We were in Venice from 1/14 to 1/16/2022, as part of our Florida in January trip.
From Fort Myers Beach we drove an hour and a half north to Venice, a seaside city with beaches, a canal (hence the name), and a cute little downtown strip. Venice seemed like an ok town–nice enough but didn’t grab us, did we miss the cool part? We were only briefly in the downtown area as we spent most of our time on or near the Myakka River. The Myakka is Florida’s only designated Wild and Scenic River, meandering for 72 miles through a relatively undeveloped stretch of southwestern Florida. It’s home to wildlife galore, including alligators and all kinds of wacky birds.
A pronunciation note: this is the first of a string of Central Florida place names that has a short /æ/ vowel sound, the others we encountered (and struggled with) being Homosassa and Ocala. So, you say Myakka like my-ACK-ka.
We had initially targeted Myakka River State Park, but like at all Florida state parks, campsites there fill up as soon as they’re released eleven months in advance and we didn’t get one. So instead, we parked the Airstream at Camp Venice and loved it!
The quiet, scenic campground is a short drive (or easy bike) from the historic downtown, and has a fun restaurant/canoe rental place next door. We had a beautiful riverfront spot and enjoyed walking Bugsy on the short but sweet nature trail (keeping an eye out for alligators, of course).
Sleeping Turtles Preserve North is a lovely and peaceful park a short drive from Camp Venice. The trails follow the river and loop back through the forest for a short (only a couple miles) but sweet hike. We saw an alligator and very few people and enjoyed it so much we went back the next day for more. Note that only the north side of Sleeping Turtles North allows dogs.
Sleeping Turtles South is super convenient–just outside the campground–but dogs aren’t allowed, so we didn’t check it out.
Myakka River State Park has miles of hiking, and as the crow flies it’s close to Camp Venice, but we were surprised to find that it was over a half-hour drive away. It’s on our to-do list for next visit–and maybe we’ll even camp there.
The best way to see the river, of course, is to get out on it! We rented a canoe from Snook Haven next door to the campground and had a blast paddling around on the Myakka. We saw a gator, turtles, ospreys, to name a few river residents, and had a really lovely time exploring.
We took advantage of the extensive web of bike routes in Venice and rode into the historic downtown, only seven miles away. Our plan was to hit the Saturday farmers market, and ride a bit of the Legacy Trail, which extends all the way to Sarasota.
But then one of J’s tires exploded a couple miles outside of downtown, blowing out the sidewall. A passing cyclist recommended Real Bikes, adjacent to the Legacy Trail, and the super service guys had us fixed up in no time. At this point we were too late for the farmers market, and a little annoyed with cycling in general (if you’re counting, this is our second flat of the trip so far, after the one in Key West), so we didn’t ride very much of the bike path system, but judging from the map it’s a great area for cyclists.
Eating and drinking
It was such a treat to have a mellow riverside restaurant like Snooks Haven right next door to the campground! We went there both nights in Venice: the first night we had a beer and a snack, and took food home, and the second night we had a post-canoe beer.
They have good live music, decent food (I got a salad, J got brisket, and we thought the hush puppies and garlic bread were the stars), and a few local beers. It’s a really fun place!
Our only other dining out experience in Venice was lunch in downtown on our bike ride. The bowls from Island Organics were a delicious and healthy meal before riding home.
Camp Venice and the Myakka River were a fantastic stop and we would return… but next time we may try to stay in the state park. The state park doesn’t have Snooks next door though!
Onward to Palm Harbor!
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