LONGBOAT KEY, FLA - When Gail Loefgren talks about the “lure” of Longboat Key, she speaks from experience. Loefgren, the president of the Longboat Key Chamber of Commerce, is originally from St. Louis. So, just like many of the people she has served in her position over the last 18 years, she is a transplant.
“I see it happen all of the time,” she says. “People come and vacation for a couple weeks and then decide to spend a month the next time they visit. Before you know it, they’re buying a condo and living here six months out of the year. Then, eventually, they sell their home up north and become full-time residents. It’s a natural progression. And, really, who could blame them?”
The question is, of course, rhetoric. Spend just a couple of hours on this 41.4-kilometre-long oasis tucked just south of Anna Maria Island, between Sarasota Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, and it’s not difficult to argue why anyone — particularly a hardened northerner — would want to call it home.
There’s good reason Longboat Key was named the No. 9 best island in the U.S. in Conde Nast Traveler’s 2015 Readers’ Choice Awards. Year-round sunshine and tranquility. Staggering sunsets. World-class beaches, resorts, restaurants and golf. Culture and arts. Wildlife. Add it all up and you have a population that swells from 6,800 in the offseason to 21,000 in the first six months of the year.
The diverse demographic of vacationers Longboat Key attracts is akin to the amount of recreational activities available. Families, honeymooners, baby boomers and buddy trippers — they’re all drawn to the island and they come from Canada, Russia, South America, Europe and many parts of the U.S., particularly the Midwest. If your group wants to be on the move from sunrise to sunset, there is biking, boating, golf, tennis and shopping. Or if you prefer to kick into relaxation mode, Longboat Key will happily oblige with its lazy beaches and spa options.
“We really can accommodate any group with any kind of itinerary,” says Loefgren. “The area itself is so peaceful and beautiful. The beaches aren’t overcrowded like you would see in Fort Lauderdale and our city fathers have done a really good job of protecting the look of the island; signage is restricted and there’s not a lot of neon.
“On the other hand, if you’re looking for nightlife or shopping, St. Armands Circle is right over the bridge and you can spend the day there or have a good time into the late hours of the evening. Sarasota offers another whole list of options and Tampa is just an hour away, so our location is really perfect for anyone.”
Above: Family Fun is the only rule at Longboat Key.
But even with those nearby options, Longboat Key is the draw and you won’t want to stray too far, too often. Many vacationers end up at The Resort at Longboat Key, located less than five kilometres from the famed St. Armands Circle on the southern tip of the key. The resort spans across five buildings on 440 acres of oceanfront property, offering an endless stream of 24/7 staggering views. There are 223 units that include two-bedroom, 1,750-square-foot suites with private balconies, perfect for families.
Ocean Properties, one of the largest privately held hotel management and development companies in North America, bought the resort in 2012 and has since made millions of dollars of tangible upgrades, including the spa, pools, locker rooms, its six restaurants and, most notably, on the golf course.
In 2015, the resort completed an extensive renovation of its two courses that combine for 45 holes, replacing the Bermuda grass on the tees, greens and fairways with the more saltwater tolerable and environmentally sensitive Platinum paspalum.
The Links on Longboat, located steps away from the main resort, was formerly named the Islandside Course and features 5,000 palm trees, pink and white oleander and water hazards on all 18 holes. The layout here is dramatically different than the 27 holes at the Harbourside Golf Course, seven kilometre down the road and accessible via a complimentary shuttle service provided by the resort. The Blue and Red Courses at Harbourside, which offer numerous ocean-side holes, have already received the paspalum treatment while the White Course, as well as the driving ranges at both courses, will have the new turf installed this year. In addition to the turf, new carts with GPS were purchased, the cart paths were replaced and the courses were slightly re-designed by architect Ron Garl, creating more of an “island feel” to the golf experience.
“The feedback from our guests and members has been outstanding,” said General Manager Jeff Mayers. “The golf courses now provide more of a resort look and feel.
“We have 45 holes of golf and each course provide a different challenge. That’s what our golfers love most. You’ll use every club in the bag and never have the same kind of round twice.”
The resort also has a first-rate tennis facility called the Tennis Gardens, offering 20 Har-Tru (green clay) courts with an underground watering system that provides consistent conditions all day, no matter what the weather may be. Mayers also mentions the resort’s 291-slip Sarasota Marina as an amenity that really sets it apart.
Above: Endless stretches of beaches make Longboat Key a Florida treasure.
“People can sail in and stay in their boats or stay at the resort and either way they have full access of all of our resort amenities,” he says.
Later this year, Longboat Key will see another resort option unveiled when Zota Beach Resort opens 16 kilometres north of The Resort at Longboat Key. Owned and operated by the Opal Collection, the resort will have 87 guest rooms and suites in a “secluded ambiance” while offering 2,500 square feet of flexible meeting space, something Loefgren said is the area is currently lacking.
Zota Beach Resort, like The Resort at Longboat Key Club, sits directly on the Gulf of Mexico and — like the rest of the key — will most certainly draw a crowd toward the end of each day.
“The sunset here is stunning,” adds Loefgren. “Every day as I leave my office I see people gathering in different spots. It’s a daily tradition and it’s worth stopping what you’re doing to watch. It makes you realize how special this place is. I certainly will never get sick of seeing it.”
For more information on The Resort at Longboat Key Club, go to www.longboatkeyclub.com
/ The fastest way for Canadians to get to Longboat Key is via Tampa or Orlando. Air Canada and WestJet both offer service to Tampa and Orlando from various Canadian cities.