Sarasota Bay Sandbars

plan that perfect sandbar adventure…

Life is better on a sandbar… and finding the perfect one in Sarasota Bay can be… well, hard.  But worry not! We have spent many years doing the hard work of researching these elusive paradises. Exhausting… but someone had to paddle up and do it!

If you are planning to be on a kayak or paddleboard around Sarasota Bay, use this guide to plan your perfect sandbar experience! Have a sandbar that didn’t make the list? Send us your comments below!

Best sandbars in Sarasota Bay?

Beer Can Island at Longboat Pass – this is our favorite sandbar… beach… island… Whatever it is, it’s gotta be one of the most beautiful places in Florida. Over the decades, the shifting sands have transformed this spot from a sandbar to an island beach and everything in between. Only accessible by hike or boat (take a kayak!), Beer Can offers an adventurous, yet totally chill experience. Also called “driftwood beach” by some locals, this place is known for its sun-baked forest of driftwood left by the old Australian Pines that grew over the decades and then became submerged by currents, then partially buried again by the shifting sands.

Peaceful swing among driftwood on secluded Beer Can Island at Longboat Pass

This beautiful stretch of sand wraps around from the bay-side of the northern end of Longboat Key, under the Longboat Pass bridge, and along the ocean-side of the island. Walk the entire stretch of beach, including Maverick’s Point at the northern tip- be careful if you explore the rocky tidepools here though (those rocks are not forgiving if you slip)! Keep walking through the white sand driftwood forest and snap some of the best instapics of your life. 

Pro tips:

  • Currents can be strong through Longboat Pass, especially during tidal changes, so use caution.
  • Pull your kayak up on the white sand beach so the tide won’t take it away while you’re off exploring.
  • If you are nervous going solo, go with an experienced kayak guide!
  • Visit this place early in the morning on a weekday if you can for the best experience.

Jewfish Key Sandbar is a very popular place for kayakers and boaters wanting to explore the clear waters of Sarasota Bay. Bring a snorkel and mask! This is the best place we know of for spotting marine wildlife- the wildlife section written below is largely based on our many amazing experiences here at the Jewfish sandbar!

Kayak tour group on the Coastal Island Tour in the crystal clear waters of Longboat PassJewfish Key was originally two smaller islands, Pickett Key and Fisherman’s Key, that grew substantially in size in the late 1930s when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began dredging the area to create the Intracoastal Waterway. According to local legend, buried under all that additional earth lies treasure, stashed by 16th century Spanish explorers as well as by pirates in later centuries. There is a lot of history here, as we have found a spearpoint and shell artifacts left by the Tocobago, Timucua or Calusa that lived in this area.

Pro tips:

  • This place can get busy on weekends and holidays and, because it’s necessary to cross a boat channel, it’s best to go with a professional guide. If you go on your own, pay special attention to the comments below regarding boaters.
  • Currents can be strong through Longboat Pass, especially during tidal changes, so use caution when paddling across the boat channel to get to this sandbar.
  • Bring an anchor or simply hold onto your kayak while you explore.
  • We recommend visiting this place early in the morning for the best experience.

Sharker’s Island is a great sandbar located a quarter mile east of Ted Sperling Nature Park, Lido Key. Sharker’s is easily accessed from the kayak launch at South Lido if you decide to rent kayaks there. We often stop here during our Mangrove Tunnels Kayak Tour because this sandbar is a great spot for kayakers to stop and stretch their legs, search for shells, and watch for dolphins and manatees. Sharker’s Island moves, shifts, disappears, and reappears through the years mostly according to the frequency of hurricanes. This spot is not usually busy but can become more crowded with boaters on weekends and holidays.

Passage Key Anna Maria Island with boatsPassage Key is another sandbar worth mentioning… this is also called “naked island” because it is clothing optional (don’t bring the kids!). This sandbar is one mile north of Anna Maria Island and accessible only by motor boat (or a very experienced kayaker).

In 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt established Passage Key as the very first National Wildlife Refuge in the nation. This was to preserve nesting colonies of native seabirds and wading birds, and still serves the same function today. At the time, Passage Key was a pristine 60-acre mangrove island with a freshwater lake, however since a powerful hurricane in 1921, it has been reduced to a low-lying sandbar that fluctuates in size and is often completely submerged during high tide. However, Passage Key is still a critically important nesting habitat and therefore landing here and walking the sandbar is strictly forbidden.

Pro tips:

  • Again, don’t bring the kiddos on this adventure.
  • We do not recommend kayaking to Passage Key- it is a long paddle and currents can be very strong.

Wildlife on the sandbars

Sandbars are excellent for wildlife viewing because they are typically located near the intersections of the Gulf of Mexico and Sarasota Bay ecosystems. These dynamic areas function as major wildlife corridors, mostly because currents continuously flush food in and out of the Bay. All sorts of animals are found at sandbars: conchs, clams, sand dollars, urchins, sea stars, sea cucumbers, stingrays, among many others.

Sea urchin, sand dollar, and shell on white sand in clear water at sandbar in Longboat Key Florida

Generally, sandbars are one of the safest places to explore when it comes to wildlife. Crabs are often found at sandbars and while they might look menacing, they are more interested in avoiding you and are very unlikely to pinch your toes. Sharks are not a major concern and you would be lucky to spot a little scalloped hammerhead roving around the sandbar looking for crabs to munch on. Manatees and dolphins spend a lot of time in these areas as well, chasing food, looking for mates, or just trying to find that perfect goldilocks water temperature.

Pro tip:

  • Glide your foot just over the surface of the sand to avoid stingrays and shells – – don’t just dredge your feet through the sand (the “stingray shuffle”) because there are shells, rocks, etc. that can hurt if you jam a toe right into them!
  • If snorkeling, bring a dive flag float and pay attention to your surroundings

More tips for your sandbar adventure...

Pack it in, pack it out!

  • Don’t leave trash in these gorgeous spots – if you came to the sandbar with it, take it with you when you leave. There are not any restrooms or facilities of any kind on these sandbars so come prepared.

Watch the currents

  • Sandbars are usually accretions of sand, sculpted by currents in areas where the bay meets the gulf. Therefore, if you are kayaking to a sandbar, you should pay attention to the strength and direction of currents, especially on new and full moons when tidal flows can be stronger. 
  • Check tides and currents before your trip (Tide Graph is a good one because it shows tidal current strength, direction, and height).

Boat traffic

  • Sandbars attract a lot of boaters. If you decide to visit a sandbar while it is busy with boaters, it’s best to approach from the shallow side, not from the deeper channel side where the motorboats would be anchored. Most sandbars are exposed at low tide but are submerged when the tide rises, so plan ahead – be sure to bring an anchor or else you’ll have to hold onto your boat if the tide is high. 

Crowds

  • Popular sandbars might not be the best option for you. There are dozens of smaller, less crowded sandbars. These sandbars are mostly unnamed. With a little e-scouting, looking at a satellite image of the area, you can find your own perfect sandbar that suits you.

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