If you are terrified of giant sharks don’t fret, there aren’t any here. You can find their teeth though. Millions of years ago giant megalodon sharks and their smaller relatives fed off the coast of what is now Venice, Florida. Over the years their teeth collected on the ocean floor and were eventually fossilized. Today they wash up on Venice’s beaches where anyone can pick them up.
The first time that I heard about shark teeth in Venice I dropped everything to tell my kids all about it. We were all excited and decided that we would drive up for the weekend, but had no idea just how much fun it would be or how much else Venice had to offer. We’ve been back a number of times and we enjoy it more and more each time we go.
On this weekend’s adventure we take you through a weekend in Venice. We will hunt for shark teeth and have some wonderful meals along with way. For anyone in Tampa, Venice is only an hour to the south and from Orlando it’s about two hours away. We left from Miami, which took about 3½ hours, but it was well worth the drive.
We start our adventure with a quick breakfast in Miami before heading out on the 3½-hour drive to Venice. From Miami, Highway 75 takes you across the everglades, through Naples, and into Venice. By the time we arrived everyone was ready for lunch so we drove directly to Sharky’s on the Pier.
Sharky’s is about as iconic as it gets for Venice restaurants. It sits on the beach at the foot of the Venice Fishing Pier. Opened in 1987 on the site of what used to be a small concession stand, the restaurant has served millions of visitors over the years. The restaurant’s success resulted in major expansion and even the creation of the adjacent and more elegant restaurant, Fins at Sharky’s.
Our adventure was more beach bum than formal, so we decided to forgo Fins in favor of an outside table at Sharky’s overlooking the beach. After ordering drinks and a starter of peel and eat shrimp we sat back, watched the waves coming in, and talked about hitting the beach and hunting for shark’s teeth.
The atmosphere at Sharky’s is decidedly festive. Most tables consisted of families and friends reciting stories of their day on the beach, while others sat at the bar and happily watched the day pass by. (Incidentally, the bar at Sharky’s was named Florida’s top beach bar in 2018 by floridabeachbar.com).
Once we finished the shrimp, we moved onto a light lunch of Baja Tacos, Fiesta Fish Tacos, Fish and Chips, and the kids Macaroni and Cheese. The food was good and being able to sit outside and watch people walking along the pier made it that much more enjoyable.
After lunch the kids wanted to walk to the end of the pier. Stretching over 700 feet from shore, it’s definitely a thing to behold. There is no fee to walk or fish from the pier and a small bait shop offers fishing gear for rent if you want to try your luck. We had bigger and better things to do that afternoon, so we jumped in the car and drove 5-minutes down the beach to Caspersen Beach Park.
Caspersen Beach, or as it is more commonly referred to, Shark Tooth Beach, is a beach like none other. It can be reached by driving to the end of Harbor Drive where you enter the Caspersen Beach Park. There are no entrance fees to the park and it has ample free parking and excellent facilities. It is only a short walk from your car to the beach where the adventure begins.
Walking beyond the dunes you will notice that Caspersen Beach is not as wide as most Florida beaches (in most places it is perhaps 50 to 100 feet from the edge of the dunes to the water). The beach also has a series of jetties, which help to calm the water, reducing the incidence of large waves. On the day we went, the water was clear and there was little more than a small lap of waves onto the shore. Seeing the clear water, the kids grabbed their masks and snorkels and began looking for fish. Following the kids into the water I was able to see a large number of small fish surrounding the jetties along with a few sheepsheads. After our swim we returned to the beach to look for shark teeth.
There is no wrong way to find shark teeth at Caspersen Beach. They can oftentimes be found out in the open amongst the shells, but the best way to search is to bring a colander or other type of sieve. We decided to bring cheap kitchen colanders, but many shops in town, including the bait shop on the Venice Fishing Pier, offer to rent “Venice Snow Shovels.” These devices are essentially sieves on the end of a pole, which can be dragged through the sand.
The most effective method that we found for locating shark teeth was to look for patches of sand along the water-line that have a large amount of black debris. If you look closely at this black debris, you will notice that all of the individual pieces are fragments of fossils. Pick up a colander full of this sand and shake it until only the larger pieces remain. Most of what you will be left with will be shells or portions thereof, but you can easily sift through these in search of the black or dark brown fossils. You need to look closely as many of the shark teeth are small and easy to miss. Others though, are larger and close to an inch.
While there are stories of days gone by when you could walk along Caspersen Beach and find 3- to 4-inch megadalon teeth sitting exposed in the sand, today most of the shark teeth found on the beach are small, usually smaller than 1-inch long. Finding teeth though, even the little ones, is exhilarating. We oftentimes couldn’t look down at our colanders for more than a second as the kids would scream for us to come over and see what they found. It really is a lot of fun.
If you would like a greater chance of finding megadalon teeth, you will need to don your dive gear and visit what locals call, the Boneyard. Located ½- to 1-mile off the beach, this location is accessible by charter dive boats. While people rave about hunting megadalon teeth here, be aware that visibility is often 5-10 feet at best, so don’t expect crystal clear Caribbean-style waters.
