Enjoy Anna Maria Island in Florida.

Enjoy Anna Maria Island on the Gulf Coast of Florida.

Anna Maria Island is a lovely seven mile stretch of land off the western coast of Florida.  The island is shared by the cities Anna Maria, Holmes Beach, and Bradenton Beach.  It’s white, sandy beaches and relaxed atmosphere have made the island an increasingly popular vacation destination over the years.  Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Anna Maria Island is close to several theme parks including Busch Gardens Tampa, Universal Studios Florida, and Walt Disney World.

I’ve had a special introduction to the area as Mr. Meena’s grandparents actually lived on the island for over a decade.  Mr. Meena visited frequently throughout his childhood and his grandparents still live nearby.  We’ve returned to the island every year since we met – even staying at the Harrington House for part of our honeymoon.  I love visiting, and so I’m sharing my recommendations for some of the most enjoyable things to do on Anna Maria Island.

 

See the birds.

I recommend starting any trip to the island in Anna Maria City proper, but you have to pass by these birds in Holmes Beach on your way there, anyway.

 

Visiting the birds at Anna Maria Island, Florida.

Colorful birds at Anna Maria Island, Florida.

 

I am a hopeless bird fanatic, so this is the first thing we do on each trip.  The birds are located outside of Sun & Surf Lifestyle Apparel shop (all locations and/or attractions are provided in a map at the end of this post).  Each bird has its own sign with its name, breed, preferences, and some of its quirkier characteristics.

 

Visiting the birds at Anna Maria Island, Florida.

Baily, an African Grey parrot.

 

The birds are very entertaining.  Some sing and dance, some say strange things, and others like to sit and observe you.  They will definitely put a smile on your face.  Keep in mind that the birds are only outside when the store is open and they like to be treated kindly.

 

Visit the Old City Jail.

After you’ve hopefully stopped to see the birds, find a parking spot somewhere on Pine Avenue – just make sure you pay close attention to the signs.  You must park in a designated parking area and have all four wheels of your vehicle off the pavement to avoid any parking fines.  Now you’re ready to go directly to jail. (Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.)

This is a surprisingly fun activity and a great photo opportunity.  Mr. Meena has taken me to visit the jail on several occasions, but we enjoyed learning more about it on our last visit when we were greeted by a docent from the neighboring Anna Maria Island Historical Society (visit their website here).  She told us that the front of the jail, pictured below, was actually just the processing center.

 

The Anna Maria City Jail.

 

The true jail cells are located in the back of the structure and can be accessed when the fence is open – typically 5am to 3pm on weekdays.  The jail, built in 1927, was turned into a tourist attraction in the 1940s after a fire burned away the roof.  During its operational years the sheriff would gather rowdy citizens, book them overnight, and then leave them in the hot cells until late the next day.  He did this in the hopes that the occupants would learn a lesson and not turn into repeat offenders.  Unfortunately, he still had to enforce the rule of kicking people off the island after three visits to the jail.

The original structure still stands, inviting you to take part in a 60 year tradition by taking a photo in front of its funny slogan or behind its bars.

 

Posing at the Anna Maria City Jail.

 

The docent also showed us a recent mural painted by her husband, John Allinson, across the street from the jail.  The mural combines images from the early 1900s to show what life was like on the island.  Passengers arrived at the city pier by boat, finding themselves welcomed at some establishments (primarily the bar and brothel) but very unwanted by the wealthier residents of Anna Maria Island.

 

A historical mural on Anna Maria Island.

A historical mural on Anna Maria Island.

 

Indulge your sweet tooth.

One of the best places to do this is The Donut Experiment, which specializes in cake like donuts and has a huge variety of icings and toppings to choose from.  There are so many options, in fact, that you have to fill out an order form even if you just want one donut.  This helps keep their popular operation running smoothly and gives you plenty of time to drool over your choices.  I had the Andes mint donut, which was a daily special when we visited.  It was crispy, minty, and melt in my mouth delicious.

 

The Donut Experiment, Anna Maria Island.

