Anna Maria Island gives visitors small-town fun on Florida Gulf Coast

Posted Sept. 23, 2012


ANNA MARIA ISLAND, Fla. — Kick off your shoes and wiggle your toes in the white, sandy beaches that locals brag about and that tourists flock to every year.

Let go of your worries and hang up your car keys, because Anna Maria Island is a place of relaxation.

Located only one hour south of Tampa and in close proximity to Sarasota, Siesta Key and St. Armand’s Circle, “the Island” as locals dub it, is a perfect vacation get-a-way spot.

The Anna Maria City Pier has welcomed visitors for 100 years (Photo by Cindy Pillsbury).

The Anna Maria City Pier has welcomed visitors for 100 years (Photo by Cindy Pillsbury).

Whether one is looking to merely walk out his or her door to the beach each day, or to experience the myriad of activities the island has to offer, visitors are sure to wish they could stay forever. Beach cottages, local boutiques, and homey restaurants line the streets of Bradenton Beach, Holmes Beach and Anna Maria, the three small towns on the island.

These towns seem to merely run together, connected by the never ending beach and the free Anna Maria Island Trolley, both of which run the length of the island.

“It’s a very peaceful place and every time we leave we are already trying to figure out how soon to get back even though we live 1,000 miles away,” said Dan and Lisa Richardson, who were visiting from Cincinnati.  They found Anna Maria Island last year and have been back three times since then, never running out of things to see or do.

Maria Meto from Charlotte, N.C., was visiting Anna Maria Island with her husband and two children.

“We can’t wait until next year so our family can plan the same vacation,” she said.

Her favorite place on the island is Ginny and Jane E’s at the Old IGA. This café, bakery, and eclectic boutique boasts a turquoise roof, colorfully painted walls adorned with whimsical metal fish, and an “honor system” box for coffee – drop in $1.25, grab your cup and go. Meto describes the interior as, “kitschy and comfy” and the waffles as, “the best her or her family have ever eaten!”

The café is filled with locals and tourists a like, grouped together at family style tables, or perched on a stool taking advantage of the free Wi-Fi. Ginny and Jane E’s epitomizes the small community feel that permeates the establishments found on Anna Maria Island.

Visitors can walk off those waffles by hopping on the trolley to the north end of the island. Here, the Anna Maria City Pier has stood for 100 years.

“You never know what you’ll experience. From sharks and big game fish being caught, to playful dolphins, manatees and schools of fish; I’ve heard you even see the occasional whale! I’ve been vacationing on the Island for several years and the pier is one of my favorite places to come,” said Tracey Benton as he squinted into the sun. Benton, a visitor from Illinois, returns to Anna Maria Island often to witness the multitude of marine life off the pier’s docks.

While Benton says the Anna Maria City Pier is his favorite place to enjoy the sunset and fish, he recommends walking a few feet over to the Rod and Reel Pier and Restaurant for the best grouper sandwich you’ve ever eaten.

Jake Rimmond, a customer at the Rod and Reel Restaurant, enjoyed his meal. “What a special little place, not much to look at, but what a lunch we had! We are from the UK, and my fiancée mentioned a place she had visited on a previous trip so we hunted it down and this was it. By far one of the best meals ever; we’re very glad we found it again,” he said. For about $15 visitors can enjoy a fresh grouper sandwich, fries and a drink – all while overlooking the beautiful Tampa Bay.

If visitors want a chance to catch some fish instead of eat it, Capt. Tom Chaya recommends hiring a guide. “This is one of the best places to go out on a charter. Visitors have a 99 percent chance of catching a fish and the weather is always good.” Capt. Chaya has been fishing in the area for more than 30 years, and he says his experience enables him to show his clients the vast diversity of fish inhabiting Anna Maria Island’s shores.

For those that may want some adventure, but are not sure if fishing is their thing, most guides offer tours of the island as well. Parasailing and Jet Ski rentals are also easily accessible if visitors really want a thrill.

For those visitors, that think a thrill is finding the perfect souvenir, then look no further. Quaint shops are located all over the island, with each town holding its own unique shopping experience.

Pine Avenue, in the City of Anna Maria, is the perfect place to start your shopping adventure. Recently renovated cottages are filled with local boutiques, handmade jewelry stores, and antique shops.

