Loads of hidden treasures make Venice, Florida, a real gem.

Bird Pier

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.

Comb the sand for sharks' teeth on Caspersen Beach. The longest beach in Sarasota County stretches for almost 10 miles south of the pier. Canines even have their own area at Paw Park, where the amenities include dog showers, fire hydrants, and fountains.

Check out the sharks' teeth that sell from $1 up into the thousands at Sea Pleasures & Treasures downtown. It's also a good place to find Florida snow shovels (starting at $11.99), a guide to fossil teeth ($6.99), inexpensive shells, and gifts for children. 255 West Venice Avenue; (941) 488-3510.

Cool off with one of the best cherry milk shakes you've ever tasted at The Soda Fountain. You get the whole mixer for $4.55. It's enough to fill two tall glasses. Raise a toast to one of the sweetest little beach destinations in Florida. 349 West Venice Avenue; www.the-soda-fountain.com or (941) 412-9860.

For more information: Contact the Venice Area Chamber of Commerce, 597 Tamiami Trail South, Venice, FL 34285 at www.venicechamber.com or (941) 488-2236.

"Fun at the Beach" is from the June 2007 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.