Stunning white-sand beaches, abundant sealife, and great food await you on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Read on for the best things to do on Anna Maria Island.
The Gulf Coast of Florida draws visitors with its stunning white-sand beaches. The pristine beaches beckon you to walk along the peaceful shores digging your toes into the soft billowy sand, immersing you into the beach lifestyle. An abundance of nature, including sea turtles, shorebirds, dolphins, and manatees, welcome you. The beaches of Anna Maria Island captured my fancy. With its laid-back atmosphere, this resort town is good for any city girl’s soul. Let me guide you as we discover what to do on Anna Maria Island.
About Anna Maria Island
Anna Maria Island is a barrier island on Florida’s Gulf Coast. The island is seven miles long and consists of three cities: Anna Maria, Holmes Beach, and Bradenton Beach. The island’s broad beaches make it the perfect getaway for travelers.
As a Southern California girl, I am used to the beaches of Santa Monica and Malibu, where the beige sand is warm, rough, and gritty, often burning your feet. What struck me most about the beaches of Anna Maria Island was how cool the white, soft, and silky sands were to the touch.
There are seven popular beaches: Anna Maria, Holmes Beach, Manatee Beach, Bradenton Beach, Coquina Beach, Bean Point Beach, and Bayfront Park. Each beach offers something different, whether they are more family oriented or secluded.
Watching the sunset at the beach is one of the most glorious moments when visiting Anna Maria Island.
Animal Life on Anna Maria Island
You will find birds perched everywhere you wander on the island, from pelicans to storks. Every boat welcomes you aboard with its avian captain, especially when fishermen dock their boats at sunset. Birdlife greets you while walking the beaches along the pier. They are fearless, especially approaching humans who bring them an array of food.
Dolphins and manatees make their homes in Tampa Bay. Considered the Anna Maria Island mascot, Florida manatees are an endangered species. They are herbivores feeding on floating plant species. Seagrasses, a favorite of the manatee, thrive in shallow coastal waters; therefore, you typically find this aquatic mammal, often known as sea cows, swimming in shallow water areas. The best time of year to see the manatees is from November to early March because they move closer to shore, searching for warmer waters. During the rest of the year, it is best to see the manatees by taking a boat tour.
What to Do on Anna Maria Island—Activities
Aside from the pristine white sand beaches, Anna Maria Island offers many things to do, including popular activities like fishing and boating. Remember that anything you do is at a laid-back pace. If you do not want to use a car, the best way to get around is with the free Anna Maria Island Trolley. You can also take advantage of the Monkey Bus, but please remember to tip the driver.
Take a walk down Pine Avenue, and enjoy the shops, eateries, and an eclectic array of vacation homes along the way. You can rent bicycles or golf carts to get around. If you love donuts, stop by The Donut Experience, where they make donuts to order in front of you.
Anna Maria Island, Historical Society Museum, features the island’s history. The museum complex includes the museum, built in 1920 as an icehouse, which later became an automotive garage before becoming the museum; Belle Haven, the 1920s cottage that resided on the City Pier until it fell into the ocean and was moved to its current location to preserve its history; and the old city jail built in 1927 and used to stop the rowdies at local bars and dance halls. What made the jail unique was it had no roof, only bars on the windows, exposing prisoners to mosquitoes and forcing them to clean up their act. The old city jail building became a destination photo op and one of the most popular stops on the island.
Pine Avenue ends at the pier. The Anna Maria City pier was constructed in 1911 by the Anna Maria Development Company. The pier was built for ships to dock and import fish to Tampa and St. Petersburg. The original pier was damaged during Hurricane Iram in 2017. The pier reopened in 2020 after reconstruction. Take a walk along the boardwalk that projects 700 ft into Tampa Bay.
Historic Old Town District
Make your way down to Bridge Street, located at the center of the Historic Old Town District in Bradenton Beach. Bridge Street used to house the original wooden bridge connecting the island with the mainland until a new one was built. Bridge Street now boasts quaint buildings with unique shops, restaurants, and bars. The Sunday market is open from November to April and features vendors selling art, jewelry, and produce. Bridge Street ends at the Bridge Street Pier.
Wildlife Boat Tour with Paradise Boat Tours
A trip to Anna Maria Island must include a boat tour to see the birdlife, dolphins, and manatees as you cruise the waters of the Gulf Coast. The excursion I took with Paradise Boat Tours departs from the Bridge Street Pier. The boat tour is an excellent way to see Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key from the bay. You will navigate Tampa Bay and drift out to the ocean too. It is a seaworthy day that you will enjoy.
What To Do On Anna Maria Island—Dining
Fish and seafood are the specialties on Anna Maria Island, and I got hooked on the grouper. I could not get enough and became a groupie for grouper, especially since it was in season and the fresh catch at most restaurants.
Breakfast on Anna Maria Island
A visit to Anna Maria Island must include a stop at the local islander’s hangout, Ginny’s and Jane E’s Café and Gift Shop. Walk into a colorful and eclectic environment where friends hang out or meet new friends. Enjoy their famous cinnamon rolls to smoothies, or stop by for a coffee or Frappuccino. I found the Café a great place to people-watch.
