Why the Anna Maria Island Beaches are Perfect for a Family Vacation
When we tell people that we took a 3-month-old and a 21-month-old to Florida for 4 weeks we’re usually met with confused looks. Surely they were too young for Disney? But when we explain about our time at the beautiful (and relatively undiscovered) Anna Maria Island beaches or about spotting manatees at Crystal River or visiting the oldest town in the US, St Augustine, people come to understand that there’s so much more to Florida than Disney. Don’t worry, we did squeeze in a cheeky visit to Disney’s Animal Kingdom too!
One of our favourite places in Florida was Anna Maria Island. With its 7-mile stretch of white sandy beaches, calm blue waters and laid-back living, it’s an incredible destination for a family vacation. If you’re thinking about visiting Anna Maria Island, here is some useful information to help with your vacation planning.
Where is Anna Maria Island?
Anna Maria Island is situated about 50 miles south of Tampa on the west coast of Florida. Driving from Tampa to Anna Maria Island will take you around one hour. If you are visiting Florida specifically for Disney World and wonder how far is Anna Maria Island from Disney, it’s about 100 miles. You could easily to take a drive from Orlando to Anna Maria Island for a couple of days of relaxation on Anna Maria Island beach at the end of your Disney vacation.
How do you get to Anna Maria Island?
Up until 1922, Anna Maria Island could only be accessed by boat. Nowadays, you access it via the Anna Maria Island Bridge that takes you across the bay into Bridge Street, one of the most historic parts of the island.
If you’re approaching from Tampa, there are two main routes. Either the I-275 S via St Petersburg which will take you across the Sunshine Skyway Bridge ($1.50 toll each way for cars) or via the I-75 S which takes you via Bradenton. Each route is similar in distance and time but you may want to look on Google maps for traffic conditions before deciding which route to take. One thing to bear in mind is that the views from the Sunshine Skyway Bridge are great and it’s worth paying the toll for that.
One the subject of driving in Florida and tolls, make sure to check out potential toll charges because Florida has the most toll roads in the US. It’s also worth checking the small print of your car rental agreement regarding the treatment of tolls. As the tolls are cashless, some (unscrupulous) car rental companies may add this charge on at the end of your rental even though you paid them. Remember to keep proof of payment as a backup or for peace of mind. If the Sunpass (saving you money on tolls) was not included in your car rental, you might want to consider purchasing it before you pick up your rental car. Even if the car rental company offers the Sunpass, have a look yourself to see if it is cheaper to buy it separately.
When is the best time to visit Anna Maria Island?
Florida is nicknamed the sunshine state and many people flock to Florida during the winter months for the Florida weather. This is, of course, when Florida is at is busiest. The Anna Maria Island weather is lovely all year round but some months (January to March and October) are cooler than others. If you’re looking to go when it’s less busy, these are the best months to go.
The summer months of June, July and August are hot but it’s also the rainy season. Don’t expect it to rain the entire time, but you are more likely to encounter quick but heavy thunderstorms. These months are very busy as is December.
What is there to do on Anna Maria Island?
Unlike other destinations in Florida (particularly Disney), there isn’t a whole load of things to do on Anna Maria Island, but that’s not to say that there’s nothing to do. Part of the charm is that it’s a very low-key destination. It’s all about relaxed beach living. You can come here and completely chill out but if you are looking for things to do in Anna Maria Island, here are a few ideas:
Anna Maria Island Beaches
The beaches are by far the main reason people visit Anna Maria Island. With miles of unspoiled, white-sand beaches and calm waters, it’s the ideal spot to unwind. It’s hard to say which is the best beach on Anna Maria Island because they all have their pros and cons (although not many cons). These are the main beaches on Anna Maria Island and you really can’t go wrong with any of them, it just depends on what you’re looking for in a beach. The great thing is, they’re not far apart so you can visit all of them.
Bean Point Anna Maria Island – at the northern tip of the island and not accessible by car, Bean Point Beach is a lovely large expanse of white sand and is a lot quieter than the public beaches. It’s a bit of a walk to get there but it’s the perfect spot to enjoy a picnic, especially at sunset. Note that there are no facilities.
