Beaches / Southwest Florida

Venice’s beaches: Shark’s teeth to be found in the sands of time

Fishing pier in Venice, Florida

Fishing pier in Venice, Florida (Photo: David Blasco)

When you arrive in Venice, it’s easy to overlook its beaches amid the sea of historic architecture you encounter.  Your first impulse is to park the car and get out and walk around downtown, perhaps take a side trip through the city’s historic residential neighborhoods.

But then you would be ignoring history that goes back thousands of years, long before man even thought of settling here.

Venice’s fabulous beaches are curators of history. They are the sands of time.

The Shark Tooth Capitol of the World

Shark's tooth on Venice Beach

Shark’s tooth in sand.

You can find shark’s teeth everywhere you look on Venice’s beaches – in the surf, at the tide line and buried in the beach sand.  You don’t have to dig very deep or look very hard to find them.

No Fear! The sharks are long gone.

These teeth date back to prehistoric times, when 52-foot sharks prowled the waters of the Gulf.  The currents carry these ancient fossils into the calm waters off Venice’s beaches, where they settle near the surf line.

Serious beach miners use special rakes or toy beach shovels, then sift the sand for the shark’s teeth. But if you don’t come prepared for the hunt, no worries. Use your eyes! I’ve picked them up at the surf line.

Don’t lose sight of the beaches themselves, though. Venice’s beaches are fabulous for sunning and swimming.

Caspersen Beach

Casperson Beach in Venice

Casperson Beach

Consistently ranked among the best beaches in Florida, Caspersen stretches south more than a mile-and-a-half beyond the end of Harbor Drive.  Although there’s plenty of free parking on hard-pack sand, you may struggle to find a convenient spot on weekends, so get there early.  Another way to get here is by bicycle along the Venetian Waterway Park’s multi-use trail.

The setting for this beach is the 177-acre Caspersen Park, a natural habitat of coastal hammocks that extends to Manasota Key, about four miles south. While most beachgoers cluster near the parking area and rest rooms, more adventurous souls do the southward trek and find the beach quite isolated, allowing full enjoyment of the soothing rhythm of Gulf breezes and gently lapping waves.

A kayak launch is located away from the beach, on the east side of the park, providing access to Lemon Bay and the Intracoastal Waterway.

South Brohard Beach and Paw Park

Venice Paw Park

Paw Park, South Brohard Beach

To say this beach is dog-friendly is an understatement.  It may be the best park for Fido anywhere in the state – and one of Venice’s best-kept secrets.  There’s a fenced play yard for your furry friend that leads to a wide open 100-yard section of dog beach.  No leash required if your dog responds to voice commands. You’ll also find picnic tables, benches and – are you ready for this – dog showers and drinking fountains for dogs!   The shady play yards are fenced and divided into sections for large dogs and small dogs, and there are even “fire hydrants” for you-know-what. Parking is free but limited.

A little farther south from Paw Park you’ll find a humans-only beach access to South Brohard Beach via a 22-acre park with a boardwalk, picnic tables, benches and showers.  This beach is often bypassed in favor of Casperson or the main beach near the pier, making it an ideal beach to relax away from the crowds.  Parking is free and the beach  is easily accessible.

Location: South Harbor Drive, across from the municipal golf course.

Brohard Beach and Fishing Pier

Venice Pier and Sharky's

Venice Pier from Sharky’s

The center of attraction at Brohard Beach is the 700-foot Venice Fishing Pier, anchored by Sharky’s on the Pier, the only beachfront restaurant and tiki bar in Venice.  Pier access is free, and you do not need a fishing license to fish. Get your gear and your bait at Papa’s Bait Shop on the pier.

The beach is big, broad and beautiful here, and it shares Casperson’s reputation as a great hunting ground for shark’s teeth.

There are several beach access points off Harbor Drive and plenty of free parking, especially near the pier. But if it’s solitude you seek, try the access from Service Club Park or Chauncy Howard Park, north of the pier.

Location:  1600 South Harbor Drive, before the entrance to the municipal golf course.

Venice Municipal Beach

Venice Municipal Beach

Venice’s Municipal Beach

The dunes covered in sea oats separate this wide and appealing beach from nearby civilization. It’s a hidden beach in plain sight, and even though there’s  a lot going on around it, you can venture out and find your own little patch of paradise.

This beach is quite popular, and parking is limited, so plan accordingly. There’s a concession, a restaurant and rest rooms under the beach’s sprawling entrance pavilion.

Scuba divers can access a reef a quarter-mile offshore, and this beach is accommodating to the disabled with reclining, floating wheelchairs that are designed to power through the sand and into the water. .

Location:  At the west end of Venice Avenue, the city’s main drag.

