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first time exploring the area, for only 2 days

USA
Level Contributor
1,277 posts
154 reviews
first time exploring the area, for only 2 days

I have work in Tampa, but will have two free days (actually, just over -- Thursday evening through Saturday night -- I fly out of Tampa crack of dawn on Sunday morning).

I have been to Tampa before and I did not love it, or probably more likely I just did not see the right places because I was working. Mostly, I just saw the downtown area. I don't have much desire to spend more time there.

I did go to St. Pete once, and I liked that better. I visited the Dali Museum and walked around the waterfront area, and the town. There was some sort of festival going on too, which was fun.

But I am more interested this time to see the Sarasota area, and maybe Bradenton if there are interesting places to see there, and perhaps the various keys I see on the map (Longboat, Siesta, Lido, etc.).

But at this point these places are just names to me, since I have never been there. So I am looking for recommendations for places to see. I guess that depends what I like. So: I like nice walkable towns, walking on or along the beach, waterfront cafes, good seafood, natural scenery. (I don't like: huge crowds, lots of chain stores, shopping malls, strip centers). So maybe that gives you a little idea.

Given that, how would you spend two days?

Also, I have this problem of having a hotel room booked in Tampa (near TPA) for this whole time. That makes really good sense for the last night, since I will be flying out of TPA early Sunday morning, So it is good to stay near the airport the night before. But I guess I would be better off staying in the Sarasota area the first two nights, if that is the area I want to see.

The thing is I have a very inexpensive place to stay in Tampa and it seems like rooms in decent hotels for my dates are much more expensive in Sarasota (and I really don't know one area from the other there). I found this place that looks OK: "BEST WESTERN PLUS Siesta Key Gateway" and I guess I could book there for the first two nights and then return to TPA for the last night. The price is around $160/night (which is still a lot more than my heavily discounted place near TPA) but it gets good reviews.

Or is it practical for me to do what I want to do while based in a hotel near TPA? That would save me money and it would also save me moving hotels yet again. (This is part of a long business trip in various places throughout the country, with a lot of moves from one hotel to another, and while it is not all that big a deal, I could do with one less move if what I want to do is practical while staying near TPA).

I would welcome your suggestions on any of this, and particularly on places I might like to see in Bradenton, or Sarasota, or the keys, or someplace else in the area. Thanks!!

sarasota, florida
Destination Expert
for Sarasota
Level Contributor
1,951 posts
117 reviews
1. Re: first time exploring the area, for only 2 days

Downtown Sarasota is on the mainland, and there are hotels downtown--I would consider the new Aloft. You said you like natural surroundings, so thinking you wouldn't want to stay downtown?

Siesta Key has beautiful beaches, and the hotel you mentioned is on the mainland, just over the bridge. Its a plain hotel, has been a Days Inn, among other things, in a fairly convenient location. Its NOT on the island though. Siesta Key has a small village, with restaurants and shops, and some music at night. It is south of the downtown area.

Lido Key and Longboat Key are closer to downtown, just a different bridge from downtown. Just over the bridge, there are nice beaches, upscale stores and restaurants, and a walkable shopping/dining area called St Armands Circle.

One of my favorite things to do is to go kayaking. You can rent a kayak, or go with a tour--its worth it! You didn't say when you are coming--we do have a lot of people here in the winter, and rates are much higher.

Others will chime in with more info.....stay tuned.....

USA
Level Contributor
1,277 posts
154 reviews
2. Re: first time exploring the area, for only 2 days

Thank you. I appreciate your response and look forward to others. I am coming in February. It seems to be an expensive time. The Aloft you mentioned was nearly $300 a night the days I looked. That is part of the reason why -- even though it is not optimal -- I am thinking of just keeping my hotel room near Tampa airport (which is a pretty decent hotel for less than $100 a night with our heavily discounted business rate) and doing my touring from there.

Looking at a map, I thought I might get a general overview of the place if I were to drive from the Tampa airport area, to Anna Maria island, then drive all the way down 789 to St. Armonds (stopping at various places, of course), and then to Sarasota, and then maybe Siesta key, and then back at night, after dinner, to Tampa airport hotel.

Is that a realistic day trip, to get a general overview of some part of the area? I realize it would not give me an in-depth look at anything. But just as a start.

Also, when driving from Sarasota to Tampa airport (or the other way around) is it better to take 75 or 275?

Thanks!

