22 Things To Do On Anna Maria Island, FL

Posted in Eat + Drink, Florida, Travel
on July 21, 2017
Holmes Beach on Anna Maria Island

Anna Maria Island has easily become my favorite beach town. As soon as I stepped foot on the white powdery sand beaches and looked out onto the long stretch of turquoise water, I was immediately hooked. Despite having grown up in Tampa Bay, I’m still in awe of the breathtaking beach views each and every visit.

The locals call it AMI and have done a great job of maintaining the island’s charm as it’s grown into such a popular tourist destination. No chain restaurants. No high rises. Even most of the large new builds stay true to the “feel” of the island. However, nothing could ever replace the old beach cottages found throughout the island.

The laid back beach vibes make it very easy to fall in love with “Island Life” as you realize it’s a slower version of Key West. After only a couple of  days, you’ll likely be plotting how to make a permanent home for you and your family or at the very least how you’ll get back next year.

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Despite being a mere seven miles long, there’s so much to discover on Anna Maria Island, including a delicious food scene. It’s made up of the cities of Anna Maria, Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach. Each area has it’s own unique vibe so I suggest taking in a little of everything. After careful thought and many weekends spent exploring, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite things to do on the AMI and broke them out for you by area

ANYWHERE ON ANNA MARIA ISLAND


1. Bike the Island

Trust me when I tell you renting bikes is worth it and ditching your car is the way to go. If you’re like me and can drive to Anna Maria and prefer to bring your own bike, even better. It’s truly the best way to “discover” the island in all of it’s glory. Some of my favorite things are the peaceful neighborhoods, immaculate landscaping and massive poinciana trees (especially when their bright red flowers are in bloom) and there’s no better way to take that all in than on bike. Immerse yourself in the “slow lifestyle” and find yourself cycling along the unbeaten path. You never know what you’ll find.

Also, Anna Maria has recently become a not-so-hidden gem and with tourists flocking the area along with people coming in from the city of Bradenton for a beach day, the road can get busy. And I do mean “road”, there’s literally only one way on and off the Island. Some days you can get from one side of the island to the other faster by bike than your car. Another great alternative? Rent a golf cart, take the free trolley or ride the Monkey Bus (more on these later.)

2. Go to the beach at night and gaze at the stars

Going to the beach at night is just as amazing as going during the day. For different reasons, of course.  Since there are very minimal city lights in Anna Maria Island, you won’t find obstructed views of the star-filled sky when you’re out on the beach at night. Bring a blanket or towel, cuddle up with your honey (friends or family works, too!) and look up to find constellations you never knew existed.

CITY OF ANNA MARIA


3.  Explore Bean Point 

What is Bean Point, you ask? It’s the most Northern tip of the Anna Maria where the Gulf of Mexico meets Tampa Bay and the lookout point is endless miles of turquoise waters. Bean Point is still most commonly known by the locals and there are no obvious signs to get there and very limited parking (very accessible by bike!) Once you find this hidden gem, there’s plenty of opportunity to brush up against a manatee or catch some dolphins splashing around in the water. Some people fish right off the channel between Bean Point and Passage Key. If you’re a novice to the water, take caution because the water gets deep and the current is strong.

4. Dine with a view at Rod and Reel Pier

You can’t beat eating a fresh grouper sandwich while overlooking the water at Rod and Reel Pier. While dining outside on the porch, I’ve seen a dolphin, stingray and plenty of fish. Again, the grouper sandwich is the way to go. A giant filet of fresh grouper cooked to your liking on a toasted bun served with a side. The clam chowder is also great if you’re there when it’s not scorching outside. If you go for breakfast, try the pancakes.

It’s a crowded place being that’s popular among tourists and locals alike so it’s likely you’ll have to wait (they don’t take reservations). While you wait, grab a beer downstairs at the bar (in fact, you can eat down there if your party is small – it’s pretty cozy) or take a lap around the building and observe the many people fishing off the pier. Don’t like to wait? I recommend going at an “off hour” for a better experience.

Rod and Reel Pier on Anna Maria Island

Rod and Reel Pier on Anna Maria Island

View from Rod and Reel Pier on Anna Maria Island

View from Rod and Reel Pier on Anna Maria Island

5. Create your own made-to-order donuts at The Donut Experiment

This one is fun for the kids AND adults. The Donut Experiment offers made-to-order donuts where you choose the toppings. There are some specialty donuts that are created for you or get really creative and come up with a unique combo of flavors.  Start with the icing and then pile on the toppings. A favorite combo of mine is the Maple Bacon – the perfect mix of savory and sweet! You can’t wrong with whichever method you choose. There’s plenty to do on Pine so this is a good place to fuel up on coffee and donuts.

