When Jimmy Buffett was singing about a cheeseburger in paradise, his vision likely didn't revolve around the cold and rainy afternoon that was the backdrop for my road trip to the Venice pier, 26 miles south of Sarasota on Florida's Gulf Coast.
A burger and a beer seemed like a good finale to a leisurely day's drive along the coast from Port Charlotte to Manasota Key and I'd never been to the Venice pier, one of dozens of historic fishing piers that dot the Sunshine State peninsula. Fishing is the obvious draw, but even if you're not an angler, the combination of the view and the breeze on your face is enough to lower the blood pressure and uplift the spirits.
Did someone mention a breeze? It felt more like gale-force winds on my visit — chilly blasts that required a jacket and threatened several times to remove my baseball cap. The thick, clear plastic wind screens were pulled down over the open deck at Sharkey's on the Pier (sharkeysonthepier.com), the landmark restaurant so named because of the beach's reputation as a terrific spot to find shark's teeth. The shark connection is celebrated at the annual Shark's Tooth Festival, slated for April 8-10 (shakestoothfest.com). There's no fee to walk the pier.
Hopefully, the sun will be out, but even on a cloudy day, a visit to a Florida pier beats working.
You can find a similar vibe at dozens of other spots. One of my faves is the rustic boardwalk at the Flagler Beach Pier, which stretches more than 800 feet off-shore on the Atlantic Ocean between Daytona Beach and St. Augustine. It's the signature spot in a sleepy town populated by mom-and-pop businesses that include a shop specializing in ukuleles. Visit nearby High Tides at Snack Jack (snackjacks.com) for a fine beachside lunch. It's $1.50 to walk the pier, a few dollars more to fish.
In Brevard County, the Jetty Park Fishing Pier in Port Canaveral is a paved 1,200-foot walkway within a well-manicured, 35-acre retreat. Lovely bike trails wind through the hammocks and there's a secluded beach as well as restaurant options at the nearby port.
Visit OrlandoSentinel.com/postcards for more piers, including Anna Maria Island, Jacksonville and more.