Purim is a holiday celebration like no other
Siesta Key: Best for beaches
Finding a Florida beach isn’t as easy as you may think. Much of the state’s coastline has now been privatised, swallowed up behind the bougainvillea-covered walls of gated communities. And although it’s legal to wander anywhere below the high-tide line, finding a beach access point in the Sunshine State can sometimes prove to be difficult. Yet somehow, in the face of so much development, the little village of Siesta Key, on an island within the city of Sarasota, has managed to retain its old-Florida spirit. It has a low-rise centre scaled to suit pedestrians, with a kickback crowd of locals that prefer wearing flip-flops to high heels. And this community’s biggest point of pride? Its spectacular public beach.
What’s so extraordinary about Siesta Key Beach is the powdery-soft, alabastercoloured sand, which fairly glitters in the light. Unlike most other Florida beaches, whose sand is composed of shards of shell and bits of broken coral – brutal on the soles of your feet – here it’s composed of 99 per cent pure white quartz, which is a joy to walk upon. Even in the summer, when the searing sun heats the water in the Gulf of Mexico to 32˚C, the sand never seems to feel too hot. Pelicans bob on the rolling waves, which are normally measured in inches, not feet. No thundering surf, just the gentle ‘hurrahhurrah’ from the mellow emerald waters. Sandpipers dart about the flat terrain, pecking at the margin between land and sea while hunting their dinner.
Siesta Key residents colonise the beach at all hours of the day, some practising yoga and tai chi, others swilling cocktails from plastic cups. Rarely does a weekend go by without some form of organised activity taking place – whether it be sandcastle competitions or professional volleyball games.
Local girl Stephanie Strahlman spent her childhood here, and though she left to study in New York and England, she keeps coming back to Siesta Key. ‘There’s something really calming about this beach,’ she says. ‘Some say it’s a spiritual place of healing. I don’t know about that, but when I walk on the beach, I do know I leave feeling at peace.’
Visit sarasotafl.org.uk .
Where to eat
Locals hit Siesta Key Oyster Bar for fresh fish tacos, cold beer and live classic rock. Right on the village’s main strip, the outdoor deck and bar get packed every night with revellers. Call ahead to put your name on the list or you might have to wait for a couple of hours (mains from £7).
Where to stay
The Inn on Siesta Key has the perfect beach aesthetic, its apartments decorated in bright colours, each with a comfy living area and fully stocked kitchen. If it’s booked up, the charming innkeeper can recommend other nearby rentals, all within walking distance of the village and beach (from £90).
Apalachicola: Best for fishing villages
Most people don’t make it this far north. Locals call it ‘the Forgotten Coast’ – which is ironic given its unforgettable role in history. Perched at the edge of a wildly productive estuarine reserve that’s famous for its oysters and shrimps, the little fishing town of Apalachicola is also the birthplace of manmade ice, invented here in 1851. Suddenly, chilled fish could be shipped inland by rail, which gave rise to the modern seafood industry.
Modelled in 1830 after colonial-era Philadelphia, with village greens, Gothic churches, salt-box cottages and grand, turreted Queen Anne mansions, the little town has a frozen-in-time quality like a Norman Rockwell painting come to life, a portrait of Americana unspoilt by development. In a state that prides itself on its manufactured environments and theme parks, Apalachicola stands out for its sheer authenticity.