North Jetty Beach

Kayak launch at North Jetty Park

Kayak launch at North Jetty Park

This beach at the inlet is popular with families because of the variety of activities available to beachgoers.  It’s not actually in Venice, it’s in Nokomis, the next town north on Casey Key. On the other hand, it’s closer to downtown Venice than either Brohard or Casperson beaches, so it’s very popular with Venetians.

Parking is free and plentiful.  There are food concessions, a bait shop, a playground, volleyball courts, picnic tables rest rooms and showers. On the inland side of the park is a hard-packed launch area for small boats, kayaks and canoes with access to a convergence of bays and creeks that flow into the inlet and out to the Gulf.

Children will love the dolphins that are frequent visitors to the inlet and waterways, and the whole family can fish from the jetty and shoreline.

I’ve talked to a few local families from the Venice area, and they all applaud this park for its family entertainment value. They bring their kids here all the time.

Location:  Cross Dona Bay on U.S. 41 from downtown Venice and turn left at Albee Road. Go straight to the beach and turn left again on Casey Key Road.  Go all the way to the end.

Nokomis Beach

Nokomis Beach

Nokomis Beach

Where the boys and girls are, this beach is where the action is for local teens and 20-somethings, especially on weekends.  Parking is limited, so if you’re heading here in prime time, be sure to prepare yourself for the crowds.

This beach is a throwback, like town beaches used to be throughout Florida. It is surrounded by mom-and-pop beachfront motels with a lot of charm and character. Although I’ve never rented a room here, I’m told that the rates are quite affordable.

The beach is accessed from a boardwalk that parallels the dunes with pathways to the beach and shaded picnic areas. At the main entrance, there are rest rooms with showers, and across the street you’ll find a few local businesses that cater to the beach trade.

The 22-acre beach park extends across Casey Key Road to the Intracoastal Waterway, where you can launch your boat.

Every Saturday, near dusk, visitors can enjoy a drum circle, a somewhat primitive musical event that is gathering steam at many beaches around the state.

Location:  Off U.S. 41, at the end of Albee Road and its intersection with Casey Key Road.

Places to Eat:

T.J.  Carney’s Irish pub on the historic downtown square has outdoor sidewalk seating and a comfortable bar inside. Great place to people-watch. 231 West Venice Ave (on the south side of the square). 941-480-9244. Moderate prices. Reservations not necessary.

Sharkys is the pier restaurant on the main beach and a favorite. places to enjoy seafood. The outdoor dining area is quite large and has a tiki bar. 1600 Harbor Drive South. 941-488-1456. Moderate. No reservations.

Crow’s Nest is on the South Jetty, overlooking the inlet with a view of North Jetty Park. Dine on fresh seafood upstairs in the restaurant, then downstairs to the Tavern for entertainment. Perfect for sunset. 1968 Tarpon Center Drive. 941-484-9551. Moderate to expensive. Reservations recommended.

Roessler’s. Venerable family-owned restaurant on U.S. 41, at 2033 Varmo Way, north of Venice. Fine dining with excellent service. Continental menu, seafood specialties and excellent wine list.  Expensive. (Watch for specials off-season and weekdays.) Reservations recommended in season. 941-966-5688.

Camping

Camp Venice Retreat Privately owned campground has 100 RV sites with full hookups, including 19 shady sites on an inlet that accesses the beautiful Myakka River.  There is also a separate and well-shaded tent area, three small cabins (primitive) and a swimming pool. 4085 East Venice Ave. 941-488-0850.

Ramblers Rest is a couple of miles downriver from Camp Venice with more than 500 RV sites on the 100-acre property. This is campground is more like a small city, and they cater to snowbirds.  1300 North River Road. 941-439-4354.

Oscar Scherer State Park is a few miles north of Venice on U.S. 41 in Osprey. Shady sites, kayaking, bike trails and swimming lake. There are 104 sites suitable for RVs and tents with water and electric. Paved rail trail, Legacy Trail, runs through the park. 1843 S. Tamiami Trail, Osprey. 941-483-5956

Lodging

The Horse & Chaise Inn. Quaint bed and breakfast in historic Venice neighborhood. This 1926 Mediterranean-revival inn’s nine rooms and suites run $159 to $179 in peak season  317 Ponce de Leon, Venice. 941-488-2702.

Bentley’s Boutique Hotel. Contemporary luxury hotel with lots of upgrades from its former life as a roadside motel. Rooms open up on pool area surrounded by decks, tiki bar and beach sand. Steak house on premises. 1660 South Tamiami Trail, Osprey, FL 34229 941-966-2121

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Disclosure:  Some of the material for this article was gathered during a complimentary tour sponsored by the Sarasota County Convention and Visitors Bureau. You can visit their web site at VisitSarasota.org

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