Sand, surf and sunshine—they’re why we Venetians find ourselves with an abundance of out-of-towners this time of year. And to make entertaining and getting ready for the holidays a snap, we’re sharing just a few of the best local places for memorable waterfront dining, happy hour, holiday shopping, entertaining guests and just playing around the water.
This is by no means a comprehensive list; Venice has so much to offer! I encourage you to stroll the streets to discover unique gifts and also visit the community calendar at venicemagazineonline.com to find even more holiday fun.
Where to dine
Sharky’s on the Pier
1600 S. Harbor Drive
Sharky’s on the Pier has been serving up fresh seafood, cocktails and some of the best sunsets on the Gulf for 25 years. From a dilapidated beach concession at the entrance of the old Venice Fishing Pier, this locally owned beachside restaurant has evolved into a landmark destination for tourists. It’s also the place where locals go when they want to feel like they are on vacation. Menu favorites include blackened grouper, burgers, sandwich wraps, cocoanut shrimp and frozen margaritas.
Sharky’s has indoor dining and an expansive outdoor deck overlooking the Gulf-—the choice spot for watching sunsets, eating lunch or to share a pitcher of beer and a plate of shrimp nachos. Reservations accepted June through November. Live entertainment.
The Crows Nest
1968 Tarpon Center Drive
Elegant and romantic dining, an award-winning wine list and fresh seafood are the reasons the Crow’s Nest is consistently among the highest-rated area restaurants. With views of the marina and Intracoastal Waterway, the Crow’s Nest is a popular place to celebrate an anniversary or bring out-of-town guests.
For casual dining, head down stairs to the dark, wood-paneled tavern for a burger or late night snack. Live music most weekends. After dinner, walk a few blocks north to enjoy Gulf views at the South Jetty and Higel Park.
Beach Road Wine Bar & Bistro
1350 Beach Road, Englewood 941.474.6564
On beautiful Lemon Bay, the “Bistro” is a new addition to the popular wine bar and its vast selection of wines and beer.
Chef Elizabeth Hill, a 25-year gourmet chef from Saratoga Springs, N.Y, grows her own herbs and prepares Greek, Italian and vegetarian dishes from scratch to create healthful bistro fare. She changes the menu every four weeks to take advantage of seasonal and locally grown items, such as Bruschetta Elizabeth—grape tomatoes, goat cheese and grilled eggplant, smothered on crunchy bread. Leave room for Hill’s wildly popular Wildberry Pie. Reservations accepted.
Farlow’s on the Water
2080 S. McCall Road, Englewood
Owners Keith and Laurie Farlow have made this waterside restaurant the local go-to place for special occasions and happy hour. The menu reflects the Farlows’ Caribbean and southern roots with dishes such as Antiguan Hog Fish, crab-stuffed shrimp, corn pudding and fried green tomatoes.
The restaurant has a cozy indoor dining room as well as a wrap-around outdoor deck for dining al fresco. Outdoor kerosene lamp heating keeps the atmosphere comfortable on chilly nights.
Zeke’s Bayside Bar and Grill
779 W. Wentworth, Englewood
Located in the Royal Palm Marina, Zeke’s Bayside serves up seafood and burgers in a casual waterside atmosphere, just a few blocks from historic Dearborn Street. It also features live music several nights a week. Call for times and dates. Restaurant specialties include conch fritters; Seafood Po’ Boys, served with a zesty Creole remoulade; crab cakes, blackened tuna and more. Banquet facilities.
Where to go for happy hour
La Dolce Vita Wine Bar
217 W. Miami Ave.
La Dolce Vita—in Italian, it means “the sweet life.” And there is plenty of that to be had during happy hour at the city’s latest wine bar, in Burgundy Square. La Dolce Vita is a cozy place for small groups to chat and sip wine by the glass or share a bottle from the bar’s extensive list. Specials throughout the week; Tuesday is ladies night and mid-week “Wine down Wednesdays.” Relax on leather chairs and benches, or on the half-dozen stools lining the bar. Open Mon. through Sat., 5-10 p.m.
Vino Loco Gourmet
420 West Dearborn Street,
Englewood 941.473.VINO (8466)
Located in the heart of Olde Englewood Village, Vino Loco Gourmet offers a wine bar, tapas restaurant, and retail wine and cheese shop. Enjoy happy hour indoors or out, with a bottle of wine or by the glass. The restaurant features hummus, Spanish dips, artisan cheeses, chocolates and hand-rolled cigars.
Where to shop
219 W. Venice Ave.,
223-A W. Miami Ave., Venice
235 W. Miami Ave., Venice
11 S. Tamiami Trail, Osprey
Treasure hunting for designer clothes—that describes shopping at Fifi’s for holiday clothes. An independently owned franchise started by Fifi Queen, a North Carolina woman, Fifi’s sells high quality and designer clothes, shoes, bags and accessories at a fraction of retail price. The store is neatly organized by size and style, with glass displays filled with jewelry and upscale purses, such as a Louis Vuitton selling for $800. You will find Chico’s, Cole Haan, Liz Claiborne and whatever the store’s 4,000 consignors happen to drop off that particular week.
