Just south of St. Petersburg lies one of Florida's small barrier islands, Anna Maria, which gleams with seven miles of far-reaching white beaches and features picturesque beach town shops and eateries.Â Local Floridians gained access to Anna Maria Island in 1921 when the wooden Cortez bridge was built to connect the islet to the mainland, and it's been a well-kept secret amongst natives ever since.Anna Maria Island maintains quintessential seaside features: it's lined with reduced-speed roads that bustle with golf carts and bicycles. Islanders also offer a free trolley service that runs up and down the island all day.Â Travelers can also embark on the Monkey Bus, a small bus decked in sunset hues that transports visitors to and from various island bars and restaurants. Each driver works on tips, and you may even be lucky enough to board a bus with built-in karaoke.Â Â With all that said, Anna Maria Island is worth the visit, and there are lots of things to do that you can't miss.Â
Kayak with DolphinsExplore the gentle aquamarine waters surrounding Anna Maria Island, Florida, via kayak, and meet a few flippered friends along the way.Â There are various expert-led, guided tours around the island, offering journeys through a band of red mangroves in the Anna Maria Sound. Dolphins and manatees are often found in the shallow waters.One touring company even ventures out into Tampa Bay â" a journey filled with impeccable views of Sunshine Skyway Bridge and cooling sandbar swims.There are also options to fly-solo with self-guided rides to traverse through the island's waters. Typically, both single and tandem kayaks are available for rent.
Catch a RideOne of life's great de-stressors is a joy ride across a coastal stretch. Anna Maria Island's slow-moving roads foster perfect conditions for a scenic scooter ride around the perimeter of the island. Local stores offer a slew of bicycles and golf carts, too.Â
Go FishingThe island of Anna Maria offers a plentiful assortment of fishing piers for all your fishing needs. The Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay's waters are filled with saltwater Redfish, Spotted Seatrout, and Snook. Tarpons are also plentiful; however, catch-and-release is necessary for this chum.Â Â For the best of Anna Maria Island fishing, seasoned fishers may book a fishing charter or simply cast a line on some of Anna Maria Island's many piers, including Rod and Reel Pier, Anna Maria City Pier, and Bradenton Beach City Pier.There are also a couple of inshore fishing spots like Palma Sola and Sarasota Bay.Please note: Those over the age of 16 must acquire a fishing license before trekking out to the shoreline. Many experienced fishers on the island also tend to fish at the breakÂ of dusk and dawn, to avoid unbearably hot temperatures.Â Rock jetties and shorelines are also suitable fishing locations enjoyed by tourists, as well as locals.Â
Horse SurfThat's right â" horse surfing, and Anna Maria Island is its birthplace.Palma Sola Bay's shallow sandbar and calm waters breed the perfect conditions for a horseback swim. Anna Maria Island is one of few locations in Florida that allows horse riding on its pristine beaches.The Real Beach Horses is the company in charge. Participants can book personal tours or make a reservation through such hotels as The Ritz Carlton Sarasota, The Longboat Key Club, and the Lido Beach Resort.
Go to the BeachThe seven-mile stretch of powder-soft sand offers a plethora of stunning seaside destinations. The most popular is Bean Point, which lies a bit off the beaten path.The historic site was once home to island-founder George Emerson Bean, who established the island's first roads, schools, and churches. Now, the remote locale is one of the most sought-out stretches on the island, offering pristine views of the Gulf of Mexico as it transitions into Tampa Bay.Coquina Beach, located at the Southern end of the island, is another popular hangout. Open from sunrise to midnight and bespeckled with blue umbrellas, the shorefront offers such amenities as changing cabanas, showers, and volleyball nets.The beach also hosts a bi-weekly outdoor market that features a lineup of local vendors. Stroll through the displays as you peruse a variety of jewelry, artwork, and produce.Â
Get a Beach MassageSea-renity Beach Spa and Bout-Tiki offers heavenly massages on Bradenton Beach, just a few blocks from Cortez Bridge.Its massage therapists treat patients to tranquil massages, under lofty cabanas, soundtracked by the swishing waves. Those on a couples retreat may also partake in a romantic couples massage.Â
Grab a Dinner and a DrinkAnna Maria Island offers a deluge of tasty eateries, which offer a range of specials, from seaside feasts to artisan cocktails.Specifically, Eliza Ann's Coastal Kitchen is a Southern-style seafood dining room that's located in Waterline Marina Resort and Beach Club. Visitors may dine near the water's edge, as chef's serve up wood-grilled oysters and the crab hushpuppies, a crowd favorite.Â Local speakeasy, The Doctor's Office, concocts craft cocktails in the backdrop of what was once the surgical office of Doctor Stephen Pelham. It offers a slew of artisan liquors adorned in specialty goodies. One of its offerings is the Nightingale, a chamomile-infused jimador tequila crafted with fresh lemon and lavender honey.
Grab DessertThe island will satisfy those with unrelenting sweet tooths, with its extensive selection of candies and sweets.The Donut Experiment, founded by wife and husband duo Cecilia and Shawn Wampole, is a boutique-style donut shop that offers its visitors the opportunity to customize their own freshly made cake donut.Â Customers may choose from six types of icing: chocolate, caramel, maple, vanilla, glaze, and a specialty flavor. In addition, there are a plentiful variety of toppings, including bacon, chocolate chips, and peanut butter drizzle.Â There's even sriracha and key lime donuts for those with adventurous palates.Hometown Desserts, owned and operated by Cindy Tutterow, also bakes such sweet delicacies as key lime coconut cake, cranberry orange scones, and bourbon chocolate pecan pie. The bakery began as a home business and expanded to a retail shop in 2012.
Go ShoppingTake a stroll along Park Avenue to find an arrangement of shops specializing in local artisan goods.Â The Olive Oil Outpost offers an abundance of infused olive oils, spices, and cheeses, while the Pineapple Junktion Co-op, a self-described "one-stop shop for collectors, treasure-seekers, [and] designers," offers thrifty finds from over 30 different vendors.Â The avenue also features the Bob Brown Art Gallery; its displays highlight island-life, capturing seabirds, sailboats, and ocean waves.Â
Visit the Island Fresh MarketThis small fish shop is reminiscent of the markets of Old Florida. Just off the shore of Holmes Beach, the store offers local seafood and locally-sourced products. Among its shelves are spices, sauces, and dips, as well as pre-made meals like shrimp scampi pasta.Â
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