Information/ Things to do

Welcome to Anna Maria Island

Anna Maria Island – a brief guide

Welcome to a special little place off the west coast of Florida, eight miles west of the city of Bradenton, connected to the mainland by the Manatee and the Cortez bridges. There is nowhere quite like it anywhere on Earth.

Anna Maria Island may only be just over seven miles long but it hosts three separate cities – Anna Maria, Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach – each with its own administration and city hall. Each of these three tiny cities has its own individual village character but all are populated with friendly, easy-going inhabitants. The longer you stay, the more you will come to recognise and appreciate the differences.

The cornerstone of the philosophy of the island’s governments has been preservation of the ‘Old Florida’ heritage. Throughout the decades, local city governments have worked diligently to adhere to this aim and today Anna Maria Island has just two structures that are higher than three stories.

All three cities have wonderful restaurants, shopping, and both Gulf and Bay front beaches. The whole island has a congenial air of relaxed charm, no one is in any particular hurry and nothing seems like too much trouble.

Anna Maria Island’s weather has distinct seasons. The annual average temperature is 74.8 degrees Fahrenheit. Inmid-October, the summer Caribbean trade winds that bring the sun and warm breezes to our island are blocked by cooler weather from the north and the temperatures drop to the 70s overnight, but the days are mostly warm and sunny.

By spring, the cloudless, dry days generally reach temperatures in the 70s and80s, with cooler evenings. Afternoons are punctuated by ‘sea breezes’ from the gulf which drop at sunset. The trade winds typically influence the climate b mid-May, with daytime temperatures up to around the 90 degree mark. At this timeof year a favorite occupation is strolling down to the beach in the evenings to watch the spectacular sunsets lighting up the whole sky.

Island History

The area was first inhabited by the Timucan and Caloosan American Indian tribes, but the recorded history of the Island is said to have begun around1530 when Spanish explorers such as Hernando DeSoto claimed he entire area for the Spanish Crown. However, in 1892 George Emerson Bean(after whom Bean Point was named) became the first permanent resident on the Island and home-steaded much of what is now the city of Anna Maria.

In the early 1900s, Bean began to develop the Island with the Anna Maria Beach Company that laid out streets, built sidewalks and houses and instaled awater system. During this time the pretty Roser Memorial Community Church, was built by George Roser in memory of his mother. He was the creator of the Fig Newton that he eventually sold to Nabisco Brands. This church still stands and is used by some Islanders.

For years the Island was only accessible by boat. It was not until 1921 that a wooden bridge was constructed connecting Anna Maria Island to the mainland. The bridge extended westward from the historic fishing village of Cortez over to the island. Bradenton Beach fishing pier at the end of Bridge Street is the western end of that original bridge.

Today the island remains a mixture of residential homes, vacation properties and businesses existing in harmony with the landscape and enhancing its small-town heritage. The year-round and seasonal residents who enrich the local population come from throughout the Americas as well as Europe and the Far East.

Take the time to visit the Anna Maria Island Historical Society office in Anna Maria City which houses many old photographs giving you a fuller understanding of the island way of life during the last century.

Bradenton Beach
Bradenton Beach, on the southern end of the island, has Coquina beach, a long stretch of white sugar sand and plenty of parking. This community has just restored their City Pier and welcomes anyone wanting to fish for their dinner along with those who just want to sit down at the pier restaurant for a grouper sandwich and watch the fisherman on the pier. Bradenton Beach has quite a few resorts, a marina and a revitalized historic Bridge Street shopping area. Along the Gulf side you’ll find a variety of restaurants where you can view the beautiful sunsets.

Holmes Beach
Holmes Beach has the beautiful Manatee County Beach with a restaurant on the beach and plenty of parking and picnic areas. There are several shopping plazas in Holmes Beach for groceries, pharmaceutical needs, hardware, etc. along with some laid back beach stores that rent kayaks,bicycles, and furniture for renters. The commercial center of Holmes Beach has several banks, a marina, a gym and leisure center and an eclectic range of small shops and restaurants.

Anna Maria City
Anna Maria City is the northern-most part of the island and is mostly residential. However, there are a couple of small shopping plazas and some wonderful restaurants to enjoy. The beach front restaurants are a favorite spot for weddings. The historic Anna Maria Pier stretches out into Tampa Bay and is the gathering place for many of the island locals for fishing or just island talk, as is the Rod and Reel Pier to the north. The beaches of Anna Maria are beautiful, but there is limited parking.

Island Guide – Free and Easy

The best things about Anna Maria Island are free, which is why so many people come here. The sunsets are free, the sunshine is free, and the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico are free. You won’t feel like doing much once you get that pure white sand between your toes, but that isn’t to say you shouldn’t make the most of your stay. So here is our guide to the best sandy spots, shady trees and cool water. – plus some unforgettable experiences that won’t cost a dime.

