Anna Maria Island Provides a Unique Florida Getaway

A glimpse into yesterday

When you think of Florida, hi-rise hotels with lavish lobbies and magnificent swimming pools come to mind. But Anna Maria Island, gives vacationers a different view of the sunshine state. There are no hi-rises on this island. The speed limit is only 35 miles per hour and there are rarely any traffic jams. No one seems to be in a hurry either. You aren't likely to see McDonald's golden arches or a Burger King. What you will find on this 7.5 mile stretch of beach is charming cottages and island villas, passion flowers and hibiscus, spoonbills and seabirds. And most alluring, you will have the opportunity to escape from the typical touristy destinations.

Island Garden Villas
Island Garden Villas | Larger

Anna Marie Island is comprised of three cities. Anna Maria City, the northern portion, Holmes Beach, in the middle and Bradenton Beach in south. I stayed in Holmes Beach at the Island Garden Villas in a beautiful one bedroom villa with a roomy kitchen, living room and dining area. The modern kitchen was equipped with a stove and microwave, refrigerator, china, stemware and pots and pans. The villa was spotless and had lovely furnishings throughout. There are just a few units at the villas, where excellent service and attention given to guests.

Two beautiful fountains and the sound of gently flowing water welcome guests to the Island Garden Villas. The fountain in the rear of the villas is surrounded by cozy chairs and piped in soft music plays as soft lights glisten in the moonlight. Occasionally a friendly feline might stroll by, but basically the inn is a safe haven for collecting your thoughts. It's a place where time stands still and the beauty of the universe comes into view.

The secluded unspoiled beach is just across the street from the Island Garden Villas and a special path is available to take guests to the white sandy beach less than two minutes away. The sand is hard, great for long walks which I did each morning with my husband. Occasionally, we would see another couple, but mostly the beach was the sanctuary for lovely foliage, fish and sea birds. Interesting shells dot the beach along with wildflowers and sandcastles.

The restaurants on the island are a good match with the character of the area—unusual, charming and delicious. The area abounds with fresh seafood. Some of my favorites were the grouper and the snapper and you can get it grilled, fried, blackened or broiled at most restaurants. There are casual restaurants, upscale restaurants and corner drugstore type eateries. For a delicious breakfast, try Ginny and Jane E's at the Old IGA. The crème brulee French toast was awesome. Ginny and Jane E's is a combination internet café and art store. You're apt to find just about anything at Ginny and Jane E's from lighting fixtures and puzzles to jams and jellies.

Crème Brûlée French toast
Crème Brûlée French toast | Larger

Another fun place for breakfast is the Gulf Drive Café located on the beach. This is a popular spot for the locals. There are tables outside facing the Gulf of Mexico but they tend to be taken first, so plan on eating early so you can enjoy your breakfast at one of them. The thick homemade hot oatmeal is delicious and so are the pancakes.

Gulf Drive Café
Gulf Drive Café | Larger

Dining out is an incredible experience if you are lucky enough to get a reservation at Euphemia Haye's Haye Loft. The restaurant is located in Long Boat Key, just a short drive from Anna Marie Island. The restaurant is known for its duck, but everything was delicious including the Caesar salad mixed tableside and the steak served flaming. Don't forget to venture upstairs to the dessert room where specialty desserts are served.

Another fun dining spot that I enjoyed was the Beach House Restaurant. This casual restaurant offers nightly entertainment and freshly caught fish. Located on the Gulf of Mexico, it is a perfect place to watch the sunset.

It's a short drive to nearby Bradenton. Plan to enjoy lunch or dinner at Mattison's Riverside. This ultra modern restaurant faces the Twin Dolphin Marina with dozens of yachts docked along the decks next to the restaurant. The food is inexpensive and delicious and the view is lovely. They also have a sushi bar serving some of the best sushi in the area.

Island Creperie
Island Creperie | Larger

Breakfast and dinner can be enjoyed at the Island Creperie, an intimate French eatery where the buckwheat crepes are the best I have tasted anywhere.

Anna Marie Island is the perfect place to chill out and relax, but if you would like to see the sights, a 30-minute drive to the Ringling Museum in Sarasota is a fabulous way to spend the day. Enjoy lunch at Traviso in the museum where we savored some watermelon chilled soup. The museum has three main parts. The first is the Ringling Museum of Art consists of 21 marvelous galleries. John Ringling the circus owner multimillionaire used his wealth and his frequent trips abroad to acquire European art. When he moved his winter home to Sarasota he built this museum to house his huge collection. Next is the Ca'd' Zan mansion, Ringling's winter residence. Overlooking Sarasota Bay it is a wonderful Venetian-style palace. The third part of the museum is the amazing model circus at the Tibbals Learning Center. It takes a good four hours or longer to see everything, so wear good walking shoes and plan to stay there the good part of a day.

Ringling Mansion
Ringling Mansion | Larger

The Sarasota Kennel Club is just a few minutes drive from the Ringling Museum if you'd like to catch a few greyhound races after your visit to the museum. There is nightly racing year round.

Nature lovers will enjoy the Emerson Point Preserve, a 365-acre, state-owned managed preserve which contains a variety of native Florida coastal ecosystems. This is a immense place for bird-watching, hiking, bicycling, fishing and canoeing. Naturalist, Karen Fraley, of Around the Bend Nature Tours, took us on an insightful tour of the preserve and pointing out native plants and animals on our nature walk through the area.

Emerson Point Preserve
Emerson Point Preserve | Larger

Other interesting sights are the Mote Aquarium and the Village of the Arts in Bradenton where 35 galleries feature everything from fine art and furniture to clothing and antiques. There is also the South Florida Museum and Bishop planetarium in Bradenton.

But more than the tourist attractions, Anna Marie Island is a unique Florida destination that allows you to step back in time and enjoy the beauty of a sunset, the budding of a flower and the sound of the waves rolling out to sea.

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