We are so fortunate to have spent a week on the beach in Florida before COVID-19 really set in. I’ve been dreaming about going back ever since. Here are a few things we learned about Anna Maria Island so that you can start planning your trip right now.
1. Hit both ends of the island. Pine Street on the north end and Bridge Street on the south end are where you’ll find lots of places to eat, drink and shop. The free trolley makes this a breeze.
2. Ask friends who’ve visited the island (like me!) for recommendations. That’s how we found the restaurants we liked the best, like…
3. Eat at The Sandbar Restaurant. We liked our first meal so much that we went back a few days later. Get there early if you want to sit on the patio at sunset. Five stars for the shrimp stuffed with crab!
4. Eat at the Gulf Drive Café & the Kokonut Hut. We got a table outside the bar from which we could watch the sun setting on the beach and listen to the live reggae music. Get a drink to share. Five stars for the shrimp tacos.
5. Eat at the Bridge Tender Inn Restaurant. It’s just off the Bridge Street Pier with a view of the water. Great food and reasonable prices. Five stars for the Baja Mahi Tacos. Plus, for my husband who’s not a big seafood fan, they had a great hot dog.
6. Go beach hopping! There are lots of choices, including Bean Point, Holmes, Anna Maria, Manatee, Bradenton and Coquina. It’s easy to walk from one to the next. If you like a good long walk, take the trolley to one end of the island, walk to the other, then take the trolley back to where you’re staying.
7. Check out the shops! The Bridge Street Bazaar was our favorite for traditional souvenirs like t-shirts, hats and island décor. I found some wonderful bracelets and Christmas ornaments at The Island Cabana on Pine Avenue, and a beach bag decorated with sea turtles in the gift shop at the Gulf Drive Café. The Sandbar also has a nice gift shop, where I found bi-focal sunglasses right after mine broke!
8. Visit www.annamariaislandchamber.org to help with your trip planning.
1. Don’t get a rental car without some research. There are shuttles available from the Tampa International Airport. Once you’re on the island, the free trolley will take you anywhere.
2. Don’t overpack! This is really hard for me, but I’m trying to get better about it. You’ll need a pair of sandals and a pair of walking shoes. We visited in mid-February, and the jeans, sweater, rain jacket, capris and socks stayed in the suitcase. (My walking shoes are comfy without socks.) For a five-day stay, I just needed a swimsuit, a pair of shorts, two skorts, a swimsuit cover, a few t-shirts and tank tops. Of course, you’ll want to check the forecast before your visit.
3. Don’t forget the sunscreen. Use it often and wear a hat.
4. Don’t forget to look up occasionally while you’re walking on the beach. We were watching dolphins play from our balcony while others were walking with heads down, probably looking for shells. They missed out on the show!
5. Don’t accept the first price you find for lodging. I found ours on VRBO, but it was actually cheaper on Expedia.
Good to know
1. If you’re in a condo with a full kitchen, there’s a Publix grocery store, a couple of independent liquor stores, a CVS and a Walgreens. Don’t over buy! We ate one big meal out each day, then snacked for the other two meals in the condo.
2. There’s a Domino’s that delivers if you don’t want to leave the beach.
3. Glass is not allowed on the beaches. Pack a water bottle or pick up a plastic cup. Our condo only had glassware.
4. There are lots of places to rent gear, bikes, golf carts, scooters, kayaks, etc. It’s a fun way to explore the island.
5. There are also many options for activities, boat charters, sightseeing cruises, tours, fishing, snorkeling, dolphin and manatee tours and parasailing. The chamber website is a good place to start.
We stayed at the Bali Hai Resort on Holmes Beach. The location and views were amazing. Our room was large, clean and comfy. The private beach is well-maintained and quiet and not too far to walk to The Sandbar Restaurant. It was a little pricey, but worth it for facing and being just steps from the beach. Our only complaint was that we were not able to get housekeeping there when we needed them.
Now, I think I’m going to have to start planning our next trip. Thanks for reading Tales From the Empty Nest!