Our family has fallen in love with Anna Maria Island in Florida! And if you ask me where the best places to travel are in the US, this would easily be on the top of my list.
While it’s no secret that our love for Florida beaches equals, and maybe even surpasses, our love for the Tennessee mountains, we have officially been swept off our feet by this Sunshine State gem!
Named by one of the world’s best beaches by Condé Nast Traveler, one wonders how it could be that Jimmy Buffet forgot to mention this beautiful Florida Gulf Coast barrier island in his songs.
Let me take you on a tour of this stunning Barrier Island located an hour south of Tampa in the Gulf of Mexico.
I guarantee you will quickly figure out why we are daydreaming about our return visit to Anna Maria Island.
What Is Anna Maria Island Known For?
Without a doubt, Anna Maria Island is known for its beautiful powdered sugar beaches and crystal clear calm water. We were fortunate enough to stay on the northern tip of Anna Maria Island near Anna Maria beach which was as pristine and perfect as a beach can get.
We have travelled all through the Caribbean and have seen some pretty amazing beaches, but not one has surpassed the beauty of this beach.
Another thing Anna Maria Island is best known for is the beautiful sunsets.
The water was so calm on this section of the island and so clear. We had an amazing time swimming, relaxing, and searching for sand dollars. We also had not one, not two, but THREE MANATEES swim by while we were there. Anna Maria Island beaches are simply stunning!
We were able to walk to the beach from our vacation rental in less than ten minutes each evening to view this amazing Anna Maria Island sunset. It never ceased to amaze!
Anna Maria Island Things To Do
Obviously, spending a day (or two or three or seven) at the beach on Anna Maria Island should be at the top of your to do list when planning your vacation to this paradise. However, if you insist, here are a few other things to do on Anna Maria Island, after you check out the beaches!
Anna Maria Island Beaches
Before we dive into all the Anna Maria Island activities available for you and your family to enjoy, let’s talk just a bit more about the features of each of the pristine Anna Maria Island Beaches.
Bean Point Anna Maria Island
On the northernmost point of the island lies Bean Point which is named for the original permanent settler to the island, George Bean. It’s here that Tampa Bay meets the Gulf of Mexico.
There is public access to Bean Point, but there is no public parking which makes it sort’ve a hidden gem on the island. We recommend you access it on foot to experience the journey as well as the destination.
If you start around the Anna Maria Island Pier on North Bay road and head north, you will soon see the small tree lined entrance. There are two other entrances on the corner of Fern St. & N. Shore Dr, as well as Gladiolus St. & North Shore. These entrances are marked by a small “Public Beach Access” sign.
Once you find Bean Point, you will understand why the locals love it so much. Teeming with wildlife and sea shells, we recommend you take a leisurely stroll or have a seat and enjoy the view.
Please DO NOT BE TEMPTED TO SWIM or do any more than wade in the water as the rip current at Bean Point is very strong and, sadly, there have been numerous drownings.
Anna Maria Island Beach
The aptly named Anna Maria Island beach lies toward the northern tip of Anna Maria Island but south of Bean Point. It is, in my opinion, the best beach on Anna Maria Island!
It is close to many of the vacation rentals on Anna Maria, boasts amazingly beautiful sunsets, and is home to the famous Sandbar Restaurant.
The water was calm, clear, and shallow. My entire family, including my five year old, could easily wade out for hundreds of feet and still not be over our heads. It is a great family beach to choose!
Anna Maria Bayfront Park
Bayfront Park is also located on the northern part of the island in Anna Maria City. It offers picnic tables, bathroom & shower facilities, a great playground for the kids, more amazing views, and is very close to the historic Anna Maria City pier.*
*The historic Anna Maria City pier was damaged during hurricane Irma in 2017, but construction was rapidly underway during our visit and I look forward visiting it next year when we return.
Holmes Beach is located in the center of the island. The island’s elementary school is located in this section of the island as well as 3 miles of sandy beach and more beauty. There are numerous Holmes Beach vacation home rentals as well as several condo complexes.
