Talk to someone who makes Anna Maria Island their regular vacation destination, or even someone who’s just been once (though that’s a rare breed indeed), and the description you’ll hear time and again is “Old Florida”. That simple phrase conjures so many images: clean, white sand, the sparkling blue of the ocean as the sun sits low on the horizon, iced tea and cocktails enjoyed on the veranda, beautiful wooden houses, friendly locals who are quick with a smile and a hello. That’s Old Florida and that’s Anna Maria Island.
A seven mile long barrier island just off Florida’s famed Gulf Coast, and not far from the town of Bradenton, Anna Maria has a rich history that has taken it from uninhabited island to perfect vacation destination without losing its charm. It’s a world away from the high-rise metropolitan hustle and bustle of the modern Florida encapsulated in those tourist hotspots Tampa and Orlando. In fact there are just a couple of buildings on the island over three stories.
The island was first inhabited by the Timucan and Caloosan American Indian tribes, but the recorded history of the island began with its “discovery” by Hernando De Soto and other Spanish explorers. They claimed the island and all surrounding areas of Florida in the name of the Spanish crown circa 1530. However it would be several centuries later when, in 1892, George Emerson Bean became the first permanent settler on the island and began homesteading much of the area that is now the City of Anna Maria.
Come the turn of the century Bean’s son, also called George, began to develop the island significantly under the name of the Anna Maria Beach Company. Streets, sidewalks and houses were all erected and a fresh water system was also installed to make the island able to support a larger population.
During the early years the island was only accessible by boat, but in 1921 a wooden bridge was erected to join the island to the mainland. Although that has since been superseded by the modern Highway 64, part of the original bridge still exists as the Bradenton Beach fishing pier on Bridge Street.
Despite its small size there’s no shortage of things to do on Anna Maria. Obviously if you’re into the beach lifestyle you’re spoilt for choice with several public beaches covering the island from north to south. With the warm waters of the Gulf Of Mexico as your playground you can indulge in swimming, scuba diving, kayaking, sailing and fishing. Keep your eyes peeled for sea turtles, dolphins and manatees all of which frequent the area.
Although it’s likely you’ll do some cooking for yourself in your luxury vacation rental, Anna Maria is full of culinary adventures. From low-key beach bars and family restaurants that are popular with the locals, to nationally recognized bistros there is great food to be had no matter what your budget is.
You won’t find big box stores and commercial super-centers on Anna Maria. What you will find is a delightful selection of independent shops that showcase local products and businesses as well as all your usual favourites. There are also art galleries and boutiques offering paintings, sculpture and jewelry from local artisans. There is even an outdoor market on Historic Bridge Street. And don’t forget that Bradenton is just a short drive away on the mainland with shopping malls, cinema and more.
Find out more information about Anna Maria Island in the articles below:
Ways to make your Anna Maria Summer Vacation Amazing
Shelling: The Perfect Pastime On Anna Maria Island
Your Guide To Fishing On Anna Maria Island