6. Go shopping on Pine Avenue

What you will find: the Olive Oil Outpost which sells infused olive oils, spices and gourmet cheeses and a boutique clothing store called Pink and Navy, among others.

What you won’t find: cheesy tourist shops full of tacky beach attire or kitschy souvenirs. It’s a breath of fresh of air (and cold A/C) as you walk into each store and find items you may actually want to purchase and not because you’re being ironic.

7. Eat tacos at Poppo’s Taqueria

If you’re looking a quick bite that’s guaranteed to be good, then look no further than Poppo’s Taqueria (also called Poppo’s Tacos.) All of the meat is juicy and flavorful plus they have some great vegetarian selections (the tempeh is delicious!). I prefer the Poppo’s Tacos topped with honey-lime slaw, pico and feta cheese. Also, do yourself a favor and order the house-made chips with guac. They’re made to order – doesn’t get much fresher than that.

Poppo's Tacos and a Modelo on Anna Maria Island

Poppo’s Tacos and a Modelo on Anna Maria Island

Poppo's Taqueria on Anna Maria Island

Poppo’s Taqueria on Anna Maria Island

Poppo's Taqueria on Anna Maria Island

Poppo’s Taqueria on Anna Maria Island

8. Take a picture at the old Anna Maria Jail

The Old City Jail was used as a place where islanders that became too rowdy after they had too much to drink at the local tavern would go to sober up. A fire in the 1940s destroyed the wooden roof so it was no longer usable but the rest of the structure remains. The city kept it around for tourists to pose and take photographs of it.

Anna Maria Island Old City Jail

Old Anna Maria Island Jail

9. Guess the time of sunset at The Sandbar restaurant

This is a good way to add a little friendly competition to your travels. Every evening the restaurant has a competition to see who can guess the exact time of sunset. The winner walks away with a bottle of bubbly. The Sandbar is also one of the only places with seating on the beach and is likely your best option to watch the sunset while dining. If you prefer not to be surrounded by sand while dining, the inside bar and dining room have plenty of windows and offer great views of the beach.

Bottom line: The sunsets on Anna Maria are gorgeous. I don’t care where you are on the island, make sure to get to the beach for sunset.

Sunset on Anna Maria Island

Sunset on Anna Maria Island

10. Order a Philly Cheesesteak at Slim’s Place

If you like Philly Cheesesteaks or just Philly itself, this is the place for you. The owners are from Philly (as evidenced by plenty of Eagles memorabilia throughout the joint) and as you would expect, they have a great Philly Cheesesteak served on amoroso roll topped with house-made “Wiz” cheese sauce.

Need another reason to go?

Slim’s (that’s what the islanders call it) has a “local” vibe to it and for good reason since it’s frequented by the locals. It has that neighborhood tavern feel to it and it’s a great place to watch a game. They have live music on the weekends and carry a lot of craft beer. Another favorite dish of mine is the lobster mac and cheese. I’ve found that the appetizer portion is plenty given that’s served with bread for dipping (yum!).

11. Shoot pool at Bortell’s Lounge

You can’t leave Anna Maria without going to at least one of the dive bars (D’Coy Ducks and Drift Inn are also good options). Bortell’s is the most spacious with multiple pool tables and dart boards. Day or night, you’ll find the “regulars” that have likely been going there since inception. Strike up a conversation and learn what the island life used to be like before tourism took over.

HOLMES BEACH


12. Make a {BEACH} day of it

Okay, you can really do this on any area of the island but Holmes Beach is my personal favorite. At least try to avoid the public beach access parking lot because that area will be the busiest. Most of the beach access in Holmes Beach or Anna Maria access have walking paths only or very limited parking. Figure out a way to make that work because that’s where you will find less crowds or an area that’s almost exclusively yours. In my opinion, true relaxation comes from hearing the sound of the waves.

