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6 things to do in Venice, Florida

We are frequent visitors to Venice, largely because it’s home to one of my favorite campgrounds on the wild and scenic Myakka River, which flows along Venice’s eastern border on its approach to Charlotte Harbor and the Gulf of Mexico.

The city’s old world charm is captivating, and there is no shortage of things to do here.

Venice’s historic railroad depot anchors an extensive network of paved bike trails, largely traffic-free, and it’s inviting beaches serve up an endless cache of ancient shark’s teeth and shells. Venice even hosts a festival in April to celebrate its distinction as “the shark tooth capitol of the world.”

Venice, Florida, doesn’t have a canal system like its Italian namesake, but the city’s architecture reflects its Mediterranean influence.

A planned city of architectural significance

Some well-kept secrets are upstaged by the old world charm of this Mediterranean-influenced city on the Gulf Coast, conceived as one of Florida’s first planned communities in the early 20th Century.

Envisioned by wealthy Chicago businesswoman Bertha Honore Palmer as a resort destination, her heirs would abandon the ambitious project and sell the property to New York entrepreneur Dr. Fred Albee, who employed a prominent city planner to carry through with Palmer’s dream and design a “Winter White City of countless waterways.”

venice florida venezia historic district home
The Mediteranean influence is evident in this stately home in the Venezia Park Historic District, original core of the planned city. Sidewalks and pedestrian green space safely accommodate walkers, and quiet streets allow bicyclists to comfortably tour this section of town. (Photo by Ebyabe, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

The plans were drawn, but the sheer magnitude of the project led to its collapse. In the mid-1920s, a prominent railroad union picked up the banner, riding a Florida building boom and seeing potential for a lucrative real estate investment for its pension fund.

The union retained original planner John Nolan, an advocate of comprehensive planning that included open spaces, separate business and residential zones, and respect for the environment. Nolan guided installation of modern infrastructure and construction got underway.

But Florida’s real-estate boom of the 1920s was coming to an end, undermined by the poor reputation of development practices across the state, and the Venice dream was again derailed.

Nolan’s model of a well-planned community would stick, however. His original plans, as well as the original infrastructure, continued to guide development of the city.

This history unfolds as you explore the shady lanes and manicured boulevards, showcasing the Northern Italian design envisioned by its early planners, making Venice a unique and attractive architectural destination.

Park your car and take a walk. Even better, ride your bicycle through Venice’s unique neighborhoods, then hop on the multi-use Legacy Trail.

Looking for a place to eat? We like The Crow’s Nest on the South Jetty for a delightful seafood menu with a water view at Venice Inlet. Downstairs is a welcoming tavern with a more moderately priced menu but lacking the inlet view. Downtown on the north side of Centennial Park, visit cozy Côté France in the KMI Building for French cuisine. Bon appétit!

Ride your bike on the Legacy Trail 

The Legacy Trail is one of Florida’s premier bicycle rail-trails, connecting downtown Venice to Sarasota via a paved multi-use path built on an abandoned rail bed, coursing 20 miles through wilderness, across waterways, through pastures and residential neighborhoods.

The trailhead at the historic Venice Train Depot directly connects to the Venetian Waterway Park trail, extending your riding opportunity another 5 miles along and across the Intracoastal Waterway to Caspersen Park Beach.

The historic Venice Train Station
The historic Venice Train Station is a popular place to park and start your ride on either the Legacy Trail or the Venetian Waterways Trail. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Bicyclists on bridge over water.
The Legacy Trail has several scenic bridges over waterways. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
legacy trail south creek oscar scherer state park
The Legacy Trail enters Oscar Scherer State Park after crossing South Creek. (Photo by Bob Rountree)

My wife and I first explored these trails while camping at Oscar Scherer State Park in Osprey, at the halfway point between Venice and Sarasota, making this campground a perfect jumping-on point to the trail.

As mentioned above, a worthwhile side trip from the downtown Venice trailhead, is a casual ride through Venice’s bike-friendly boulevards and charming architecture evident in Venezia Park’s residential neighborhoods.

While your at the train depot, tour the circus car and the depot museum. The Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus wintered in Venice from 1962 until 1992. Exhibits show how Ringling performers lived on the circus train.

Historic Venice Train Depot, 303 East Venice Ave., Venice, FL 34285. Depot and Circus Car Tours: Saturdays, Check calendar, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Donations accepted.

Related article: Legacy Trail and Venetian Waterway Park

The Sands of Time 

Beachcombers hunt shark's teeth and shells on Casperson Beach in Venice
Beachcombers hunt for shark teeth at the surf line on Casperson Beach in Venice. (Photo by Lawrence G. Miller)

Venice’s fabulous beaches are curators of a history that goes back thousands of years, long before developers found this island paradise. These are the sands of time, and Venice bills itself as the “Shark Tooth Capital of the World.”

Ancient shark’s teeth are everywhere – in the surf or buried in sand — dating to a prehistoric era when 52-foot sharks prowled the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Currents carry the fossils into the calm waters off Venice’s beaches, where they settle near the surf line.

Sharks lose an average of one tooth a week, shedding as many as 3,000 teeth over a lifetime.

On any given day, miners can be seen with rakes and shovels, sifting the sand for shark teeth. If you don’t come prepared for the hunt, no worries. Use your eyes. I’ve picked them up by the dozens at the surf line.

The most productive hunting ground for shark teeth and shells is Caspersen Park Beach, 4100 Harbor Drive, Venice, FL 34285. Park Hours: 6 am – 8 pm.

