Straddling Florida's central Gulf Coast counties of Sarasota and Manatee, Longboat Key is part of a cluster of tiny barrier islands, accessible by a series of scenic bridges. This quiet island with expansive, uninhabited white sand beaches has racked up numerous travel destination awards, including being named Best Island Vacation Destination by Conde Nast Traveler's Reader's Choice Survey. For more information, go to longboatkeychamber.com/visitor/
Tony Pann prefers to fly US Airways directly into Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport from Washington's Reagan National Airport. From there, it's about a 15-mile drive to the island. Airfares start at around $120 one-way. From BWI-Marshall Airport, both Southwest and AirTran fly nonstop into Tampa, about 60 miles from Long Boat Key. Airfares start around $85 each way.
There are scores of lodging options on this tiny island, in the form of hotels, inns and condominiums; practically everything is directly on the beach, or within easy walking distance. If you prefer a full-service resort, try the Longboat Key Club and Resort (220 Sands Point Road, 941-383-8821, longboatkeyclub.com.) Accommodations include access to its two award-winning championship golf courses, six restaurants, waterfront pool, spa, and kid's clubs. Standard room rates begin at $220 per night and vary seasonally.
For a more intimate experience, check out the one- and two-bedroom suites at The Wicker Inn (5581 Gulf of Mexico Drive, 800-285-3481, wickerinn.com), where weekly rentals begin at about $1,200.
The Chart House, 201 Gulf of Mexico Drive 941-383-5593, chart-house.com. Tony Pann loves to toast the setting sun at this waterfront restaurant.
Yoder's, 3434 Bahia Vista St., Sarasota, 941-955-7771, yodersrestaurant.com. Pann's family always makes a trip inland to chow down on traditional Amish dishes here.
Ephemia Hay, 5540 Gulf Of Mexico Drive, 941-383-3633 euphemiahaye.com. Arguably, Longboat Key's most romantic dining spot is the Zagat-rated Ephemia Hay, in a historic wooden cottage within a tropical jungle setting. Its not-to-be-missed dishes include pistachio-crusted snapper and flambeed prime peppered steak with sweet-hot orange brandy butter sauce.
The Orioles. Exhibit your Bird Pride by catching an Orioles spring training game at Ed Smith Stadium (2700 12th St., Sarasota, 941-893-6300) in Sarasota. The season runs through March 30. For schedule, go to baltimore.orioles.mlb.com
Beaches: Be certain to check out the Longboat Key's neighboring scenic beaches, including Lido Beach, with its protected wild bird sanctuaries; Anna Maria Island's lively Coquina Beach; and Manatee and Bradenton Beach.
Shopping: Meander through Tony Pann's favorite regional shopping destination, St. Armand's Circle (starmandscircleassoc.com).
Golfing: For great views, hit the links at the spectacularly scenic Legacy Golf Club (8255 Legacy Blvd., Bradenton, 941-907-7920, legacygolfclub.com), a top-ranked Florida course where every hole is framed with sand and water. Tee fees from $99.