Andes Mint Donut from The Donut Experiment.

 

I recently found out that they have a store closer to me – in Greenville, SC – and I can’t wait to visit and enjoy another delicious donut!  Keep in mind that The Donut Experiment closes at 1pm daily.

Another great place to stop in for a sweet treat or lunch is Two Scoops, which is on the other end of Pine Avenue near the City Pier.  They serve delicious ice cream in hearty scoops and have great quick lunch options (I’m a fan of the BLT).  Kids will enjoy the quirky shop decorations and you’ll enjoy the AC if you’re visiting during the hot months (i.e. the majority of the year in Florida).

 

Two Scoops Ice Cream and Eatery on Anna Maria Island.

 

Walk the City Pier.

The City Pier is located at the far end of Pine Avenue but is easily reachable by foot from the Old City Jail or The Donut Experiment.  In fact, if you’ve partaken of a few sweet snacks, walking over may be just what you need.

The pier faces north, towards Tampa Bay, and you can see the Tampa skyline on a clear day.

The Anna Maria City Pier.

Enjoy Anna Maria Island in Florida.

 

You can enjoy the serene view on one of the benches along the pier or at the City Pier Restaurant.  You never know who might join you.

 

On the Anna Maria City Pier.

 

There are two other piers on the island, the Rod and Reel Pier, which is a short pier leading to a restaurant, and the Historic Bridge Street Pier in Bradenton.

 

Walk through Bayfront Park.

Located next to the city pier, this would be a great place to picnic if you’re a budget traveler.  But even if you have other plans for lunch, you can still enjoy the beach side view or indulge your kids at the playground.

 

Bayfront Park, Anna Maria Island.

 

Head to Bean Point.

If you’ve parked, you may want to move your car closer to the beach at this point.  We chose to walk along North Bay Boulevard and enjoy looking at the water, the Rod and Reel Pier, and interesting rental properties along the way.

 

Sightseeing on Anna Maria Island.

 

Bean Point is the northernmost tip of the island where the Gulf meets Tampa Bay.  It’s a lovely spot to sit and enjoy the blue water, white sands, and dune grasses waving in the wind.  The beach is secluded compared to Holmes Beach, which is more easily accessed and has a playground (and subsequently lots of loud children).  I’ve marked two entrances to Bean Point Beach on my map at the bottom of this post (you can also get directions here).  There are frequently strong rip tides, so be careful if you go swimming.

As soon as we approached the water on our most recent trip we saw about a dozen dolphins playing together.  They were very entertaining and I’d never seen dolphins play so joyfully before.  Dolphin sightings are fairly common so keep your eyes open.

 

Bean Point, Anna Maria Island.

On Bean Point Beach.

 

You’ll definitely want to bring a towel or beach chair and plan to enjoy at least one sunset at Bean Point during your trip.  They are often spectacular.

 

On Bean Point Beach.

Watching the sunset on Bean Point Beach.

Entrance to Bean Point Beach.

 

This is the first sunset I saw on the island in 2012:

 

Bean Point Sunset.

 

Go for a bike ride.

Renting a bike is a great way to explore Anna Maria Island.  Mr. Meena and I rode bikes around for hours on our 2013 trip to the island.

 

Bike riding around Anna Maria.

 

There isn’t a ton of traffic on the island, but you’ll still want to be careful on the main roads.  You can rent bikes from Beach Bums in Anna Maria City.

 

Eat and drink.

We aren’t big on eating out so I only have a few recommendations for you.

+ Brunch at Anna Maria Island Beach Café (visit their website here) is a Meena family favorite.

+ The Sandbar is wildly popular, especially since you can sit beachside during your meal.

+ We discovered the Old Hamburg Schnitzelhaus on our last visit as we were really missing Germany.  The owner, Gary, was extremely welcoming and everything we had was absolutely delicious.  We both ordered schnitzel and felt like we’d been transported back to Germany.  It’s not a cheap meal experience, but one I definitely recommend if you like German cuisine.

 

Eating at the Old Hamburg Schnitzelhaus

 

Other things to do in the area.

