Since 1987 the sand on Siesta Key's beach has been judged as among the whitest and most powdery in the world in the "Great International White Sand Contest." There is a public beach in the center of the key with lifeguards, volleyball nets, tennis courts, a playground and shady spots for picnics. A few miles to the south, Crescent Beach holds fascination for snorkelers.

Although much of it is not a swimming beach, the most interesting beach is South Lido Beach on the southern tip of St. Armands Key. This is one of the spots where Sarasota Bay meets the Gulf of Mexico. Here, aqua water races up and down Big Sarasota Pass depending on the tide. Walkers will find firm sand and plenty of interesting things to look at. The beach starts on the Gulf with white-capped waves rolling in. Continuing on, South Lido runs along the Pass. Besides admiring the water, there are fishermen to stop and visit with, each accompanied by a flock of pelicans just waiting for them to catch something. The pelicans themselves are a delight for they are graceful fliers that always manage to stay just above the waves. Sail boats gracefully working their way through the pass.

A bit further along the beach is a wonderful place for setting up a picnic or a day camp as large Australian pines shade the entire area. Another quarter mile and the beach is on Sarasota Bay itself, next to a cove sheltered by mangroves. The water is not only clear, but also placid here, making it easy to observe the fish and other animals that make their home here. There are also benches here for a bit of relaxing before heading back.

Those looking for a bit of privacy instead of all this activity should head for the next key north, Longboat Key. While driving up Route 789, the main drag, look for the blue and white "Beach Access" signs labeled Neptune Avenue Beach or Mayfield Street Beach. Both are right on the Gulf but are less known, and therefore, a bit secluded. The beaches here are also quite wide and the sand is a bit softer than than found at some other beaches. These beaches are also a great spot to watch the sun set.

Photos courtesy of the Sarasota Convention & Visitors Bureau