On Florida’s west coast, on a stretch of land 7 miles long and no wider than 2 1/2 miles wide at its widest point, with the Gulf of Mexico on one side and the intercoastal waterway on the other, you will find a laid back community of locals and tourist alike, enjoying the slow-paced lifestyle of Island Time. The island of Anna Maria is broken up into 4 separate named beach areas. On the south end is Coquina beach, going north on Gulf Drive next is Bradenton Beach, then Holmes Beach, and at the north end is the town of Anna Maria, and all making up an island with an old-style charm.
On Anna Maria Island, you won’t find the big hotel chains; instead, there are streets lined with colorful beach cottages and small hotels. No high-rise buildings to impede the view here; in fact, on the south end of the island is a long stretch of open public beach with a clear view of the Gulf of Mexico’s beautiful waters, and parking at these public beaches are always free.
You would be hard-pressed to find a chain restaurant or fast food joint here too, but don’t worry, you won’t go hungry as great locally-owned restaurants and cafes are abundant. This is the type of community that those tropical beach songs are written for, you know the ones with lyrics like ” your only worry is if the tide will reach your chair” or “bodies in the sand, tropical drink melting in your hand.” This is the island life, away from shopping malls and all those commercial trappings, but don’t get me wrong, it is still a place hopping with activity but the kind of activity that has no schedule and is always on your terms.
There is no shortage of great restaurants, ice cream parlors, and drinking establishments on the island and getting to them is easy and, better yet free, on the Anna Maria Island Trolley. The free trolley stops every few blocks, and once you are on the Island, there is no need to drive, which really makes for a carefree vacation. Crosswalks in which vehicles must stop for pedestrians are frequent, making the island walker-friendly too.
The historic Bridge Street Pier was once a bridge, and in 1921, it was the only means other than by boat, which one could get onto the Island. Today the remains of the bridge is a popular fishing pier, and it is also where you will find some local shops and Anna Maria Island Oyster Bar, one of many great places to eat on the island.
The historic bridge is also one of the locations where you can book a boat tour or other fun on the water activities, and you will want to be sure to walk the pier and enjoy the spectacular view. The Bridge Street area is a favorite location for visitors to grab a bite to eat, enjoy an adult beverage and stroll through the beach shops filled with unique beach decor and wares.
On Gulf Drive near Bridge Street is The Beach House, a Gulf front seafood restaurant with both indoor and outdoor patio seating, and it seems to be very popular with visitors and locals alike.
Along with the beautiful white sand beaches and the gorgeous waters of the Gulf of Mexico, there are many outdoor fun in the sun activities that await you on this island paradise. Parasailing, boat tours, bike and jet ski rentals, putt-putt golf, snorkeling, kayaking, fishing, and the list can go on and on. If it comes to playing in and around the ocean, there is no doubt you will find it on the island. They also make things easy to just lay on the beach and do a lot of nothing if that’s what you are looking for, with chair and umbrella rentals at each concession area. Another convenient touch is the air pumps at the concession area to blow up your beach inflatables.
If you love nature walks along the shoreline, you are in luck because the Island provides that.
Leffis key Coquina Bay Walk on the south end of the island is a nature lover’s dream, with winding sandy pathways and boardwalks along the bay that take you through an entangled mangrove-covered coast. With bay view overlooks, you will have the opportunity to spot manatees, dolphins, birds, fiddler crabs, and more. Along the walkway, there are benches where one can just sit back, relax and wait for wildlife to put on its daily show right before your eyes. Sit at one of the bay overlooks and spot a manatee grazing on the abundant seagrass that the area provides, or look up into the trees for the osprey or eagles that call this area home.
On the north end of Anna Maria Island, you will find the town of Anna Maria and Holmes Beach, which are bustling areas of eateries, shops, drinking holes, vacation rentals, and public beaches. On the causeway leading on to the island’s north end, you can even take a horseback tour of the bay!! Yes, horseback riding in the water, a very unique experience indeed.
Whether you’re planning an activity-packed family vacation or an intimate getaway for two, whether you want to play hard or just relax and find your calm, this 7-mile paradise awaits to fulfill your vacation dreams.
Anna Maria Island is on Florida’s central west coast and is 16.5 miles from Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport. Other nearby airports are Tampa International, 53 miles away, and St. Pete-Clearwater airport, 45 miles away.
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Categories: Best Beaches