Tucked away in the turquoise waters of Florida’s West Coast lies Anna Maria Island, a quaint vacation spot that could easily be called one of the state’s best-kept secrets. About two and a half hours from Orlando and a little over an hour from Tampa, this barrier island is an effortless travel destination for those looking for an escape with family and friends.
Anna Maria Island is truly a timeless treasure, keeping the Old Florida charm alive with a small town community atmosphere and traditional and rustic architecture.
Although the Island has come a long way from its first public use in 1898, the beaches still retain the natural splendor of Florida’s Gulf Coast. Anna Maria Beach, a popular destination since the 1970s, is one of the coziest paradises in Florida. It is one of the few beaches that have successfully withstood major commercial development and has allowed the Florida of the past to return to life with old-fashioned fishing piers, arts and craft shops, and natural wildlife.
While gaining the attention of visitors for years, Anna Maria Island has also achieved many accolades for its pristine beaches. Six of Anna Maria’s beaches have been awarded the “Blue Wave Certification” from the Clean Beaches Coalition, and the island has earned third place in TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Awards for Top Ten Islands in the United States. This winter is your chance to discover the beauty behind Anna Maria’s continuous praises. The quiet turquoise waves and white sand beaches create a peaceful setting for a relaxing retreat, and with seven miles of beach access on both the Gulf of Mexico and Sarasota Bay, there are endless opportunities to find your place in the sun.
There’s nothing better than a room with a beachfront view, and Anna Maria’s Mainsail Beach Inn has some of the best on the island. Overlooking the beauty of the stunning waters of the coast, this inn creates the perfect locale for a weekend trip with friends or even an extended stay with family. The Mainsail Beach Inn celebrates Florida’s natural ambiance with coastal architecture and island-inspired designs. This resort offers 12 luxurious vacation rentals with direct beach access. The three-bedroom/ two-bath condos are just the right size to appreciate the beauty of the Anna Maria beaches in comfort and style.
There are countless ways to enjoy all that Anna Maria Island has to offer, from adventures on the beach to oceanfront dining, but strolling through the streets of the island is quite an adventure all its own. On the north end of Anna Maria Island sits the charming Pine Avenue, a street is fit for a lovely afternoon of boutique shopping, where you can find anything from beach-inspired jewelry to delicious gourmet treats. Currently undergoing significant development, Pine Avenue has become one of Florida’s most sustainable residential areas, and its ability to generate even more energy than its buildings will use each year has given it the title of “Greenest Little Main Street in America.” With an eclectic blend of old-fashioned architecture and modern features, Pine Avenue is a perfect outing after hours spent soaking up the sun.
In order to preserve the legacy of Anna Maria Island, the city began the Pine Avenue Restoration project, which provides visitors and locals alike with a historic shopping district combining vacation-style living and pedestrian friendly small town atmosphere, including boutique shops and residential buildings. Much of the renovation is already finished and expected to be fully completed within 20 years.
Anna Maria Island has been known to have some of the most beautiful sunsets, and a tranquil evening sail is perhaps the best way to experience this glorious sight. Relax with those you love as you sail on one of Anna Maria’s Kathleen D. Sailing Catamarans and watch the breathtaking hues of pink and orange paint the sky, while playful dolphins surround you. This sailing trip was just breathtaking and one you definitely don’t want to miss!
One of the best ways to explore all that Anna Maria Island has to offer is a Segway tour from Segs by the Sea. This is a great outing for family gatherings or a fun day with friends, as well as birthday parties and corporate events. Segs by the Sea tours can be customized to accommodate large groups, and the fascinating locations of each tour bring out the best of Anna Maria Island.
Although the seaside provides a firsthand view into Florida’s natural environment, the South Florida Museum is a great opportunity to learn about Florida’s past and present through an educational lens. As the largest natural and cultural history museum on Florida’s Gulf Coast, the South Florida Museum features the Bishop Planetarium that presents daily astronomy programs with stellar visuals. The museum also houses Parker Manatee Aquarium that is home to Snooty, the oldest manatee in captivity.
No beach day is complete without a waterfront dinner, and The Riverhouse Reef & Grill is a delicious blend of casual elegance. This restaurant keeps the seaside vibes continuing well into the evening with a gorgeous view over the mile-wide Manatee River. Al fresco dining meets the fresh Florida breezes outside, where dockside seating is a prime opportunity for dolphin and manatee sighting.
The Riverhouse Reef & Grill also serves as a great lunch spot for fresh, light fare or seafood delights, where you can kick back and catch up with friends. Located right on the marina, this restaurant offers plenty of cool breezes to fill your afternoon with just the right amount of relaxation. Continued on page 64
Another great choice for dining after a day at the beach is Anna Maria’s Waterfront Restaurant, a cozy retreat with laidback flair. Surrounded by lush foliage, the warmth of this restaurant radiates from the warm tones of natural wood to the views of glowing sunsets. The expansive open-air patio creates a captivating night of basking in the sea breezes and enjoying delicious seafood. The Waterfront specializes in fresh, natural flavors and island ingredients, including a variety of seafood caught by local fishermen.
With wonderful menu choices, it is no surprise that the Waterfront is one of the hot spots for Anna Maria and Bradenton locals to grab dinner. There are several options to satisfy your craving for seafood, including Grouper Oscar and Scallops Trovalo. You’ll even find tasty American comfort food classics with a twist, such as Chicken and Waffles, lightly-breaded and fried boneless chicken breast served over a homemade waffle with Neuske Smokehouse bacon, apple chow chow, and maple syrup beurre blanc and Shrimp and Grits, Gulf white shrimp, chorizo, and roasted red peppers simmered in parmesan cream sauce and served over a southern grits cake. Makes my mouth water just thinking about it!
After dinner, relax with a drink from the craft bar or stroll along the beach to enjoy the sights of Florida’s West Coast.
What better way to end your beach vacation than with a made-to-order donut? The Donut Experiment (Anna Maria Island Donuts) is a yummy finale to your stay at Anna Maria, offering fresh, light cake donuts that are made right in front of you. Pick your choice of seven icings/coatings, followed by a selection of fourteen fabulous toppings to choose from, including coconut, peanut butter drizzle, and even bacon. Indulge in one for yourself or share a scrumptious dozen with friends! I’ll bet you’ve never had them so fresh and oh so yummy!
Anna Maria Island is full of the tastes, treasures, and timeless spirit of the Gulf Coast’s relaxing paradise, and the calming waves are calling you and your loved ones to come discover the wonders of this hidden beach destination. This winter, melt away the hustle and bustle of the holidays with the endless summer that awaits you at Anna Maria Island.