If it’s a sun-soaked slice of paradise you’re after, then Anna Maria Island holidays fit the bill perfectly. Just 50 miles from Tampa and with all the attractions of Bradenton Beach, Longboat Key and Sarasota on its door-step, Anna Maria is the perfect place to escape to. With silken sands, plenty of seductive sunshine, warm azure waters and a distinct lack of crowds, R&R is very much the order of the day.
Development restrictions mean Anna Maria retains its Old Florida charm. Chain restaurants and razzmatazz just aren’t on the menu, but locally-run businesses, sumptuous seafood restaurants, low-rise wooden buildings, and miles and miles of pristine white beach most definitely are. There’s every opportunity to leave the frenetic pace of the 21st century behind here, and to re-connect one hundred per cent with the good things in life.
Relaxing on the beach is absolutely the way to go. Dig you toes into velvety soft sand or slip into the warm waters of the Gulf and float all your worries away. If you can stir yourself for long enough, you might want to stroll round some of the island’s seven miles of palm-strewn beaches, spotting dolphins, manatees and osprey along the way. Sit for a while on an isolated stretch, then get ready to watch the sun sink into the sea in a flaming trail of pink and orange.
Tranquillity doesn’t have to be the sum total of your Anna Maria holidays though. There’s more to life here than simply lying on the beach, and you can drop in at the Historical Museum, cast a line off the Rod and Reel Pier, play a round of golf, or explore the surrounding waters by boat. And if you want to venture a little further afield there’s watersports, wildlife attractions and even theme parks aplenty.
For fabulous views, head up to the unspoilt beach at Bean point. As you emerge onto the white sand through a fringe of palm trees, the whole of Tampa Bay, the Gulf of Mexico and Egmont Key is spread out before you. Watch the magic of the Gulf and Tampa Bay tides meeting out to sea, collect shells from the shore, and indulge in some spectacular bird-spotting.
This upmarket haven of the arts is just down the coast, and it’s the perfect place to go to up your culture quota. The Ringling Estate, with its Museum of Art, spectacular Venetian-style mansion and fascinating circus museum is a must; plus you can catch top-class theatre, ballet, opera and shows across a whole range of excellent performing arts venues.
There’s a great selection of places to eat across the island, with many restaurants boasting superb waterside locations and spectacular views across the ocean. Seafood is a speciality and working your way through fresh scallops, ceviche, lobster, shrimp and grouper, all while drinking in the sunset, is a not-to-be-forgotten experience.
A clutch of State Parks and marine preserves are all within easy reach of Anna Maria Island, offering unique opportunities to discover the area’s wildlife. Myakka State Park offers hiking trails, canoe trips and air boat rides through stunning wetlands, prairies and woodlands. You can even admire the view from tree-top level, via canopy walkways suspended eight metres off the ground.
If you’ve got the kids with you, or if you’re in search of some thrills, make the journey to Tampa Bay’s biggest theme park. Among the 12,000 animals on view are elephants, cheetahs, lions and meerkats; plus there’s a whole host of rides, attractions and adrenaline-inducing roller coasters.