Opt for a Bradenton holiday and you get three-in-one, since laid-back Anna Maria Island and up-scale Longboat Key are right next door. This is a part of the coast that strives hard to retain its Old Florida charm and does so in spades, with delightful wooden buildings, a traditional pier, and relaxed night-life. It’s a destination where you can have fun in the sun without having to dodge the shadows of high-rise buildings or wear ear plugs to find some peace and quiet.
With its gloriously sandy, sun-splashed shores, Bradenton is very much the place to be for beach-niks of all kinds. There’s a stretch for everyone, from family-friendly to romantic, and you can mix and match to suit your mood. Bradenton Beach has good surfing, beach volleyball, and plenty of local restaurants and stores. Coquina Beach is the place for dolphin, pelican and ibis-spotting, and for gazing at multi-coloured tropical fish. And Whitney Beach is just right for quiet contemplation.
Life can be as lazy as you like during your Bradenton holiday. You can simply throw a towel down on the silken sands and drift off while the reliable Florida sun warms your skin. Or you can get a bit more active. There’s watersports on offer if you’re after some wave action, plus all sorts of boat trips and kayaking. There’s superb fishing either off the pier or out in the ocean; and divers can meet the local marine life up close while exploring the wreck of the Regina. Meanwhile, if you prefer dry land, outstanding golf and horse riding are good options.
Plus there’s the locality to explore, too. Catch a flaming Florida sunset and feast on succulent seafood at Anna Maria Island; browse Longboat Key’s exclusive boutiques and sip a classy cocktail; and whatever you do, relax and enjoy.
Discover the wonders of nature at this spectacular wildlife reserve with top-class bird-watching, including roseate spoonbills, wood storks and bald eagles. You can explore the beauty of its salt marshes, mangrove swamps and shoreline by hiking, by bike or in a canoe, and get one of the best views around from the top of its 40-foot observation tower.
De Soto National Memorial
This fascinating State Park celebrates one of the first Spanish explorers in North America – Hernando de Soto, who landed near Bradenton in 1539. Actors in period costume tell the story of the expedition, including encounters with Native Americans, and demonstrate the weapons of the day. There’s also a nature trail through the mangrove forest to explore.
South Florida Museum
Famously home to Snooty, the oldest manatee in captivity, the museum has three parts: the museum itself, which explores the history of Florida; the Parker Manatee Aquarium, where you can meet Snooty and his friends; and the Bishop Planetarium, which stages spectacular space shows in its digital domed theatre. The kids will love it.
Imagine yourself as a Southern belle (or beau!) while exploring the Gamble Plantation Historic State Park – the only surviving plantation house in South Florida. Formerly the hub of a huge sugar cane plantation, this grand antebellum house is furnished in mid-19th century style and oozes the atmosphere of long ago days when slaves toiled to bring in the crop.
There’s a wealth of retail therapy available on a Bradenton vacation. Ellenton Premium Outlets has over 120 stores, while there’s quirky fashion, jewellery and art for sale in the Village of the Arts, plus vintage and modern at Red Barn Flea Market. Both Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key have good shopping, too.