Kids Travel Guide: Anna Maria Island | Tuesdays with Jacob

Kids Travel Guide: Anna Maria Island

May 8, 2017

Our Anna Maria. That's what the locals there call it. And let's just say, I'd REALLY like to be a local. You know, if we had jobs there and real estate wasn't so steep. It's taken me almost a month to write this post, mostly because I'm still in denial that we aren't still there. Anna Maria Island (AMI) is located west of Bradenton on Florida's gulf (west) coast. It's a barrier island that actually contains 3 cities: from north to south - Anna Maria, Holmes Beach, and Bradenton Beach. And it quickly became my favorite place in all of Florida. Yes, surpassing Sanibel, the Keys, even Disney. Here's all the details you need to know if you are planning a trip!

Where we stayed
We stayed in a rental house in Bradenton Beach. AMI is lacking in all forms of commercialization, so there are almost no hotels. Most houses and condos rent by the week, and this is the way to go. You get your own kitchen so you can cook at home, and some even come with beach necessities like chairs, umbrellas, and toys so you don't have to bring (or buy) your own. Our next trip, I'd like to stay farther north in Anna Maria proper, but that's just a matter of preference. Our location near 23rd and Avenue C was perfect. We were just steps from both the beach and the closest trolley stops. It was a short 5 minute trolley ride down to the shops, restaurants, and pier on Bridge Street, and about a 15 minute trolley ride up to the north end of Anna Maria. I will say this - regardless of which city you end up in, if you have kids, the closer to the beach the better. Less distance to drag all your stuff, and easier to head home for meals or potty breaks. If you're headed out that way and would like more specific details on our rental house, shoot me a message! 

Where we beached
The beaches are the biggest draw in AMI. The sand is powdery soft and the water is clear, relatively calm, and all around gorgeous. We saw dolphins playing on a few occasions. Most days we stuck to the beach directly down the street from our rental. 23rd street all the way west until you hit the sand. It was pretty quiet down there, which is perfect for relaxing. No crowds, no noise. But also - no amenities. 

One day we took the trolley to Manatee Beach up in Holmes Beach, which was fun, but completely different. Manatee Beach is a magnet for families. There are volleyball nets, a cafe, an ice cream shop, and a playground. It was VERY crowded, partially due to it being spring break. But in general, the public beaches draw more of a crowd because of their amenities. If you want something quieter, just head west until you hit the sand. 

What we did
We made a few day trips early in the week as the weather was a little cooler. We spent nearly a full day at Mote Marine Aquarium, which is located near Longboat Key. (the island directly south of AMI. Walking in it looks pretty small - one big room, but follow the signs out back and there is a huge outdoor area with more exhibits. Then follow the footprints across the street and there is a second building that houses turtles, manatees, river otters, and more!

We spent a full day in Sarasota visiting Mixon's Fruit Farm and the Big Cat Sanctuary. At Mixon's we took a tram ride of the orchard and their exotic animal rescue. You can tour their working factory where they process the oranges, and make sure you try some of the orange ice cream! The Big Cat Sanctuary has, you guessed it - big cats. But they also have bears, a wild animal show, and a petting zoo with farm animals that was a big hit with the younger crowd. 

We arrived in town on St Patrick's Day and the following day they had a big parade that was lots of fun. If you're in the area around the holiday it's something neat to check out! It starts on the south end of Holmes beach and runs north toward Anna Maria. We got thrown tons of beads and there are marching bands, pirate ships, and so much more.

And of course there was Jacob's favorite part of our trip - the trolley. I think he probably would have been happy to just ride the trolley and do nothing else. It's free, it runs the length of the island, and it comes by every 20 minutes or so. We took it most nights to go to dinner, and rode it up to Pine St. one day to explore the shops and pier. There was nothing this little boy loved more than waiting at the trolley stop for his next trolley ride!

On Pine Street we stopped into the cutest boutique, the Shiny Fish Emporium, where kids can paint their own sand dollar! They add a glitter sealant and a ribbon when it's dry so you can hang it. Definitely a one of a kind souvenir and (in my opinion) well worth the $12. We also stopped in to Roser Church, to check out their stained glass, and walked the length of the Anna Maria pier. There are a lot of fun shops and places to eat on Pine St. and you can rent bikes from a shop there as well. 

Where we ate
We ate out about half of our nights in AMI, and cooked at our rental the other nights. We also ate out a few times for breakfast and for lunch. Not once did we have a bad meal, and I would recommend all of these places!

We ate dinner our first night up in Anna Maria at The Sandbar restaurant. We took the trolley up after the St. Patrick's Day parade and found ourselves facing a 90 minute wait. Thankfully, it's right on the beach so Jacob could play while we waited. And the wait was worth it. We were seated right before sunset, and by the time our food was ordered we got to watch the sun setting right from our table. The waiters play a fun game where you have to guess the exact sunset time down to the seconds and if you win you get a free dessert. Later in the week we ate at the Sandbar's sister restaurant in Bradenton Beach, The Beach House. Very similar in terms of menu, and also right on the beach.

sunset from our table at The Sandbar Restaurant

Indoor seating (they have an outdoor patio as well) at The Beach House Restaurant

We ventured across the bridge into Cortez for dinner at The Seafood Shack another night. The decor in there is super fun and the seafood was delicious. The restaurant is right on the water and you can watch the bridge go up for the boats. Another night we went down to Bridge street and had dinner at A.M.O.B on the Pier. A.M.O.B stands for Anna Maria Oyster bar, but they have tons of other stuff too. It's super casual and perfect for kids. You order at the counter and then find a seat and they bring the food to your table. As the name suggests, it's right on the pier, and you can walk to the end and watch the fishermen or swing on the swings. Cha Cha Coconuts down south of Long Boat Key was another fun stop. It's in St. Armands Circle and there was live music on the night we stopped in.

We mostly ate lunch at our rental, but we did stop in to Poppo's Taqueria the day we were exploring Pine Ave. and it was amazing. Very similar in set up to a Chipotle but even fresher! They cook the tortillas right in front of you before they start building your meal and they have a big selection of Mexican sodas as well. The day we ventured to Manatee beach we ate at the Island Beach Cafe for lunch, which is a food stand right on the beach there with the most extensive beach cafe menu I've ever seen. There's also an ice cream shop right there! After our trip to Mote Marine, we stopped in at the Newpass Grill right down the street which is a tiny whole in the wall place where you order at the counter and then sit at the picnic tables by the water to eat. The food was pretty good, but watching the boats really made this a gem of a place.

We only ate out twice for breakfast, but both times were something to write home about. The Donut Experiment up in Anna Maria makes the freshest donuts we've ever had and you get to choose your own icing and topping flavors using a little checklist that you hand in when you order. Island Creperie on Bridge Street in Bradenton Beach served, you guessed it, crepes. Both savory and sweet and they were fantastic. 

Where we snacked
For the most part we snacked at home, or grabbed dessert at a restaurant after dinner. But two places come to mind. Joe's Eats and Sweets in Bradenton Beach had great ice cream with a ton of flavors. It's right across the street from the beach, so you can walk over and enjoy your ice cream there. We also grabbed a half dozen cupcakes from Cupcake Delights in Anna Maria on our way back from Sarasota and those were delicious as well. 

And finally, if you only do ONE thing...
Catch as many sunsets as you can. I said earlier that Anna Maria is known for it's beaches, but that's only half true. What they are really known for are their knock your socks off sunsets that you can see from their beaches. Each one unique and amazing in it's own way. Don't miss a single one.

I hope you enjoy your trip as much as we did! XO
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