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Surrounded by the sparkling Gulf of Mexico waters, Anna Maria Island is a seven-mile-long slice of paradise where you can still experience the beauty of its Old Florida ambiance. Home to mom and pop shops and gourmet restaurants, you can spend your time sunbathing, fishing and kayaking or browsing the charming boutique shops and art galleries. Best explored on two wheels or the island’s Island Trolley, here are some of the best things to do on Anna Maria Island.
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The first stop on any visit to Anna Maria will be to the beach, as its soft white sand and clear turquoise waters will lure you in for a day of soaking up the sunshine. Rent a bike and head to Bean Point, where the Gulf of Mexico meets Tampa Bay, to find a perfect spot to watch dolphins splashing about in the water and manatees grazing by. For a day of collecting seashells, head to Coquina Beach at the southern edge of the island.
Nestled at the southern tip of Anna Maria Island, the Historic Bridge Street is a great spot for you to take a break and eat, drink and shop. It’s a bustling area with a collection of souvenir cottages, galleries, boutiques, bars and restaurants and the Historic Bridge Street Pier juts out 300 feet over Sarasota Bay. Perfect for a sunny day, grab a cold drink and a fishing pole and enjoy a day of people watching.
Located at Anna Maria’s southernmost beach, the Beach Market at Coquina Beach is a great place to mingle with locals. The market features local artists and artisans selling an array of items, from arts and crafts to jewelry, pottery, produce, plants, collectibles and more. Afterwards, you can walk across the street to Leffis Key Preserve and take a scenic walk along Coquina Baywalk or dig your toes in the sand at Coquina Beach.
See the island’s history like you have never seen it before at Anna Maria Island Historical Museum. Housed in a former icehouse that dates to 1920, the exhibits here tell the story of the first settlers on the Island and showcases artifacts, photographs and map that date back to its roots as an Indian fishing camp. Take a photograph of yourself with remaining bits of the Old City Jail that was built to “quarter the rowdies” who had a bit too much to drink at the local tavern in 1927.
Dubbed “The Greenest Little Main Street in America”, Pine Avenue is dotted with bright and colorful shops and beachside eateries. Beginning on a tranquil Gulf beach, it boasts an Old Florida ambiance where you can discover a little history, catch some waves and indulge in some sweet treats. When you’ve worked up an appetite, visit Poppo’s Taqueria for gourmet Mexican street food or The Donut Experiment to design your own dessert creation.
Take the trolley to Bradenton Beach to marvel at its gorgeous Gulf Coast views and enjoy the tranquil ambiance of this natural oasis. This small town is known for its fishing piers, white sand beaches and charming strip of boutique shops and mom and pop restaurants, where you can spend your time enjoying the simple pleasures. Unwind along the miles of uninterrupted beaches with a day of swimming and sunbathing or join a fishing or boating tour to see the area from a different perspective.
Anna Maria Island’s natural landscapes are a perfect place for a kayaking or paddle boarding adventure, particularly at the 600-acre Robinson Preserve with its wetland habitats. Happy Paddler offers a Coastal Island Tour, where you can get up close to the beautiful natural scenery and see wild dolphins, manatees and turtles as you explore the mangrove estuary of Sarasota and Tampa Bay, while those looking for a romantic excursion can experience the sublime tranquility and stunning views of the island draped in purples, pinks and reds on a Sunset Tour.
Perico Preserve is a hidden oasis, as the 176 acres serves as a wildlife haven for shore and wading birds. Bring your binoculars to take a scenic 1.5-mile stroll through the preserve along the boardwalks for a unique experience of getting close to wildlife in its forest hammock, uplands scrub and fresh and saltwater marshes without disturbing the habitat. You’ll pass overlooks, bridges and swings for the kids while observing pelicans, ducks, egrets, herons, ospreys and bald eagles.
Make the trek to Cortez, one of the last authentic fishing villages in the Sunshine State. Dotted with colorful Cracker cottages, timeworn boats and dockside fish joints, this area is like a living museum highlighted by a Southern charm. Meander down the waterfront and explore the area’s beaches and fishing piers, then fuel up with freshly caught seafood sold in no-frills joints like Star Fish Company Dockside Restaurant.
A stunning strip of paradise along the Gulf Coast, Longboat Key is a combination of luxury and quiet landscapes. It’s home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the Sunshine State, perfect for those looking to spend their time shelling, birding and taking romantic moonlit strolls. Those who are looking to indulge in some outdoor adventures will find the island’s bayside and Intra-coastal Waterway offers plenty of opportunities to go on a wind and kite surfing, kayaking or paddle boarding excursion.