Anna Maria Island, authentic Florida at its finest
This 7 miles long stretch of land is nothing like most parts of Florida with endless rows of high rise hotel chains. It is an island of small resorts and condos - only accessible by boat until 1921 - with every location literally a walk or bike ride away. The free trolley - which circles every 20 minutes - is also a terrific way to get an overview of that hidden gem. This mid-size county with Gulf Drive as the only road that runs the entire length of the island is divided into three cities: Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach and Holms Beach.
The city of Anna Maria located at the northern tip, is the most residential and less busy place on the island. The pier that is open 24 hours for fishing is by far the most vibrant place to spend some time on. Located on the end of Pine Avenue, the pier’s history dates back to 1910, making it nearly as old as the city of Anna Maria itself. Try your luck and throw a fishing hook into the water. Depending on the season there is always something biting. Or, take a walk on it, watch sailboats glide by, relax and enjoy the atmosphere.
Hungry? Between the beach and the pier you can eat, shop and discover a bit of local history while chit-chatting with locals. The City Pier Restaurant is also a popular place to spot dolphins and manatees in the bay. Oh, yes! The city of Anna Maria has its "must stop and see" spot. It is about the former jail that was even featured in Ripley’s "Believe It or Not!". Your next destination could be Anna Maria Historical Society Museum and Park.
Heading south, Bradenton Beach, home to the international airport, luxurious resorts and gulf front rentals, is featuring historic Bridge Street for pleasurable shopping, and some of the great outdoor restaurants and Anna Maria Beach that offers magnificent views of the Gulf of Mexico, St. Petersburg and the Skyway Bridge. Bridge Street also hosts special events such as Movie Night, Mardi Gras, Art Shows, Car Shows, etc. Take a slow walk along the pier under the shade of palm trees - bring a camera to take pictures in front of the pier’s iconic clock tower - it is one of the most picturesque piers in the Bradenton Area.
The city has five miles of bike paths and bike lanes along Gulf Drive, connecting to more than 50 miles of similar lanes across the island. At Bradenton’s Riverwalk that is all about the fun, you would like to spend a day or two. It includes a botanical walk, a Mosaic Amphitheater, a Family Fun Zone with a splash fountain and playgrounds, the Tidal Discovery Zone, a great lawn for picnics and also a fishing pier. It sounds as a fun place to be. Plus, here you will find the Village of the Arts, an artists’ colony that covers a unique collection of bungalows transformed into art galleries.
As they like to say "There is nothing better than 18 holes of golf on a beautiful Florida morning followed by some beach time in the afternoon." The larger Bradenton area hosts a diverse number of golf courses. You can reach 10 different and unique golf courses within a 30-minute drive from the Island! But don’t miss the boating, parasailing and kayaking experience while you are on the island. The nearby cities of Bradenton, Sarasota and Ellenton have four full-service malls, hundreds of specialty shops and quaint shopping villages with upscale boutiques and fine dining and even a flea market.
Holmes Beach, at the center of Anna Maria Island, is the largest of the three cities and hosts most of the festivals. It has a wide variety of shops and restaurants, the banks and the island library and it's often called the "business" center of the island. Its public beach Manatee Beach is a favourite beach of many sun worshipers and sandcastle builders. Walk down either left or right for a little more privacy and then just sit back and wait for some of the gorgeous sunsets you will ever see.
Before you go home visit some of Anna Maria Island parks and nature preserves. Explore calm Gulf waters and beautiful mangrove islands full of wildlife. Don't miss Robinson's Preserve located just a few minutes to the east of Holmes Beach that has fabulous nature trails, and a sky high tower that overlooks the park as well as the Tampa Bay, and enjoy your vacation to the fullest. ■
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