Parking issues may be biggest reason for Siesta Beach’s drop to No. 3 in TripAdvisor rankings

Disgruntled visitors cite frustrations with finding spaces and fighting traffic in comments on the website

Tourists make themselves at home on Siesta Public Beach. File photo
Tourists make themselves at home on Siesta Public Beach. File photo

That enduring Siesta Key quandary, “so many visitors; too few places to park,” has proven a figurative “bogeyman” in snatching away Siesta Public Beach’s No. 1 ranking on TripAdvisor.

In 2015, 3,993 reviews earned Siesta Public Beach that top spot on TripAdvisor’s list of the nation’s best shoreline destinations. A year later, the website’s 2016 Travelers’ Choice rankings saw Siesta drop to No. 3.

It was toppled by Clearwater Beach (No. 1) and Lanikai Beach in Kailua, on the island of Oahu in Hawaii (No. 2).

The TripAdvisor note on Siesta Beach — which includes a photo of the blue lifeguard stand — says, “Amazing beach with fine white sand and crystal clear water.” It adds that the best time to go is “Year-round.”

TripAdvisor list puts Siesta at No. 3. Image from the TripAdvisor website
TripAdvisor’s list puts Siesta at No. 3. Image from the TripAdvisor website

A Sarasota News Leader review of two days of comments seemed to hold the key to the slip in rankings. During the week of Feb. 15, a one-star post from a visitor who listed Edgartown, MA, as home, said, “[Siesta Key Beach] might be the #1 beach in the USA, but you can’t enjoy [its] beauty, when there is [nowhere] to park.” That person was disappointed to see the parking lot on the west end still had not been completed as part of the county’s two-year renovations project.

Just a day later, Sarasota County elected officials and staff welcomed an estimated 1,000 people to the grand opening of the beach park’s new facilities, which cost $21.5 million. All the parking areas were open, with the project having added more to create a total of 980, county staff has told the News Leader.

Yet, on Feb. 21, a Sarasota resident’s post gave the beach just one star, as well, saying, “The wait on the only road to the beach could take an hour and [the road is] only about 2-3 miles long. Once you get [to the beach], there’s no place to park so you drive around and around.”

A two-star review posted Feb. 20 says, “Siesta Key is OVER CROWDED, traffic is RIDICULOUS, NO PARKING and the restaurants, grocery stores and rentals will gouge you.” It continues, “The locals are so fed up with so many snowbirds, vacationers and [tourists] that they are no longer being friendly.”

Still, it appears — based on a News Leader review of the website — the vast majority of the 3,946 posts about Siesta Public Beach on TripAdvisor might be called glowing, and indicative of why the destination was ranked No. 3.

For example, a visitor from Watertown, MA, gave the beach five stars on Feb. 17, writing, “This is perhaps the most beautiful beach I have ever visited, except maybe Bora Bora. The sand is so fine, like flour, that it is easily packed down. … This is a wide beach, with plenty of room.”

Visitors laud Siesta's fine quartz sand. File photo
Visitors laud Siesta’s fine quartz sand. File photo

She noted that she had been there several times this month.

A Vermilion, OH, resident who visited in January also posted a five-star review: “The sand is pure white and you don’t sink in it, so it is great to walk on. … I absolutely love it there.”

A Virginia Beach, VA, resident also encouraged fellow tourists to “hit the village for food and drinks and music.”

And a London visitor who came to Siesta in October 2015 posted a comment, saying, “Best beach in America is not a lie!!!”

Seven of the 10 reviews the News Leader reviewed on Feb. 22 were marked with five stars. A three-star post referenced dead fish and debris linked to red tide. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) reported on Feb. 19, “A patchy bloom of Karenia brevis, the Florida red tide organism, persists along Pinellas, Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte, Lee, and Collier counties [with] background to medium concentrations in 24 samples collected in and alongshore of Sarasota County.”

A Feb. 19 map posted on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) website shows areas where red tide had been detected. Image from the FWC website
A Feb. 19 map posted on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) website shows areas where red tide was detected. Image courtesy FWC

The FWC webpage also noted that a fish kill was reported on Siesta Key on Feb. 17.

As for that No. 1 destination, just north of Sarasota: TripAdvisor’s Top 25 Beaches in the United States list notes of Clearwater, “The sugar fine white sand is a trademark of this fabulous beach. Perfect for a day in the sun. You might even spot a dolphin or two playing on the horizon.” As with Siesta, any time of year is a good one to visit that location, TripAdvisor adds.

As for Lanikai Beach: TripAdvisor says, “Great scenic and calm beach on the East Coast of Oahu.” Like Siesta, the best time to go is “Year-round.”

Rounding out the top 10 were No. 4, St. Pete Beach; No. 5, Wai’anapanapa State Park in Hana, Hawaii; No. 6, Ka’anapali Beach in Lahaina on the island of Maui in Hawaii; No. 7, Pensacola Beach; No. 8, La Jolla Shores in La Jolla, CA; No. 9, St. Augustine Beach; and No. 10, the Panama City Beach.