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Lazing on Longboat Key, Florida

January 24, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

Sandpiper Inn, Longboat Key, Florida

Hotel Review:  The Sandpiper Inn

I recently found a sleepy Florida isle snoozing between the Gulf of Mexico and Sarasota Bay; one that rarely makes national news with the exception of 9/11/2001. President Bush was on island when the tragedy broke. Another story slipped onto the pages of  USA Today naming the Mar Vista Restaurant as a top ten place to meet a millionaire husband. No surprise really, the average price of the 75+ private island homes stands at $827,000.

Longboat Key rests in Southwest Florida, 20 minutes from Sarasota, surrounded by Caribbean blue water, miles of unspoiled beaches and yes, upscale lifestyle. But, fortunately you don’t have to be a millionaire to visit. I arrived at the Sandpiper Inn and found a throw back to days of Old Florida vacationing. The lodgings offer 11 ground-floor studios, one and two bedrooms, with  fully equipped kitchens and individual patios; all rooms are non-smoking. The Sandpiper snuggles a barbeque area amidst tropical gardens, yet sits close enough to the shoreline for ocean waves to be heard all night.

At daybreak, I merely stepped outside my room and started a beach walk. I huffed along  as ribbons of  lilac slipped into dawn and sand pressed between my toes. I exercised alone with my thoughts, a few shore birds and a blue heron. Late sleepers, I guess; no one appeared during the hour.

Empty Beach

Had I turned in the opposite direction toward the main thoroughfare, I could have fallen in the entrance to Euphemia Haye. The famed restaurant holds such a superior reputation that people drive 60 miles from Tampa for dinner. Being curious, I popped in their intimate upstairs bar one evening; found a cozy room with a masterful mixologist, comfortable seating, and seductive, live jazz. First class, indeed.

Harry’s Restaurant lies further down the street, a tasty laid-back spot for breakfast, lunch or dinner or Harry’s gourmet take out (See previous post: I’m Just Wild About Harry.) Steps away stands the Backyard Bike Shop, providing rental bikes by the hour, day or week. Cycling remains the easiest way to get around the ten-mile long haven. Bike lanes are available on both sides of newly repaved main drive, which runs straight down the Key.

The Sandpiper Inn is not a B & B, they have an even better arrangement with the nearby Blue Dolphin Cafe. Guests receive a $25 voucher to spend on breakfast which is available any time of the day. Everything served at this locals hangout is prepared on premises by Culinary Institute graduates. The muffins alone are worth the trip.

Close-up of a Mote Marine Laboratory Seahorse

One of barrier island’s highlights is The Mote Marine Laboratory, a non-profit institution dedicated to marine research and conservation. Workers actively involved themselves with rescue and rehabilitation of animals during the recent Gulf disaster.

Shawn Garner ranks among the country’s top seahorse scientists and raises the species for other aquariums, zoos and science institutions.  He explained, “Only when you learn about seahorses can you fully comprehend their beauty and uniqueness and why we need to protect them.”

Mote also farms sturgeon for the marketplace and fine restaurants. Historically, the fish prized for its caviar was depleted in the wild. Mote developed the ability to clean and re-use water efficiently while raising the seafood.

Mar Vista Pier

The renown Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant was built in 1912 with rusticated concrete blocks made onsite. The original house section is considered one of the twelve oldest surviving structures on Longboat Key. Guests arrive by car or boat, tying-up at the pier. They dine at water’s edge outdoor tables below gnarly old Buttonwood trees or on a covered deck. The bayside pier glows in the evening with gorgeous underwater lights. Seafood and steamer pots containing Snow crab, Dungeness crab, shrimp, mussels, and Maine lobster tails are the house specialty. Must say, my margarita rated top-shelf honors.

Underwater Lighting- Mar Vista Pier

Sarasota considers herself the cultural capital of Florida and little Longboat Key has its own Center for the Arts. Here, residents and tourists find classes and concerts plus a lecture series in conjunction with the Historical Society.

Tom Aposporos , President of the Chamber of Commerce had reason to beam about a recent award. He said, “In 2010, Conde Nast Traveler magazine readers ranked Longboat Key number two for best island destinations in North American.” Okay, that’s a mouthful but just think, the isle beat out Vancouver Island in Canada, Key West and Nantucket. In case you are wondering, Kiawah Island, SC took the top spot.

Longboat Key Beach at Sandpiper Inn

By the time I left the Key, I was more than satiated from irresistible restaurant offerings. I eased into total relaxation; found getting around easy and the sea air intoxicating. LBK is an ideal place to kick off your shoes and savor the sunshine. More adventurous can kayak through canals and mangroves, bike in safety, tennis, golf or fish. Little wonder most guests stay a week and snowbirds return year after year. I can’t wait to go back myself, and I’m a Floridian.

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If you go:

Sandpiper Inn, 5451 Gulf of Mexico Drive, Longboat Key, FL  34228

941 383 2552

Sandpiper Inn guests enjoy the sunset from their patio


Longboat Key on Dwellable

Clowining Around at Circus Sarasota

January 18, 2011 by · Comments Off on Clowining Around at Circus Sarasota 

Chuck Sidlow Clowns

Nearly everyone remembers something special about attending their first circus: a nervousness while watching the high-wire act, the crack of the lion-trainer’s whip, the smell of elephants and peanuts. Big Top memories are multi-generational, often rekindled by adults accompanying their children to a performance. And, if you’re lucky, relived again with a grandchild.

I recently had the opportunity to watch legendary Ringling Brothers clown, Chuck Sidlow, prepare for a Circus Sarasota performance. His transformation began at his feet and worked  up to the wig on his head, with the majority of time spent on his clown face. While Chuck applied greasepaint, he explained that clowns rarely “red” their upper lip- to better show their exaggerated expressions and they generously powder their make-up to keep it in place.

Clowning has been Sidlow’s life-long profession and he takes the job seriously. He cavorts his animated body with practiced ease, knowing exactly how to maneuver it to  coax a smile onto a stranger’s face. His facial expressions move like silly putty on steroids. Mr. Sidlow provides his joyful humor therapy through Laughter Unlimited, the outreach program sponsored by Circus Sarasota to enlighten memory impaired patients.

Dolly Jacobs shows photos of her father, Lou Jacobs

I also heard famed aerialist Dolly Jacobs speak about growing up in the circus. Dolly is a headliner,  a pint-sized lady with supersized beauty inside and out. She reminisced about her famous father, Lou Jacobs– likely recognized only in his clown attire. He was renown for stuffing his body into an impossibly tiny motorized car. (Here’s a photo of the car displayed at the Ringling Museum.)

Lou Jacobs Clown Car

Dolly along with her husband, Pedro Reis, founded  Circus Sarasota, a non-profit group contributing to the community by enriching, educating and entertaining in 1997. They remain the celebrated ringleaders.

Circus Sarasota will present a one-ring tent show from February 3-26, 2011 to raise funds for these outreach programs. Their production far exceeds typical circus acts, they exhibit performances on par with the highest levels in international competitions. Gather up the gang and head to Florida’s cultural capital, Sarasota, for a family entertainment spectacular sure to create memories for children of all ages.

For more information visit www.CircusSarasota.org.

To watch Chuck Sidlow transform from street attire into a clown, please view my YouTube  presentation:


Sarasota on Dwellable

The Year in Review – 2010

January 1, 2011 by · Comments Off on The Year in Review – 2010 

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A total of 26 trips in 100 days through four countries in 2010.

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