May 30, 2020

09.01.11: The Hidden Dark Skies of Florida.

Good dark sky sites are hard to find, and a reasonable dark sky to vacation under is tougher still. Often, one has to comprise between remote wilderness and urban sprawl. Recently, we’ve discovered a local gem in our very own Florida neighborhood that combines a quiet beach getaway for everyone with some reasonably dark skies; Longboat Key, Florida. We recently stayed at the Sandpiper Inn situated along the Florida shores, and can state that the skies are at least as dark as those in our own backyard, just north of Tampa. In fact, Longboat Key is only an hour’s drive south of the Tampa Saint Petersburg metro area and is in easy reach for many central Florida residents.

The sky is easily a Bortle scale of 3, despite tourist development. This is a real feat, as many beaches located just to the north are opulently bright. In addition, the town of Longboat Key plans to bring in several sporting events, emphasizing fitness, triathlon and man-powered aquatic activities. The dark skies we experienced were right beyond our doorstep. Longboat Key is located on the western side of the Florida peninsula, and is known for its Gulf of Mexico sunsets. You may just be able to spy that elusive green flash, or bag that ultra thin crescent moon that you’ve been trying for…

Longboat Key is also a birders paradise, and serves as a stopover for many migratory species. A science museum and a first rate aquarium and the Ringling Bros. Museum rounds out the sights and a plethora of activities abounds for the entire family. The aquarium also doubles as a working marine scientific research center and their efforts to conserve the nesting grounds for the endangered sea turtles have assured ordinances are in place that will keep Longboat Key dark. The entire length of the island is easily accessable by bike, and lane and trails are plentiful. Do give this slice of Hidden Florida a try. Not much of our dark skies remain on the US East Coast, and Longboat Key makes it accessible to all budgets… could a Longboat Key astro-inn be in the offing?