Holmes Beach is also where you will find the island’s only grocery store, Publix, several great restaurants, and the best cocktails you will ever drink at The Doctor’s Office. (Trust me on this one!)
While still considered slow paced by some folks standards, Bradenton Beach is the heart of the action on Anna Maria Island.
If you enter the Island across the Cortez Bridge, you will be entering directly into Bradenton Beach. A left turn will take you south toward Bridge Street where you will find plenty of shopping, bars, restaurants, and the Bradenton Historic Street Pier.
Manatee Public Beach
Manatee Beach is one of the two Anna Maria Island public beaches with lifeguards on duty between 9:00 am-7:00 pm in the summer months starting after Memorial Day and 9:00am-5:00 pm the rest of the year.
Because there is ample parking and numerous activities, you will find it to be one of the busier beaches on the island. Many Bradenton locals as well as other surrounding areas are likely to choose Manatee Beach for their day in the sun.
However, don’t let that deter you from checking it out. The amenities available at Manatee Beach may well make it a great choice for your family. You can even start the day with all you can eat pancakes at the Anna Maria Island Beach Cafe!
Manatee Beach Amenities & Facilities Include:&
- Lifeguards on Duty
- Bike Racks
- Changing Cabanas & Showers
- Gift Shop
- Umbrella and Chair rental
- Picnic Tables
- Recycle Container
- Trolley Stop
- Water Fountains
Coquina Beach is the other Anna Maria Island public beach with similar amenities to those found at Manatee Public Beach. There are also lifeguards on duty daily from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm in the summer and 9-5 throughout the rest of the year.
The really special thing about Coquina Beach is that there are more trees and natural surroundings which gives the beach a more secluded and peaceful feel to it. Despite having parking and a trolley stop, it tends to be a little bit less bustling than Manatee Beach and can be a perfect option for a more relaxing day at the beach while still having access to many activities on the beach and the water.
The Coquina Beach Cafe serves breakfast and lunch as well as beer and frozen drinks. On the weekend you will also be treated to live music for that special “Jimmy Buffett” beach atmosphere we all crave.
Coquina Beach Amenities & Facilities Include:
- Bike Racks
- Changing Cabanas
- Concessions – Coquina Beach Cafe’
- Games Tables
- Gift Shop
- Multi-Purpose Trail (paved)
- Pavilions (5)
- Picnic Tables
- Recycle Containers
- Shower (outside)
- Trash Receptacles
- Trolley Stop
- Volleyball (sand)
- Water Fountains
Coquina Baywalk Anna Maria Island
You know we are all about encouraging you to get outdoors and go for a hike and Coquina Baywalk provides the perfect opportunity to do so. Coquina Baywalk is located directly across from Coquina Beach on the Bayside.
Explore Leffis Key which lies between the Sarasota Bay and the Gulf of Mexico via the trails and boardwalks that wind through mangrove tunnels in this unique wildlife environment.
Don’t forget to put on some mosquito repellant, however, before heading out. Unfortunately, that is the only thing I did not enjoy on Anna Maria Island: THE MOSQUITOS! It was always too late when I remembered to put mine on. However, when I do remember, I really like the Sawyer products because they have no odor, are safer for families, last for 14 hours, and won’t damage your clothes.
Water Activities On Anna Maria Island
There is no end to the fun that you can have on the water on Anna Maria Island. From boat rentals, to stand up paddle boards, to kayak rentals, to charter fishing tours; we promise you will not get bored on Anna Maria Island.
Anna Maria Island Boat Rentals
I had one MUST DO BEFORE I LEAVE ANNA MARIA ISLAND on my agenda: RENT A PONTOON BOAT!! Pontoon rentals on Anna Maria Island are very popular, and I will warn you, not exactly cheap, but the splurge was worth it!
We enjoyed taking in the sunset from Bean Point one evening and spent a day fishing up and down the canals. My kids were over the moon when they caught their very first saltwater fish: A CATFISH! Who knew??
We spent yet another entire day docked up next to Egmont Key (a Florida state park accessible only by private boat) snorkeling, swimming, and taking in the sun. We found starfish, conch shells, and even saw this creepy, yet, interesting Black Sea Slug swimming as we pulled up to dock.