Fashion consultant Chris Wolf, who works in the Miami Ave. store, found us a navy blue, chiffon Talbots gown with a rhinestone accent pin for $48—perfect for formal gatherings. To find matching shoes, she sent us a few doors down to Sue Hebert, who was running Fifi’s shoe shop.
Sue found a matching pair of silver Madden pumps for $28, near a pair of Bruno Magli black pumps with gorgeous gold threading, selling for $128. Fifi’s takes consignments anytime, but clothes need to be “gently used” and be cleaned and pressed, Hebert says. Frequent Fifi’s shoppers know to look for the 30-day expiration date on tags, when prices go down about 75 percent; 20 percent on designer clothes.
141 W. Venice Avenue, Venice
The Sun Bug is the ultimate trans-generational boutique where women of all ages can find stylish clothes for the holidays. The store on the corner of Nokomis and Venice avenues carries Jag jeans in this season’s hot palette of colors; Tribal pants and dresses; Barbara Lesser; and several lines of made-in-the-U.S. clothing, in sizes zero to 16. The boutique has been a favorite of Venetians for nearly all of its 28 years. While it always has a “sale” rack, locals know to look for its bi-annual “sale” banner in the front window to get slashed prices on boutique and unusual clothing. If your holiday plans include a pool party, the Sun Bug is the place to go for a large selection of stylish bathing suits and cover-ups. The boutique carries DKNY, Calvin Klein, Miraclesuit, Longitude bathing suits for long torsos, and a wide selection of separate tops and bottoms for a customized fit. A limited selection of coordinating shoes in sizes 5 ½ to 10.
What to do
140 W. Tampa Avenue, Venice
Venice Theatre has been providing outstanding, award-winning performances since the 1950s and is the third-largest community theater in the U.S. Holiday performances include “The Sounds of Christmas,” an evening of holiday tunes sung by Venice Theatre’s most talented vocalists. Beautiful renditions of
wintertime favorites old and new will be sure to put you in the holiday spirit. All seats $24. The theater will also present the classic “A Christmas Carol,” a festive annual tradition now in its 13th year. Call the box office for tickets and a list of all performances.
Free Yoga on the Beach
At Venice Beach next to the pavilion, Mon. through Sat., 8 a.m., 9 a.m. and 6 p.m.
There are few better ways to feel the tranquility of the Gulf than to take Elin Larsen’s free beach yoga class. Tips accepted.
Don’t be intimidated by the thought of trying to get into downward dog next to a hard-bodied twenty-year-old effortlessly bending like a pretzel. It rarely happens.
Larsen’s thrice-daily beach yoga classes look more like a church gathering, with 80-year-old grandmothers reaching for the sky next to their daughters and limber teen grandchildren visiting on vacation. Then there is Mort, a 93-year-old regular yogi who does many of the poses sitting on a park bench.
“Just go at your own pace and do what is comfortable,” Elin frequently tells her class.
The Sunrise Concession
Under the Pavilion, Venice Beach
After a quick, 30-minute morning class, reward yourself with a cup of coffee, a cold juice, or an egg and cheese sandwich, which costs about $3 at the Sunrise Concession, under the beach pavilion. The concession is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and also offers sandwich wraps, hot dogs and hamburgers. For other cheap thrills, stop by evenings for live Bluegrass and other music. Call 941.483.9070 for times and dates.
Venice Fishing Pier
The 700-foot Venice Fishing Pier is a hub of activity for people of all ages to enjoy. Below you will find a few places to jumpstart your holiday fun.
Papa’s Bait and Snack Shop
Located on the pier, Papa’s makes impromptu activities possible by renting fishing gear and Florida “snow shovels”—the mesh-lined scoopers ideal for shelling or hunting shark’s teeth. Equipment rents for $15 a day, with a $20 deposit; bait boxes of shrimp or squid sell for $4.
“They’ll all do the same thing, but squid is our best,” says Red Greenier, who has worked at Papa’s for six years. Greenier says the best fishing is at 5:30 a.m., or early evening, when regulars catch buckets of mackerel, pompano and an occasional shark.
Working out of what looks like a toll-booth shack at Papa’s, Greenier is there most days to help novices get started with a rod and reel.
“Fish Stories Told Here” reads a sign behind the cash register and Greenier is eager to supply a few. Papa’s sells T-shirts, ice cream and snacks. Just bring your own beach chairs if you want to fish. Otherwise, stroll on the pier and take in a sunset. They are both free.
Where to rent a boat, kayak or take a cruise
Crow’s Nest Marina
1968 Tarpon Center Drive, Venice
You can rent easy-to-use electric boats and kayaks to enjoy an afternoon or evening cruising Venice’s Waterways. The 18-foot Duffy boats can accommodate up to 10 adults comfortably. Each boat has a canopy top, window enclosure and a stereo CD player with Sirius Satellite Radio. Rates range from $150 for two hours to $260 for four hours.
