A beachcomber could build an extensive road trip around a tour of Florida's scenic fishing piers.
From the Keys to the Panhandle, dozens of historic wooden platforms offer an extension of Florida's 1,250 miles of coastline. Anglers are hooked on them, of course, but even without a rod and reel, the sound of the waves and the view of the horizon are hard to resist.
In Venice, 26 miles south of Sarasota on Florida's Gulf Coast, the 700-foot pier is the perfect spot for a stroll after lunch or dinner at Sharky's on the Pier, an iconic beachfront restaurant. On my recent visit, the eatery on Harbor Drive looked like a construction zone and it was: Sharky's is in the midst of a renovation that is expected to be finished in November.
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1600 Harbor Drive South, Venice, FL 34285, USA
Fortunately, the tiki-bar atmosphere of the restaurant's back deck on the Gulf of Mexico hasn't been affected. At lunch, I watched families searching for shells and shark's teeth on the sandy beach and I tried to catch a glimpse of what might have been caught by the fisherman returning from the pier.
A cheeseburger in paradise, indeed.
The vibe is family-friendly on the pier, where there's no admission and a fishing license isn't required to cast a line. Nearby, there are picnic shelters, sand volleyball courts and public restrooms.
A few miles south on Harbor Drive is Caspersen Beach, the longest beach in Sarasota County and the most secluded stretch of Venice's seven miles of beaches. A good option for a quiet spot among the dunes, it's also home to the annual Venice Shark's Tooth and Seafood Festival, slated for April 11-13.
Next door is Brohard Paw Park, with canine drinking fountains, dog-sized showers and access to the county's only fido-friendly beach.
If you'd like to shake the sand out of your shoes, it's only a 10-minute drive to the charming downtown business district. On tree-lined Venice Avenue, there are blocks of shops, restaurants and parks.
I browsed the shelves of brightly colored children's toys and books at Nana's, a children's shop that looks like Santa's workshop. I stopped for ice cream at Kilwins Chocolates, where glass cases filled with taffy, caramel and Key lime fudge made it hard to choose.
Visit venice-fla.com or for details. You're on your own at the Kilwins counter.