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Guide to Authentic Florida: Why You Should Visit Bradenton & Anna Maria Island

  • By Christopher da Costa
  • Published 30 August 2023
  • Revised 08 September 2023
Guide to Authentic Florida: Why You Should Visit Bradenton & Anna Maria Island
  • By Christopher da Costa
  • Published 30 August 2023
  • Revised 08 September 2023
Guide to Authentic Florida: Why You Should Visit Bradenton & Anna Maria Island
  • By Christopher da Costa
  • Published 30 August 2023
  • Revised 08 September 2023

If you’re looking for the roads less travelled, visiting Bradenton and Anna Maria Island will lead you to authentic Florida. Here, a laid-back way of life is the name of the game at off-the-beaten-path destinations promising soft, sandy beaches with clear ocean waters alongside thriving art, culture, shopping and dining scenes to boot. 

Just over 2 hours drive from Orlando, both of these Gulf Coast destinations are ideal for a multi-centre Florida holiday

A true Floridian’s hideaway, it’s not just easy to reach Bradenton and Anna Maria Island, but simple to get around once there. Anna Maria Island connects to Bradenton via bridges in the north and south, meaning you can hop between them in under 15 minutes. 

And with the help of this all-in-one guide, you can plan your perfect holiday to Bradenton and Anna Maria Island in no time…

Why Visit Bradenton & Anna Maria Island?

Both Bradenton and Anna Maria Island are overflowing with things to see, do and most importantly, eat, so let’s dig in. 

Downtown Bradenton

Get acquainted with this postcard-perfect city by exploring its downtown area, where you can visit the Bishop Museum of Science & Nature, check out the De Soto National Memorial or stroll around Palma Sola Botanical Park. Downtown and the waterfront are also home to some of the area’s best food spots - read on to find out where.

Get Active

Those looking for an activity-filled holiday won’t be disappointed in Bradenton, whether you kayak in Robinson Preserve, cycle around Emerson Point Preserve or even go horse-riding on the beach. Both kids and adults alike can enjoy a huge range of activities together, even if that just means swimming in the warm, calm waters or playing volleyball on the beach.  

White Sand Beaches

Anna Maria Island hides seven miles of powdery white beaches. Some of the best are Bean Point Beach, perfect for relaxing or catching a sunset; the quiet Coquina Beach where you can enjoy a scenic picnic, and Cortez Beach in the city of Bradenton Beach. They all have watersports, child-friendly activities, and plenty of space to chill out. 

Picturesque Piers

There are so many piers around Bradenton and Anna Maria Island that it’s hard to narrow down the best - they’re all worth writing home about. Our favourites include Anna Maria City Pier which enjoys stunning sunsets and Bridge Street Pier, where you can watch the local fishermen at work before enjoying one of the fresh seafood restaurants on Bridge Street itself. 

Shop ‘Til You Drop

When soaking in the old-world charm of Bradenton and Anna Maria Island, you can still enjoy a little modern retail therapy. In Bradenton, the best place to shop is undoubtedly Ellenton Premium Outlets, where you can find designer brands at affordable prices. For local boutiques and cute cafes, Pine Avenue on Anna Maria Island is just the spot, or you can browse fresh produce, crafts and souvenirs at the popular Bradenton Public Market. 

Wildlife Spotting

One of the most wholesome things to do in the area without even trying is to spot the local wildlife. You can’t help but notice the eclectic birds, dolphins, and turtles – not to mention the region’s famous resident manatees that love to play offshore. We recommend booking a scenic sunset cruise for to see Bradenton and Anna Maria Island wildlife up close – especially the people-friendly dolphins.

Where to eat in Bradenton and Anna Maria Island

Food is a major highlight of Bradenton and Anna Maria Island, whether you want to visit cosy local restaurants, enjoy fresh seafood by the waterfront or dine on international cuisine – it’s always a slice of paradise. Here are just some of our favourites at each destination…

Bradenton Dining

From its downtown area to the River Walk, Bradenton packs in plenty of dining options. For even more seafood and the best views in the area, try Riverhouse Waterfront Restaurant or the rooftop at Oak & Stone, while European cuisine can be found at Chateau 13. For a filling, family-friendly meal, Birdrock Taco Shack in the Village of the Arts has delicious Mexican food and evening entertainment.  

Anna Maria Island Dining

Despite its quiet nature, Anna Maria Island offers just as many excellent dining choices as Bradenton, featuring gorgeous oceanfront views and freshly prepared dishes. The SandBar Restaurant sits practically on the sand and serves some of the best seafood on the island. As a bonus, it’s close to The Donut Experiment, where kids and adults will love the gourmet doughnuts or you can even try your hand at making your own. 

Cortez Fishing Village

With all the fantastic seafood restaurants in the area, it’s impossible to choose one, so instead head to Cortez Fishing Village, where the waters are brimming with marine life and freshly caught fish is served almost everywhere. Located just off Anna Maria Island, across the Cortez Bridge, highlights include the historic The Seafood Shack and local favourite, Star Fish Company. 

Where Should You Visit First?

If you can’t choose between these two great destinations and are wondering which you should head for first, the good news is that you don’t have to choose. Not only is there a range of accommodation in both Bradenton and Anna Maria Island to choose from, but their proximity means you can travel back and forth between the two each day in no time. Experience the vibrant culture, history, shops and waterfront in Bradenton before lazing on a sugar-white beach, spotting dolphins on a cruise or cycling around the neighbourhood on Anna Maria Island. 

Our Top Tips 

Before jetting off to the Gulf Coast, here are a few things we think you should know.

•    If you’re planning on making a side trip to Bradenton and Anna Maria Island from Orlando, then renting a car is a great idea, especially for allowing you to explore further afield and jump between the two. However, if you’re only visiting Anna Maria Island, there’s no need for a rental. A fun way to get around is by renting a beach buggy, or you can catch a free daily trolly that runs from the north to the south each day.

•    Bradenton and Anna Maria Island are year-round destinations, but it’s worth checking out the weather and ocean conditions if you’re looking forward to the beach, to make sure storms and jellyfish won’t interrupt your plans. 

•    There are all kinds of accommodations in both Bradenton and Anna Maria Island, from hotels like Margaritaville to entire houses available for rent. For families, we recommend holiday home rentals for convenience and affordability. However, rentals book up quickly at both of these in-demand destination, so we suggest planning your well in advance of departure.

Ready to leave the worries of the world behind? Secure your Bradenton and Anna Maria Island holiday today with flexible payment options up to 2026.

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