Things to know:

  • Invest in a wagon to wheel all your belongings.
  • A pop up tent is your best friend if you plan on being there for the long haul. An umbrella is the next best thing and most rental properties will likely have them available for you to use.
  • Alcohol isn’t permitted but if you’re discreet, you’ll be okay. Just please no glass.
Holmes Beach on Anna Maria Island

Holmes Beach on Anna Maria Island

13. Go paddleboarding or kayaking

AMI Paddleboards offers paddleboard and kayak rentals with free delivery as long as you rent for a half day or more (this may seem like a long time but remember you’re likely going to be in bathing suit most of the trip and you’ll want to stay active so you can eat. all. the. food.) I recommend trying either in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s wavier and more challenging which makes for a way more interesting experience. Though, there’s nothing wrong with putting in at the Bay where you’ll go through the mangrove tunnels and see plenty of wildlife.

14. Indulge in the Creme Brulee French Toast at Ginny’s and Jane E’s

Seriously, this breakfast dessert is to die for. Crunchy on the outside and warm gooey goodness on the inside. Guaranteed to satisfy any sweet craving. Other sweet treats include sticky buns and cinnamon rolls the size of your face. If you prefer savory, they also make breakfast sandwiches and omelets. After you order, be sure to browse around the funky gift shop while waiting for your food. Hands down, this is my favorite breakfast joint on the island. No visit to Anna Maria is complete for me without a stop in Ginny and Jane E’s.

Creme Brulee French Toast at Ginny's & Jane E's on Anna Maria Island

Creme Brulee French Toast at Ginny’s & Jane E’s

Ginny's & Jane E's on Anna Maria Island

Ginny’s & Jane E’s on Anna Maria Island

15. Take a Beach Yoga Class with Island Yoga Space

What’s a vacation without a little beach yoga to clear your head? Island Yoga Space offers a regular Saturday morning class that is held offsite on Bradenton Beach on the pergola of the Tortuga Inn. When there is full a moon, the class “sunset to full moon flow” is held on the beach across from the studio (next to Ginny and Jane E’s on Holmes Beach). Check website for the full schedule.

16. Get local seafood from Island Fresh Market to make a feast at home

You’re likely to have a (nice) kitchen at the place you’re staying considering most rental properties on the island are houses. If you got it, USE IT! The local seafood market, Island Fresh Market, is the perfect place to find local, fresh-caught seafood. They also carry other food items such as locally grown seasonal veggies and a variety of spices to use for seasoning.

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17. Splurge at Beach Bistro or go for more casual fare at Eat here

If you want to experience fine dining, Beach Bistro is your place. The restaurant has won many awards including being invited to cook at a James Beard event back in 2005. It’s also one of only a few places with beach waterfront dining. Dine in the bistro bar for more affordable dining experience OR visit the sister restaurant, Eat Here, only a few blocks away. It’s not on the water, however, the upscale casual eatery serves up some delicious bites at a fraction of the cost. Both are owned by long time restauranteur Sean Murphy, who’s also part owner of the Doctor’s Office (see #18). All three establishments are on this list simply because it’s some of the best quality food and service on the island.

The Doctor's Office Cocktail Bar on Anna Maria Island

The Doctor’s Office on Anna Maria Island

18. Drink a craft cocktail at The Doctor’s Office

Craft cocktails have become a big hit over the years and finally broke ground in AMI last year when The Doctor’s Office was opened by two long-time residents and restaurant owners. It literally used to be the Doctor’s office on the island hence the name and they kept with that theme. The menu is broken out into what ailment you’re looking to cure and the doctor’s “preferred medications.” If you don’t know what you want, just ask the friendly and knowledgable staff. Despite the crowds, they give each person the attention they need and answer any and all questions you may have. They go the extra mile by serving complimentary potato chips and a shot of house-made rum punch.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang at The Doctor's Office on Anna Maria

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang at The Doctor’s Office on Anna Maria

Menu at The Doctor's Office on Anna Maria

Menu at The Doctor’s Office on Anna Maria

 

BRADENTON BEACH


19. Take the Free Trolley or Monkey Bus to Bradenton Beach

This obviously only applies if you aren’t staying on Bradenton Beach. No matter where you are staying, you can take the free trolley from one side of the island to other all day (runs every 20 minutes or so). The Monkey Bus is great option if you decide to stay out later than the trolley runs (you are on vacation, people!) or have larger group that can fill one of their vehicles. The monkey bus is free and drivers work on tips only so please don’t forget to tip.

20. Listen to live music and eat seafood in the courtyard at Blue Marlin

Blue Marlin is my favorite restaurant on the island. Located on Bridge Street on Bradenton Beach, it has the best local seafood and offers fine dining without being stuffy. Like many of the other restaurants on Anna Maria, it’s housed in a restored 1920’s beach cottage. The best place to is dine is outside in the courtyard (known as “The Trap Yard”) where there is a covered deck and live music on the weekends by different local acts. They have a rotating wine list and all of the food is fantastic. You really can’t go wrong with anything on the menu.

