Like the salty rim of a margarita glass, the area south of Tampa Bay is lined with some of the world's best beaches, including Siesta Key, which topped Dr. Beach's Best Beach pick for 2011 for its soft white sand and brilliant blue water.
But you can also soak up arts and culture in Sarasota, home of the John and Mable Ringling Museum and Cá d'Zan Mansion [5401 Bay Shore Road; (941) 359-5700], with its stunning art collection on an estate on Sarasota Bay. Or head to St. Armand's Circle, just a short walk from lush Lido Key, where Sarasota's shopping and dining hotspot is stocked with superb shops, galleries, restaurants and nightlife.
In St. Armand's Circle, pull up a sidewalk chair and watch passersby at the historic Spanish/Cuban Columbia [411 St. Armands Circle; (941) 388-3987], or head east to the swishy Southside Village neighborhood and enjoy the sophisticated New American fare at Libby's [1917 S Osprey; (941) 487-7300].
Manatee County, just north of Sarasota, is home to laid-back Anna Maria Island, Longboat Key, Bradenton and Lakewood Ranch, with its upscale boutiques, golf courses and nature trails. You can greet a manatee at the South Florida Museum [201 10th St. W, Bradenton; (941) 746-4131], home of Snooty the oldest manatee in captivity, and other manatee guests.