Escape from Earth with a parasailing excursion
As the bright yellow 31-foot powerboat dubbed “Smile High” is lowered into the water at Siesta Key Marina a dozen eager faces look on with anticipation. The assembled group is composed of a family with two small children, two couples in their early 20s and another in their early 90s. As one of the only U.S. Coast Guard inspected vessels in the area, Siesta Key Parasailing is the only company around that can accommodate a group this large on one boat.
We make our way north up the intercoastal and enter the Gulf of Mexico through the pass between Lido and Siesta Keys, encountering waving fishermen beached on sandbars along the way. Captain Ken MeGahee points out some of the more expensive real estate along the north Siesta shore as our crewman, Kurt, prepares the complex lines of the parasailing rig off the back of the boat. Once we hit open waters, a push of the throttle sends the sail airborne, like a huge smiley face balloon tethered off our stern.
The first couple gets harnessed in and seated on the back platform. MeGahee accelerates and they gently float into the sky. The chute appears to get smaller as 1,200 feet of line is reeled out. He slows the boat to let them descend, pointing out how the rig acts much like a regular parachute. When my turn comes around I’m paired up with Fred Clark, who happens to be celebrating his 92nd birthday. Clark is MeGahee’s new record for the oldest person he’s flown.
We slowly drift away from the water to spectacular views of Siesta Key looking south toward Point of Rocks. The hum of the engine gets fainter as we rise and by the time we reach the pinnacle we hear nothing but a quiet breeze. Gazing out across the wide-open coastline I note familiar Sarasota landmarks. There’s no doubt in my mind, at this moment I’ve got the best view in town.
Here is a list of the places that can’t be missed on Siesta Key:
SIESTA KEY BEACH 5118 Ocean Blvd., Sarasota, 861-5000 or siestakeychamber.com. Siesta Key is a long-time contender for most beautiful white-sand beach on the planet. One of the premier places to snorkel on the entire Gulf Coast is at Point of Rocks on the south end of Siesta Key Main Beach. A drum circle is held there every Sunday around sunset.
SIESTA KEY BIKE AND KAYAK 1224 Old Stickney Point Road, Sarasota, 346-0891 or siestakeybikeandkayak.com.Whether it’s scooters, bikes, kayaks or skim boards, this shop has everything needed to get you in motion, with guided kayak tours to boot. If you’re just looking to chill, they’ve got beach chairs too.
SIESTA KEY OYSTER BAR 5238 Ocean Blvd., Siesta Key, 346-5443 or skob.com. SKOB is a long-time Siesta Key staple that’s a popular hangout for locals. Serving up standard bar and Floribbean fare, it keeps the wood and surf theme common to other village pubs, but here it feels a little more natural.
DAIQUIRI DECK 5250 Ocean Blvd., Siesta Key, 349-8697 or daiquirideck.com. If you like fried fish sandwiches and long rows of alcoholic slurpee machines, Daiquiri Deck is your spot. The owners recently closed neighboring Speakeasy, expanded the Deck and added an extensive raw bar menu.
GILLIGAN’S ISLAND BAR AND GRILL 5253 Ocean Blvd., Siesta Key, 346-8122 or gilligansislandbar.com. With a usual lineup of bar food and boat drinks, this lively nightspot has live music most nights of the week wih ladies night on Wednesdays and a blues jam on Sundays.
THE BEACH CLUB 5151 Ocean Blvd., Siesta Key, 349-6311 or beachclubsiestakey.com. This is the spring break-style party bar where everyone always winds up at the end of the night. If you can’t take someone home from The Beach Club, you’re not trying.
TURTLES 8875 Midnight Pass Road, Siesta Key, 346-2207 or turtlesrestaurant.com. Way down on the southernmost section of the island, Turtles is a casual joint that serves bar items and fresh seafood across from Turtle Beach.
BIG OLAF 5208 Ocean Blvd., Siesta Key, 349-9392. For decades, this ice cream shop has provided cold treats to overheated locals and tourists, with decadent ice cream piled into Olaf’s trademark waffle cones.
CAPTAIN CURT’S 1200 Old Stickney Point Road, Siesta Key, 349-3885 or captaincurts.com. Award-winning clam chowder, live music and big plates of steamed seafood with sides of butter highlight this casual spot near the south bridge.
BLASÉ CAFÉ 5263 Ocean Blvd., Siesta Key, 349-9822 or theblasecafe.com. This funky spot serves an array of interesting appetizers focused on seaside seafood, along with standard modern American fine dining entrées. The $5 burger is the best deal on the island.