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See Ya on Anna Maria

by Charlie Peay on December 19th, 2008

Anna Maria Island, located just off the southwest coast of Florida, was first discovered by local Indian tribes and later by Spanish explorers, but it wasn’t until the early 1900’s that that the island began to be settled. Much has changed since those early days, but even now Anna Maria Island has a certain innocence and charm about it which is unmatched by any other tropical destination. The old wooden bridge from the mainland is long gone, having been replaced by a more modern structure making it easy to access the island on Manatee Avenue from the nearby town of Bradenton. If you happen to be in Sarasota and wish to take the scenic route, you can follow Gulf Of Mexico Drive all the way up Longboat Key until you pass over the crystal clear waters of Longboat Pass and make the short drive over from nearby Bradenton Beach. Either way you choose to get here, you’ll be glad you came.
When I first visited Anna Maria, I was moved by the friendliness and simple lifestyle of the island natives, and I must say the longer I was here, the more at home I felt until I didn’t want to leave at all…it’s that kind of place. There’s plenty to do and explore on this enchanted island, from restaurants and shopping to fishing, golf, and water sports of all kinds. Of course, some folks prefer to do nothing at all unless you count walking on desolate beaches, swimming with the dolphins, and catching up on your reading. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that this island community offers a free trolley service, but there are plenty of bicycles and mopeds to go around as well. For all you boat lovers, there are two full-service marinas on the island which offer boat slips, fishing charters, and everything you’ll need to store and maintain your boat. You’ll find museums, historical attractions and eco-tourism opportunities aplenty to enjoy during your stay — so there’s never a chance you’ll run out of things to do. Best of all, there is no need to plan your day around the best times to avoid big crowds, long lines and traffic delays like so many other resorts.
When approaching Anna Maria on Gulf Drive, it’s impossible not to get a little excited as you prepare to leave all of your cares and worries behind. As you round the bend and pass by Manatee County Beach on your left, you can almost feel the warm sand between your toes and the waves lapping at your feet. Almost before you know it, you’re here — right in the middle of “downtown” historic Anna Maria on Holmes Beach! You begin to feel a bit more relaxed as you prepare to check into the lodging of your choice, knowing all to well that you really deserve this vacation. Whether you’ve chosen to stay in one a 1 or 2-bedroom cottage, a quaint island home, or a magnificent 5-bedroom retreat, you’re in store for a real tropical getaway. If a Bed and Breakfast is more your cup of tea, Anna Maria has just the place for you. You can stay inland, close to the island’s cultural center, or right on the beach! Whichever type of accommodation you prefer, you’re sure to make a whole new set of friends while you’re here and discover the true meaning of carefree island living.
There are simple, delightful gastronomic surprises here to be sure, from the delicious homemade sandwiches prepared daily at Jessie’s Island Store, to the authentic Bohemian jerk chicken, bangers and mash served just a short hop away at newly restored Bridge Street in Bradenton Beach. Whether it’s a good hamburger you crave, fine dining, or some of the best seafood you ever tasted, you won’t have to look far to find a restaurant that will satisfy your cravings. Some of the more popular dining choices on the island include Beach Bistro, City Pier, Da Giorgio, Duffy’s Tavern, Sandbar, and Waterfront Restaurant which overlooks Tampa Bay.
One of the nice things about Anna Maria Island is that it’s so easy to get around — the island has a well-defined perimeter and it’s actually quite possible to cover the whole island in under thirty minutes by car! Gulf Drive basically parallels the beach and will take you all the way to the north end of the island. From there, you can simply follow North Shore Drive around to Bay Boulevard on the bay side, which will lead you back to Bimini Bay and Marina Drive in the heart of the cultural district. While you’re at the north end of the island, be sure to take timeout for a carefree stroll at Bean Point where you can watch the seagulls, sandpipers and pelicans frolic in the surf while clusters of sea oats wave lazily in the steady island breezes. If you follow Pine Avenue all the way to where it intersects Bay Boulevard on the bayside, you can park your car for free and walk out to the end of City Pier which offers splendid fishing and sightseeing in addition to delicious casual dining. If there are shoppers in your group, Bayview Plaza across the street has a fine collection of upscale shops which sell everything from apparel, antiques, art, and gifts to gourmet coffee and ice cream. You can even stop by the Post Office while you’re here if you need to pick up a stamp or mail a postcard. Wherever you go on this tropical island paradise, you’re sure to find more of the same — friendly people, pleasant surroundings and a laid-back attitude that is unmatched anyplace else.
When you consider that Anna Maria Island is located within an hour’s drive of Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota, you begin to get a sense of the endless cultural, sports and entertainment adventures that await you — from the Dali Museum, Ringling Museum of Art, Selby Gardens and Mote Marine Aquarium to Tampa’s Busch Gardens, Adventure Island, and the Sarasota West Coast Symphony. If you like sports, there’s plenty to go around between Tampa Bay Buccaneers football, Devil Rays baseball and Tampa Bay Lightning hockey, not to mention the David Ledbetter Golf Academy, Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy and IMG Academy which are all located in Bradenton. However you choose to spend your time during your stay, there’s something for everyone on this scenic tropical wonderland, which has been welcoming visitors now for over a hundred fun filled years.

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