It’s one of the most exclusive destinations in the world, and home to some of the wealthiest families around. I’m talking about Longboat Key, Florida. A precious little island that’s part of the Sarasota community. Since it’s known as such a lavish playground, the average couple or family might think it’s out of their price range. And that would be a shame. Because not only is Longboat Key doable on a budget, you can also have a pretty posh time of it without breaking the bank. Here are my top tips for taking a bargain trip to Longboat Key, Florida.
Now, before you tell me you’ve looked already and haven’t been able to find a condo that you can rent for any less than a month at a time, you should know there’s a solution to that. And the solution is the Sandpiper Inn. The rooms are actually small apartments, and come with full kitchen facilities. There’s also a pair of shiny stainless steel grills with an outdoor dining table that can seat six – eight. It’s right on the beach, so having your coffee in a lounge chair in the morning while you listen to the waves is built in to the experience. Rooms range from $99 per night to over $200, depending on the size of your apartment and how close you are to the water. They also give discounts for returning guests, and offer the option of a $25 credit to a cute little restaurant down the street. This makes them the only real “bed and breakfast” style lodging option on the island.
This award-winning restaurant, Harry’s Kitchen has numerous seafood dinner items for less than twenty bucks, and several of them are even less than $15. I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time finding basic fish that cheap at your run of the mill over-priced burger joint. Let alone crab or shrimp. And burger joints certainly don’t put the artistry into their presentation that Harry’s does. We enjoyed a dinner and a breakfast there, in a large group each time. This place never dropped the ball on presentation. Not. Once. The same family also owns a gourmet takeout deli, in case you want to have a sunset dinner on the sand, back at your beach rental.
If you’re looking for something super affordable to do, then you need to go and visit Charlie. Turn left out of the Sandpiper Inn driveway, and stroll past the Joan M. Durante Park and Harry’s. Then you’ll see the entrance to a small plaza where one of the shops has loads of bicycles. Seriously people, loads. Every kind you could possibly imagine. That’s where you’ll find Charlie. For five bucks per hour, he’ll let you have whichever bike your heart desires to peddle around the island and see the sites. Did I mention that Longboat Key’s main drag has bicycle lanes? These are hard to come by in many areas of the country, but this little island comes equipped, by golly.
All You Can Eat Fish and Chips:
If you’re looking for a slamming deal on fried fish on a daily basis, then look no further than the famous (or should I say infamous) Rotten Ralph’s on historic Bridge Street. Though technically a short hop away to Anna Maria Island, it’s within a twenty minute drive to Sandpiper Inn. For $9.95 every day, you can get all you can eat fried haddock with French fries and coleslaw. It’s located at the end of the old bridge, right on the water. So the view is great, and it’s a fun place to do breakfast as well. If you make it there in the morning, you definitely want to have the crab cakes benedict. Totally fantastic.
While it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all of the glitz and assume you don’t have any nature options at your disposal, consider the parks of Longboat Key. There’s the Quick Point Nature Preserve, the public tennis center, Bicentennial Park and Joan M. Durante. Also of note is Bayfront Park and Recreation Center, which boasts basketball and shuffleboard courts. Gotta love parks. They’re a budget traveler’s best friend.
Heavy on waterfront, white-lights-in-the-trees atmosphere, Mar Vista is definitely a seafood restaurant that will make you remember you’re on an island. While it’s certainly worth checking out at night, if you want to experience it on a budget, you’ll want to hit it for lunch. Options for less than twenty bucks at this time of day include the grouper quesadilla, coconut shrimp salad and shrimp scampi.
The Longboat Key Center for the Arts:
If you’re looking for an affordable way to experience the art scene on the island, you’ll want to experience the Longboat Key Center for the Arts. Offering free musical performances, lectures and art exhibits, this is definitely the crowning jewel of the island’s cultural scene. Check their web site for events that will be taking place while you’re in town.
Head to the Beach House:
The Beach House Restaurant on Anna Maria Island is just a short skip from the Sandpiper Inn. With a super-fun beachy vibe and free live music at dinner, this is definitely worth checking out for a sunset meal. Numerous seafood options are available for less than $20 here as well. Even during the dinner hour. My top picks? Coconut-crusted flounder, seared tuna, scallops, calamari and conch fritters.
Wine and Jazz:
The esteemed restaurant of Euphemia Haye is another one of the numerous restaurants within walking distance of the Sandpiper Inn. While it is possible to get an entrée there for less than $20 (eggplant parmesan and spicy shrimp Ceasar are both on the list), you’ll be able to save a few pennies if you head to the loft for a glass of wine or a cocktail. It’s where the restaurant patrons head after dining (via the dessert room) to enjoy drinks and world-class jazz. Some top names as well as other people of superior talent perform there on a regular basis. So spend the evening soaking up the tunes before heading back to your beach rental to star gaze.
Other nearby budget options for family fun include Fort De Soto Park and the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, FL.
Coming Soon: Sarasota on a Shoestring
Disclosure Statement: I was able to experience Longboat Key as part of a press trip hosted by the owners of the Sandpiper Inn. I received no compensation for their mention in this article, although they did provide lodging for the duration of our stay. Various area restaurants also hosted meals on this same press trip, so that I might have a chance to thoroughly experience their menu in order to knowledgeably comment on it. These gracious hosts included Mar Vista Restaurant, the Beach House, Harry’s Kitchen and Rotten Ralph’s.
Photos Courtesy of Trek Hound