A visit to this sleepy, seaside city invites equestrian-minded cruisers to experience “horse power” at its best.
When someone mentions a trip to Venice, it’s probable that the famous Italian city comes to mind. A close second would be Venice, California, with its beachy, boardwalk vibe. But in the Venice on Florida’s southern Gulf coast, you’ll find artistry of another kind and beaches that rank among America’s top rated. Once you see it for yourself, you’ll find this Venice remains all at once mysterious and inviting.
Venice offers 14 miles of sweeping shoreline that brushes up against the Gulf of Mexico. The beaches curate history, and along them you’ll find barefoot beachcombers diligently sifting through the sand as they search for gray, brown and black fossilized shark teeth. The city rests upon a fossil layer that dates back thousands of years to the time when the whole of Florida was under water. This makes Venice’s beaches one of the best places to find these fossilized artifacts and reaffirms the city’s claim to the moniker of “Shark Tooth Capital of the World.”
Not far from the beach, Venice Avenue’s architecture is inspired by classic Mediterranean design, which echoes in the brightly colored pink stucco buildings. You won’t find any chain stores here. Instead, a nice variety of boutique shops sell everything from nautical novelties to shark teeth necklaces. Venice’s orderly and well-planned design renders the coastal city as one of the most biker-friendly vacation spots in the state. Check out the Venetian Waterway Park as well as the Legacy Trail to avoid cars altogether and experience a scenic, peaceful ride through winding neighborhoods and shady foliage.
Venice is also a haven for cruisers. The Crow’s Nest Marina, located right inside the Venice Inlet, caters to transients and is one of the best places to dock the boat overnight. With Venice Beach only 200 yards away, the beachcombers and sun worshippers in your crew have easy access to the shoreline.
One of Venice’s best-kept secrets, however, is its quietly growing equestrian community. Florida is widely known for all things equine, from the Winter Equestrian Festival (the world’s largest horse show) in Wellington to the rolling pastures of Ocala, but it’s about time to add Venice to the list.
The family-run Fox Lea Farm (foxleafarm.com) is helping Venice rise in the rankings as a top equestrian mecca. The sprawling farm hosts dozens of horse shows annually and draws hundreds of spectators and participants to the area. Vendors arrive as well and help pump almost $75 million a year into the local economy, according to the Sarasota County Sports Commission.
Even though the facility draws some of the sport’s fiercest competitors, including multiple Olympians, the atmosphere fostered by Venice lends to a more relaxed, low-key setting. The increasing prestige of the show will test whether Venice will be able to keep its down-home soul, but for the people who visit and compete here, the venue remains a popular favorite. For many competitors, showing at Fox Lea Farm and being able to benefit from the Venice area brings a nice change of pace to their frequently hectic show routine.
If you’re looking to see the up-and-coming showgrounds, heading down Auburn Road will lead you right to the farm’s entrance. The long driveway is framed by shady foliage that eventually clears and allows for views of the show rings and multiple pastures. You’ll probably be able to spot a child trying to coax a stubborn pony to behave or see the larger show horses grazing peacefully along the driveway.
The Fox Lea show circuit caters to riders that participate in hunters, equitation and show jumping. Each discipline offers entertainment for every spectator, although sometimes knowing what you’re watching beforehand can help you better enjoy the experience. A hunter class will judge the horse as it goes around a series of jumps, while an equitation class will judge the rider on their position and ability to make every jump look effortless. In a show jumping class, the jumps are normally larger than in the other disciplines. The winner is determined by the fastest time around the course, which always leads to an edge-of-your-seat experience for the audience.
The United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) has approved Fox Lea to launch a brand new six-week winter circuit called the Venice Equestrian Tour (VET). The circuit begins on January 25th and will continue through March 5th. Each circuit “week” begins on Wednesday and ends on Sunday, meaning that competitors (and showgoers alike) will be able to experience everything Venice has to offer during their days off. Each week will also showcase a $25,000 Grand Prix that will include participants as famous in the equestrian world as Michael Jordan is in basketball.
Part of the reason for Fox Lea’s success is the quiet atmosphere of Venice. The farm draws equine enthusiasts from around the country who love to “showcation” and are looking to combine both turf and surf. When things around the showgrounds settle down on Sunday afternoon, many of the show’s participants and riders head to the beach or their boats for a few days to relax, rest and recharge before another week at the show begins.
The Venice Municipal Beach is as delightful as the surrounding town. It features wide, open stretches of sand as far as the eye can see, and there’s no shortage of things to do. Instructors offer free yoga sessions each morning starting at 8AM that are perfect for beginners. If yoga isn’t your thing, there’s also the option to rent personal watercraft and toys for the day. To search for the area’s famous shark teeth, venture on over to Caspersen Beach, which features direct access to the Venetian Waterway Trail.
Recharge and participate in a Venice tradition by grabbing a drink and some fresh fish tacos at Sharky’s on the Pier. This seafood restaurant serves great seafood in an atmosphere as relaxed as the beach. Afterward, head on out to the end of the pier to try your hand at fishing or just admire the view. The sunrise and sunset in Venice are both noteworthy, and the pier is a perfect place to catch glimpses of both after a long day. When you wake up the next morning, you can do it all over again.
The Crows Nest
1968 Tarpon Center Drive
(941) 484-7661 • crowsnest-venice.com
Fisherman’s Wharf Marina
509 North Tamiami Trail
(941) 486-0500 • fishermanswharffl.com
The Venice Yacht Club
1330 Tarpon Center Drive
(941) 488-7708 • veniceyachtclub.com
200 Saint Augustine Avenue • (941) 412-9898
Sharky’s on the Pier
1600 Harbor Drive South
(941) 488-1456 • sharkysonthepier.com
By Susanna Botkin, Southern Boating Magazine January 2017