By Lisa M. Moten
The land of sunshine says good-night. Check out any number of sunset celebrations along the Gulf coast.
Nothing beats the sight of a spectacular Florida sunset. Beaches along the Gulf of Mexico, of course, have front-row seating for nightly sunset-inspired rituals, though any place with an unimpeded westward view will do. It’s all a bit primal, this practice of worshipping the sun, but rarely does it disappoint. Just be careful when viewing, particularly with cameras, and do not stare directly into the sun. Remember, sunglasses give only partial protection from the sun’s rays.
Schooners Last Local Beach Club, Panama City Beach
Schooners hosts a sunset celebration every evening. The club describes itself as "possibly the most perfect place on Earth" – and it's not hard to see how accurate that statement is. The restaurant is casual and comfortable, close to the water, with tasty food and cold beverages to refresh. Live bands will keep you up and dancing long after the sun goes down.
Sunsets at Pier 60 Park, Clearwater Beach
Located near a wide array of shops, restaurants and beach concessions, Pier 60 Park is one of Clearwater Beach’s top-rated attractions. This event was inspired by the sunset-watching rituals in Key West’s Mallory Square. The region is filled with white-sand beaches; this venue is host to a nightly four-hour festival that begins two hours before sunset and ends two hours after. The exciting, colorful array of jugglers, magicians, entertainers and artists brings a carnival atmosphere to the pier.
Restaurant Sunsets in St. Pete Beach, St. Pete Beach/Pass-a-Grille
This part of St. Pete Beach is one of Florida’s best-kept secrets. Locals and visitors in-the-know gather nightly at The Hurricane, a popular beachfront restaurant, though any beachside spot will do for a view of the sunsets. The rooftop deck is the prime gathering spot to catch a 360-degree view of the Gulf and the Intracoastal Waterway, set afire by vivid sunsets. If you’re hungry, their grouper sandwiches or peel-and-eat shrimp will sate your appetite.
Sandbar Restaurant, Anna Maria Island
100 Spring Ave., 941-778-0444
At the Sandbar Restaurant on Anna Maria Island, sunsets are serious business. During ritual sunset dining, visitors head out to tables on the deck to observe the nightly spectacle. The very moment the sun sets, a customer picked from the crowd rings a bell mounted on the deck, guests go wild with applause and the table that guessed the exact time of the sunset without going over wins a bottle of champagne.
Bradenton Beach, Bradenton
Nothing caps off a relaxing day spent at beautiful Bradenton Beach like watching the sunset. It is customary for locals and vacationers alike to flock to the beach each evening, find the perfect place to relax and count until the sun sinks into the balmy Gulf waters. Each evening’s setting is a delightfully unique experience, depending on the tides, winds, clouds and weather.
www.sarasotafl.org and siestakeychamber.com
Every Sunday evening an hour before sunset, locals (some dressed in gypsy garb and smelling of patchouli) gather just south of the main pavilion for a ritual reminiscent of the days of ‘60s love and flower power. Beating drums, buckets or other contraptions to keep time, this drum circle ritual has become a mainstay of Siesta Key’s culture and is popular among locals and visitors. In this weekly tribute to Mother Nature, one might see children and Earth mamas dancing and twirling with feathers; sometimes men dance with swords and fire. And anyone can join in.
Sunset rituals take on a highly celebrated yet low-key flavor on this lush island. First-comers traditionally plant themselves in their favorite spot or walk the beach in anticipation. Others head out on sunset cruises. Some make their way to three small, man-made islands along the island’s causeway, arm-in-arm with camera, tripod and someone special.
Mallory Square, an outdoor marketplace and entertainment complex, is located at the Key West waterfront. For years it has been the scene of the world’s most entertaining (and famous) sunset ritual. Every evening like clockwork, people gather in Mallory Square to watch magnificent sunsets and take part in the famous waterside tradition, which includes an eclectic mix of magicians, jugglers, artists and street vendors selling hand-made goods in a lively party and street-theater atmosphere.