We also saw two sharks and several sting rays from the boat. Thankfully, the sharks decided to swim up 5 minutes after we got back in the boat!(Yikes!!)
We rented our pontoon from H2O Water Sportz and can highly recommend them to you. Their prices were comparable to other quotes on the island, but the boats were in much better shape than others we had seen.
If looking for a slower pace to explore the island from the water, consider renting Kayaks. Kayaking on Anna Maria Island is a popular activity and there are ample places to put into the canals and the gulf. We even had access to Bimini Bay from the backyard of our vacation rental.
Top Rated Kayak Rentals on Anna Maria Island
- Palma Sola Kayaks in Cortez (Get their Groupon here)
- Beach Bums Recreational Rentals & Gift Shop
- Kayak Jacks Paddlesports Kayak & SUP Rentals Anna
Anna Maria Island Fishing Charters
If you are looking for a guided fishing adventure, check out these highly rated Anna Maria Island Fishing Charters.
Top Rated Fishing Charters on Anna Maria Island
Want a guided sightseeing tour to see the Dolphins and Manatees along with a sunset? Get this Groupon deal for Anne’s Calmwater Charters in Bradenton Beach
Jet Ski Rental Anna Maria Island
Renting a Jet Ski was a bit too adventurous for my younger crew this time, but I am sure a Jet Ski on Anna Maria is in my future!
Top Rated Jet Ski Rentals on Anna Maria Island
Don’t forget these beach essentials!
- High SPF Sunscreen: Our kids have lots of food allergies and sensitive skin. The only sunscreen we have found for the entire family that won’t break somebody out is Badger Brand sunscreen. It is thick and can be a pain at times to apply, but boy does it work well! Highly recommend it!!
- Adorable sun hats for the kids: We love these cute hats for kids by Bienvenu
- Mom needs a new hat too: I do love to get a new hat for the beach and bike riding.
- Sunglasses: Being married to an eye doctor, I can’t forget this one. Contact us and mention this article for a discount on a new pair of suns for your trip.
- Swimsuits: Never leave home without this important item!! (Okay, I literally FORGOT this when packing for THREE WEEKS ON AN ISLAND and had to purchase a “James Bond” suit after I got there. However, I really like it, so score one for my forgetful brain!
- Reading material-Before kids, I enjoyed reading on the beach. This pass time is harder to come by, but you never know. I love reading about the history of where I’m going to visit. Here’s one on Anna Maria Island.
- Your favorite camera– Here’s the one we love for our travels.
Other Anna Maria Island Activities
If for some strange reason, boating, swimming, and sunbathing aren’t enough for you, don’t worry, THERE’S MORE!
Mote Marine Lab & Aquarium
We enjoy discounted and free entry into hundreds of science centers, aquariums, and zoos around the country through our membership with the Western North Carolina Nature Center.
I was excited to see the Mote Marine Lab & Aquarium reciprocated with free access to their facility. We had a great time seeing manatees, sea turtles, sea otters, alligators, and crocodiles up close!
The kids also enjoyed petting sharks, sting rays, sea urchins and other sea creatures. Mama is definitely counting this day as a school day. 😉
The reciprocal Passport program allows us to visit other member sites through the Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC) and American Zoo Association (AZA) Passport program.*
*NOTE: Always call ahead to ensure the center still reciprocates and the charges you can expect as they are subject to change.
Golf Cart Rentals Anna Maria Island
If you get tired of walking, you could rent a golf cart while you are on AMI. However, after you read below about all the amazing places to eat on Anna Maria Island, you might just want to keep on walking everywhere.
Top Rated Golf Cart Rentals on Anna Maria Island
Bike Rentals Anna Maria Island
Biking on Anna Maria Island is a great way to get around. Here’s a biking guide to help you find your way around. There are sections of the island that require you to go through residential areas for the best routes, but there are proposals in the works to make AMI even more bike friendly in the future.
Top Rated Bike Rentals on Anna Maria Island
Horseback Riding Anna Maria Island
Anna Maria Island Restaurants
To cover all the amazing places to eat on Anna Maria Island would require a much longer guide than this one, but here are the places we enjoyed and would definitely recommend you check out.
