Manasota Key, Florida: A Family Vacation on a Little-Known Tropical Island

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On the morning of our departure from Manasota Key, Florida, we walked over to the beach located across from our VRBO rental.

“Oh wow. This looks like paradise. I feel like I’m on a secret beach in Thailand.”

Gorgeous Manasota Key, Florida
Gorgeous Manasota Key Florida

The true beauty of Manasota Key wrapped me in awe: pure white sand, calm, turquoise water, a few palm trees barely swaying, and only a handful of people.  

I could laze around here all day and swim in the warm waters.

The previous two days were windy, which changed the colors, textures and feel of the ocean – while still beautiful, it didn’t have that calm tropical feel.

Now, it really did. And I was sad to leave.

Where is Manasota Key?

Manasota Key Beach
Loved walking along Manasota Key Beach

Manasota Key is an 11-mile barrier island on Florida’s Gulf Coast located south of its busier neighbors, Sarasota, and Venice. It’s about halfway between Tampa and Fort Myers.

Only a short bridge separates it from the mainland, giving even more water experiences for you to enjoy with the calmer Lemon Bay.

Manasota Key is slow-paced, pristine, and unknown – the kind of Florida island vacation of your dreams, especially traveling in COVID times. There is no shortage of personal space and fresh salty air.

We donate a percentage of our campaign fee to those local businesses and organizations that support community, the environment, and humanitarian causes. On this South Florida road trip, we supported The Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida for their Florida conservation efforts and the Hobe Sound Mural project for their work supporting local artists and bringing community together.

Englewood & Englewood Beach

Englewood beach florida

We were staying in the Englewood Beach area of the Key, which is the most popular part of the island.

Englewood Florida is split into Englewood Beach on the key, and then Englewood, the main (small) town just over the bridge on the mainland.

You’ll find more amenities in Englewood, like coffee, restaurants, and shopping.

Stay in a Manasota Key Vacation Rentals

Manasota Key Vacation Rentals
Cozy and beachy living room

Staying in a vacation rental gives you the freedom to be more self-sufficient and so never leave the island. And if you want to go to lunch, dinner or happy hour drinks, there are a few bars and restaurants on Manasota Island.

One sign of how undiscovered this island is, we did not have to wait for a table at any of the Manasota Key restaurants. Despite them being in prime locations on the water, and seemingly busy, we walked right into a table each time.

We stayed in one of the VRBO Manasota Key vacation rentals just north of Englewood Beach.

It was a short 2-minute walk across the road to the beach access and enjoyed the relaxed pace of the island, and our spacious beach bungalow with plenty of amenities and fully equipped kitchen.

It gave us an opportunity to do our school and blog work before exploring during the day. This was the beach cottage rental we stayed in.

Things to do in Manasota Key and Englewood, Fl

Despite having windy and wet conditions, we were able to see a lot of the Manasota and Englewood, Fl area and have a wonderful time.

Unlike our previous adventurous destinations on this South Central Florida road trip, Martin County and Sebring, this allowed us to have a more restful connected family beach vacation.

On Manasota Key, days are planned around sunrise (if you want to get up early), beach time, happy hour, and sunset.

All that is required is flip flops, sunscreen, and a wide friendly grin.

Stump Pass Beach State Park

people sitting on the beach
Gorgeous colors in the water

You know you’re in a special place when a state park takes up the southern end of a barrier island.

Let the photos (and soon to come videos – Reel already on Instagram) tell the story.

Stump Pass Beach State Park is one of the four barrier islands that comprise the Barrier Islands Geopark in this area. The other three are Cayo Costa, Don Pedro, Gasparilla. 

It consists of 245 acres of the Southern tip of Manasota Key and has access to pristine beaches on Lemon Bay and the Gulf Coast.

stumps pass beach state park florida

A 1.3-mile sandy nature trail takes you through the low-lying forest with pockets in the trees giving you glimpses of the wild Gulf Coast on one side and the calmer luminescent aqua waters on the other.

It’s flat and gentle with only a handful of people passing you by.

stumps pass beach manasota key

The trail ends at Stump Pass, the end of the island where the Gulf meets the bay. You will be wowed by the view.

