Just off the coast of Sarasota on the gulf coast of Florida is a stretch of islands that are absolute hidden gems. Well, I don’t know how hidden they are anymore, but the charming beach towns have a different vibe than you’ll find elsewhere in Florida.
20+ miles of gorgeous beaches stretch along (from north to south) Anna Maria Island, Bradenton, Longboat Key, Lido Key, and Siesta Key. While all of the islands in this area are pretty spectacular, many people are drawn to Anna Maria because of it’s quaint beach town feel and quick access to Sarasota.
To get to Anna Maria Island, you can either fly into Sarasota (SRQ) or Tampa (TPA). While the Sarasota airport is closer, there aren’t as many flight options (and flights are usually a little more expensive). It’s a little over an hour drive from TPA to the Longboat/Bradenton area.
Things to Do on Anna Maria Island
THE BEACH: Make no mistake, bumming around the beach is what you do on Anna Maria Island. The sand in this area is a great combination of being soft and white but still with a good mixture of shells. Between the upper stretch of islands all connected via bridge (Anna Maria, Bradenton, Longboat, and Lido), Anna Maria by far has the best public beach access.
Coquina Beach has plenty of parking and good facilities if you’re packing it in and spending the day.
Pine Avenue on Anna Maria Island: Pine Avenue on the north end of the island is the main walkable drag on Anna Maria Island. It’s loaded with cute shops and fun restaurants. There’s plenty of parking up and down the street (just don’t use it for beach parking). There’s also a public beach entrance at Pine Avenue.
Anna Maria Island City Pier: At the east end of Pine Avenue is the city pier. You can fish off of it, but it’s also just fun to walk to the end. You can see the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in the distance. Also, super weird but…the bathrooms at the pier are seriously nice. Always good to know.
Paint Sand Dollars at the Shiny Fish Emporium: One of the cutest shops on Anna Maria Island is the perfect place to spend a rainy afternoon creating a one of a kind souvenir. Drop in (if you have a large group you should call ahead) and paint your own design on a sand dollar. For $15, you’ll have all the supplies you need to paint a sand dollar including having it finished with a sealing spray and hung on a ribbon.
Rent Bikes (or Golf Carts): A little known fact about me…my dream is to live somewhere where you get around by golf cart! While Anna Maria Island isn’t an exclusive golf cart island, there are quite a few places where you can rent one in town. It’s a fun way to get around, especially if you have a lot of stuff to cart back and forth to the beach. Bikes are also a popular way to get around and if you’re staying on the north part of the island, it’s a lot easier to bike than to get your car out and try to find parking. Beach Bums has bike and golf cart rentals as well as beach gear like paddleboards, kayaks, chairs, umbrellas, etc.
Shelling: I’m a casual sheller, but I still LOVE to look for shells. This is a great area for it and it’s not unusual to find sand dollars. Sand dollars are definitely easier to find more towards the beginning of the year.
If you’re looking for more things to do nearby (but off island), check out these posts:
P.S. If you want to follow along on my travel adventures in real time, you can follow me on Instagram (@caitylincoln). My post captions are full of travel tips and I have a ton of story highlights and videos with great info. And share my account with your travel loving friends! Your support really helps me keep this blog running!