Tampa, Florida
Level Contributor
3,694 posts
17 reviews
3. Re: first time exploring the area, for only 2 days

Winter in Florida, near the beach, is the most expensive time of the year, because of all the people who come to Florida to get away from the cold weather in the north. If you have a decent hotel near TPA for $100 per night, you should probably keep it, because you won't easily find anything along the beaches for that price.

Yes, driving to Anna Maria Island to St. Armand's Key from Tampa is realistic. You should take I-275 south through St. Petersburg. There is a toll when crossing the Skyway Bridge, but it can be paid in cash, be sure to request a receipt from the toll taker, and hang on to it in case you have an issue with your rental car company, unless you are opting in for using Sunpass for tolls (https://www.sunpass.com/rentalcar).

You could also go to St. Pete Beach which is a different town from St. Petersburg. Drive to the southern most point which is a small place called Pass-a-Grille. If you have time go to the Pinellas County Park - Ft. Desoto, there are beaches, fishing piers and a Spanish American War era fort, but no restaurants, only a snack bar.

www.pinellascounty.org/park/05_Ft_DeSoto.htm

sarasota, FL
Destination Expert
for Sarasota, Venice, Siesta Key
Level Contributor
11,296 posts
179 reviews
4. Re: first time exploring the area, for only 2 days

There are less inexpensive places to stay out by I-75 in Sarasota.

There is a Comfort Inn and others...look for places on Clark Rd., Bee Ridge Rd. or Fruitville Rd.

The Siesta Key Gateway is a good choice if you want something close to the beach.

To commute back and forth to Tampa makes no sense...February is the most crowded month here and most expensive...Spring Break..traffic is horrific...bad idea.

There are many websites with things to do..depends on your interests...

www.visitsarasota.org

Museums, parks, shopping, are galleries, St. Armands, downtown Sarasota etc etc.

You won't see it all in 2 days...

~SRQgirl

ohio
Level Contributor
535 posts
8 reviews
5. Re: first time exploring the area, for only 2 days

I will frequently stay with family who live north of Tampa and do day trips from there. While it may not be the most efficient use of my time, I feel like it's a fine alternative when I don't want to pay premium prices to be "on the beach". I do avoid driving to Clearwater, which you didn't list anyway. That seems to be the most frustrating traffic-wise.

Ft. De Soto state park and Siesta Key are my favorite places for walks on the beach.

Tampa, Florida
Level Contributor
3,694 posts
17 reviews
6. Re: first time exploring the area, for only 2 days

Ft. Desoto Park is a Pinellas County Park. So noted in case anyone tries to find it in the list of Florida State Parks and wonders why it is not included.

Edited: 23 January 2017, 14:41
ohio
Level Contributor
535 posts
8 reviews
7. Re: first time exploring the area, for only 2 days

Sorry. Thanks for the correction, DonnaFL.

USA
Level Contributor
1,277 posts
154 reviews
8. Re: first time exploring the area, for only 2 days

This is really helpful. Thanks to all of you. For some future trip, I would like to base myself in Sarasota, or on Siesta Key, and spend some time enjoying the beach and seeing the area. That would be a trip of at least a week.

For this "two days off during a business trip," I think I will keep the hotel near TPA, even though it is not so convenient for Sarasota because it will save me money and will save me yet another change of hotels. For one day, I will go to St. Pete Beach, focusing on Pass-a-Grille and Ft Desoto Park. It appears from the map that will not be a bad drive from the TPA area.

The second day, I will do more driving, with a plan, as noted above, to drive in the morning to Anna Maria island, then drive all the way down 789 to St. Armonds (with various stops), and then to downtown Sarasota, and then maybe Siesta key, and then back at night, after dinner, to my Tampa airport hotel. I guess this will involve some traffic, and will give me nothing more than a quick overview of the area, but it can show me some places I might like to spend more time when I can take a "real" trip to the area.

Any particular ideas for places to stop as I drive down 789? Should I expect this drive to involve a ton of standstill traffic? If so, I guess I might re-consider my plan.

sarasota, florida
Destination Expert
for Sarasota
Level Contributor
1,951 posts
117 reviews
9. Re: first time exploring the area, for only 2 days

I'm with SRQgirl. No way would I drive back and forth from Tampa that time of year. The drive has become downright unpleasant, due to lots of traffic and construction.

The hotels near I-75 are new-ish and nice, and convenient. Its a no-brainer for me....

USA
Level Contributor
1,277 posts
154 reviews
10. Re: first time exploring the area, for only 2 days

Maybe I need to reconsider. What parts of the drive that I have in mind are most congested?

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