If you’re from the Northeast -and maybe even if you’re not – going to Florida means one of two things:going to the ultra-hip, cool, and trendy South Beach, or going to see your Grandparents.Of course Grandparents-in-Florida means a lot of things:- polyester pants- canasta by the pool- early bird specials- really really bad driving- constant monitoring of every single piece of food you put in your mouth because your grandmother is obsessed with being thin and you’re not. Thin, that is.Oh, wait. Was that last one just me?Anyway, the point is, those ideas of Florida are only about the East Coast of the Peninsula. The West Coast of Florida is a whole other story.
Fifteen years ago, my parents bought a place on Longboat Key, a small, skinny island off the West Coast of Florida, about 20 minutes from downtown Sarasota. My extended family had been going down there for nearly thirty years. Before there was an Opera, or Ballet Company, or a thriving Jazz scene. Before there was architecture by Frank Lloyd Wright, a world-class aquarium, or massive hacienda’s overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. Back then, Sarasota was still pretty up-and-coming. And it had a long way to up and go.In the seventies, while the rest of Florida (i.e. the East Coast) was going condo-tower crazy, and seemed to be hot in pursuit of elminating any trace of nature as it was created, Longboat Key established zoning laws: no buidling on the enitre island (save those grandfathered in) was to be more than four stories tall.So this is Florida without massive, hulking, concrete giants blocking out the sun. This is Florida without people upon people upon people. We go to the beach, and if there are more than five other families there, we think it’s crowded. We go to the GWhiz Science Museum and it’s not a mob scene (except maybe on a rainy day), there’s a beautiful Botanical Garden, and mini-golf, and a Jungle Safari place with flamingos and tigers. There’s a circus museum, (a kid favorite) in the former home of legendary circus-man John Barnum. What there isn’t, is an early bird special in sight.When we first started going we were shocked by what we saw: people out jogging, and rollerblading. People bike riding and driving without breaking every thirty seconds for no apparent reason. And these were old people.Which brings me to my next point: Longboat Key makes you feel young. Hell, it even makes old-people seem young. But there’s something about being in your forties, and hanging out with a crowd mostly 60 and older that makes you feel like a babe.And if that ain’t worth the trip, I don’t know what is.So be bi-coastal. Give the West Coast of Florida a chance…you won’t be sorry.ps While Longboat Key hotels can be pricey, it isn’t too hard to rent a condo – even for a week or two. And nearby Siesta Key and Lido Key have more hotels in a bigger price range.