Whether you’re visiting Anna Maria Island for a weekend or staying for a season, you don’t want to simply have the tourist experience.
You want to know what it’s like to be part of the culture and community.
We understand that – it’s part of what creates a memorable and meaningful travel experience. As we welcome visitors to their vacation rental homes here, we like to help them put together a unique Anna Maria Island vacation that will mean more than just going to the beach and filling up on seafood.
We want you to feel like a local.
Here are some of the ways you can experience Anna Maria Island like a local.
Understand the Geography of Anna Maria Island
If you want to feel local when you’re in Anna Maria Island, you have to understand the rather unique geography of this place. It’s about 45 minutes from Sarasota and maybe an hour from St. Petersburg, depending on the traffic down Interstate 75.
This is a seven-mile island on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, just off Tampa Bay and on the border of Sarasota Bay. The entire island includes three separate and unique beach towns.
The first is Bradenton Beach, which is at the southern end of the island, closest to Longboat Key and Sarasota. You’ll find most of your beach activities at Coquina Beach or at Bradenton Beach or Cortez Beach. Downtown Bradenton Beach has most of its activity on Bridge Street, where there are restaurants, shops, and live music.
Next is the town of Holmes Beach, which is right in the middle of the island. Manatee Public Beach is there, and a popular spot for families because of its playground, picnic tables, and lifeguards. The main street in the middle of this town has all the same sorts of things you find on Main Street in Bradenton Beach. There are seafood restaurants, casual pizzerias, ice cream shops, and locally owned boutiques.
At the northern part of Anna Maria Island is the city of Anna Maria. There’s a museum and a pier for fishing as well as one of the most secluded and beautiful beaches on the island: Bean Point Beach. It’s where the gulf meets the bay and a fantastic spot to take in a sunset or watch dolphins out in the water.
Now that you know the layout of the land, you’re one step ahead of all the other tourists.
Ditch the Car and Walk or Bike
In Anna Maria Island, the locals choose to live here for a lot of reasons. One of those reasons is that we want to escape the traffic, crowds, and general congestion that is so often found on the mainland.
So, if you want to live like a local while you’re here, leave your car parked at your rental home, and let your feet take you where you want to go.
You’ll find that Anna Maria Island is extremely walkable. Everything is close to everything else, and you’ll stumble upon hidden treasures around town when your feet are taking you places rather than your car. If walking is not what you had in mind for your vacation, consider a bike. Whatever season you happen to be visiting, we think you’ll enjoy the salty, fresh air.
There’s also a trolley!
The Anna Maria Island Trolley is free and accessible from 6:00 in the morning until 10:30 at night! There’s a trolley stop every two or three blocks, making it an easy way to get around the island when you elect not to drive (like a tourist).
Learn What you Can About Anna Maria Island’s History
The locals know their stuff, and while you’re here you should become a bit of a regional history buff, too. There’s a lot to learn, and luckily there’s also a great resource to help you figure out what’s behind the construction of our local piers, our fascination with pirates, and the mysterious shell mounds that pop up in nearby areas.
Start your research at the Anna Maria Island Historical Museum. The museum is located in the City of Anna Maria, in a building from the 1920s. There are generous exhibits about the first settlers on the island, who arrived around 1845. You’ll learn everything you need to know about fishing history and you can tour the island’s original jail.
While you’re learning your history, make sure you visit the historic Bradenton City Beach Pier. Here, you’ll find locals fishing or sharing the gossip of the day.
Do Your Grocery Shopping at the Local Farmers Markets
Locals like to stay local, especially when it comes to spending money.
You can do the same, by stocking up on fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs from local chickens, and baked goods at the various farmers markets that pop up around Anna Maria Island. While you can find markets here and there depending on the season and the schedule, the Bridge Street Market in Bradenton Beach is reliably held on Sundays, between November and April. Hours are typically from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
There’s also the Beach Market at Coquina Beach, which only closes during the height of hurricane season. Lots of interesting items created by local artisans are on display and can be purchased. You’ll find jewelry, baked goods, fresh produce, art, high-quality crafts, and lots more. There’s always live music at this market, and you can get some lunch at the Coquina Café after you’ve finished shopping.
Dress for the Climate
When we see you in your shorts on days that it’s 50 degrees, we know you’re not a local.
No one’s telling you to drag the long pants out of the bottom of the suitcase. But, if you want to really be a part of the local scene year-round, make sure you pack for the weather, and then dress appropriately.
We have warm, mild temperatures for most of the year. But, it’s not unheard of for things to get oddly cold during January and February. It can also be windy. Make sure you’re not blinded by the idea of what you expect Florida beaches to feel like. Evenings are chilly in the winter and in the summer, you’ll likely have to schedule your days around the late afternoon thunderstorms that are predictable and dramatic.
We have a hurricane season, too. Locals know this and they plan accordingly. You’ll want to, as well.
From June 1 to November 30, prepare to be hyper-vigilant about what the tropics plan to provide. Even if there isn’t going to be a direct hit, storms that travel across the Gulf in the opposite direction can still cause dangerous rip tides and swells.
Dig Into Fresh Seafood
Everyone has their own idea of what makes the best meal. In Anna Maria Island, the locals like their seafood, and why wouldn’t they? There’s an abundance of it right outside.
Some of the favorite dishes among locals include grouper, seafood chowder, crab, oysters, fried shrimp, and anything involving scallops.
Sugar is a staple around here, too. All the exercise you’re likely to get walking, swimming, and playing beach volleyball means you can splurge on things like ice cream and donuts.
Stay in a Furnished Short-Term Home
Don’t bother booking a hotel. For one thing, there aren’t a lot of them on Anna Maria Island. We like to keep things local, so you won’t find your favorite chain hotel, where you’ll cash in points or demand an upgrade.
Instead, embrace the true local experience and stay in a place of your own. You can rent a villa, a cottage, a detached house, or a condo. Anna Maria Island doesn’t have those high-rise condos that obstruct perfectly good views in other parts of Florida. We don’t do big resorts or roadside motels.
We want you to feel like you’re at home.
Look for a place that will make you feel like a local. That means:
- A functional, fully equipped kitchen where you can cook your meals, make your morning coffee, and plan your day. A good vacation property will have all the necessary appliances, utensils, and plenty of plates, bowls, forks, and small appliances like toasters, coffee makers, and teapots.
- Bright and clean bedrooms with comfortable mattresses.
- Bathrooms with everything you’ll need, including hair dryers, toothbrush holders, soap, and toilet paper.
- A bit of outdoor space, like a balcony or a patio. Maybe you want a fire pit for marshmallow sessions after a beach day or a gated yard so the kids can run free.
- Pet-friendly policies if you’re traveling with your furry friend.
- Good Wi-Fi, not because you want to work while you’re away, but because you’ll want to easily upload all the pictures to your social networks.
We can help you find the perfect place. We can also help you experience Anna Maria Island like a local. Talk to us about what you’re hoping to find, and we’ll do our best to make it happen. When you’re ready to book a vacation home and plan your trip, contact our team at Anchor Down Vacation Rentals. Book directly through our website to save money!