William C. Minarich
Setting: Venice sits directly on the Gulf of Mexico, midway between Tampa and Fort Myers. It's less than 20 minutes south of Sarasota, about an hour north of Fort Myers. The city proper is divided in two, after engineers of the Intracoastal Waterway finished cutting "The Island Avenues" away from the mainland in 1967.
Attractions: Fourteen miles of beaches line the gulf. Fine-dining options are scarce, but The Crow's Nest, nestled beside the Venice Inlet, boasts a 21-page, award-winning wine list.
Drawbacks: Hurricane season runs June through November. (Venice survived last year's hurricanes with minimal damage.) The job market and nightlife are limited. The town does have one of the world's leading skim-board makers, Zap Skimboards, founded and run by lifelong local Bob Smetts.
Housing Options: Depression-era apartments were originally built for railroad workers and their families. Concrete-block single-family houses sit a short walk from the water. Condos and upscale multistory residences rise beside the beach dunes. Well-kept 1920s Mediterranean Revival houses dot the "Island of Venice," as the area west of the Intracoastal is called.
What It Costs: Rentals range from less than $800 for a one-bedroom apartment to $1,600 or more for a single-family home. Condominiums near the water and single-story, ranch-style homes start in the low- to mid-$300,000s. Modern custom houses climb fast to more than $1 million.
Your Next-door Neighbors: Sigrid Gebel, widow of the famed circus tiger trainer Gunther Gebel-Williams; other performing families that stayed behind when the circus stopped wintering here; hotel and restaurant employees; financial industry professionals; physicians; retirees.
How You'd Spend Your Free Time: Golfing, biking, jogging, birding, and diving the reef that lies a quarter-mile offshore. Art festivals, crafts fairs, and parades are held throughout the year. Scores gather at nearby Nokomis Beach on Saturday nights for a bonfire and the free-spirited "drums on the beach."
(published in 2005)