Anna Maria Island
There is still one place where you can turn off the world – where you can laze under a warm Floridian sun, relax to the harmony of calling gulls, and recharge your batteries. There is still one tiny, Florida escape where you can stroll down a nearly deserted beach, scanning the sands for the perfect shell. There is still one charming island that has escaped the crowds of the keys – where cars are passé and you can claim a slice of paradise for yourself.
That place is Anna Maria Island, Florida – a somewhat secluded, definitely laidback island on the Gulf of Mexico. Hugged by a rim of white sands, magnificent palms, turquoise sea, and towering Australian pines (some as high as 60 feet!), this delightful island is home to seven miles of beach, wispy sea oats and views that end only where the horizon drops away.
Affectionately known as The Island in the Sun, Anna Maria Island is Florida’s best kept secret. With Gulf temperatures averaging 84ºF and an astonishing (and very welcome!) 361 days of sunshine per year, the island is something of an outdoor utopia.
And the dolphins agree: the waters surrounding of Anna Maria Island are known as the nursery, due to the large number of dolphins that raise their young here. When walking or dining on Anna Maria Island’s four gorgeous beaches or its surrounding coastline, it’s not uncommon to see dolphins playing.
Step onto Anna Maria Island, and you’ll notice that time changes. At first, it’s not immediately evident, but soon you realize: that “something different” is that life is slower here. It’s leisured. Unhurried. So it’s no surprise that our speeds are slow, too – 25mph-35mph, to be exact.
This slower pace (and small island size) is exactly why so many residents and guests choose to leave their cars at home. Thanks to a free trolley that circles the island, you can enjoy a chauffeured vacation. The trolley makes its rounds everyday, 6:00 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., every 20-30 minutes. And as the ultimate convenience, the trolley stops directly in front of our Anna Maria Island condo rental.
Anna Maria Island was once home to the Timucan and Caloosan tribes, and was later seized by the Spanish conquistadors, including Hernando DeSoto, in the name of the Spanish Crown.
But the centuries passed and Anna Maria Island stayed undeveloped. It wasn’t until just over a century ago, in 1892, that George Emerson Bean became the first permanent resident of the island. By the early 1900s, Bean had homesteaded what is now the City of Anna Maria, and had begun to develop the island with sidewalks, plumbed water, streets and homes.
Roser Memorial Church: During Bean’s tenure on the island, Jon Roser built the Roser Memorial Community Church – the first church on Anna Maria Island. (You may better know Roser as the creator of the famed Fig Newton.) The church still stands today as a house of worship for Anna Maria islanders.
Island Playhouse: Built on the mainland and transported to the island via barge, the Island Playhouse serves the local community in many ways, among them as a city hall, church, school and social gathering spot.
Magnolia Avenue School: Built during Bean’s time, this landmark has since ceded the island’s educational endeavors to the modern Anna Maria Island Elementary School.
Anna Maria Island Bridge: For decades, the only way onto the island was via boat. But in 1921, our remote paradise was connected to the mainland via a wooden bridge, which connected Cortez to Anna Maria Island. Today, the Bradenton Beach fishing pier lives at what was once the western end of the island’s original bridge.
Anna Maria Island Towns:
Anna Maria: Located at the northern tip of the island, the community of Anna Maria exudes that much sought-after Old Florida feel. With mostly single homes and cottages, this is a quiet residential community where you’ll find Gulf views, the Rod and Reel fishing pier, breakfast cafés, and plenty of bikes.
The main route from bay to beach is Pine Street, which hosts small mom-and-pops, galleries, and village necessities. It is a beautiful area of the island, and thus draws many artists.
Holmes Beach: Located mid-island, this 600-acre village – the most populous at just over 5,000 residents – overlooks the sparkling Gulf of Mexico. With mixed residential neighborhoods, a few resorts, rental cottages and single family homes, this is Anna Maria Island’s most eclectic place to live. Its offerings reflect its size, and here you’ll find plenty of restaurants, beaches, and other amenities. There are several art galleries in Holmes Beach: the Artists’ Guild Gallery, AnnaMaria Island Art League and Island Gallery West – all featuring the works of local Florida and island artists.
Bradenton Beach: Home to Absolute Anna Maria, Bradenton beach sits on the southern tip of the island. Our area is well oriented to vacationers, who are mostly drawn by our spectacular beaches, among them Coquina Beach and Cortez Beach. You’ll appreciate that we have lifeguards and full beach facilities (picnic areas, showers, playgrounds, concession stands, grills) and towering pine trees to provide refreshing shade.
Historic Bridge Street is Bradeton Beach’s historical and commerce center, hosting special events and nightly entertainment, as well as many restaurants and shopping locales. Coquina Beach flanks Bridge Street, and shows off with a landmark 96-acre Australian pine forest – or,
as we see it, 96 acres of blissful shade, lush foliage and sandy paths.
Bradenton: Located on the mainland, the city of Bradenton is accessible via two separate drawbridges – one north and one south on the island. Considered the southernmost area of Tampa Bay, this is a mid-way point between Sarasota and St. Petersburg, and offers a variety of activities, attractions and amenities.
The jewel in Bradenton’s crown is the Village of the Arts, where talented artists work and sell their goods. The ArtCenter Manatee also offers gallery exhibitions, as well as lectures, workshops and art classes for children and adults.
The open-air farmer’s market is a favorite of ours, after which we always make a point to stroll down the city’s historic, cobblestoned Main Street. Don’t miss the Red Barn Flea Market & Plaza, a very Floridian and very unique shopping experience of 600 flea market booths and retail stores. You’ll also find plenty of big-name shopping in Bradenton – Sears, Macy’s, etc.
Airport: Anna Maria Island is served by the Sarasota/Bradenton International Airport (SRQ). You may also arrive via Tampa International Airport or St. Petersburg-Clearwater Airport, which are both about an hour away. Car rentals and limo service are available to the island.
Marinas: Because Bradenton is surrounded by water and threaded by waterways, it follows that it is also home to many marinas. And in fact, 30+ marinas and 8 boat ramps live in and around Bradenton, granting access to Florida’s rivers, bayous and bays, as well as the Gulf of Mexico.