The vacation vibe
Indeed, Siesta Key, named for an island development, is an appropriate moniker. This laid-back barrier island — about three-fourths of a mile at its widest — exudes a "Relax, you're on vacation" vibe.
Most of the action plays out on Siesta Key's Crescent Beach, named for its curved shape and spanning 2 1/2 miles. And for good reason.
It's the sand.
Thanks to Harvard's geology department, which studies such things, you learn that the clean, flour-like sand is 99 percent pure quartz grains. Those grains are very fine, without coral or shell fragments.
As you walk the beach, the sand feels cool, even in the blazing sun. That, and the beach's flatness, explains why so many walkers, joggers and even cyclists gravitate to the shore.
This soft, powdery sand packs down firm and smooth, which accounts for the elaborate sculptures that dot Crescent Beach. Not just sand castles, either, which children top with wet sand that swirls like frosting. But a menagerie, too, including a tubby manatee and fierce-looking sharks.
During the summer, a weekly one-mile kids' run takes place on Siesta Key's public beach, about a half-mile strip within Crescent Beach that stretches 600 yards wide in spots.
On Tuesday evenings, as many as 400 youngsters dash along the ocean's edge, some accompanied by parents shepherding children so young they don't walk, they toddle, until they finish the run atop dad's shoulders.
The only downside: Siesta Key's beaches are so popular that parking, which is free but limited, is problematic. Parking spots at Siesta Key's public beach number 860 and fill by early morning.
Keeping the kids busy
When it's time to cool off, the Gulf invites. It's calm with few waves to knock over the wee ones. It's shallow so kids can walk out several yards.
Near the shore, the water isn't deep enough for sharks and most fish. The biggest threat is sting rays, so remember to shuffle and stir up the sand. The rays will scoot.
Older kids gravitate to any of the eight volleyball nets on the public beach. Or they rent jet skis or fly above it all, tethered to a parasailing boat.
Another favored spot to congregate: The little shopping mecca on the beach, home to an ice cream shop, a hair braiding and temporary tattoo kiosk, a store selling beach gear, including T-shirts and flip flops, and, conveniently, an ATM.
Kids cluster at the concession stand, too, which offers everything from burgers to bratwurst.
Away from the beach, you can head to one of two marinas, which offer boat rentals and fishing trips. Or rent kayaks and watch the birds and manatees at the Jim Neville Marine Preserve at the key's south end.
Two-wheeling across town
After leaving the beach, the best way to see Siesta Key is by bike.
The island, connected to the mainland by two bridges, is only six streets at its widest. One main road cuts through the key and offers either a bike lane or sidewalk for safety.
Siesta Key is tourist-snowbird territory, whose year-round population of 12,500 swells to 20,000 during the winter. So don't expect a bonanza of stores and eateries.
Two small shopping areas, one north and one south, offer two dozen restaurants, along with ice cream emporiums, beach wear and shell shops, most independently owned.
Don't look for hotel chains, either. The island lodgings are mainly rental properties, including condos and cottages, town homes, and mom-and-pop hotels circa '50s and '60s, some still sporting jalousie windows.
If you want beachfront lodging, make sure your accommodation opens directly on the sand. There's a reason local businesses rent small wagons for families to haul coolers, rafts and other beach paraphernalia from apartments that are dozens of yards from the beach.