Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key, and its coastal companions, Bradenton and Lakewood Ranch, are a glorious throwback to old Florida, when charming little beach towns graced the shores, secluded from the outside world. For sheer natural beauty, it is one of Florida's most scenic locales. Blooming bougainvillea, alamanda, and jacaranda paint a lush and colorful frame to the deep emerald Gulf waters. Historic landmarks, breathtaking views of the Manatee River and a wide variety of individually-owned accommodations and restaurants provide one-of-a-kind vacations for visitors. Adding to the mix is the gracious southern hospitality of the locals providing the perfect ingredients for a relaxing and revitalizing break from the everyday world.
Each distinct area has its own personality and intriguing story to tell. Bradenton is home to the Village of the Arts, one of Florida's largest artists-in-residence communities and home to more than 35 artists who live, work and exhibit in their spaces. A revitalized downtown area features antique shops, restaurants, the South Florida Museum, quaint B&Bs, and a riverfront district with walking paths and an amphitheater.
Lakewood Ranch, a 8,500-acre master-planned community, combines dramatic landscapes, world-class recreational facilities, fine dining and numerous shopping venues. Cinemas, boutiques and international cuisine entertain visitors along the tree-lined promenade, Main Street at Lakewood Ranch, where art shows and special events are held throughout the year.
Anna Maria Island affords visitors a true ‘Old Florida' getaway where pastel-colored cottages, boutique mini-resorts, and inns dot white sandy shoreline. Visitors can make their way up and down the 7.5-half-mile island on the free Anna Maria Island Trolley to peruse the numerous boutiques, ice cream shops, and award-winning independent restaurants.
Crossing the bridge to Longboat Key transports visitors to a distinct barrier island atmosphere where luxury accommodations, world-class dining and white sand beaches dominate this four-star experience.
The Bradenton area was first settled by English and Spanish explorers in the 17th Century who, according to legend, named the County's main waterway the Manatee River for the gentle sea cows that still slowly swim along area inlets. In 1892, George Emerson Bean, a traveler from Connecticut, homesteaded the northern 160 acres of Anna Maria Island and became its first permanent resident. Today you can visit Bean Point in the City of Anna Maria and witness amazing sunsets near his former home. Bean's son became partners with Charles Roser, inventor of the Fig Newton, and they formed the Anna Maria Beach Company to begin development. In 1911, they built the pier that stands at the end of Pine Avenue today, allowing arrival by boat for the first time. And then in 1921, the Original Cortez Bridge was constructed connecting the Island to the fishing village of Cortez. Model T's were able to roll onto the island utilizing the wooden expanse.
Beaches – There is something for every beach lover, from total seclusion to beaches with tons of amenities such as barbecue pits, concession stands, lifeguards, and more. The annual average water temperature in the region is 74 degrees. Area beaches include:
Anna Maria Beach Holmes Beach
Bayfront Park Manatee County Public Beach
Bradenton Beach Whitney Beach
Beer Can Island Conrad Beach
Coquina Beach Palma Sola Causeway
Fishing – A fishermen's paradise with abundant year-round salt and freshwater fishing opportunities. Drop a line and you're likely to catch red snapper, spotted sea trout, or grouper just to list a few. Fishing licenses are required, except on charter trips and public piers. Numerous inshore and offshore charters are available from marinas on Anna Maria Island or in the Village of Cortez, one of the last commercial fishing villages on Florida's Gulf Coast.
Golf – The Bradenton area is home to more than 20 golf courses, many of which are top-rated. Eager golfers can tee off at The Concession Golf Club (designed by Jack Nicklaus in association with Tony Jacklin), University Park Country Club (Golf Digest Best Places to Play 2008/2009), and Legacy Golf Club (Arnold Palmer Course, Golf Digest 4.5-Star Rated in 2010). For additional play, nearby Sarasota has more than 25 courses available.
Shopping – Shopaholics can indulge in several budget-friendly bargains that won't weigh down your carry-on or require another checked bag. Fresh Florida citrus can be purchased and conveniently shipped at Mixon Fruit Farms in Bradenton, and designer deals at the Ellenton Premium Outlets provide extra cash if you need to ship them home. And small signature collectibles are found at the more than 35 galleries in the Village of the Arts or the one-of-a-kind finds at the Red Barn Flea Market with more than 125,000 square feet of air-conditioned retail space. After bargain hunting, visitors will enjoy wandering about the island boutiques and galleries on Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key or taking a stroll along the Main Street at Lakewood Ranch where more than 20 specialty boutiques sell fashions, gifts, and décor.
Sports – Fostering the likes of tennis greats Maria Sharapova, Monica Seles and Andre Agassi, IMG's Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy is a magnet for tennis enthusiasts. The academy boasts 35 Outdoor US Open-grade hard courts, four Indoor US Open-grade hard courts, 16 green clay courts, and one red clay court. Visitors are welcome to play at the academy for a day, a week, or by the month. IMG Academies also include golf, soccer, baseball, basketball, lacrosse and football camps, as well as the IMG Performance Institute. Baseball fans will want to pay a visit to McKechnie Field, Bradenton's Field of Dreams. This 6,200-seat old-time ball park is home of the Pittsburgh Pirates spring training games played throughout the month of March as well as the Bradenton Marauders minor league team. And, avid sports fans will marvel at the Sarasota Polo Club and Sarasota International Cricket Club.