As soon as we got to where the white sand met that beautiful water, two dolphins rose out of the water, right near the edge of the shore.

Two lucky ladies were paddle boarding and were able to get close watching them play.

This is also a good spot to spy a West Indian Manatee or a Loggerhead Sea Turtle (one of the most concentrated spots for these sightings in the world). More sea turtles nest in Manasota Florida than anywhere else on the Gulf Coast, particularly the threatened Loggerhead sea turtle.

You can hire paddle boards and kayaks from the park’s entrance. The most popular route is to kayak along the mangrove habitat of Lemon Bay towards Stump Pass and out into the Gulf of Mexico.

amazing florida state parks

There are also two uninhabited islands just east of Stumps Pass you can paddle around.

It was way too windy when we visited to do that. I hope it’s calm for you as it would be a Florida adventure to remember.

Read more in our post on Stump Pass Beach State Park

Beach days on Manasota Key

Choose your Manasota Key beach to play on for the day.

Englewood Beach

Englewood Beach, Florida
Englewood Beach

Englewood Beach is the most popular beach, where you can find beach rentals, volleyball courts and parasailing fun. It’s also near where the Englewood restaurants and bars are.

Blinds Pass Beach

Blinds Pass Beach, Florida
Blinds Pass Beach

Blinds Pass Beach is known as Middle Beach and is popular for shark tooth hunting, kayaking, or exploring the trails going in and out of the mangrove forest.

Manasota Beach

Manasota Beach is meant to be the least crowded beach in Sarasota County.

Stump Pass Beach

Stumps Pass Beach
Stumps Pass Beach

And then there is the unmissable, more remote Stumps Pass. You can only get there by boat or feet. Crowds at a minimum.

Follow a track to any patch of sand

Beach time in Manasota Key Florida
Enjoying our beach time and space

We were staying about a mile north of Englewood and our beach there was almost deserted. You can easily find your own spot of sand up and down Manasota Key.

Our rental came with beach chairs, beach umbrella, beach towels and buckets and spades.

Shark Teeth Hunting at Blinds Pass Beach

Blinds Pass Beach, Florida
Beautiful-Blinds Pass Beach

I didn’t expect to find any shark teeth at Blinds Pass Beach. We turned up empty on a previous attempt in South Carolina and was frustrated after 10 minutes.

Three minutes in of scouring the piles of seashells washed on the shore and we found our first one. We checked with a neighboring hunter to make sure it was legit.

“That looks legit to me!”

Savannah and I whooped and ran back to show Kalyra.

blinds pass beach florida

Without trying too hard we found 4 altogether, 2 of them near our beach towels where Savannah was digging up the dry sand. That was lucky as most seem to be found in the wet area where the waves meet the shore.

Close out the Day with a Beach Sunset

Sunset in Englewood Beach, Fl

Grab your beach chairs, your preferred drink, and walk on over to the beach for sunset.

It is the MAIN event on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Plan your evenings around it, whether it’s enjoying it from a restaurant or bar, or just from sitting on the front row sand seats.

In keeping with Manasota Key pace, the sunset is another reminder to stop and smell the salty sea breeze and appreciate the grandeur of an orange sky and slow conversations with your children.

A cool way to capture your family’s sunset interaction is set your GoPro (or camera) to time-lapse function, press play and then just relax.

You’ll love looking back later to see the different sunset personalities of your family members. (reel here of ours)

Englewood Farmers Market

Englewood Farmers Market
Englewood Farmers Market

We randomly stumbled upon the Englewood Farmers Market as we drove through the main Englewood town and notices scores of people wondering around. 

We’re so glad we did as it was the kind of Farmer’s Market we love and reminded us so much of those you’d find in Australia – natural bush setting with stalls filled with local produce, artisan products, good food, and live music.

We grabbed a delicious beef and gluten free empanada, a chocolate donut, and wandered around.

The markets are held every Thursday, October to May.

Places to Eat in Englewood and Manasota Key Restaurants

Sandbar Tiki and Grille

Sandbar Tiki and Grille, Manasota Key, Florida
Great cocktails and food

I landed in the right place at the Sand Bark Tiki & Grille: Jalapeno pineapple margarita served under the sun with a brand that breaks into Christ Stapleton’s Tennessee Whiskey followed by the Door’s “Love her Madly”.

