Fly in for tasty Caribbean/American cuisine and panoramic runway views. Or, amble down to the pier for fresh seafood. Look for shark teeth on the beach and revel in the tropical climate. How many airports offer an afternoon like that? Welcome to Venice—Florida, that is.
I’ve spent countless hours at the famous Venice Beach, California, a mecca for bodybuilders (like me) and others who try to avoid living by the rules. But there’s another Venice in America—Venice, Florida, about halfway down the Gulf Coast. This Venice also has a canal, sidewalk cafés, and beautiful beaches. Best of all, it has an airport, so it’s a great destination for pilots.
Good times can start right at the airport with the Suncoast Café. Enjoy panoramic views of the runway outside and plenty of warbird art inside. The St. Lucian Breakfast Quesadilla comes with a side of plantains, or, try the Island Jerk Chicken. Each April, the city holds a Sharks Tooth Festival right at the airport! Fly in to see or buy amazing shark teeth, prized by collectors, and sample the food, arts and crafts, and entertainment. Come back in November for the Chalk Art Festival, when the airport tarmac comes alive with incredible 3-D chalk art—the best I have ever seen. Clean, quiet Caspersen Beach is just west of the airport. Swim or snorkel in the warm water, watch the pelicans, or look for fossilized shark teeth in the sand. Brohard Beach and Paw Park, also just west of the airport, is the only local beach that allows dogs.
Walk up to the pier for lunch or dinner at Sharky’s on the Pier, Venice’s only beachfront eatery. You’ll find a tiki bar, live music, and plenty of seafood like ginger Thai shrimp. Downtown Venice still retains much of its original Northern Italian Renaissance architecture, which makes a stroll up Venice Avenue especially rewarding. As in Venice, California, Canary Island palms line the streets, but you’ll also find banyan trees, art galleries, and quality shops like Venice Island Antiques. Stop by Sea Pleasures and Treasures, a somewhat touristy shop that displays an impressive collection of fossilized shark teeth plucked from local beaches.
Rather than walking, you can reserve a bicycle, and have it delivered to the airport for free—what could be easier? You can ride north on the Venetian Waterway Park, which runs along the west side of the Intracoastal Waterway. Stop at the Old Venice Depot beneath the Venice Avenue Bridge and check out the restored Pullman car. You’ll also see a statue of Gunther Gebel-Williams, world famous animal trainer and mega-star of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Venice was the winter home of the circus, and animals were unloaded at this depot--it must have been quite a sight!
Birders will want to visit the Venice Area Audubon Rookery, a small island in a lake where thousands of herons and egrets nest. Bring your telephoto lens so you don't disturb the birds. At Oscar Sherer State Park, you can hike or rent a canoe or kayak and look for bobcats and rare Florida scrub jays. If there's a jay in the vicinity, you'll know it from their single, loud calls. You can also rent a kayak and paddle up or down Intracoastal Waterway. Mangroves grow around its small islands, providing good habitat for even more birds, as well as small fish. Like to golf? You may have noticed all the golf courses from the air--six courses within five miles of downtown, to be precise. Play your heart out on the Pelican Pointe Golf and Country Club's 27 holes. of championship golf plus a pro shop and dining. If you get hungry, they have a restaurant, too.
Even if you don't eat at the course, you won’t go hungry here: Enjoy a frozen concoction and the raw bar at Daiquiri Deck Island of Venice. Choose a fresh, refined seafood meal at The Crow’s Nest Marina Restaurant, near the kayak rental marina. Or, sit on the sidewalk at T.J. Carney’s Pub and Grille and talk to the locals. For a place to stay that’s close to downtown, the beach, and the airport, go for the huge rooms and kitchenettes at Inn at the Beach Resort or the Venice Beach Villas with free bikes. So, fly in and discover America’s other Venice Beach, in Florida!
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