A simple stroll along the shore provides more than spectacular views. A careful eye is rewarded with such natural treasures as the horse conch (Florida State Shell), Calico Scallop, Lightning Whelk, Rock Snail, Keyhole Limpet and other seashells.
Great World Adventures in Bradenton is one of the only outfitters in the world to offer horse surfing, a rare, one-of-a-kind equestrian experience. Riders enjoy a beautiful one-mile bareback ride along the beach on Palma Sola Causeway, and then take the plunge by riding their horse as it swims in the water. Daring riders can stand up and "surf" through the water on their horse's back.
Native Rentals on Anna Maria Island offers stand-up paddle boarding rentals and tours into Anna Maria Sound and Robinson Preserve. As they explore mangrove tunnels, tidal rivers and rookery islands, paddlers can expect an up-close-and-personal look at the area's marine life and wildlife – from dolphins and manatees, to thousands of fish and birds.
Nature lovers are smitten with Emerson Point Conservation Preserve, a 365-acre park. Crisscrossed with winding trails and wooden boardwalks, Emerson Point allows visitors to take in the area's Native American heritage with the many middens surrounding the largest remaining Temple Mound on Tampa Bay.
Coquina Baywalk at Leffis Key is yet another natural wonder, where footbridges and boardwalks allow visitors on Anna Maria Island to explore shallow tidal lagoons.
Museums & Historical Attractions
The South Florida Museum and Parker Manatee Aquarium in downtown Bradenton are home to Snooty™, the nation's oldest manatee (62 years) living happily in captivity. Visitors can witness his daily feedings that consist of nearly 90 lbs. of a mix of iceberg lettuce, carrots, kale,
cabbage, collards, bok choy, broccoli, apples and vitamin supplement. Or, check out a star-studded show at the state-of-the-science Bishop Planetarium. The museum tells the story of Florida from "Astronomy to Zoology" and other exhibits include dioramas, ancient artifacts,
featured artists and more.
History buffs enjoy the Desoto National Memorial which commemorates Hernando Desoto's historic landing in Florida and the major significance his expedition holds to the history of North America.
Visit the Gamble Plantation State Historic Park, an antebellum mansion and the only surviving plantation house in South Florida.
Explore the Manatee Village Historical Park where you'll find restored buildings from the county's pioneer era including a general store, church, courthouse, and school.
Several local growers have formed the Gulf Coast Agventure to offer group tours for visitors of their various agritourism operations including farms, citrus groves, a winery and produce markets.
At Rosa Fiorelli Winery, groups can witness the winemaking process and vineyards where they will learn all about making Florida wines as well as enjoying a catered lunch, tasting and a keepsake wine glass.
Dakin Dairy farm provides groups a guided walking tour that showcases their farm market, milk plant, cow barns and milking area. Guests can watch a video on the pasteurization process and embark on a hay ride throughout the farm. Several family-fun activities round out the tour including a pig race, hands-on farm duties including feeding the goats and churning butter, and roasting hot dogs and marshmallows at camp fires on a five-acre play area where kids can run and dash through hay tunnels and sand hills.
Mixon Fruit Farms provides its guests a tram tour of the citrus grove where the guide shares the history of Florida citrus and the Mixon Family while stopping at the Wildlife education area where they experience an up-close look at wild animals that may include deer, raccoons, hawks, owls, iguanas, pythons and much more. Guests enjoy a buffet lunch provided by their deli including salad, an assortment of homemade sandwiches, and fresh orange slices, orange juice and their famous Orange Swirl Ice Cream. Guests can also tour the orange factory and witness fresh fruit being cleaned, packed, squeezed and bottled or watch videos showcasing the process.
Visitors can also explore the all-new Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, or the John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, Mote Aquarium and Sarasota Jungle Gardens, just minutes away in Sarasota.
Anna Maria Island & Longboat Key offer a diverse range of accommodation options from luxury vacation rentals and boutique mini-resorts to charming bed & breakfast inns, beachside cottages, and convenient condos. Several accommodators also offer the gracious extras guests appreciate from complimentary breakfast to bicycle rentals and more.
Visitors are spoiled with numerous independent dining locales serving a tasty mix of cuisines that enhance the taste of the islands. From fresh Florida seafood straight from the Gulf waters, to "Floribbean" cuisine, island and mainland restaurants cover all the bases with eclectic bistros, waterfront grills and charming cafes. The destination is home to The Sarasota-Manatee Originals, a select group of independent restaurateurs celebrating their passion for culinary excellence and the use of locally grown and sourced foods.
Winter (Jan.-March 74 - 52
Spring (April-June) 86 - 65
Summer (July-Sept.) 90 - 72
Fall (Oct.-Dec.) 79 - 58
Travel by Air
Sarasota/Bradenton International Airport is conveniently located at the southern edge of Manatee County, and Tampa International Airport is just 45 minutes away. Most major airline carriers and rental car companies service these flyer-friendly airports.
Access by Car
Approximate Mileage from Major U.S. Cities
Atlanta, GA 496 miles
Chicago, IL 1,223 miles
Indianapolis, IN 1,038 miles
Orlando, FL 119 miles
Tampa, FL 46 miles
Anna Maria Island & Longboat Key are located off Interstate 75 at State Road 64 west. From 275, take U.S. Highway 41 south to State Road 64 west.