Lunch or Brunch on Anna Maria Island
Anna Maria Oyster Bar on the Pier is a fabulous place to overlook the Intracoastal Waterway, and you can enjoy the views while dining on local fish fare. Originally located on the Anna Maria City Pier, the restaurant moved and now has four locations, including the one I visited at the Bridge Street pier on Bradenton Beach.
Although I went for a salad topped with grouper, beginning my infatuation with this fish, the Tuna Stack made my day. Not only was the presentation a delectable sight, but the wonderful flavors combining yellowfin tuna poke with layers of guacamole, wasabi slaw, and key lime ponzu hit the spot.
The Waterfront Restaurant & Craft Bar sits adjacent to the Anna Maria Island City Pier and beaches. This beach cottage was one of the original homes built on Anna Maria Island in 1922 and is referred to as Lorraine Cottage after the builder’s daughter. In the 1970s, the house became a gallery. In the 1980s, it became an ice cream parlor before becoming the Waterfront Restaurant in 1999. The current owners purchased the restaurant in 2002. In 2004, a fire destroyed most of the cottage, and only the fireplace and back building survived. The reconstruction replicated the original cottage.
The restaurant’s outdoor patio lures you into the laid-back Florida dining style. Waterfront specializes in seafood and steaks. I chose Tropicale, an arugula salad with hearts of palm, avocado, and scallops. A colleague opted for the Grouper Tacos with lightly blackened and grilled flour tortillas, jicama slaw, cheddar jack, and pico de gallo.
Paying Homage to the Grouper
I could not leave Anna Maria Island without visiting a restaurant dedicated to my favorite fish, the grouper. The Ugly Grouper takes the grouper to the extreme. Most of the dishes on the menu featured grouper or some seafood. There is even a grouper sculpture created from used car components and Harley-Davidson Motorcycles. It weighs 3180 pounds and measures 20 feet long, 14 feet high, and 10 feet wide.
You really should try the Grouper Tacos. Wrapped in a cheese fan shell, blackened grouper is served with cabbage and fresh salsa. The presentation is eye-catching.
Chiles Hospitality Welcomes Diners to Anna Maria Island
Chiles Hospitality plays an important role in the sustainable foods department. They own three restaurants and a bakery on the island, Sandbar, Mar Vista, Beach House, and the Anna Maria Bakery. All three restaurants afford incredible beachfront views that embody the goals of providing the patron with quality cuisine and breathtaking views. I was fortunate to dine at both the Sandbar and the Mar Vista.
Sandbar Seafood & Spirits
Considered one of Anna Maria Island’s iconic restaurants since 1979, the beachfront restaurant, Sandbar Seafood & Spirits, is the ideal spot to watch the sunset. Patrons of the Sandbar enter a nightly contest to guess when the sun sets. The winning diner gets a bottle of Champagne. I was only a few seconds off the winning time.
The restaurant offers locally sourced sustainable seafood and produce from Chiles Hospitality’s Gamble Farms. One popular appetizer, Two Dock Clams, is enhanced with bacon creating unique flavors for this dish. The octopus is another favorite. I, of course, chose the grouper.
Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant & Pub
Located on Longboat Key, adjacent to Anna Maria Island and overlooking Sarasota Bay, Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant & Pub sits amongst several buttonwood trees covered with lights that enhance the atmosphere. Constructed in the 1920s as a fishing shack, Chiles Hospitality later refurbished the restaurant into its current form.
Chef Aaron Kulzer went out of his way to accommodate my allergies. One must start with the Fish Dip and the Mar Vista Tater Tots. Between grouper, shrimp, and scallops, I left very satisfied. The Gulf Coast Cioppino was a favorite of my colleague.
Other Noteworthy Restaurants on Anna Maria Island
Freckled Fin Irish Pub is a favorite of locals, and you might not expect an Irish Pub to have marvelous fish. The Chevre Beet Salad sans the chevre served with fresh arugula and topped with dried cherries, roasted beets, sunflower seeds, charred ahi tuna, and house balsamic vinaigrette, was delicious.
At The Chateau on the Lake, you would not know you were dining at a hotel because the décor of this intimate, cozy restaurant brings a little French inspiration to Anna Maria Island. I started the meal with Yellowfin Tuna Tartar with frisée, avocado-wasabi mousse, and fried sesame wontons. Everyone by now knows my dinner entree was grouper.
During my visit to Anna Maria Island, I enjoyed staying at the Waterline Villas & Marina, a Marriott Autograph Collection in Holmes Beach. This boutique hotel is pet-friendly. With condo-style comfort, my room, a two-bedroom suite with a full kitchen and laundry, offered marina views. The balcony spans the unit, and I loved sitting outside after breakfast, taking in the island air.
Enjoy breakfast, lunch, or dinner at The Chateau Anna Maria while staying at the Waterline Villas & Marina. This French-inspired restaurant reflects the best of Buddy Foy, Jr’s sister restaurant, The Chateau On The Lake in Bolton Landing, New York. The parfait looked yummy.
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When You Escape to Anna Maria Island
After experiencing Anna Maria Island, you will leave rejuvenated and filled with memories of the pristine beaches, relaxed atmosphere, and superb dining. Let Wander With Wonder be your guide when planning your next trip to Florida or a nearby Caribbean Island. We also have some great suggestions for even more beach vacations!