Tide and Moon Jewelry is one of these stores. A bright neon green exterior entices customer who wander in and out, usually carrying an additional something when they leave.

Cary Lewis from Delaware leaves with a beautiful gold bracelet, which she says is the perfect gift for her sister back home.

“This street is wonderful. Every store holds something different and every time I come back to Anna Maria a new store has popped up,” she explained.

The shops of Holmes Beach include cafés, bagel shops, and art galleries interspersed with local boutiques. The more casual Bradenton Beach hosts the Bridge Street Market each Sunday where visitors can find everything from baked goods, to handmade crafts, to produce.

Grab a towel and an umbrella to soak up the sun on one of Anna Maria Island's many beaches (Photo by Cindy Pillsbury).

Grab a towel and an umbrella to soak up the sun on one of Anna Maria Island’s many beaches (Photo by Cindy Pillsbury).

Once visitors tire of shopping, fishing or merely sightseeing, the beach seems to call their name – and really the beach is why people come to Anna Maria Island in the first place. The sugar-like white sand, clear waters and gorgeous sunsets keeps tourists like Dave Colender coming back year after year.

“We come here to spend time away from the city and to bond with our family. I hope we continue our yearly tradition of visiting Anna Maria,” said Colender.  He and his family are from Chicago and have been renting a house on the beach during the summer for five years now.

When visiting Anna Maria Island, the main thing to remember is to live like a local, leave your worries back at home with your shoes and expect to come back. Because whether tourists came for the sand, the food, the fishing, or the shopping, they all have one thing in common…they come back year after year.


Fly into the Tampa International Airport or Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport

From Tampa International Airport:
Follow exit signs from airport toward 275S
Follow 275S toward St. Gettysburg – Proceed over the Howard Franklin Bridge
Continue through St. Petersburg on 275S
Follow signs for Bradenton to Skyway Bridge
After bridge follow signs to Rte 19S Bradenton/Palmetto
Follow 19S toward Business 41S – (Palmetto sign only)
Stay on 41S thru Palmetto & over the Manatee River Bridge
At third traffic light (Manatee Ave- SR 64) turn RIGHT – 10 miles to island
Continue thru city, over causeway, over the island bridge

From Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport
Exit airport on 41 North – right toward Bradenton
Turn left on 53rd all the way to the intersection at Cortez Rd
Go straight across where road will become 75th St.
Proceed to intersection at Manatee Ave – SR 64 – Turn Left
Over causeway, over the island bridge

  • Don’t forget to take the FREE Anna Maria Island Trolley. Times: Service runs from 6 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. about every 20 minutes. Stops: Located every two to four blocks apart along the route from the north end of Anna Maria Island at the Anna Maria City Pier to the south end of the island at Coquina Beach. All stops have a green sign with a trolley on it and most have a covered seating area.
  • Contact Capt. Tom Chaya for an outstanding fishing adventure at 941-778-4498.
  • Ask a local where the 59th Street or 68nd Street beach is located and go there to escape the crowds. That said all beaches have free access and free parking!
  • Last but not least – Don’t forget sunscreen!


Anna Maria Motel
$$ North Island
808 N. Bay Blvd.
Anna Maria, Fla. 34216
Phone: 941-778-1269

Blue Water Beach Club
$$$ Central Island
6306 Gulf Drive
Homes Beach, Fla. 34217
Phone: 941-778-6688

Sea Isle Motel
$$ North Island
601 N. Bay Blvd.
Anna Maria, Fla. 34216
Phone: 941-778-2919

White Sands Beach Resort
$$$ Central Island
6504 Gulf Dr.
Holmes Beach, Fla. 34217
Phone: 941-778-2577


Ginny’s & Jane E’s
$ Central Island
9807 Gulf Dr.
Anna Maria, Fla. 34216
Phone: (941) 778-3170

Rod & Reel Pier
$ North Island
875 N. Shore Dr.
Anna Maria, Fla. 34216
Phone: 941-778-1885

Rotten Ralph’s
$$ North Island
902 S. Bay Blvd.
Anna Maria, Fla. 34217
Phone: 941-778-3953

Sign of the Mermaid
$$$ North Island
9707 Gulf Drive
Anna Maria, Fla. 34217
Phone: 941-778-9399

Tortilla Bay
$$ Central Island
5318 Marina Dr.
Holmes Beach, Fla. 34217

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