Sarasota for the Sun Starved
By Dalma Heyn
Had enough? Wishing you could trade in this ice for, say, locusts?
As I pour another 25 pound bag of ice melting chips along our driveway, I have a sudden brilliant insight into the true meaning of “value travel” that you won’t want to miss. Here it is: You can’t count on the weather; you can’t depend upon a great seat, nor on a meal that will feed your soul, on your air carrier–not in economy; and you can’t control connecting flight and ground transportation holdups. But you can damn well make sure you’ll be happy where you stay. And if you’re asked to pay for that certainty, let me remind you again of the ice.
On a recent trip to Sarasota, Florida, I stayed at the Hyatt Residence Club on Siesta Key Beach, the Key below both Longboat and Lido Keys. Everyone knows about the quartz-rich white sand that spreads like confectioner’s sugar over this famously touted stretch called Crescent Beach, how it feels like a doughnut underfoot and, moreover, never gets too hot. Everyone also knows about Sarasota’s rich culture— The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, The Asolo Theatre and Circus Museums, the Mote Marine Laboratory, the Sarasota Ballet. What I didn’t know is that my residence (and indeed, it’s a ”fractional” residence I’d be happy to have a fraction of) would be so homey that I’d be happy to just chill—do nothing but be at peace for a couple of days.
Set in a part of Florida that has a 1950-ish look to it, this six-storey, 44-residence beachfront spot, the only one of its kind on the Key, has been built with respect for its surroundings but with a state-of-the art sensibility. Its living areas are perfect for urban guests craving space and chic modernity. Flat-screen tvs appear in the living room, every bedroom, and in the master bath (along with—how have I missed this all my life?– toilet-seat warmers). There’s free wi-fi throughout. Name brands abound: Cuisinart pots, pans, blender and toaster; Henckel knives; Breville Pod coffeemakers; Sub-zero refrigerators, plus hardwood cabinets, stone countertops, mosaic flooring and flatware that you don’t have to explain away to your guests.
But forget guests. I was there alone, and although I was in a residence that would easily house four more people (living spaces range from 1,865 to 2920 square feet; and from two bedrooms and three baths, to two bedrooms, four baths plus den and study), it felt cozy. I decided to go out to the beach for the afternoon (umbrellas, towels, beach chairs—plus beach gear like floaters and noodles and kayaks–all included). “Don’t forget the yoga class tomorrow morning,” the manager reminded me on my way out. Seems a yoga teacher named Eva offers Beach Yoga two or three mornings a week about a mile up the beach, on the beach. The next day I attended Eva’s hour-and-a-half class, along with about 20 others, and loved it.
At lunch I asked a couple at the residence’s Cantina Bar how they and their two children, ages 8 and 10, were enjoying the Hyatt. “Do you know they upgraded us from our standard two-bedroom, three-bath unit, when we got here? We ended up with two dens that had couches that the kids loved because they could nap on them without feeling as if they were actually going to bed. And we love the people here—they act as if we live here.”
Another couple, in their forties, liked the bikes and kayaks and other water equipment provided by the Hyatt, as well as the state-of-the-art fitness equipment in the workout room—a workout room I never got to—and the massages.
I did leave to go out to eat. I loved a local Italian restaurant called Bella Roma. Some great places in Sarasota itself are: Owen’s Fish Camp, which food celeb and author Judi Gallagher named Restaurant of the Year for Sarasota Magazine (and she doesn’t pick one every year). Square One, for Buffalo burgers from Meyer Cattle Ranch, “x-rated” grilled cheese sandwiches with gruyere, cheddar and pickles on sour dough, fried pickles, double-dip onion rings and homemade cupcakes (try the banana cupcake sundae with caramel sauce, and you’ll forget about the possibility that your mailman up north might have killed himself in your driveway.
“Dives” like this are big down here, and filled with imaginative food and drink. JR’s Old Packing House passes around a hat for musicians; at New Pass Grill and Bait Shop, you get your burger at the window and eat it fast so the pelicans don’t get it first. At Chutney’s, try the mid-eastern garlic noodles, and at Piccolos, the eggplant parmesan grinder and antipasto (the Judi Gallagher way, she tells me, is without meat).
I met Judi for lunch the day after I arrived at Libby’s, where she ordered three amazing starters: Seared Tuna “Tacoshimi”—sushi-grade tuna with wasabi sour cream, radish and avocado on crisp wontons; Miso Lettuce Cups—sea bass and pickled ginger ponzu with crispy noodles; and. Philly Cheese steak rolls with chipotle catsup. (Sundays, Judi suggests bunch here at the Bloody Mary Bar, or sit outside and have “Eggs Benedicto” with biscuits.)
Pho Cali is another of Judi’s favorites—a no-atmosphere place where grilled pork is king, and is washed down with mango bubble tea.
So my advice is to go for the white sand over the red roses this Valentine’s Day; and the acquamarine-blue gulf water instead of the “Blue Heat” ice-melting chips.
Dalma Heyn is the bestselling author of two books on marriage (The Erotic Silence of the American Wife and Marriage Shock: The Transformation of Women into Wives) and one on dating (Drama Kings: The
Men Who Drive Strong Women Crazy), now out in paperback. Her travel articles and essays have appeared in various magazines, including Travel & Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler and Diversion. She has appeared both as author and social observer on Oprah!, The Today Show, Larry King Live, The Charlie Rose Show, and Good Morning America.