Beach Road Water Sports
1350 Beach Road, Englewood 941.475.9099
Sunset and dolphin cruise tours are an enchanted way to spend the holidays, especially with out-of-town guests. Beach Road Water Sports offers tours as well as boat rentals. Rent kayaks, jet skis, paddle boats, pontoons, powerboats or just relax and let experienced captains take you and your guests for an 1 ½ hour sunset tour into the Gulf, watching playful dolphins along the way.
Tours are private and groups will not be mixed. The cruise costs $25 for adults; $12.50 for children, with a $100 minimum. Boat rentals range from about $90 to $210 for four hours and about $300 for eight hours, depending on the size and type of boat; multi-day rentals are also available. Call for reservations.
Where to buy your holiday decorations
From the annual downtown Christmas Parade to the boat parade, Venetians love Christmas. And that explains why two Christmas stores have thrived within a span of a mile on Venice Island.
The Christmas Room
417 Tamiami Trail South, Venice 941.488.1096 (Don’t be surprised if it’s answered “O.K. Tire.”)
It’s Christmas all year at The Christmas Room, with slight seasonal nods to other holidays and the whims of the shop’s owner, Linda Combs.
Combs has filled what used to be an office and two bays of her husband’s O.K. Tire shop with Santas, black and white; Snowbabies, Christmas lights and multiple lines of collectible villages, such as Department 56 and Lemax.
“It’s happy,” said Combs. “I don’t know anyone else who goes to work and is happy every day.”
Trying to find the shop by its address is akin to locating the North Pole without a compass—the Christmas store is next to the Publix plaza, behind Brindley’s liquors, tucked into the O.K. Tire shop, where Combs’ husband Ralph has been relegated to half the building to operate his automotive repair business.
You know the Christmas Store is open when over-sized blow-up ornaments spill into the parking lot.
Inside, floor-to-ceiling shelves are packed with antique bulbs, hand-blown glass ornaments from Poland, and multiple lines of collectibles including Lenox, Barbie, Ginny dolls and M.J. Hummel. And then there are the really fun, inexpensive things. You can buy a glass, one-inch flip-flop ornament for about $2, a Santa whisk for $5—an ideal hostess gift Combs says—or a roll of Santa toilet paper for $6.99.
“If I like it, I buy it,” says Combs, who has operated the Christmas store for eight years. “I can cover the taste of most people.”
Erika’s Holiday Dreams and Memories
140 W. Venice Ave, Venice
Located on the corner of Nokomis and W. Venice avenues, Erika’s is an elegant boutique where glass bulbs dangle from the ceiling and collectibles neatly hang from display racks. The store features dozens of collectible ornaments with something for everyone. Have a grandchild who is a budding violinist or basketball player? Erika’s has elegant hand-blown glass violins and a variety of sports-themed ornaments to give to that special child. You can find Glassworks’ Santas wearing swim trunks; silver-plated dog ornaments in a dozen different breeds; and Baby’s First Christmas keepsake ornaments.
Beach Road Boutique
1350 Beach Road, Englewood
Sand dollar holiday ornaments; wreaths made out of shells and star fish; bags and silver jewelry—you will find them all at this waterfront gift shop that specializes in hand-made items from local artists.
Owners Jill and Scott Hemmes have owned the boutique for about four years, which adjoins the Beach Bistro and Wine Bar on Lake Lemon.
Jewish Center of Venice gift shop
600 North Auburn Road, Venice
Operated by Sisterhood, the gift shop inside the Jewish Center
carries Hanukkah plates, menorahs, children’s
toys and books and a variety of traditional items, such as mezuzahs, Kiddush cups and candlesticks. Call for hours. “We stay away from ‘made in China,’” says manager Whitney Bogges. “It’s a little bit like Disney—we have something for everyone.”
Where to hide presents
Surprise is an essential element for happy holiday giving and impossible if you have snooping children anxious to see if “Santa” delivered on the new iPhone 5. For suggestions to foil the elves, we turned to the Facebook community for some pretty ingenious suggestions:
“A nondescript box in the receiver’s closet or anything that has been in the closet for awhile,” says Andrea Darner Messina, an Englewood mother. “No one ever opens up boxes in their own closet, especially kids.”
“In the freezer for small non-electronic things. They never look there,” says Maria Reyes Rosales, a Chicago mom.
“Guest house, if you have one,” says said Joe Brower, a Venice dad. “We once took care of a neighbor’s vacation house across that street. That came in handy for a few years!”
“The doghouse,” recommended Linda Falls Cichon, a Philadelphia mom.
“My son is 13 and I would simply put them in his bedroom because he would never find it,” says Steven Zepeda, a Chicago father.
“Attic, layaway, at work,” says Sharon Kiesel, a Fort Myers mom.
“Trunk of the car or master closet,” says Susan Magers, a Venice mother of two.
“I’ve hidden presents in my neighbor’s garage and neighbors have used mine,” says Diane Lurvey, an Indianapolis mom.
I’m hoping this Where-To Guide will help inspire you to dive into the holidays. Seasons greetings!