We ate here twice and if I didn’t want to try more places, we would have eaten here more. Truly this was the best food we ate on the island and lucky for us it was only a ten minute walk from our vacation rental.
The grouper sandwich and grouper tacos are both excellent choices. Definitely get the pineapple slaw with it and enjoy some mussels as an appetizer.
Reservations definitely recommended unless you go for lunch or an early dinner during the week.
I’ll be honest, I did not love the Sandbar. The food was just okay and several of our dishes were dirty and had to be replaced. Sorry to be honest, but that is why I titled the site VeraVise (read more about the name Veravise here).
However, Sandbar is most likely so popular because of the real estate it sits upon. Who doesn’t enjoy watching the sunset over dinner and drinks? I would return, but I may just go for drinks and skip the dinner.
If you get tired of seafood and start craving BBQ, Smoqehouse is a good option. However, I was tickled to see poutine on the menu as I fell in love with that dish while in Canada.
This was another two time visit spot for us. This walk up taqueria serves up fresh tacos and burritos along with a small selection of local craft beers. It’s a great place for a quick, fresh, and cheap bite to eat.
The Feast Restaurant will surprise you. I was not expecting such a fine meal from this unpretentious little restaurant. Our kids loved the pizza, while the hubby and I enjoyed Hogfish and Coconut Shrimp.
Normally such an eclectic menu scares me away as it’s rare that the quality is maintained with so many different styles of food on the menu, but The Feast truly offered a Feast to be enjoyed by all.
Okay, I’m starting to repeat myself, but we visited Tide Tables two times as well. Cut me some slack. I was on an island for three weeks, of course, I chowed down on fresh seafood as much as I could.
Tide Tables is definitely a locals favorite and for good reason. It’s located just on the other side of Cortez Bridge in Cortez, Florida. The fried shrimp, grouper bites, and fresh beer are second only to the views of the water.
We tried Starfish on a recommendation after confessing we had been to Tides Table twice. Good food with a great view and fun atmosphere.
Go to spot for Key Lime Pie, Coconut Cream Cake, and freshly baked cookies located on the northern end of the island in Anna Maria, FL.
If you aren’t in love yet, then I haven’t fully conveyed how amazing Anna Maria Island, Florida truly is. But, that’s okay, because I’d like to keep it to myself anyway.
Anna Maria Island Vacation Rentals
We had the amazing privilege of calling Anna Maria Island our home for three weeks in May and stayed in THIS AMAZING Anna Maria Island Rental!
There are condos and hotels on the island, but the majority of Anna Maria Island Vacation rentals are privately owned homes.
We used Florida Rental By Owners* this time to find our house and had a great experience.
*PLEASE NOTE: We were not sponsored by Florida Rental By Owners and received no compensation for this opinion. We simply prefer to deal directly with owners whenever possible.
Here are a few more vacation rentals in Anna Maria Island:
Anna Maria Island Frequently Asked Questions
Is Anna Maria Island in the Florida Keys?
Anna Maria Island is NOT one of the famous Florida Keys off the southern tip of the state of Florida. It is, however, considered a Key. Anna Maria Island is a 7 mile island consisting of the towns of Bradenton Beach, Holmes Beach and Anna Maria.
According to Wikipedia,
Anna Maria Island, sometimes called Anna Maria Key, is a barrier island on the coast of Manatee County, Florida, in the United States.Anna Maria Island – Wikipedia
Can you drive to Anna Maria Island Florida?
Yes, you can drive to Anna Maria Island. AMI is located on the western side of Florida southwest of Tampa Bay in the Gulf Of Mexico. It is located 40 minutes south of St. Petersburg and Clearwater, Florida and 35 minutes north of Sarasota, Florida. We entered from the East on hwy 684 via the bridge connecting South Bradenton and Cortez to Anna Maria Island.
By the way, after you visit Anna Maria Island, be sure to plan a vacation further south in Naples, Florida for another beautiful southwest Florida vacation.
Where do you fly into for Anna Maria Island?