These recommendations aren’t on the map below, so I’ve included their addresses.

+ Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium is located just south of Anna Maria Island on Lido Key.  This is a great educational activity, especially for families, as the aquarium is also a research facility.  Massive tanks hold manatees, the symbol of Manatee County, and you can also see 100 other species of marine life including sharks, sea turtles, and dolphins.
Address: 1600 Ken Thompson Pkwy, Sarasota, FL 34236

+ Brandenton Riverwalk has been on my local to-do list for years and, while I still haven’t managed to make it there, it certainly looks beautiful.
Website | Directions

+ Mixon Fruit Farms, marketed as Florida’s sweetest attraction, is a fruit farm and store located in Bradenton.  They have lots of fresh fruit, specialty items, and delicious samples for you to enjoy.  On our last visit we took a tour of the grove and wildlife refuge (full post coming soon).  You can also see their butterfly garden, coy pond, maze, or take a self-guided tour of their processing plant.
Address: 2525 27th St E, Bradenton, FL 34208

 

Anna Maria Island Activities Map:


Have you visited Anna Maria Island?  What activities would you recommend?


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Enjoy Anna Maria Island in Florida.

 

This post is linked up with Faraway Files, Feet Do TravelWeekend WanderlustThe Weekly PostcardCity Tripping, Wanderful Wednesday (with Isabel, Lauren, Van, and Marcella), Fly Away Friday, and Monday Escapes:

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88 thoughts on “Enjoy Anna Maria Island on the Gulf Coast of Florida.

  1. Love Love LOVE everything about this post! From the food, to the views to the absolutely hilarious little jail! Pinned! 🙂 #FarawayFiles

  2. I lived in this area of Florida for many years ( I get down there every two years ) and believe it or not, it hasn't changed a whole lot over the many years and that's a good thing. Nice area just to relax and wander around like you did and of course great seafood. Brings back nice memories for me…thanks!

    1. I\’m glad you can look back on this place fondly. I also wouldn\’t mind if this place continued to stay mostly the same!

  3. Thanks for sharing. The mural looks so beautiful and colourful. It adds so much character to the place. The minty donut is making us drool!

  4. Those blues! You've made me desperate to visit and take photos of this beautiful spot. I particularly love your photos of the beach and the walk to Bean Point. Thanks so much for sharing this on #FarawayFiles

  5. Love this post! I've spent a lot of time in Florida the last few years but mostly in Orlando. I love Orlando but I'd really like to branch out of the city and explore more of the state. #weekendwanderlust

  6. The beaches look lovely and I love the birds too. It's so fun when the parrots can talk, then you really get to see their personality. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard

  7. I thought this post was going to be all about beaches. Yes, there is some of that but there is much more. Like the insight you have given us into this islands. Sounds like tons of fun! #TheWeeklyPostcard

  8. We've visited friends in St. Pete Beach three times over the last year and I keep saying that I want to head south to Anna Maria Island but it hasn't happened yet. I'm going to keep trying – looks wonderful!

  9. Oh wow that water looks incredible. I would love to spend a few days relaxing on that beautiful beach too.Sounds like a wonderful trip. Thanks for sharing with us on #FarawayFiles

  10. We grew up in South Florida, and love reading about all the little beach towns. The African grey is actually my favorite bird, we had a friend with one in Florida and he was the sweetest, funniest bird in the whole world. Thank you for the nostalgic, beautiful post.

  11. Florida is one of my favorite places, but we tend to spend time on the east coast. Thanks for giving me so many good reasons to visit an awesome location on the west coast!

    1. You are very welcome! The only thing I don’t like about the west coast is the lack of ocean waves, but it is really beautiful – especially the sunsets!

  12. This sounds like such a wonderful place! The old city jail looks especially awesome! I love finding totally unique attractions like that 🙂 Love your blog – I'm super inspired 😀

  13. Really great post! Seems like a lovely little island and the pictures are great. Especially the sunset pics – really perfect! Thanks for sharing this 🙂

  14. I have to admit, I haven't even heard of Anna Maria island. It seems like a great place for a weekend getaway! Loving the birds and would definitely visit just for the donuts, food and walks on the pier. Thanks for pinpointing it all out on the map too! So convenient!