At the end of the day, we ended up finding 40 shark teeth. The kids raved about it at school on Monday and everyone wanted to plan a visit to search on their own. As the sun started to get lower in the sky we decided to say goodbye to Caspersen Beach and check into our hotel.
Venice is not a town full of luxury resorts. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons that I really love it. The city is small, there is a nice, walkable downtown, and the houses are all reasonably sized (this place has luckily avoided the influx of McMansions that seem to line most of the south Florida coast). That being said, there aren’t too many choices of hotels here. The one that we like is the Hotel Venezia located off Tamiami Trail. The Hotel Venezia was built sometimes around the late 60s or early 70s, complete with a large central pool and exterior hallways. In 2012 it was completely redone to both modernize the hotel and highlight its architectural features.
On our stay, we chose one of the hotel’s suites. These rooms are twice as large as the hotel’s standard rooms, a result of the renovation wherein multiple rooms were combined to form larger suites. Having checked in, we cleaned up and got ready for dinner.
One of our goto places for dinner in Venice is Mi Pueblo. When we first found this restaurant we were taken aback, not only by the food, but also by the atmosphere (we could have been back in San Antonio).
The restaurant is located off Tamiami Trail in a southwestern-style plaza. It’s a nice place to walk around, or just to sit if you are waiting for friends. We chose to sit inside and start with some margaritas. While the margaritas were good, the real indication of whether you are in a good Mexican restaurant lies in the two areas: the tortillas and the salsa. When we first came to Mi Pueblo we knew that this place knows what they are doing as soon as the server dropped off the salsa. If you wait just a little while longer, you will find that the tortillas are just as good, being freshly made in house.
On this trip we started with the Queso Fundido and moved onto the Enchiladas Suizas, the Tamal, the Pancho’s Nachos with Fajita Beef, and the Beef Fajita Quesadilla. We didn’t intend on eating so much, but it’s hard to turn down good Mexican food. As the kids started to get tired we slowly said goodbye and headed back to the hotel.
Sunday morning we woke up ready for another day of fun. Our first stop was the Blu Island Bistro on Tamiami Trail. Don’t be fooled by the fact that the bistro is attached to a small hotel, the Island Sun Inn, it’s about as legit as they come. The chef, Alan Laskowski is a culinary institute graduate and earned his stripes in Philadelphia where he won the “Best of Philly” award for several of his dishes. Today he runs the Blu Island Bistro and puts out some amazing dishes.
We chose to sit outside because of the great weather, but inside the restaurant is beautifully designed. We ordered coffee and started with two of the bistro’s freshly made donuts. As soon as they arrived we had to hold the kids (and ourselves) back. They were still warm and smelled incredible. As we pulled them apart you could tell just how light and fluffy they were. Quickly divided, we each tried a piece and they just melt in your mouth.
For our entrees we chose the Bagel and Lox (a special that day), the Filet Eggs Benedict (also a special), the Kids Buttermilk Pancakes, and the Kids French Toast. While we waited for our food the server brought out Play-Doh for the kids (which should honestly be everywhere, what a great idea!) as we sipped our coffee.
I can’t overstate how much we enjoyed the food. Everything ended up being shared and we loved it all. I was originally concerned that the filet would be too heavy on top of the eggs benedict, but the meat was so well prepared and the sauce and muffin blended everything together perfectly. If you have the chance to stop by, please do, you will really be missing out if you pass it up.
After breakfast we drove over to downtown to enjoy the shops and walk along the tree-lined avenues. Downtown Venice runs along West Venice Avenue and the two streets running parallel to it. Free parking is just about everywhere so just park and enjoy the afternoon. As you walk you will see restaurants, independent clothing stores, galleries, toy stores, and more.
We chose to stop at Croissant & Co., a small French bakery and café. We ordered coffee, the kids some bonbons, and a baguette for later. If we had not just eaten we would have gone straight for the almond croissants and meringues.
After Croissant and Co., we continued to walk and eventually ended up in Centennial Park. The park has a nice gazebo and in summer it has a working splash pad for the kids. If you would like to extend your walk, you can continue down West Venice Avenue into a tree-lined residential area complete with winding sidewalks and beautiful homes. We have done this walk in the past, so we chose instead to drive it and head over to Venice Beach for one last look at the ocean.
If you drive down West Venice Avenue towards the ocean you will run directly into Venice Beach. The beach has two parking lots (free again!) where you can usually find an empty space most of the year. There are restrooms and showers available and a lifeguard stand looks over the beach. We loved that the beach was so close to downtown, yet remained quiet. Even in the parking lot it seemed like you were in a small town somewhere.
As you walk out onto the beach you will notice that it is much wider than Caspersen Beach. Here, people can play volleyball and yoga classes are taught on most Saturday mornings. We enjoy the beach itself, which provides nice swimming and a great place to walk. Unlike Caspersen Beach though, not many shark teeth are found here as the city has pumped sand onto the beach to prevent erosion. While we didn’t have too long to spend at the beach, we enjoyed our time there. As much as we hated to leave, we said goodbye to Venice knowing that we would be back soon.