Know before you go: Reservations are required on Fridays and Saturdays and strongly recommended every other day. It’s a popular spot.

21. Wander around Historic Bridge Street

Bridge Street is the southern tip of Anna Maria Island in Bradenton Beach (remember Bean Point is the most northern tip so this about 7 miles from there.) It’s a great area to eat, drink, shop and explore. I’ve played mini golf here then cooled down with a drink at Island Time facing the Gulf or Bridgetender Inn with views of Sarasota Bay. Some others I haven’t tried but want to: The Freckled Fin, Island Creperie and Wicked Cantina (a few streets down).

22. Cool Down with Homemade Ice Cream from Joe’s

A building so colorful it’s hard to miss (very instagramable) housing some of the best homemade ice cream you can get your hands on. No beach vacation is complete without a stop at the ice cream shop, amiright?


So there you have it – plenty of activities to keep you busy for days. You also have the option to just bum around the beach and do none of these things, which doesn’t seem half bad either. But, I do recommend picking a few of these to consider doing during your travels.

Have you traveled to Anna Maria Island? What are your favorite things to do on the Island? Leave a comment and let me know!

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22 Things to do on Anna Maria Island

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30 Comments

  • Trudy

    Or you can have Scott’s Deli deliver a delicious sandwich to you without leaving the beautiful beach!!

    August 23, 2017 at 9:41 pm Reply
    • localbaysics

      That’s a great idea and one I have never thought of! Never having to leave the beach sounds wonderful!

      August 30, 2017 at 12:32 am Reply
  • Jill

    Great read BUT there are 3 ways on and off the island. We lived there up until 4 months ago and have used them all 😃
    1-Cortez Bridge
    2-Palma Sola Bay Manatee Bridge
    3-Longboat Key Bridge

    August 23, 2017 at 10:45 pm Reply
    • localbaysics

      Glad you enjoyed the article! I have only used a couple of those ways off and on but you’re absolutely right! I suppose I was thinking about going from the City of Anna Maria to Bradenton Beach. That road is killer when it’s season as I am sure you know!

      August 30, 2017 at 12:35 am Reply
  • Shawn Gettinger

    I literally never refer to it as AMI……..

    August 24, 2017 at 1:20 am Reply
    • localbaysics

      Perhaps I have only heard a few of the locals call it AMI and see the stickers/memorabilia everywhere! I also hear it called “the Island” a lot! What’s your preferred name?

      August 30, 2017 at 12:37 am Reply
  • Jennifer

    Located on the 3rd floor above Island Time is Anna Maria’s best kept secret. Bridge Street Bistro has exceptional views of the Gulf! Bird’s eye view, if you will. The food is amazing and the staff is very friendly. Not as expensive as Beach Bistro, yet still a very nice place to enjoy a nice dinner or celebrate a special occasion.

    August 24, 2017 at 2:27 am Reply
    • localbaysics

      I have been to Island Time several times but have never had the pleasure of dining at Bridge Street Bistro although I’m aware it exists. I will have to add that to my list for my next visit to the Island!

      August 30, 2017 at 12:39 am Reply
  • Barefoot Dan

    My favorite thing to do on the island is enjoy a wonderful relaxing massage at Sea-renity Spa in Bradenton Beach! You can even get your massage in a tiki hut right on the sand — I’m told Sea-renity is the only spa on Anna Maria Island offering this unique service, and they also specialize in couples massage! Visit them at 112 Bridge Street — there’s also a boutique shop with lots of really cool items to take back home, such as local art, jewelry, soaps, clothing) or go online at http://www.SearenitySpa.com. Tell ’em Barefoot Dan sent ya!

    August 24, 2017 at 2:38 am Reply
    • localbaysics

      Thanks for the info, Barefoot Dan! A massage on the beach under a tiki hut sounds like a truly amazing experience!

      August 30, 2017 at 12:41 am Reply
  • MAC

    No chain restaurants? Peaches, Subway, Domino’s, Dunkin Donuts/Baskin Robbins, The Donut Experiment, aren’t they all chains?? Maybe you meant something different by that term?

    August 24, 2017 at 3:59 am Reply
    • localbaysics

      No, that’s what I meant but I should have rephrased that to say “very few chain restaurants” especially in comparison to other beach towns.

