When you thought ahead to when you would have kids, didn’t you imagine they’d all be alike? Or at least look alike. Mine were all going to be white-blonds, love playing in the ocean, and tan easily.
I ended up with one white-blond, one strawberry blond, and one dark blond. Only one loves the ocean and tans easily, and they all avoid the sun as to not be wrinkled like their mom.
Anna Maria Island has three towns, with distinct personalities, just like those kids of ours. Anna Maria, Holmes Beach, and Bradenton Beach.
Map courtesy of NeoClassicalMaps, find this and many other glicee prints of hand lettered, watercolor originals; maps created in the style of the original mapmakers of long ago, here
Anna Maria is the oldest who wears Lilly and Vineyard Vines. She volunteers, shops local and rides her beach cruiser everywhere. Her husband made a modest fortune in the stock market and their kids are headed to Princeton and Vassar.
Holmes is that affable middle child; smarter than you and your spouse put together. He has an infectious laugh. No one really knows what his job is and no one really cares: he brings the best craft beer to the party, can expound on any topic, and loves having people coming over at all hours.
Bradenton is the youngest who started out surfing when he was 4, almost left home to develop his surfing skills in Florianópolis, Brazil, at age 17, but went to Le Cordon Bleu instead. He’s opened three thriving restaurants, founded a beach cleanup non-profit and mentors young entrepreneurs.
I’m making all of this up. But when you visit, you’ll see what I mean. And in reality, the town of Anna Maria was settled first, then Holmes Beach, then Bradenton Beach. Same birth order.
We stayed in Bradenton Beach mostly because of the walk-ability but also because were were married on Anna Maria and our reception was in Bradenton Beach. Mom said it was the best party she’d ever been to. We decided to visit to celebrate our anniversary, and I brought those three kids of mine. (Everyone celebrates their anniversary with kids in tow, right?)
1800 Gulf Drive South
Ahhhh, THE BEACH. Florida’s gulf coast has some of the most tranquil, heavenly, utopian, let-me-lie-in-this-sand-forever-just-bring-me-wine beaches on earth. You’ve heard the effusive descriptions “baby powder soft” “purest white” “squeaky clean.” It’s all true and more. Read this fun article on all the varied sands of Florida, on Visit Florida, “Battle of the Beach Sands.”
But the soft white sand is not the only draw; the sunsets are beyond description. Every night the must-see event is the sunset. Hundreds pour out of the beach front restaurants holding up their smart phones, all drawn together like old friends, and the unifying theme is the sunset. Talk about heavenly.
- PARK/WALK: Plenty of free parking in a large lot shaded by Australian pines. The walk to the beach is short and easy.
- GO/RINSE: Restrooms and showers are right there.
- CROWD FACTOR: This is the longest stretch of beach on Anna Maria Island, so there is plenty of room for everyone.
- GUARDS: Yes.
- IMBIBE: No.
- BEST FRIEND: No. Only service dogs are allowed.
- WE LOVE: You can walk to the beach from anywhere in this little town.
135 Bridge Street
We love ALL bars (you may have gathered that by now; who isn’t happy in a bar??) but when a bar makes you feel like family, even when you’re clearly not a local, you find yourself picking out your favorite barstool… We did that here! The owner, Fred Bartizal is from Wisconsin and a huge Green Bay Packers fan, so when his team is playing everyone gets a Jello Shot! Hey, I can pretend to be a Packer’s fan!
And get this, all of our dog loving friends: The Bridgetender supports Vintage Paws – www.vintagepaws.org – a senior dog rescue. “Adopt a Dog Who Already Knows the Ropes.” Doesn’t that just pinch at your heart? Here at Beaches, Bars and Bungalows we’re considering adopting a senior dog, once our two rascally beloved yappers trot off this merry earth.
- VIBE: Vibrant, beachy, waaay laid back. You’ll see all ages, smiles and laughter all around.
- ARRIVE: Right on the Bay; you can arrive by boat or by foot.
- SIT: Sit inside, or outside on the main deck, or at the Dockside Tiki Bar under the trees (our favorite.)
- SIP: Happy Hour is Monday through Friday, 3 – 6 p.m. Try their Bloody Mary – “Tender Mary” – topped with pickled green been, round pepper, olive, pickled brussels sprout, baby corn and lime. Must be healthy, right?
- NOSH: Hello, Shrimpcargot! Four large shrimp set on a bed of creamed spinach and artichokes, topped with provolone, served with lemon garlic bread. The black bean soup is the best, and even though we chose it as The Bar, they also have a full, gourmet entree menu as well. Roast Duck is a house fave. Check their site – click on their name, above – for more inventive choices.
- LISTEN: Live music every day, and often twice a day on the weekends.
- WE LOVE: We fell in love with this place! Our bungalow was one street away, and we visited the Dockside Tiki Bar more times than I am willing to confess. The view, the simplicity of the bar under the trees, the friendly bartenders.
201 First Street North
- VIBE: So extremely quiet and relaxing. The busy vibrant downtown main street is one block away, but you’d never know it.
- WALK: EVERYWHERE. At the Pelican Post, the beach is a short walk away. A plethora of choices for shopping, all meals, live music, and get this – mini golf! – are one block away. (We always include the “walk” category because of Mom; in her later years it was challenging for her to walk a couple of blocks. Mom would have been fine here.)
- DECOR: In The Cottage – vintage and comfortable. The Cottage reminded us of by-gone beach vacations when we were kids. The motel rooms have a more modern look and feel.
- SLEEP: The beds were ultra comfortable.
- EXTRAS: Fully equipped kitchenettes, free Wi-Fi, lounge chairs in the garden.
- RATES: The Cottage, in low season, is $170 a day. With a separate, private bedroom, a bed and a futon in the living area, The Cottage can sleep 5 people. The one room studios start at $105. There are more options; check out their website by clicking on their name above.
- WE LOVE: The peace. The proximity to anything and everything. The history of The Cottage: built in the early part of the last century, The Cottage was transported here by barge to house construction crews building the original bridge which opened in 1921. If those walls could talk!
Take a look at more of this small coastal town with the entrepreneurial, festive spirit:
The Fish Hole Mini Golf, right on the main street
Quintessential beach bar: Beach House
Bill’s Fish Camp – 3 historic rental cottages, this pic and the one above, more info here
This tiny cottage, right across the street from the water, and its “tiki bar,” below
“Rudesville,” and “Your money is welcome, and you’re not.” If you know the story behind this, contact us!
So, what do you think? Have you been here? Is my fanciful description of the three towns cheerfully sharing this small paradise, despite their differences, legit? Or are you thinking I’ve either had too much coffee, or too much wine…..
Let me know in the comments below!
Bradenton Beach is on Florida’s gulf coast, 37 miles south of St. Petersburg and 17 miles north of Sarasota.