Improvised waterfront seating by the tiki bar at Skeeterville: the good life is pretty simple out on the gulf coast.
If you love the road as much as I do, you know there's nothing better than having time to kill. Last weekend, on my way to Cape Coral from Orlando, I found myself in that happy place, behind the wheel of a sweet ride, not having to rush anywhere.
A friend recommended I stop by Casey Key, where I ended up spending three hours doing a whole lot of amazing nothing.
All I wanted was to see the gulf, and that I did, but I also found two tucked away spots to kick back with a cold one and meet some locals.
Casey Key is just south of Sarasota and accessible from Blackburn Road, about ten minutes from I-75. Right off a swing bridge is Skeeterville, a three-year old tiki bar named after Skeeter, a slim, soft-spoken blonde originally from Ohio. Over the years, Skeeter worked as an actress as well as a bartender and restaurant owner. She served quite a few celebrities in her heyday and if she hadn't been tending to other customers that afternoon, I would've begged her for more time to chat.
Skeeter, so named because she buzzes around busy (I guess mosquitoes are more appropriate than bees for Florida), didn't want me to know her real name, but she did insist on showing me a framed official proclamation declaring her Mayor of Skeeterville. The title is well-deserved: locals recognize her good works in the community since she moved to Florida 35 years ago.
Skeeterville attracts some nice hogs. These two Harleys belonged to women riders.
This unassuming, laid-back tiki bar doesn't exactly match the neighborhood's opulent mansions, visible in the distance among mangroves along the Intracoastal Waterway. "Rich but down to earth people live here," said Skeeter. "Really good people who care."
Skeeterville is technically in Nokomis, a census-designated place on the mainland. Pass another bridge and you're on exclusive Casey Key, a sliver of barrier island much longer than it is wide. A narrow, winding road passes luxury homes to the east with beachfront access to the west. Don't even think of swimming here: "private beach" signs are as abundant as sea oats swaying in the breeze.
It's beautiful, nonetheless, and worth a lazy afternoon drive.
Casey Key aint exactly a shanty town. Talk about skinny real estate: you can spit from that portico to the beach.
FISH CAMP AND NORTH JETTY PARK
At the sound end of Casey Key, us mere middle and lower class plebeians will find quaint motels and plenty of beach access ending at North Jetty Park, a gorgeous beach flanked by tall trees and dunes. A cut offers boat access and a rock jetty is shore casting heaven.
North Jetty Fish Camp is quite possibly the most casual hangout you'll ever find, where loitering ("to idle with no apparent purpose") should be an art form or at least a kind of zen meditation. There's not much here but a few tables and benches under shady trees, and a rickety old bait shop offering beer, wine and snacks.
Perfect for winding down, if you ask me.
Locals were hanging out, their butts stuck to the benches after many long conversations there, surely. A May-December couple was sitting looking out at the water, holding hands. Some swarthy guy was fishing from the back of his truck and blasting rock and roll. The sound annoyed me because it drowned out the swish of the surf, but then I consoled myself: at least it wasn't reggaeton.
North Jetty Park beach has everything you need: dunes, sea oats, a jetty, picnic tables, restrooms, showers and free parking. Completely free of bullshit, too.
IF YOU GO
Make sure to check out the official website for the Sarasota Convention & Visitors Bureau. More information: Casey Key Fish House and North Jetty Park.
My delightful afternoon on the gulf coast was supported in part by GM Southeast. I explored the area in a Hybrid Chevy Tahoe.