All Southwest Florida beaches except for Venice are actually on the barrier islands that are really giant sandbars built up by the Gulf. The natural tendency of these sandbars over a long time is to erode on the Gulf side and gradually build up on the bay side. Most of the beaches are fine white sand. Only the Venice beaches are dark due to the high mineral content and ancient fossil remains. Do not swim at the southern end of any barrier islands because the current is extremely swift through the passes when the tide changes.
Seawalls tend to destroy the beaches so Florida now uses natural sea oats and other beach vegetation to hold the beach dunes in place against the tide. It is unlawful to remove or damage it, and most areas provide dune walkovers so visitors won’t tromp on the vegetation.
Egmont Key—a small island at the entrance to Tampa Bay. It is a designated state park and accessible only by boat. Remains of old Fort Dade reveal the strategic military importance of this key throughout history.
Anna Maria Island—a barrier island west of Bradenton with spectacular white sugary sand beaches. You’ll find public beaches in each of the three cities on the island---Anna Maria at the northern tip, Holmes Beach in the middle and Bradenton Beach at the southern end. Coquina Beach occupies the whole southern tip of the island.
Longboat Key—accessible through Sarasota or Bradenton, Longboat Key has gorgeous white sand beaches but very little public access. Parking is a problem, and residents prefer to keep the beaches exclusively for islanders.
Lido Key—three beautiful white sandy beaches just beyond St. Armands Circle, an upscale shopping district. Public facilities and parking are available.
Siesta Key—voted one of the best beaches in the world for its fine, white sugary sand, Siesta Key is a mix of residential and small commercial areas. Siesta Key Public Beach is a wide beach and a very popular destination for beach lovers. There are also many access points in Siesta Village where a dozen or cars can park and walk to the beach. Crescent Beach, so named for the shape of the land, included Point of Rocks, which is a favorite diving spot because of the rocks. Further south is Turtle Beach, now widened with more sand in the beach renourishment project. This is a smaller, less crowded beach.
Casey Key—almost entirely residential, there is no real public access until you reach the southern end at Nokomis Park and the North Jetty Park. A long jetty of rocks juts out into the Gulf of Mexico to keep the Venice Inlet open for boat traffic. There are many public facilities here with pretty sand dunes.
Venice—is the only beach along the coast that is actually on the mainland rather than a barrier island. Venice Municipal Beach is directly on the Gulf of Mexico, but the sand is hot due to the prehistoric fossilized shark’s teeth and other fossils. This ancient burying ground earned Venice the slogan of “The Shark’s Tooth Capital of the World.” Happy hunting. Many beach stores sell small mesh scoops to capture and sift through your finds. Closer to the airport in Venice is the quiet and more remote Casperson Beach. There is a long fishing pier here with Sharky’s restaurant.
Manasota Key—a very narrow island where you can see both the Gulf of Mexico and the bay at the same time. A narrow ribbon of a road winds through the mostly residential and private island. Manasota Key Beach Road between Venice and Englewood provides the northernmost access to the narrow but beautiful beach.
Further south is Blind Pass Park, which has high beach walkovers and a boat ramp on the bay side. Just off Englewood on Manasota Key is Englewood Beach, completely remodeled with a giant signature seashell sculpture and roundabout. At the very southern end of Manasota Key is Stump Pass Beach, where you can enjoy the Gulf, but don’t swim in the pass.
Boca Grande on Gasparilla Island. Beautiful but small beaches are mainly south of the little town. There is a hefty toll just to drive onto the island. There are a few marked public access points plus the smaller lighthouse beach and the large historical Boca Grande Lighthouse on the south end containing a museum of local history. This is a state park with a small fee for parking. You can pick up supplies in town. Again, be very careful about swimming near the Boca Grande Pass. This pass is the home of world-famous tarpon tournaments and you can watch sport fishermen haul in the big ones during tarpon season. The giant fish are then released to fight again.
Cayo Costa—across from Boca Grande Lighthouse on the southern end of Gasparilla Island is Cayo Costa State Park at the northern end of Captiva Island. You can only get there by boat but camping and cabins are available on one of the most remote areas along the coast. Boats run out of Bokeelia at the northern tip of Pine Island.