Holmes Beach – is the most central beach and is made up of Manatee Public Beach and Anna Maria Public Beach. Both beaches have all the facilities you could need including restrooms, playgrounds for the kids, watersports, picnic areas and many restaurants in the local area.
Located next to the Rod and Reel Pier on the east side of the island, there’s a little playground and picnic tables. The beach on this side is more rugged than on the west side.
Sunset beach walks
When the sun is strong, you may not want to have little ones out on the beach. As we were travelling with our 3-month-old, we did a lot of early morning strolls and sunset walks along the Anna Maria Island beaches. It was really beautiful and peaceful and the sunsets were particularly stunning.
There are a number of Anna Maria Island piers. The main ones are:
Rod and Reel Pier – rustic pier at the north end of the island with the Rod and Reel restaurant and bar at the end.
Anna Maria Island City Pier – historic 700-foot long pier was built in the early 1900s and a great spot to enjoy a sunrise or sunset. Also a good view of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and Tampa Bay. A popular spot for fishing.
Bradenton Beach Pier – a lovely Old Florida style pier, part of which formed the original bridge that connected the island to the mainland. It’s a popular spot for fishermen and fun to watch the pelicans and other birds who hang around looking for food. There are lots of restaurants in the area as it is right next to the popular Bridge Street.
There’s a huge abundance of wildlife on Anna Maria Island, in particular a large variety of birdlife. Our eldest was content with spotting the pelicans and loved to get as close to the seagulls as he could before they flew away but there’s so much more going on there for real birdwatchers to enjoy. It’s a bird sanctuary with herons, crane, sandpiper and Osprey among others calling it home as well as many migratory birds.
During May to October, it’s a popular nesting spot for Loggerhead turtles. If you contact Island Turtle Watch, you should be able to arrange an early morning nesting tour. It’s also home to dolphin and an animal that you must see on your Florida vacation, the infamous manatee.
More Anna Maria Island things to do
- visit the local art galleries and gift shops around Pine Avenue and Bridge Street
- take a drive down through the keys to Sarasota
- take a boat trip to spot dolphins or enjoy a sunset cruise
- rent a paddleboard
- stroll along Pine Avenue and Bridge Street for the true Anna Maria Island Old Florida experience
Anna Maria Island Accommodation
There’s a huge choice of vacation accommodation on Anna Maria Island and by far the most popular type of accommodation is a vacation rental. If you’re looking for Anna Maria Island rentals, you will be spoilt for choice. You’ll find super-luxury condos on the beach or more traditional, Old Florida style rentals. This type of accommodation is ideal for families as it’s a home away from home.
If you look carefully, some will have home comforts like toys for the children to play with and additional extras like high chairs, cots and even beach equipment. On that note, take a look at these best quality beach umbrellas which are so important as the sun is very strong.
Anna Maria Island Vacation Rentals
We stayed at Egret’s Landing which was almost exactly in the middle of the island and only a 5-minute walk from the beach. It was spotlessly clean and had all of the amenities you could need in a vacation rental.
The main booking sites for vacation rentals in Anna Maria Island are:
Airbnb Anna Maria Island
You can search on Airbnb for a large number of rental properties in Anna Maria Island
Anna Maria Island hotels
Anna Maria Island is all about vacation rentals but if that’s not your style and you prefer a hotel, here are a few options.
Anna Maria Island restaurants
There are plenty of amazing restaurants to choose from but these are a couple of our favourites.
Anna Maria Island restaurants on the beach
The Sandbar Anna Maria Island – wonderful beachfront seafood dining. One of the best restaurants in Anna Maria Island
The Waterfront Restaurant Anna Maria Island – relaxed and easygoing beachfront seafood dining
The Rod and Reel Pier – traditional food with a seafood focus
Harry’s Grill – great for light bites with a cool outdoor patio area
The Donut Experiment Anna Maria – make up your own donuts in this boutique donut store. The most delicious donuts we’ve ever had, especially the maple bacon!
Anna Maria Island Map