You don't need a gondola to get around this Gulf Coast town, but a "Florida snow shovel" might come in handy. Even on a sunny day, you'll see people using them all over the beach, half an hour's drive south of Sarasota.
That's what beachcombers call the wire-mesh baskets attached to handles they drag through the sand. They're searching for sharks' teeth. A shopkeeper on the Venice pier holds up an ebony-colored tooth as big as his hand. "That represents a fish the size of a school bus," he says.
Fortunately, the big teeth have lost their bite. The Carcharodon megalodon sharks that lost them last swam these waters more than 10,000 years ago. Venice's dark, fossiliferous beaches hold one of the largest caches of prehistoric sharks' teeth in the United States.
Sunsets, Sodas, Seafood, And Shops
In addition to fossils, visitors can also discover miles of pristine beaches, a vintage downtown filled with shops, and a friendly vibe. Here are some jewels that are worth the trip.
Savor seafood that tastes as if it was just landed at Sharky's on the Pier. Take a stroll on the 720-foot-long pier to watch the sun go down before dinner. Delicious, homemade Key West Dijon sauce adds zip to the conch fritters ($7.95), and mango colada sauce complements the coconut shrimp ($8.50). For a main course, have grouper, salmon, and mahi mahi baked on a cedar plank and topped with a lobster-and-mushroom sauce ($21.95). 1600 South Harbor Drive; www.sharkysonthepier.com or (941) 488-1456.