Things to do on Anna Maria Island

Anna Maria Island Things to do

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 St. Pete close to the beaches, I’ll forever be in awe of the breathtaking beach views of Anna Maria Island 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.

Take a scenic bike ride around the island

Renting a bike is a breeze on Anna Maria Island, with numerous rental shops conveniently located throughout the area. Once you have your wheels, embark on an unforgettable journey along the island’s many bike-friendly paths and trails.

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 its 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 a bike. Immerse yourself in the “slow lifestyle” and find yourself cycling along the unbeaten path. You never know what you’ll find.

A must-visit spot on your bike ride is the historic Anna Maria City Pier. As you arrive, park your bike and take a moment to soak in the breathtaking views of the vast ocean stretching out before you. The pier is a popular fishing spot, so you might even catch a glimpse of locals casting their lines and reeling in their catch of the day.

For those seeking a more adventurous route, explore the island’s interior, where you’ll find hidden gems such as nature trails and wildlife preserves. Keep your eyes peeled for native birds, turtles, and other fascinating creatures that call this island home.

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.)

Explore the beautiful nature preserves

Anna Maria Island is a paradise for nature enthusiasts, with its stunning natural preserves waiting to be explored. From lush greenery to pristine wildlife, these preserves offer a serene escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Robinson Preserve

One such preserve is the Robinson Preserve, a sprawling 600-acre coastal habitat that showcases the island’s diverse ecosystem. Embark on a scenic hike along the well-maintained trails, surrounded by majestic oak trees and vibrant mangroves. Keep an eye out for native birds like herons and egrets as they gracefully soar through the sky or wade in the tranquil waters.

Leffis Key Preserve

For a unique experience, head to the Leffis Key Preserve, a hidden gem nestled between the Gulf of Mexico and Sarasota Bay. This 30-acre preserve boasts a variety of habitats, including tidal marshes, mangrove forests, and coastal dunes. Take a leisurely stroll along the boardwalks that wind through the preserve, immersing yourself in the sights and sounds of nature. The panoramic views of the bay and the sparkling turquoise waters of the Gulf will leave you in awe.

Neal Preserve

If you’re a bird lover, make sure to visit the Neal Preserve, a bird sanctuary teeming with avian species. With its picturesque boardwalks and observation towers, you can observe magnificent birds in their natural habitat. From colorful warblers to majestic raptors, the Neal Preserve offers a bird-watching experience like no other.

Emerson Point Preserve

For those seeking a more adventurous escapade, the Emerson Point Preserve is the perfect destination. This 365-acre preserve features ancient Native American mounds, hiking trails, and waterfront picnic spots. Explore the rich history and cultural significance of the area as you wander through the remnants of an ancient civilization. Marvel at the breathtaking views of Tampa Bay, where you might even spot dolphins frolicking in the distance.

Take a sunset cruise for breathtaking views

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 on Anna Maria Island, you won’t find obstructed views of the star-filled sky when you’re out on the beach at night.

As you embark on your sunset cruise adventure, you’ll have the opportunity to witness the natural beauty of Anna Maria Island in all its glory. The pristine beaches, swaying palm trees, and crystal-clear waters create a picturesque backdrop as the sun begins its descent. The tranquil atmosphere and soothing sounds of the waves lapping against the boat create a sense of serenity and relaxation.

Not only will you be treated to stunning views, but many sunset cruises also offer additional amenities to enhance your experience. Some cruises may provide onboard entertainment, such as live music or even a DJ to set the mood. You can sip on a refreshing cocktail from the onboard bar as you toast to the beauty of the moment. Some cruises may even offer a delectable dinner or appetizers, allowing you to indulge in delicious cuisine while immersing yourself in the beauty of the sunset.

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 are plenty of opportunities 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.

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, a 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 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 where they have $1.50 drafts (you can eat down there if you find a seat but it’s pretty cozy), or take a lap around the building and observe the many people fishing off the pier.

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

This one is fun for 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 be 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.

