It was a beautiful Sunday with not a cloud in sight. My boyfriend Drew and I planned to go about our usual ritual. We left home around 11 a.m., headed to Siesta Key Oyster Bar for breakfast, then intended to hit the beach afterward.
Normally our strategy would have worked perfectly: arrive at SKOB in time for breakfast, but only about half an hour before lunch, so we would have the option of ordering drinks. But our plan was foiled when we came over the southern drawbridge and a line of cars as far as the eye could see were backed all the way to Siesta Key Village. A drive that normally would take only a few minutes could end up taking an hour.
“What’s going on?” Drew asked.
“Welcome to snowbird season,” I replied.
While the road to the north had bumper-to-bumper cars, the southern direction of Midnight Pass Road was completely clear of traffic.
Many of the beachgoers that day probably didn't realize that the road leads to Turtle Beach. Located on the southern tip of the island, Turtle Beach offers the same azure waters as Siesta, but the embankment is narrower with a steeper incline and the sand is a little darker in color. This beach is perfect for beachcombers who enjoy shell and shark tooth collecting.
When Siesta Beach parking lot is completely full, the lot at Turtle Beach remains easily accessible. Turtle Beach also has picnic areas, a playground, a volleyball court, and a horseshoe pit. Boaters can utilize the boat launch area and land lovers can fish under the mangrove overhangs of Blind Pass Lagoon, which are accessible from three docks fishing is permitted in the adjacent.
The beach is a lot more low-key than crowded Siesta Key Beach. The park was purchased by Sarasota County in 2006, named for the consists of around 19 acres and includes one of the only beachfront campgrounds on the west coast. There are about 44 campsites which feature full electric hookups and cable. Laundry and bathrooms are also available on site.
|Turtle Beach Campground is one of the only water-front campgrounds on the west coast.|
During season, the sites are a bit on the pricey side and rated on a sliding scale that increases the closer the site is to the beach. But the camp offers another added benefit; on almost any Sunday afternoon you will see a handsome couple saying their vows in front of the grounds.
When we arrived at Turtle Beach, we were still hungry, as we had not yet had a chance to eat. We decided to try the Turtle Beach Pub Restaurant, a little place right across the street. The café doesn't offer great deals on drinks, but the seafood is reasonably priced.
For $11.99, I ordered a scallop platter. The bay scallops were some of the best I’ve ever had; fried in a homemade batter that was comparable to the one prepared at Starfish Company in Cortez.
The restaurant also offers great appetizers starting at only $5.99, including calamari, crab poppers, coconut shrimp, grouper bites and more. Drew liked the fact that they had all the key football games on Sundays with meal and drink specials, and I liked the fact that I could go to the beach right across the street while he watched the game.
After dining on the outdoor porch, we walked around the park and found a really nice kayak and canoe launch. The benefit of boating in the area is that you have the best of both worlds; you can fish and paddle the bay, then go around the tip of the island and to the beach without having to paddle too far.
I was amazed I hadn’t discovered this little jewel of a spot sooner. The next time we head to the island, we will be foregoing Siesta Key Beach and taking the road less traveled - the one that leads to Turtle Beach. SKOB can wait until season ends.
I was a little hesitant to write about Turtle Beach, because it's such a well kept secret; but I couldn't help but sing its praises. It signifies everything I love about Florida: easy access to the water, great local seafood, and a knowing wink to all the snowbirds who think that just because a beach is busy, it makes it better.
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