you will find easy access to a large parking lot, parasailing, beach volleyball, and beachside rentals, as well as a smattering of nearby restaurants to satisfy the hunger that an active day on the beach can bring.
Middle Beach or Blind Pass Beach, is known for its plethora of shark teeth that can be easily found on this 3,000 foot beach. You can also take you time enjoying the mangrove forest, kayaking, or catch some fish off the dock.
Stump Pass State Park Beach is only accessible by foot or by boat, but this remote beach is well worth the journey. Combing the beautiful sands of the key and the wildlife, and plant growth from the state park make this beach a little different than the others, but no less enjoyable.
Depending on where you stay, you may even end up with access to a private beach of your own! Many houses on the key have access to their own private waterfront so be on the lookout for one of these gems. These homes can be the perfect destination for a quiet couples retreat, or even something as large as a family reunion to enjoy home-cooked meals, game nights and sunset viewings – it can feel like your personal vacation home for a brief respite, but one that you don’t have to pay a full-on mortgage for.
Lemon Bay is located to the eastern side of the key, which means calmer waters for activities like kayaking, boating, and fishing. This bay covers 8,000 acres, is long, narrow and shallow. A perk is that the water here is brackish water, whereas the friendly Florida gators prefer to reside in fresh water, so anchoring a boat and jumping in the water is a fine idea.
Especially if you choose to partake in water spots in areas that don’t have any many waves involved. You can also find some great eco tours of the bay, so be sure to reserve a spot in your schedule to embark on one of these gems as you’ll be almost certain to spot manatees and dolphins, along with other bird and wildlife.
Is Englewood Beach in Englewood Florida?
This is a great question, and often something we get asked to explain to people who are coming to the area for the first time. Englewood Beach is one of the most popular beaches in the area, and it is at the very southern tip of Manasota Key. Although, there are many other beaches on Manasota Key as well (like we mentioned above).
But it’s important to know that there are 2 very different areas down here – Englewood town which is on the mainland and Englewood Beach which is out on the key. While they are technically the same town and addresses, the areas are quite different.
Englewood Beach – On the Southern Tip of Manasota Key
The Englewood Beach area out on the key is accessible via a bridge from the town of Englewood. Out on the key you’ll find beautiful a gorgeous white sand beach, Stump Pass state park, and restaurants and tiki bars. You’ll also find a number of homes and condos out here and a lot of fantastic vacation rentals as well as a few small hotels.
If you are looking for that quintessential beach vacation, then staying out on the key in Englewood Beach is the most convenient.
This is an area where you’ll see people walking to and from the beach with their gear, riding bikes, and even golf carts. Restaurants overlooking the water and tiki bars have live music where you can dance with your toes in the sand! It’s very vacation-like and is a great little “bubble” of an area to hang out for a totally relaxed beach vacation.
Englewood Town – Over Bridge from Manasota Key on the Mainland
Englewood town is located on the mainland just off of Manasota Key and is more of a rural, laid back “old Florida” type of town. It’s a fairly small town with a number of unincorporated areas. This is not a resort-style vacation town and you won’t find luxury establishments or high-end shopping here. Englewood is much more of an everyday Florida town that just happens to be by the beach.
While there are vacationers and part-timers who live here, a lot of people in Englewood are full-time residents.
There are some places to stay in Englewood town for visitors as well as some vacation rentals too. Accommodations on the mainland definitely tend to be a cheaper alternative to staying out on the key at the beach. However, that means you’ll have to drive out to the beach areas – so just keep that in mind.
Thinking of Moving to Englewood? Check out our complete Englewood Relocation Guide to learn more and search homes for sale.
Favorite Places to Eat & Restaurants on Manasota Key & Nearby
Despite being a smaller, more rural town in Florida, Englewood does cater to vacationers and has some pretty great restaurants to enjoy, both on the mainland and out on the key at the beach.
Lock & Key is one of the best spots to grab a margarita and watch the sunset. Located right across the street from Englewood Beach, this spot usually grabs a crowd of sandy toed and sun tanned faces, and with these eats there is no question why.
Sandbar Tiki & Grille is one of our favorite places out at Englewood Beach. It’s table service, with sand between your toes. This is the perfect beachside restaurant because it makes you feel as though you never actually left Englewood Beach. This place offers and extensive menu, full service bar, covered and uncovered seating, and even has some fireplaces for colder nights.
Eat under the sun or the stars and sway to the tunes of the live band! Watch the locals and tourists meld together on the dance floor and belt out fan favorite songs for all ages. (note – Friday and Saturdays can get quite crowded and loud with some really great bands, perfect for a night out!)
The Waverly is another great spot to grab something to eat if you are out at Englewood Beach on Manasota Key. You can sit downstairs or upstairs with views out over the ocean. From seafood, burgers to pasta, we’ve had some great meals here.
Farlows on the Water is probably our TOP favorite restaurant in the southwest Florida area! Located on the mainland in Englewood town but overlooking waterways and mangroves, this restaurant is truly a gem with their cuisine that’s a mix of Caribbean and Southern Comfort foods. The chef is incredible and they have regular music out on the patio. It’s our go-to spot for date nights or celebrations like anniversaries and birthdays. Be sure to get reservations, especially if it’s a weekend or during busy season (winter).
Other Popular Places to Visit & Things to Do Nearby Manasota Key
Visit a Winery (yes, we have those in Florida too)
Just a quick 6.9 mile jaunt from Manasota Key beach, you can find yourself at Catania’s Winery, located in mainland Englewood. Catania has been making award winning wines for over 30 years, and the owner John loves to talk and discuss wine with anyone who comes through the doors. They offer tastings and sales during their hours of operation Wednesdays thru Sundays. Another great winery nearby in Port Charlotte is The Gilded Grape Winery.
Experience Gasparilla Island’s History, Opulence, and Nature
Gasparilla Island is located roughly 30 miles south of Manasota Key down Highway 771 and if you call yourself a fisherman, this is a must see detour to take on your trip to Manasota Key. Gasparilla Island is separated from mainland Florida by Charlotte Harbor and Pine Island South.
Gasparilla Island has beautiful natural scenery and beaches that have attracted the rich and famous for quite some time. From Vanderbilt’s to the DuPont’s. In Boca Grand, the main town area, you’ll find charming shops and restaurants as well as The Gasparilla Inn & Club – a historic hotel with a beautiful golf course.
On the southern end of the island you will find Gasparilla Island State Park, home to the Port Boca Grande Lighthouse which was built in 1890. Here you will find great spots to swim, snorkel, fish, check out the lighthouse museum, and picnic surrounded by nature.
Manasota Key Offers That Ideal Relaxed Florida Beach Experience
Whether you are looking for a beach vacation, a romantic getaway or if you are dreaming of living that beach lifestyle every day, then you’ll fall in love with Manasota Key and the area. Far away from the crowds of popular Florida beach destinations such as Siesta Key, Manasota Key offers the laid-back vibe and natural Florida setting many of us are craving. From the powdery sand, to the crystal blue water. The beautiful shells and fossilized shark teeth, to charming bungalows overlooking the water. Great restaurants and fantastic tiki bars, this is where you can throw your cares away!