Go shopping on Pine Avenue

What you will find: the Olive Oil Outpost which sells infused olive oils, spices, and gourmet cheeses, a boutique clothing store called Pink and Navy, and the Pineapple Junktion Co-Op, selling both new and used items, that’s owned and operated by 30 different people who each work one day a month. Among others.

The last time I was there, I grabbed a bottle of the blood orange-infused olive oil ($14) and it’s transformed my salads!

What you won’t find: cheesy tourist shops full of tacky beach attire or kitschy souvenirs.

It’s a breath of fresh 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.

Eat tacos at Poppo’s Taqueria

If you’re looking for 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 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.

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.

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.

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 an 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 lobster mac and cheese. I’ve found that the appetizer portion is plenty given that’s served with bread for dipping (yum!).

Have a drink at D’Coy Ducks

You can’t leave Anna Maria without going to at least one of the dive bars. D’Coy Ducks and Drift Inn are good options. 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.

Relax on the Pristine Beaches

One of the must-do activities on Anna Maria Island is simply relaxing on its breathtaking beaches. Whether you prefer basking in the sun, taking a leisurely stroll along the water’s edge, or enjoying a picnic with loved ones, the island’s beaches offer the perfect backdrop for ultimate relaxation.

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 fewer 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.

Sink your toes into the soft, powdery sand as you lay back on a beach towel or lounge chair. Feel the gentle sea breeze caress your skin while you listen to the soothing sounds of the waves crashing against the shore. Take in the panoramic views of the Gulf of Mexico, dotted with colorful umbrellas and playful dolphins swimming in the distance.

The beaches on Anna Maria Island are known for their uncrowded and uncrowded nature, allowing you to find your own slice of paradise. Whether you choose Coquina Beach, Bradenton Beach, or Bean Point, you’re sure to find a tranquil spot to unwind and recharge.

Go paddleboarding or kayaking

Anna Maria Island is a haven for water sports enthusiasts, offering a variety of activities to enjoy on its pristine waters. Kayaking and paddleboarding are two popular options that allow visitors to immerse themselves in the beauty of this tropical paradise.

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 a 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.

Both kayaking and paddleboarding provide an opportunity to connect with nature, soak up the sun, and engage in a fun and invigorating workout. As you glide along the water, you might spot dolphins dancing in the waves or graceful birds swooping down to catch their prey. It’s a truly magical experience that will leave you with unforgettable memories.

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.

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 the website for the full schedule.

Get local seafood from Island Fresh Market

When it comes to experiencing paradise on Anna Maria Island, one activity that is an absolute must-do is indulging in the mouthwatering, fresh seafood that this tropical destination has to offer. With its prime location on the Gulf of Mexico, Anna Maria Island is a seafood lover’s dream come true.

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.

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 a more affordable dining experience.

Or go for more casual fare at Eat Here

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.

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 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 knowledgeable 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. They also make the best Mai Tai I’ve ever had!

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 the other all day (runs every 20 minutes or so). The Monkey Bus is a great option if you decide to stay out later than the trolley runs (you are on vacation, people!) or have a 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.

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 1920s beach cottage. The best place to 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 are strongly recommended every other day. It’s a popular spot.

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 is 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).

One of the highlights of shopping on Anna Maria Island is the opportunity to support local artisans and businesses. Many of the shops feature handmade products, locally sourced goods, and one-of-a-kind treasures that you won’t find anywhere else. Whether you’re searching for a handmade piece of jewelry, a hand-painted artwork, or a souvenir to remember your trip, the shops on Anna Maria Island have it all.

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 creams you can get your hands on. No beach vacation is complete without a stop at the ice cream shop, am I right?

Discover your own paradise on Anna Maria Island

We hope you enjoyed our blog post on the must-do activities on Anna Maria Island. With its stunning beaches, crystal-clear waters, and charming atmosphere, Anna Maria Island truly is a paradise destination. From exploring the island’s natural beauty to indulging in delicious seafood, there is something for everyone to enjoy. Whether you’re a nature lover, a foodie, or simply looking to relax and unwind, these 10 activities will ensure an unforgettable experience. So pack your bags, soak up the sun, and immerse yourself in the enchanting allure of Anna Maria Island.

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