Beaches

With Anna Maria Island being one long beach on the Gulf side, you are spoilt for choice when it comes to places to enjoy the surf to yourself. Hardly surprisingly, the quietest spots tend to be those out-of-the-way places where parking is awkward.

Bean Point at the northern tip of the island is a fantastic spot to enjoy an evening stroll among the dunes and gently swaying sea oats. You will need to park in one of the residential roads up around North Bay Boulevard or North Shore Drive and walk through the paths to the beach, but it’s well worth the effort.

Coquina Park is another great spot, away from the crowds, right at the other end of the island. There is parking just off Gulf Drive South, before you hit the bridge over Longboat Pass and it is a perfect place to relax and enjoy the quiet. It’s also a great area for birdwatching and keeping an eye out for pods of dolphins as they make their way from the bay to the sea.

For a slightly different view of things, try Bayfront Park in the north-east of the island,between the Rod ‘n Reel and City piers. It’s a lovely wide open space, with room enough for the kids to run around, some picnic tables and benches and is an ideal place to watch the boats travel to and fro in Anna Maria Sound from under some shady trees.

But, if it’s sand andsun you’ve come for, the whole seven miles of sands are yours to enjoy. Or, if you want to take home a memento of your visit in the form of a shell, some ofthe best spots to adopt the ‘Anna Maria Stoop’ are found at either extreme of the island, again away from the main parking areas.

Sunsets

Anna Maria is justly proud of its world class sunsets. Early evening, people gather to sit on the sands or stroll along the seashore to take in the most spectacular light show on earth. Reds, golds and other colors of the spectrum light up the sky and reflect across the waters of the Gulf. Taking the time to watch the slip slip gently down over the far horizon of the Gulf is, to us, one of the wonders of the world. It is an experience not to be missed and even better when shared with loved ones or good friends.

Beach Protocol

City ordinances are inplace to protect the beaches for the enjoyment of everyone. This means no noise, loud music, vehicles, alcohol, litter, or dogs are allowed on thebeaches. It is also prohibited to leave beach furniture on the sand overnight. For our European visitors, please note that topless bathing and thong swimwear is also not permitted on the island’s beaches – doing so may result in a fine from law enforcement officers. Keeping safe and peaceful beaches for the island’s residents and visitors is a priority.

Piers

No vacation to AnnaMaria Island is complete without a wander along one or all of the four piers jutting out into the pure blue waters surrounding the island. However, only onedips its foundations into the Gulf’s waters which is what makes the one atManatee County public beach so unique. It might be a little basic, but it’s abrilliant spot to watch the sun go down on another day in paradise.

Of the other, bay-sidepiers, the Rod n Reel is a great spot to enjoy a cold beer and enjoy somesimple but delicious food as you watch the pier rats try to haul in the catchof the day. Anna Maria City Pier is much bigger and can get a little crowded(could be something to do with the fact that it’s free to fish) but the restaurantis popular with locals and again it has nice views of the Skyway.

Bradenton Beach CityPier is bigger still, with plenty of room to wander out and watch the boats sail by and under the Manatee Bridge as you relax on one of the swing chairs.Rotten Ralphs restaurant is open all day for filling food if you get hungry doing all that.

Fishing

What could be more relaxing than spending a day attempting to catch dinner? With the sun shining,a cold drink in your hand, and some good company, you probably won’t care whether the big one gets away, so long as you’re taking it easy.

A lot of folks headfor the three bay-side piers for the simple fact that you don’t need a licenceand there is a ready supply of bait on hand (although it tends to be on thepricey side). Alternatively you could grab some shrimp from any of the baitshops on the island and head over to the pier on Manatee County public beach,where people fish out of holiday season with some success.

You can also fish from thebeaches, but remember to check for regulations as they tend to change quiteoften. For the most up-to-date advice go to www.MyFlorida.com or call 1(888) Fish-Florida.

One of the best ways to be sure of taking home some fish is toemploy the services of one of the many charter captains setting sail from or nearby Anna Maria Island. Taking a charter trip means you don’t have to worry about gettingyour bait, tackle, license or a lack of local knowledge – that’s where these guys come in. From heading out into the brightblue yonder in search of the gulf’sdeep water species, to stalking the flats and backwaters in search of somehard-fighting prey, Anna Maria Island has a fishing experience for everyone -all you have to do is haul ’em in.

Trolley Service

Anna Maria Island benefits from a freeshuttle service, known locally as the trolley, which does a continual loop ofthe island. Daily service runs from 6am to 10.30m every 20 minutes from theAnna Maria City Pier in the north to Coquina Beach in the south. Trolleys offerboth air conditioned and open-air seating. Trolley Stops are two to four blocksapart along the route. Look for the green sign with the picture of a trolley onit.