After your day of beach combing, retire to Sharky’s on the pier at Brohard Beach for a breezy libation and coconut shrimp.

‘Window to the Past’ at Historic Spanish Point 

Window to the Past at Historic Spanish Point.
Window to the Past, the excavation of a shell midden at Historic Spanish Point. (Photo by Bob Rountree)

There never were any Spaniards at Spanish Point, but archaeological evidence shows prehistoric people lived here, well fed on the bounty of the Gulf of Mexico, as long as 5,000 years ago.

Visitors can actually see that evidence.

Between 1959 and 1962, scientists excavated burial mounds and shell middens (ancient landfills). While shell middens exist throughout Florida, this is the only one cut in half and enclosed in glass for public viewing, exposing still-buried remnants of prehistoric pottery and tools natives used in daily life..

This “Window To The Past” is enclosed within a small museum where history is exposed in words and pictures.

Sunken Garden at HIstoric Spanish Point
Bertha Palmer’s Sunken Garden is now under the care of Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, which has merged with Historic Spanish Point. (Photo by Bob Rountree)

Spanish Point was the winter estate of Chicago socialite Bertha Honore Palmer, whose dream of a prim and proper community led to the early planning of Venice.

Palmer developed gardens, incorporating farm buildings into a tropical landscape highlighted by pergolas, classic Greek columns, lawns and flower gardens.

In recent years, Sarasota’s Marie Selby Botanical Garden took over Historic Spanish Point, including Palmer’s gardens, in a rare merger of non-profits. In the end, both Spanish Point and the botanical gardens in Sarasota are expected to thrive as a result of the merger.

Regardless of management, Historic Spanish Point remains a fascinating educational experience, tracing the property’s development over multiple centuries in a scenic bayfront setting.

Before returning to Venice from Historic Spanish Point, stop at Casey Key Fish House and Tiki Bar on Blackburn Point Road for casual waterfront dining overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway. The outdoor tiki bar is a hot spot all afternoon on weekends.

Selby Gardens’ Historic Spanish Point, 401 North Tamiami Trail (U.S. 41), Osprey, FL 34229. Open daily, 9 am-5 pm. Admission: Adults, $15; Ages 5-17, $11; Children under 5, free; Members, free.

Related article: Indian mound unwrapped

The wild and scenic Myakka River 

camp venice myakka river tour boat
A tour boat operating out of Snook Haven on the Myakka River. (Photo by Bob Rountree)

The scenic Myakka River originates just above Myakka River State Park, then twists and turns 34 miles south through pristine wilderness, skirting the eastern edge of Venice, eventually emptying into Charlotte Harbor.

State-designated as a “Wild and Scenic River,” the Myakka is a paddler’s paradise, offering a natural Florida experience for kayakers and canoeists. The river also accommodates small motorboats, though motor traffic is light and easy to ignore.

Launch your boat at Snook Haven Park at the far eastern end of Venice Avenue (beyond River Road). You can rent kayaks or canoes at the concession or book a river tour aboard a 40-foot pontoon tour boat based at the Snook Haven Restaurant.

Development along the river is forever minimal, and it flows slowly, allowing an easy upstream paddle to view turtles and alligators, often sharing the same fallen tree trunks. Birds of many species are in abundance.

For perspective on its wild and scenic promise, Snook Haven was born a smuggler’s haven during Prohibition because of its dense forest. The site later became Hollywood’s choice of a filming location for multiple jungle movies, notably “Tarzan’s Revenge.” which is celebrated with movie memorabilia plastered on the walls of the Snook Haven Restaurant.

Relax with a beer, smoked meats and gator bites on the outdoor deck of the rustic Snook Haven Restaurant. Entertainment from banjo pickin’ to country rock lends ambience to this outpost where “Revenge of the Killer Turtles” and classic “Tarzan” movies were filmed.

Snook Haven Park, 5000 East Venice Ave., Venice, FL 34292. Hours: 6 am-Sunset. Park use is free. Check fees for kayak rentals and tours.

Warm Mineral Springs (North Port)

Slow-walking waders are almost cult-like in their rhythmic slog around this spring-fed pond, soaking in it’s mystical healing qualities.

In a state where the quest for the Fountain of Youth is non-stop, Warm Mineral Springs is the only warm-water spring in Florida, giving it a leg up on the wannabes.

warm mineral springs

Maintaining a constant 85 degrees at its surface, with a slight tinge of sulphur in the air, visitors by the hundreds flock here daily, wading and floating then sprawling in the sun on the crisp green lawn encircling the spring pool. Water flows through at the rate of 8 million gallons a day.

These healing waters are a big attraction for visitors from Eastern Europe, where the spring is reverently known as “Chudo Ozero,” or Miracle Lake. Many of those visitors have settled permanently nearby.

Warm Mineral Springs is a fun, if a bit eery, place to visit.

The spring is a sinkhole caused by the collapse of a cavern 30,000 years ago. Wide and shallow near the surface, the spring drops like a cone into a cave 230 feet below. Archeologists have found 10,000-year-old human remains in the sediment, suggesting it may have been a burial place in ancient times.

When you’ve had enough of the springs therapeutic powers, hop over to neighboring Englewood and imbibe at the waterfront White Elephant Pub on Manasota Key.

Warm Mineral Springs Park, 12200 San Servando Ave., North Port, FL 34287. Phone: 941-429-7275. Open 9 am – 5 pm daily. Admission: Sarasota County Residents, $15; Non-residents, $20.

Lodging

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Related Stories

Our favorite campgrounds near Venice: Camp Venice | Oscar Scherer State Park |


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