You’ve planned an extraordinary Gulf Coast vacation in-and-around the Sarasota, Florida area. Now you’ve found out there’s Red Tide infesting the crystal waters along Florida’s West Coast! We all know the area is a tourist hotspot for its gorgeous crystal waters and powder-like sand, along with amazing restaurants. However, there’s so much more to do in the area. Red tide blooms in unpredictable ways, and canceling a trip could cost you thousands. Instead of canceling, adjust your itinerary. There’s so much to do off the beach on the days red tide makes it impossible to enjoy the beach!
What is Red Tide and What Happens When Red Tide Blooms?
Not familiar with red tide and why you don’t want to swim in it? Red tide is made up of colonies of algae that grow out of control. Most scientists refer to them as Harmful Algal Blooms, or HABs. These HABs produce toxic or harmful effects on fish, marine mammals, shellfish, birds, and unfortunately, humans. Though red tide blooms in many bodies of water, when it blooms off the Florida Gulf Coast, microscopic algae kills fish and any shellfish survives, they become dangerous to eat.
Unfortunately, many people have a hard time being close to the beach when red tide blooms along the Gulf Coast. People often suffer with itchy eyes, coughing, and a sore throat if exposed to the toxins coming off the water. Many also experience trouble with their breathing as they get closer to the affected waters. It definitely puts a damper on your Gulf Coast vacation. The good news: it’s often unpredictable and can leave the area just as quickly as it arrived!
The Gulf of Mexico Isn’t the Only Body of Water in Western Florida
If you happen to arrive in Florida, and the red tide has decided to set up shop along your favorite Sarasota and Manatee County beaches like Siesta Key and Holmes Beach, there are plenty of other waters to enjoy! So, when you can’t experience the crystal blue waters and powder sand beaches along Florida’s Gulf Coast, don’t fret! Florida is graced with various bodies of water like gorgeous lakes, springs, and rivers.
Sarasota County is home to some of the most beautiful interior lakes in all of Florida, and these lakes provide fantastic alternatives to beaches like Siesta Key!
- Deep Hole
- Lake Clark
- Lake Sarasota
- Lower Myakka Lake
- Knight Lake
- Lake Marae
- Red Lake
- Heron Lagoon
- Little Salt Spring
Not feeling the lake vibes? No worries. When the beaches are radiating toxic fumes and horrific smells, head to one of the freshwater natural springs near Siesta Key, Florida.
- Warm Mineral Springs Park in North Port just about 45 minutes South of Siesta Key.
- Rainbow Springs State Park in Dunnellon located about 2 and half hours North of Siesta Key.
- Rock Springs Run at Kelly Park just about two and a half hours Northeast of Siesta Key, not too far from well-known Orlando!
A good rule of thumb when traveling to Sarasota during red tide, work a car rental into your travel budget so you can explore the local areas on the days red tide makes it impossible to lay on the beach and splash around in the crystal clear waters.
Skip the Florida Beaches, Lakes, Rivers & Springs and head to Water Parks
If lakes and springs don’t blow your hair back, there are other options to cool off in Florida! Whether you have kids or not, a water park can provide hours of fun in the sun and water. If you want to cool off on a hot day along the West Coast of Florida when red tide hits, or even to have a break from all your beach lounging, three water parks stand out in the area.
Splash Harbor Water Park
A great water park gem in the St. Pete/Clearwater area of Florida just a little over an hour from Siesta Key is the Splash Harbor Water Park! This one offers great water slides, a pool (or lagoon), a lazy river, a sun deck to soak up the Florida sun, a splash zone, water falls, food, mini golf and even a game room! It’s even got a great condo complex you can create a vacation package if you decide to spend a few days away from the red tide along the gulf coastline.
Adventure Island Tampa Bay
Hop in the car and drive North to Tampa’s Adventure Island for a day of slides, lazy river lounging, and maybe even enjoy its sister park Busch Gardens Tampa Bay for a few hours. Each park provides adventure for every age group and any level of excitement you can handle. They even have an APP you can download that helps you plan your day at the park, view your purchases and has a map to find attractions, restaurants, and even bathrooms that are closest to you!
If you’re traveling with younger children, Shaka-Laka Shores opened in 2023 and offers a kid-friendly water play area for the youngest members of your family.
Sunsplash Waterpark in Cape Coral
South of Siesta Key is Sun Splash Family Waterpark located in Cape Coral. If you like a smaller, more family-focused park with just as much excitement but less ride options, Sun Splash Family Waterpark is the perfect place to go. Since it’s approximately the same amount of hours south of Siesta Key as Adventure Island Tampa is North, you’ll be enjoying the fun in no time! Just remember, this park doesn’t have a wave pool, which might be exactly what you need if you have smaller children.
Let’s Not Forget About MetroLagoons
One of the best ways to enjoy a day away from the best beaches in Florida is at MetroLagoons! Depending on which location you choose to visit, you can experience clear blue waters and sandy beaches!
The closest location to the West Coast of Florida is Epperson Lagoon. It offers more than 7 acres of clear blue waters FREE of red tide, so you can swim, paddle, or kayak from morning until night right in Wesley Chapel, about two hours North of Siesta Key. You’d never know you weren’t on the beach! You’ll be surrounded by water, sand, and tons of activities like bumper boats, kayaking, and a water obstacle course.
Red Tide Doesn’t Have to Ruin Your Gulf Coast Vacation Plans
Picturing those gorgeous crystal blue waters and white powder-like Siesta Key beach along the Gulf Coast of Florida can make anyone’s heart skip a beat. Planning the perfect West Coast Florida trip takes time, lots of planning, and plenty of money. Money you can’t often get back if you need to cancel because red tide blooms have invaded the Gulf of Mexico. So don’t cancel, just pivot.
At the end of the day, flexibility is the name of the game when traveling to Sarasota and Manatee County beaches. Red tide hits throughout the year, but it doesn’t have to ruin your dream beach vacation! Florida has so many bodies of water to experience that are just as breathtaking as the normally crystal blue waters of Manasota Beach, Siesta Key Beach, Holmes Beach, and the like. Plus, red tide often moves out of the area just as fast as it decides to move in, and once the dead fish and seaweed is cleared off the beaches – you’ll have the chance to enjoy some fun beach days – and all those sunsets Florida beaches are famous for.
Red tide might just be the best thing to happen on your next Western Florida vacation! Without it, you’d probably never even consider exploring all the hidden gems beyond the beaches along the Gulf of Mexico. Take your dream vacation regardless of the threat of red tide, because it’s completely unpredictable and may not overshadow your entire trip. When the red tide is at its worst, there are so many other places to experience and all have water involved!
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