Manatee County Area Transit (MCAT) fixedroutes connect with the free trolley at Holmes Beach and Coquina Beach. FromHolmes Beach you can catch the No3 bus Monday thru Saturday along ManateeAvenue, passing through Bradenton and past the Manatee Memorial Hospital,health department and a Wal-Mart store.

The No6 Cortez Road service starts atCoquina Beach and passes over the Cortez Bridge in Bradenton Beach beforetaking a route past some of the main shops along Cortez Road, and finishingnear the De Soto Mall (see shopping section).

Walking and Cycling

Anna Maria Island is small enough toexplore by foot or by bike, and both offer visitors some of the best ways to truly enjoy all it has to offer.

You can rent a bike from a number ofcompanies on the island, some will even deliver to your door. Then you are free to explore. The main cycle path on Anna Maria Island starts at Coquina Beachand goes almost the entire length of the island and is marked on the main road.If you want to go your own way there are many side roads where there is lesstraffic and if you follow the signs to Key Royale, almost an island in itselfin Holmes Beach, there are plenty of interesting roads to ride down. The beautyof getting there on a bike is that you can park them much closer to some of theout-of-the-way spots, like Coquina Beach, Bean Point and the Anna Maria StatePark.

You can also ride south off the island andon to Longboat Key, which has cycle paths on shoulders on the main road, Gulfof Mexico Drive.

Walkers tend to concentrate on the sevenmiles of beach for which Anna Maria is famous. But, utilising the trolleyservice to the fullest is perhaps the best way to enjoy a tour on foot. Some ofthe safest and most relaxing walking routes are in Anna Maria City, around thequieter northern tip of the island. Just pick up a map from the Chamber ofCommerce and go explore!

Wildlife

Bird watching
Bird watching on theisland is rewarding. Pelicans and other waterfowl are prevalent in the city.The brown pelican is the most common: in adulthood it reaches a length of aboutfour feet and has a wingspan of 6.5 to 7.5 feet, weighing in at about ninepounds. Its straight bill has an enormous pouch for catching fish to feeditself and its young. During the winter white pelicans arrive in quite largenumbers. Other species include, ibis, egret, heron, gull, sandpiper, skimmerand spoonbill.

Dolphin watching
Bottlenose dolphinscan be observed both in the Intracoastal Waterway and the Gulf. Theseintelligent animals can e observed from bridges, piers or boats and also fromjust standing along the shore. An adult dolphin can typically weigh from 440 to600 pounds and reach an average length of 10 feet. They are wild animals andhave very sharp teeth and it is against the law to feed them. These friendlyanimals often live from 30 to 50 years. They often dive in and out of the wakefrom boats, leaping high into the air and thrilling their watching audience.

Manatee watching
The manatees found inthis region are a subspecies of the West India manatee. Also known as sea cows,these large herbivores are often seen in shallow coastal waters includingcanals, rivers, springs and the bay. They are an endangered species that isfully protected by Florida law and should only be observed from a distance.Powerboats frequently fatally injure or damage manatees, scarring their backswith their propellers so if boaters are in a manatee zone they must slow down.These gentle creatures are a joy to watch as they meander through the water.

Turtles
From May thru October Anna Maria Island’sbeach becomes a giant nursery as hundreds of sea turtles come ashore to nest.Anna Maria Island is one of the many places in Florida that sea turtles nest onthe beaches. Protection of the sea turtles is an important aspect of the islandculture, and information and training is available for tourists and locals inabundance.

Morning nesting beach tours of Anna Maria Island areconducted by Turtle Watch during the early morning hours of June, July and August. Please contact Turtle Watch to make a reservation on (941) 778 5638.

Turtle Watch offers various guidelines on what to doif you spot a live hatchling, find an open nest or discover an injured or deadturtle, the first of which is always to call them on the number above. Youshould also minimizebeachfront lighting visible from the beach; do not approach an adult turtlecoming out of the water to nest as you may startle her and she may return tothe water without nesting; do not position yourself in front of a nestingfemale as this may cause her to abort her nesting attempt; avoid usingflashlights or flash cameras which disrupt or disorient nesting turtles andemerging hatchlings; watch for and avoid hatchlings emerging from a nest; donot drive any unauthorized vehicles on the beach at night; and fill in holes inthe sand on the beach after your day of fun.

Report deador injured sea turtles to the AMITW stranding team (941) 778 5638 or cell 2321405, or the FFWCC on 800 342 5367. If you find anyone harassing a sea turtle or disturbing a nest, immediately Call National Marine Fisheries Service on 321269 0004.