Today, Lido Key is known for being an exclusive and luxurious vacation destination and a premier residential community. It is home to sandy beaches, stunning views of the Gulf of Mexico, woodland trails, luxury hotels, beach houses and waterfront restaurants.
It’s quieter than some of its more bustling neighbors, and is treasured by visitors from across the world as a more private and laid-back getaway, making it a prime romantic or peaceful destination for weddings, private events and vacations.
But, this island also has an intriguing history that dates back to the early 1900s. It went through the hands of several different property developers, saw the rise and fall of one of Florida’s most famous and popular casinos, and was extensively developed by the famous John Ringling, founder of the Ringling Bros. Circus prior to his death.
The History of Lido Key
Over time, multiple property owners and developers have been charmed by Lido Key and have tried their hand at raising the island to its greatest potential.
The first was a man from Cleveland named Thomas Martin Worcester. Moved by the beauty of the island, he built an elaborate home for his wife. Described as a “labor of love,” Worcester designed and built a palace to match the beauty of Lido Key.
And a palace it was. After three years of construction, the home was opened with a formal reception. Guests and the media were stunned, and news of the success of Lido Island was beginning to spread. Established as a place of great beauty and potential, the island began to attract more developers and businessmen.
The island eventually fell into the hands of John Ringling. The exact exchange can’t be verified, but it’s rumored that he won a collection of islands in a poker match with Lido Key being one of them. Whether a stroke of luck or the result of more serious business strategizing, Ringling took his new acquisition seriously and had big dreams for it.
Rolling out plans for new buildings, businesses, landscaping and art installations, Ringling quickly began shaping the island. Most of the developments have not stood the test of time, but Ringling’s vision for the islands lives on and his influence is felt every day.
St. Armand’s Circle, which is adjacent to Lido Key and was also owned and developed by Ringling, is now a popular shopping destination where relics of the entertainment giant linger. The present-day developers have paid tribute to Ringling by retaining some of the landscaping of his 1920s vision and naming streets after him.
33 remarkable statues line the circle, and a third of them are estimated to have come from Ringling’s personal collection. He was known for his love of fine art, and the Save Our Statues project, launched in 2007 as a beautification effort in Sarasota, was inspired by his legacy.
Lido Key Today
Lido Key continues to enchant guests and attract developers. It’s home to one of the most pristine beaches in Florida and has become a go-to spot for sunset cruises, eco-tourism, marine life watching, sailing and deep sea fishing.
A main attraction of the island to this day is St. Armand’s Circle, which is technically on St. Armand’s Key but right next to and within walking distance of Lido Key. It is a boutique shopping and fine dining mecca containing more than 130 businesses.
You can’t miss the statue walk featuring Ringling’s art collection. There is something of interest for every member of your family to be found here.
Lido Key has three beaches, the North Lido Key Beach Park, Lido Key Public Beach Park and South Lido Key Beach Park. Visitors to these beaches enjoy free parking year-round, often with open spots unlike other beaches.
North Lido Key Beach Park is a private retreat compared to the bustling nearby beaches of Siesta Key. Here you’ll find some of the best sand dunes in Florida, in which you might be lucky to catch some nesting aquatic birds.
This park was purchased by the city of Sarasota to preserve the nature and wildlife habitat in the 1970s. It recently underwent some improvements and refurbishments and now has improved landscaping and walking trails that you don’t want to miss.
The Lido Key Public Beach has great amenities, with bathrooms, lifeguards, shaded tables, a concession stand, playground and public pool. This beach is accessible for all the members of your family, with wheelchairs on hand for anyone who has such needs as well as lifeguards on duty. It’s also just a short walk away from St. Armand’s Circle.
Last but not least is the South Lido Key Beach Park. A great spot for adventurous and active beachgoers, this beach offers bathrooms, outdoor grilling areas, picnic tables, a beach volleyball court, a playground, nature walking paths and a nearby waterway perfect for kayaking and canoeing. Bring your life jackets and paddle on the calm lagoon and mangrove channels.
As you’re exploring the different beaches and outdoor areas, remain aware of and abide by safety signage. These beaches allow great views of the “Big Pass,” the channel that runs between Siesta Key and Lido Key but it’s for viewing only. There are dangerous currents in the pass and no swimmer, no matter how experienced, should test the waters when the signs prohibit swimming.
Next time you visit Lido Key, look past its serene beauty and sandy beaches. It has deep, rich history, and it’s no surprise that the island has remained an attraction in southwest Florida for more than a century.