  15. I'd never heard of Anna Maria island before reading this! It looks like a great place to visit so if I'm ever in Florida I'll check it out! 🙂

  16. Ana Maria Island on the Gulf side of Florida looks relaxing and fun! Great places to eat and activities to do especially my favorite the Bird Park 🙂 Stunning photos especially the sunset. Thanks for sharing 🙂 #feetdotravel

  17. Looks like you guys have had a great time – the island definitely has loads to do and there is plenty for everyone! I would enjoy the cycling as well as visiting the beautiful birds! Thanks for sharing

  18. Really informative post for visiting this island, Florida has some hidden gems that we would love to explore in the future. #feetdotravel

  19. Really enjoyed your post! Sounds like a great place to visit! Love the food, the views and the jail! Looks so cool! We love birds too (but we prefer to watch them in the wild) 😉 Keep up the great work!
    Patrick&Cécile from Travel4lifeblog:)

  20. We just moved to the West coast of Florida so this is perfect! Great tips that I will be sure to follow, especially getting some of those yummy looking doughnuts!

  21. Those donuts!! And schnitzel!! I would probably spend half my time eating and the other half getting sun-burned at that beach and the pier. Seriously lovely this place!

  22. Those white sand beaches look idyllic! I love the old piers and the wildlife. I know my son would drag me to Rod Reel Pier! Thanks for sharing this gorgeous corner of the world for #FarawayFiles, Erin

  23. That Andes Mint doughnut…. I'm so intrigued. I don't even know what to think. I've been seeing Anna Maria Island pop up more and more lately, but I didn't know where it was or what it had to offer… so thanks for sharing more!!

  24. Oh this is bringing back very happy memories – we spent around a week on Anna Maria island in 2015 and it's just beautiful, so peaceful and the sand is incredibly white. The Donut Experiment was one of my favourites as well, perfect for a bit of a sugar rush to get through jetlag! And the Sandbar was great to sit with your feet in the sand: delicious food. We did a great boat trip spotting dolphins and headed across the bridge to Bradenton by the river walk to see the museum and manatees as well. Loved it. Thanks for the reminder and linking up with #citytripping

  25. I’ve visited Florida a few times as a teenager but never been to Anna Maria Island. I always enjoyed the weather and the food in the area. Hopefully, I get the chance to return one day.

  26. I can't believe that I've never heard of this Island! Growing up my grandparents lived in Fort Myers, to the south, but we always went to Sanibel and Captiva. I guess they're closer, but this island looks like a great place to visit! Next time I"m in the area I'm definitely going to check it out!

  27. I've been to a Florida quite a few times–it was my family's go-to vacation spot when I was a kid. However, there's so much more of the state to explore, so I'm always looking for new places to add to my list. I love how relaxed all the little beach towns are. #FlyAwayFriday

  28. Thanks for the tour around this delightful island. A highlight for me would be Bean Point – those sunsets are incredible and the white sand is just perfect! #citytripping

  29. Oddly enough, a neighbor (in Texas!) mentioned Anna Maria Island just the other day. We've heard about it, but didn't know a thing…until now! Thanks for all of the info. Definitely in the running for a quick getaway this year!

  30. what a great post!! looks like you guys had so much fun and love the pictures of all the yummy food, especially the schniztle!! yumm!!

  31. How great to have a good excuse to keep revisiting. The City Pier looks like a beautiful place for a walk…and those doughnuts! Oh my! Thanks for linking up with #MondayEscapes

  32. Wow that beach! We went to Captiva Island in Florida and absolutely loved it so I am 100% sure that Anna Maria island would be a bit hit with us. I'd try to stay out of jail! #MondayEscapes

  33. It's so cold and wet and grey and yucky here right now, what I wouldn't give to be walking on that soft sand, and dipping my toes in that blue ocean!

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