Many of the area's 40-plus miles of beaches are occupied by hotels and condominium complexes, but there are excellent public beaches as well. The area's most popular is Siesta Key Public Beach, rated number 2 on Dr. Beach's 2010 Top Beaches list, with a picnic area, a 700-car parking lot, crowds of families, and quartz sand reminiscent of the white beaches in Northwest Florida. There's also beach access at Siesta Village, which has a plethora of casual restaurants and pubs with outdoor seating. The more secluded, quiet Turtle Beach is at Siesta Key's south end. It has shelters, boat ramps, picnic tables, and volleyball nets. Both beaches have restroom facilities. New to the area is Passage Key, a nude beach accessible only by boat, on a protected bird sanctuary. It's in the bay between the Rod 'n' Reel Pier on Anna Maria and Egmont Key.

Unless you're staying on Longboat Key, you won't be able to hit the beach there, as private houses and condos block access to the Gulf. However, do drive the length of Longboat Key and admire the luxury homes. Then take a right off St. Armands Circle onto Lido Key and North Lido Beach. The south end of the island is occupied by South Lido Beach Park, with plenty of shade -- a good spot for picnics and walks.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.