Sarasota's Outer Islands
Sarasota's sub-tropical barrier islands are called keys, each of which has its own intriguing character. Each of them is just a bridge away from the cultural center of the area.
Egmont Key State Park (Bradenton/St. Petersburg)
The island of Egmont Key has unique natural and cultural histories which have made it a valuable resource since the time settlers first arrived in Florida. Named in honor of John Perceval, the second Earl of Egmont and member of the Irish House of Commons in 1763, Egmont Key has had Spanish conquistadors and nuclear submarines pass its shores as they entered Tampa Bay. On March 3, 1847, Congress authorized funds to construct a lighthouse on Egmont. The construction was completed in May, 1848. Once completed, it was the only lighthouse between St. Marks and Key West. At the end of the third Seminole War in 1858, Egmont Key was used by the U.S. Army to detain Seminole prisoners until they could be transported to Arkansas Territory. In 1939, the Lighthouse Service was transferred to the U.S. Coast Guard, which has maintained the light as well as radio guidance equipment. The Key was designated a National Wildlife Refuge in 1974, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Visitors can spend the day on the beach sunbathing, swimming in the warm bay waters, walking through the historic ruins of Fort Dade, or walking the brick paths that remain from the days Fort Dade was an active community with 300 residents. A gopher tortoise can be seen at almost every turn as you walk the historic paths. Many visitors are treated to the sight of hummingbirds as well as other seabirds.
January through May guided walks are conducted on the 2nd and 4th Sundays of each month from 10:30 AM until 3:30 PM. These walks allow the participants to view the wildlife and natural environment of the island, learn the history of the island and tour the historic lighthouse.
Access to the island is by boat only. The park is located at the mouth of Tampa Bay, southwest of Fort DeSoto Beach. To visit Egmont Key State Park, contact one of the following ferry services for schedules and fees.
Cortez Lady (941) 761-9777 (departs from Cortez, south of Bradenton)
Capt. Bill (727) 867-8168
Capt. Daves (727) 367-4336
Capt. Franks (727) 345-4500
Capt. Kidd (727) 360-2263
Dolphin Landing (727) 360-7411
Hubbards Sea Adventures (727) 398-6577. (departs from St. Petersburg area)
Or call (727) 893-2627 for more info.
Fallen Pine Ranch Miniature Horses (Sarasota)
Location: Rainbow Ranch Acres (End of Fruitville Rd.) Sarasota (941) 322-1897
Hours: By appointment only. Norm and Judy Middleton have been raising miniatures for 22 years and are primarily responsible for turning Florida into the second largest population of "minis" in the country. They will personally guide you and your family on a tour of their pastures, filled with these very affectionate miniature horses.
Gamble Mansion (Ellenton)
3708 Patten Avenue - Ellenton. One mile West on Exit 43 off I-75, Manatee County.
Guided Tours: Thursday - Monday, 9:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m. and every hour from 1:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.
Site of the oldest building in Manatee County, the "Old South" brought back to life by the United Daughters of the Confederacy who bought this ruined mansion in 1925 and caringly reconstructed it with authentic period design, today operated by the Florida Park Service. Entrance to mansion is by guided tour only and will take 40 to 45 minutes. Call (941) 723-4536 for more info.
Gulf Coast Railroad Museum (Parrish - Manatee County)
The Florida Gulf Coast Railroad Museum, Inc. was founded to preserve and operate historic examples of railroad rolling stock, artifacts, and other aspects of railroad history. It is a not for profit Florida corporation. On weekends, you can see the sights of rural Manatee County northwest of Bradenton on a 1 1/4-hour narrated sightseeing tour aboard a 1950s diesel-engine train, 83rd Street East, off U.S. 301 in Parrish (941) 722-4272. The schedule and fares are seasonal, so call before driving out. Web Site
Linger Lodge/Restaurant & RV resort (Bradenton)
7205 Linger Lodge Road, Bradenton, FL 34202. Manatee County. (941) 755-2757
Surrounded by the Braden River, 10-acre, 100-unit recreational vehicle and park model resort with an unusually decorated and popular restaurant. Florida wildlife exhibit, and a deck overlooking a small island with wild pigs. The Linger Lodge is old Florida at its best. I-75 to exit 41 West to State Road 70. Turn South on Braden River road (63rd Street East) which turns into Linger Lodge Road. Follow to the end (4.5 miles). Private beach, boat dock, fishing, canoeing, shuffleboard, restaurant, and lounge.
Closed Mondays year-round. Closed Tuesdays May 1 to Nov. 1.
Myakka River State Park (Sarasota)
45 square miles of wetlands, grassy marshes, prairies, river floodplains, pine flatwoods and oak-palm hammocks. The premiere bird and wildlife observation park in Florida which includes a seven-mile scenic drive and more than 40 miles of hiking trails.
Oscar Scherer State Park (Sarasota)
Along with the wildlife easily observed at Oscar Scherer State Park, there are a number of recreational activities available. A small freshwater lake provides visitors with a perfect location for swimming. Fishing is enjoyed in South Creek with freshwater species found above the dam and saltwater species found below the dam. A Florida freshwater fishing license is required for all persons 16 years of age or older. See a park ranger for specific license requirements. South Creek is ideal for canoeing. Canoes may be rented at the ranger station. Join a park ranger for a guided canoe program and learn more about the park's history and plant and animal life.
Contact: Oscar Scherer State Park - 1843 S. Tamiami Trail, Osprey, FL 34229. (941) 483-5956.
Seminole Gulf Railway Dinner Train Theater (Ft. Myers)
The Dinner Train Theater will entertain you with its renowned Murder Mysteries aboard its four 1930's - 1940's vintage rail cars. You can enjoy fine wines and your favorite drinks while your meal is being prepared fresh on board. Your five-course meal begins with a fruit and cheese platter followed by an exquisite soup du jour, fresh rolls, and garden salad. Murder Mystery Trains depart from Colonial Station in Fort Myers Wednesday through Saturday at 6:30 PM and on Sundays at 5:30 PM. Five nights a week for an evening of intrigue, food and fun. Or try one of the daytime excursion trains to the Caloosahatchee River. For more information, call 941-275-8487 or 800-SEM-GULF, or see their Web Site.
Solomon's Castle (Ona)
Featured on CNN, Better Homes & Gardens, and Extreme Homes.
This structure was built entirely by the hands of the artist, Howard S. Solomon, internationally known sculptor. The gleaming exterior is made of printing plates discarded by the local weekly newspaper. There are more than 80 interpretations of stained glass windows throughout the Castle.
Lunch, "fit for a King" is served from 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM on "The Boat in The Moat", a replica of a 60 foot 16th century Spanish galleon.
(863) 494-6077. Tours Daily 11:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. Closed Mondays AND the MONTHS of July, August and September. Web site
S.W. Florida's Wineries and Vineyards
Local Florida Wineries offering Award Winning Wine, Tastings, Tours, and Retail Sales. Web Site Here