By Tammy DeLosh Featured Areas 2 Comments
Anna Maria Island floats along the coast where the Gulf of Mexico meets Tampa Bay. Trip Advisor readers recently voted this gem 3rd on its list of Top 10 Islands in the United States, calling it “an absolute slice of laid-back paradise.”
Having grown up on Siesta Key, I know my Gulf islands! Anna Maria is absolutely charming, a place that still evokes memories of earlier days when the pace of life wasn’t so hectic.
Years ago, city officials here had the wisdom and foresight to pass legislation banning buildings taller than 37 feet. Two mid-rise condos squeaked in before that landmark decision, and they’re attractively maintained additions to our skyline (see http://rentals.beachrentals.mobi/rns/property/MS307.aspx). Other than those, this island has kept a low profile…and visitors here are delighted!
This long, narrow island is less than a mile wide at its widest point, and barely two-blocks wide at its narrowest, with canals, bays and waterways winding through the landscape…when you’re on AMI, you’re NEVER far from the water! Seven and a half miles of uninterrupted white sand beaches and crystal-clear Gulf waters are picture-perfect. And because the sand is firmly packed, the beaches are a favorite with walkers. One of my very favorite things to do is embark on a long walk, maybe stopping at the Café on the Beach for breakfast or lunch, and then hopping on the free Island Trolley for the return trip home. As long as you have shoes, the Trolley will welcome you…sand and bathing suits allowed! Some people explore a different part of the beach every day, while others settle into their favorite spot for the duration of their visit.
Anna Maria Island is home to three distinct communities. At the southern end of the island is Historic Bradenton Beach, where the distance between Gulf and Bay is measured in tiny blocks, sometimes only one! Its warren of streets are filled with historic cottages oozing charm, where slamming screen doors, flip flops, and lazy days are de rigueur.
Starting from the southern tip of the island, you can enjoy the beauties of Coquina Beach and Leffis Key, an island preserve maintained by Manatee County as a shining example of a vital restored salt water wetland
A walk along the tree-lined path that skirts the beach will bring you to shops, restaurants, and fun! Historic Bridge Street is the center of activity, with the Bridge Street Pier at one end, and the Moose Lodge at the other. Boats anchor in the protected waters by the pier, while fishermen can be found casting their lines day and night. You’ll find live music, great food, a weekly market, fun shopping, and miniature golf shoulder-to-shoulder on this charming little street. If you saw the movie “Out of Time” with Denzel Washington, you might recognize some of the sights.
Some of my favorites include The Bridge Tender Inn & Dockside Bar at the east end of the street, a local favorite that’s been serving guests for decades. My family and I love their black bean soup, but everything else on the menu is yummy as well.
Another favorite stop is Searenity Spa and Eco-Boutique. My friend Amanda and her team of massage therapists are true professionals.
And be sure to visit Bridge Street on Sundays, when an outdoor market brings local vendors to the island. You’ll find fresh organic produce and who-knows-what-else to tempt you…it’s always fun to see what’s there!
As you travel north from Bradenton Beach, you’ll cross over into the city of Holmes Beach, the heart of the island. Holmes Beach is where you’ll find the island’s only chain restaurants and shops, as well as the island’s only grocery store, Publix. This is the area where you go if you need a prescription from CVS or Walgreen’s, or if takeout from Domino’s Pizza is all the kids will agree to eat.
It’s also home to some terrific local shops that visitors and residents all love, like The White Egret, The Sand Dollar, Irene’s, and Mr. Robert’s. Restaurant-goers will love breakfast at Minnie’s (cash only!), lunch at Hurricane Hank’s, or dinner at Eat Here. The Manatee Public Beach is also located in this part of the island. Enjoy breakfast or lunch in your bathing suit at Café on the Beach, a yummy restaurant located inside the Manatee Beach Pavilion. Bathing suits and bare feet are welcomed here!
Some seasoned Anna Maria visitors love Holmes Beach the best because of its convenience, coupled with its abundant supply of accommodations near its spectacular stretch of beach.
I always laugh when I see this name, as Anna Maria is nothing like a city! The top speed limit is 25mph, and roads are only two lanes. The main thoroughfare is Pine Avenue, which runs a half mile from Tampa Bay and the Historic Anna Maria City Pier to the famous Sandbar Restaurant directly on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. In between you’ll find our adorable Island Players Theater, a community theater housed in an historic building brought here by barge in the 1920s. The Island Players produces several shows each year, all with hard working volunteers dedicated to every aspect of community theater.
Pine Avenue is also home to the Anna Maria Historic Society Museum. Among all sorts of fascinating displays is a special area dedicated to the 1948 filming of “On an Island With You,” starring Esther Williams, Ricardo Montalban, Jimmy Durante, Peter Lawford, Cyd Charisse, and a host of other film stars of that era. You’ll also enjoy a glimpse of island life circa 1920 (or thereabouts) when you take a look inside Belle Haven Cottage, also located on the property. This pint-sized cottage used to sit on the end of the City Pier until it fell into Tampa Bay decades ago during a storm. It’s been lovingly restored and set up with period pieces for a glimpse into island life in days-gone- by.
Of course, Pine Avenue and its environs play host to a tempting array of restaurants and shops. Visitors and residents alike love to travel by bike so they can enjoy it all! Bikes are also the best way to explore the maze of streets north of Pine Avenue, a quiet residential area surrounded by water on every side.
No matter where you stay, be sure to explore the entire island to enjoy the distinct flavor of each of its communities. The best way to travel the length of the island is via the free Island Trolley, which runs on the half-hour from 6am to 10pm year-round. Once you’ve explored, let us know which is your favorite! Where will you plan to Reserve your Anna Maria Vacation Rental Cottage?