The two closest airports to Anna Maria Island are Tampa International Airport to the north and the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport to the south.
Do you need a car on Anna Maria Island?
You do not need to use your car while on Anna Maria Island. We walked everywhere on the island, but you can also ride a bike, rent a golf cart, or take the free trolley on the entire island.
There is also a bus known as “The Monkey Bus” which only requires tips and will take you all over the island and to Bradenton.
However, we were there long enough to want to tour the surrounding towns of Sarasota, Bradenton, and even took a day trip to Tampa so depending on your travel style, you may wish to have access to a car at some point. But, if you just plan to relax on the island, leave the car in the garage or take an Uber from the airport because you won’t be needing your wheels!
Is Anna Maria Island Safe?
Yes. Okay, next question. 🙂 Just kidding. Seriously, in terms of just how we felt, I felt completely safe on all of Anna Maria Island. The atmosphere was family friendly and we didn’t experience anything that caused me to be concerned. We walked everywhere we went.
Anna Maria Island Crime (hint: not much)
If you want a more statistical answer, you can read about the crime rate statistics here which essentially says what I just said, virtually no crime whatsoever.
Beach Safety on Anna Maria Island
As to other forms of safety, there are some beaches that have stronger tides and rip currents than others and it’s good to educate yourself on which AMI beaches are best for swimming.
- Never Swim Alone
- Swim at least 100 feet away from piers in order to avoid the near constant rip currents that occur around piers
- Keep an eye on your children at all times
- Check the tide tables and be aware of when high tide occurs
- Be sure to look for and read carefully all warning and rip current signs before entering the water.
Because this is where the Gulf meets Tampa Bay to the north, It is advised to NOT SWIM at Bean Point as the rip current is extremely strong and several drownings have occurred there over the years.
Anna Maria Beach
We swam at Anna Maria Island beach on the northern end of the island which is not a lifeguard protected beach, however, we went during lower tides and we require our younger children to wear life jackets in the ocean. However, use common sense as you would at any beach when swimming.
Manatee County Public Beach and Coquina Beach
If you prefer swimming with a lifeguard on duty, we recommend you swim between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. at one of the two public beaches on Anna Maria Island: Manatee County Public Beach or Coquina Beach
Why Is It Called Anna Maria Island?
There are conflicting answers to this question.
The most common answer is that Anna Maria Island was named by its first twentieth century settler, Tampa Mayor Madison Post, who then named the island for his wife Maria and his sister-in-law Anna.
However, there are also tales that state that a Spanish explorer discovered and named the place Ana Maria Cay in honor of the Virgin Mary and her mother Anne.
Yet another story goes that Ponce de Leon named it for the queen of King Charles II, who sponsored his expedition.
Are there shells on Anna Maria Island?
Anna Maria Island is a great place to go shelling. For larger shells, Bean Point, Bayfront Park, a lesser known park area known as Palmetto Avenue Beach may be just the places for those sought after larger unbroken shells. Remember, never take living creatures from the beaches of Anna Maria Island.
How far is Anna Maria Island from Disney?
Since we are a Disney family, I am pleased to say that a drive over to Anna Maria, Florida from Disney will only take you a little over 2 hours. The beach and the mouse? Sign me up!
Is there red tide in Anna Maria Island?
Unfortunately, I can’t ignore this very frequently asked question about Anna Maria Island. It is true that during 2018, AMI did suffer from red tide. During our stay in May of 2019, there was talk about red tide returning to Anna Maria Island.
I can report that there were no signs of red tide whatsoever in our area of Anna Maria Island. It is very important that you get the facts before assuming that what you hear online is true regarding red tide in the gulf region of Florida. As a small business owner myself, I sympathize with the local businesses who can be affected tremendously by rumors or sensational reporting.
I recommend you consider joining one of the very active local Facebook groups on Anna Maria Island and check this site for accurate and current red tide conditions on Anna Maria Island before jumping to conclusions and missing out on an amazing family vacation.
More Related Resources
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And if you need some tips on capturing the beautiful waters of Florida with your camera, then these tips on photographing water might be just what you need.