What does your bucket list look like? Most people have that list of goals they want to accomplish and things they hope to see before it’s too late.
When you’re coming to Florida’s Anna Maria Island for vacation, you need a separate bucket list just for the trip.
Trust us, there are a lot of things you just don’t want to miss.
First, let’s introduce you to the island.
Anna Maria Island is seven miles long, and it’s an entire island tucked between the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay. The island is actually broken up into three towns, each with their own downtown scene that features restaurants, shops, live music, and local beaches. These are the three towns that make up Anna Maria Island:
- Bradenton Beach, which is on the south end of the island. The beach is known as Bradenton Beach or Coquina Beach. Most of the activity in town takes place on Bridge Street, which leads to a historic pier.
- Holmes Beach is in the middle of the island. There, you’ll find Holmes Beach and Manatee Public Beach when you’re looking for salt and sand. Main Street is in the middle of town and offers everything a vacationer needs in terms of food and entertainment.
- Anna Maria is the city on the northernmost part of the island. Pine Avenue is the town’s main street, and in addition to restaurants and shops, visitors can also explore a local museum and a city pier. Bean Point is a largely private beach on the edge of the island, where the gulf meets the bay.
Now that you have the lay of the land, let’s check some things off your Anna Maria Island bucket list.
Splash Around at Coquina Beach
The beach is obviously a bucket list item when you’re visiting Anna Maria Island, but with seven miles of coastline, where do you start?
You start at Coquina Beach, which is perhaps the most popular stretch of sand in the area, and for good reason. The white sand beach and clear, calm waters are irresistible. Whether you’re coming to the beach to lay on the sand and read a book or play in the water or snorkel – you can do it all at Coquina Beach.
You don’t have to worry about parking – it’s abundant and free. You also don’t have to worry about whether you’ll burn out at the beach after just an hour or two. There are plenty of facilities, including shaded picnic tables, grills, restrooms, showers, and a playground to entertain your kids. Lifeguards are on duty, too.
While you’re at Coquina Beach, you’ll likely want to take a walk along the water. Sunrises and sunsets are a perfect time to do that. But save some time in your trip to do Coquina Baywalk. It’s an easy trail that stays on the beach and occasionally picks up boardwalks that go through mangroves. The entire Baywalk is less than a mile. It’s easy to navigate with a stroller or a wheelchair.
Visit with Wildlife at Leffis Key
Leffis Key Preserve is an ecological marvel, and there’s even a 26-foot high hill from which you can enjoy astonishing views of Sarasota Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. It’s definitely a bucket list item.
This patch of land was once overgrown with invasive plant species, but an effort to restore and enhance the saltwater habitat has resulted in a diverse saltwater wetland that’s home to fish, mammals, and birds, as well as native plants and trees. This is a nationally significant estuary and a popular place for migrating birds.
If you love plants, this is your place. As you hike up the hill, you’ll notice the native dune and coastal ridge plants like sea oats, beach elder, dune sunflower, southern red cedar, green buttonwood, sea grape, gumbo-limbo, Hercules’ club, Jamaica dogwood and strangler fig.
Throughout the marshes, you’ll also find smooth cordgrass, saltwater cordgrass and salt joint grass, which were planted to protect the banks of the tidal ponds.
Start at the trailhead and follow the footpaths that wind around the hill and ultimately go up it. There are benches as well as boardwalks that take you through mangroves. Look for the viewing platforms and take all the pictures you can.
Rent a Kayak or a Canoe
When’s the last time you were in a kayak? If your answer is never, don’t worry. Anna Maria Island is the perfect place to try it out. There are plenty of rentals. You can get a canoe, a paddleboard, even a jet ski as well.
We like a kayaking trip because it puts you as close as possible to the nature you’re exploring.
Don’t be surprised if some curious dolphins get close.
Kayaking and canoeing is a year-round activity in Anna Maria Island. If you’re looking for the best place to start, try a mangrove forest where you’ll paddle past shrubs and trees jutting out of the water. Look for roseate spoonbills and ibis wading in the water or stepping gingerly from branch to branch.
Some of our favorite kayaking spots include Robinson Preserve, Bimini Bay, and the South Lido Mangrove Tunnels. Look for tour groups if you’re uncertain about setting off on your own.
Visit the Anna Maria City Pier
On North Bay Boulevard in Anna Maria, you’ll find the Anna Maria City Pier. It’s well-worth a visit.
Anyone who enjoys fishing will want to claim a spot on this wooden pier. You’ll likely be standing among herons and egrets who are interested in what you catch. From the pier, you might even see dolphins and manatees.
Look for the City Pier Grill and Bait Shop. There are plenty of benches and picnic tables on the pier if you want to enjoy some lunch or simply sit in the sun.
Learn Something at the Anna Maria Island Historical Museum
There’s lots to learn about the island at the Anna Maria Island Historical Museum, and that’s why it’s a bucket list item. Let yourself sink into the history and culture of the place you’re visiting. You won’t forget it.
The museum is housed in a building constructed in the 1920s, originally as an icehouse. Before becoming the museum that it is today, it was also a sea turtle hatchery at one time. It’s an administrative building and a garage. The museum took it over in 1992.
The first settlers arrived at Anna Maria Island around 1845. That’s what the majority of museum exhibits showcase. You’ll also learn about the fishing history on the island and you’ll even learn about some baseball and why it matters to Anna Maria Island.
Belle Haven Cottage is on museum property, and there’s a lot of history in that structure. It actually fell into the water from its original place on the pier. And there it stayed for half a century until it was dragged back onto land and turned into a family home.
Do Some Shopping on Bridge Street
You’ll want to contribute to the local economy while you’re here. All the local shops are one-of-a-kind. You won’t find any chain retailers on Anna Maria Island.
The best place for bucket list shopping is Bridge Street, in Bradenton Beach. Here, you’ll find unique gift shops, art galleries featuring the work of local artists, and boutiques where you can buy clothes, housewares, décor, and snacks.
There’s some mini-golf if you feel like a game while you’re strolling down Bridge Street. Keep walking until you reach the pier. It’s the perfect place from which to catch a sunset.
Do a Little Snorkeling
Snorkeling is absolutely a bucket list item in the calm, warm waters of Anna Maria Island. If you’re an experienced snorkeler, you’ll be impressed with the variety of fish you find. You might also get lucky enough to spot a sea turtle, manatee, or stingray.
If you’ve never snorkeled before, get the best possible experience by booking a snorkel tour. They’re all over the beach, and you’ll learn about safety and how to use the equipment properly. Your guide will take you to the best spots on the island, into waters known for their array of sea life.
Try a Sunset Cruise
You cannot leave Anna Maria Island without seeing as many sunsets as possible.
You just can’t.
Enhance your experience by booking a sunset cruise. There are many different types of expeditions, from family-friendly jaunts to romantic voyages complete with dinner and drinks.
These are timed just right to ensure you see a light show over the water that’s completely unmatched by anything or any place else.
These are the bucket list items we put together based on our experience renting out vacation properties in Anna Maria Island. These are the activities most of our guests have loved the best.
If you’re looking for a place to stay while you visit this amazing paradise on the Gulf of Mexico, please contact us and book directly through Anchor Down Vacation Rentals to save money! We rent furnished vacation property in a variety of budgets, sizes, and locations.