If we weren’t on a family vacation in Florida, I would have settled in for hours.  

The Sand Tiki has a tropical fun vibe with an extensive menu ranging from smoked ribs and wings to burgers, salads, and fresh seafood.

If you like nachos, I saw the biggest plate of nachos go by – it’s definitely shareable.

There’s a huge outside seating area on a beach and deck overlooking the water with live music all afternoon and into the evening.

We went twice for its relaxed tropical vibe and the irresistible Jalapeno Pineapple Margarita

The Waverly Restaurant and Bar

The Waverly Restaurant and Bar
Delicious salmon

The Waverly with its upstairs dining and more casual downstairs eating was one of my favorite places to eat in the Manasota Englewood region.

There were superb sunset views from the upstairs dining. It stopped me in my restroom track. I wanted to shout you” Excuse me, can we please all stop talking and look at the magnificence outside. No conversation is that important.”

Now, I’m all for sitting outside when the weather gets above 70 and I still recommend sitting downstairs as we had cool live Motown music playing too, but the giant orange orb was mesmerizing from upstairs.

Sunset from the The Waverly Restaurant and Bar

We still had a lovely view of sunset from our table, catching most of it as it sunk and enjoying the beautiful colors in the sky after it.

The food at the Waverly was also delicious. I want to replicate my pumpkin seed crusted salmon at home. Come here for happy hour – $4 house wine, which was surprisingly good.

The Lock ‘N Key

The Lock ‘N Key

The Lock ‘N Key was the most recommended Manasota restaurant for us. Popular day and night for its spacious patio across the road from the beach.

You’ll find an extensive menu of steak, prime rib, and seafood with plenty of locally caught fresh fish.

lock n key manasota key

Lighthouse Grill at Stumps Pass

Sunset view from Lighthouse Grill at Stumps Pass
Sunset view from Lighthouse Grill at Stumps Pass

Across the bay and over those uninhabited islands, you’ll find the Lighthouse Grill, a popular place for open air dining, seafood, sunset gazing, live music, and fire pits.

I loved the live music here; the duo was a lot of fun and kept us entertained with “guess the original artist of this song” games. Their singing was also on point and played a range of songs from Elvis to Eagles to my favorite, Chris Stapleton’s Tennessee Whiskey!

Paella at Lighthouse Grill at Stumps Pass

My recommendation is the paella!

This restaurant has sunset views over the bay and is worth dining at for a different Gulf Coast sunset experience.

Breakfast: Mango Bistro

Mango Bistro, Englewood, Fl
Mango Bistro

There weren’t a lot of options for breakfast in Englewood and none on Manasota Key. The colorful Mango Bistro in Englewood will be your best breakfast spot with a wide variety of healthy options and favorites.

My avocado toast was possibly the biggest serving I’ve ever had and was the kind of delicious healthy breakfast I like.

Mango Bistro, Englewood, Fl
Avocado toast

There are plenty of options for the kids such as pancakes and French toast. Kalyra loved her bananas in pajamas, a banana rolled in a crepe with peanut butter, drizzled with chocolate and whipped cream!

Bananas in pajamas, Mango Bistro, Englewood
Bananas in pajamas

Beach Road Wine Bar & Bistro

Beach Road Wine Bar & Bistro

Another popular place for waterside and sunset views is Beach Road Wine and Bar in Englewood, Fl (mainland)

There is a limited menu with smaller sizes, but the dishes pack a punch with flavors. My mussels with lemon basil sauce was delicious.

Beach Road Wine Bar & Bistro

There is an extensive wine list here. It’s a beautiful, relaxed setting for a glass of your favorite chilled wine.

Getting to Manasota Key and Englewood

Englewood and Manasota Key is shared by the Sarasota County (to the north) and Charlotte County (south).

It’s about 45 minutes to Punta Gorda the largest city and seat of Charlotte County. We passed through here on our way from Sebring.

Fort Myers or Tampa are the nearest airports to consider flying in and out of. We flew in and out of Orlando for our Manasota Key Florida trip, which is a 2.5-hour drive.

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