      August 30, 2017 at 12:42 am Reply
  • Marlane Wurzbach

    Visit the many AMI art galleries to see local, original art to buy for a souvenir of your trip.

    August 24, 2017 at 1:00 pm Reply
    • localbaysics

      I absolutely love this as I am a huge advocate of supporting local. I haven’t had the chance to explore many of the art galleries on Anna Maria so I will be sure to do that next time I am down there!

      August 30, 2017 at 12:44 am Reply
  • Jane

    Looks great Only lacking one thing to me. Massage by Denise Coryell Even can be done on beach she is great

    August 24, 2017 at 7:39 pm Reply
    • localbaysics

      I appreciate it, Jane! Another person mentioned a beach massage and that sounds divine. I will be looking into this on my next visit since it’s something I have yet to experience!

      August 30, 2017 at 12:46 am Reply
  • Joanna

    Hi! I’m a local and one of my favorite things to do is enjoy an appetizer and drink at the new, amazingly cool, outside bar at The Beach House restaurant.

    August 24, 2017 at 8:14 pm Reply
    • localbaysics

      Hi there, Joanna! I have heard this outside bar is just amazing. I haven’t had the chance to check it out but it’s on my list! I love drinking and dining with a view!

      August 30, 2017 at 1:00 am Reply
  • Erika Nolan

    Hi! My hubby has been going to AMI since he was a kid all the way from London. Now we take the month of August off and rent a house for our annual island escape. AMI is a pretty special place. We have done almost everything on ur list except Drs office! Bummer I read this a few weeks too late. We love city pier instead of rod and reel. Two scoops is our go to for cones. Where is the other ice xlcream place u wrote about? Also lobster Mac n cheese from slims is the family fave. We also love Brunch at the Gulf Cafè. Wanted to try the new mini golf but ran out of time! And the Sticky buns at Ginny & Jane Es r the bomb! Otherwise, turtle watch peeps are another AMI follow for turtle happenings! Xo

    August 24, 2017 at 8:43 pm Reply
    • localbaysics

      Wow, Erika! That’s so amazing that your husband has been going to AMI since he was kid and that you are still able to spend a month there every year! The Doctor’s Office is still pretty new and not as well known but it’s a must visit on your next trip! I haven’t actually been to Two Scoops but Joe’s is on Bradenton Beach. The colorful building is what does it for me! I don’t much about the turtle watch but I will be on the lookout for that!

      August 30, 2017 at 1:05 am Reply
  • Nancy

    Where can I find a list of place that rent for 1 night?

    August 24, 2017 at 9:12 pm Reply
    • localbaysics

      Sorry, but I am not sure of the answer to that! I would check the local hotels, although, most of the rentals are homes and have more than a one night minimum.

      August 30, 2017 at 1:06 am Reply
  • Caryn

    And check out the new deck at the Beach House Restaurant.

    August 25, 2017 at 2:53 pm Reply
    • localbaysics

      You’re the second person who mentioned this new bar/deck at Beach House. I will be sure to do that next time!

      August 30, 2017 at 1:07 am Reply
  • Patti Roteik

    We’re coming down the first 2 weeks in October, we stay on Bradenton Beach, and in previous years, we’ve mostly hung out there. We’re going to do more exploring this year, so thank you for the great suggestions for fun stuff to do, and great places to eat!

    August 25, 2017 at 10:55 pm Reply
    • localbaysics

      You’re so welcome, Patti! For such a small island, there is so much to explore! I highly recommend checking out the happenings in Holmes Beach and the City of Anna Maria. I hope you have a great stay!

      August 30, 2017 at 1:08 am Reply
  • Peter Dougherty

    Number 23, rent a kayak or paddle board from the surfer bus just off the island. Paddle through Robinson Preserve and observe all the wildlife there. An incredible way to spend a day Shawn who runs the surfer bus and Julia his wife are awesome.

    August 26, 2017 at 2:37 am Reply
    • localbaysics

      I’m familiar with the Surfer Bus but still need to experience kayaking the Robinson Preserve. I always drive by and say “this trip, we are going to explore Robinson!” but it hasn’t happened yet. Thanks for the recommendation!

      August 30, 2017 at 1:10 am Reply
    • localbaysics

      A Segway would be an interesting way to see the Island! I will keep that in mind – thanks for the info!

      August 30, 2017 at 1:11 am Reply

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