It's no secret that the Island Runaways duo loves exotic islands, places like gorgeous Guadeloupe and far-flung Hydra in Greece. But we also love a different kind of isle altogether, where the vibe is low-key and family friendly. I'm talking about places that aren't necessarily famous for fine rums or vibrant tropical reefs but have their own special kind of beauty, all the same. One of those destinations lies off Bradenton on the central west coast of Florida, and it's called Anna Maria Island.
(Anna Maria at dusk. Photo by Island Runaways/Z.A.)
This barrier island, just north of Long Boat Key, can be reached by two bridges, the Cortez bridge and the Manatee Avenue bridge. It runs only 7 miles along and at its widest, two miles wide (although in places it's much narrower). Anna Maria has what native Floridians like me call an "Old Florida" kind of feel. What does that mean? Let's just say that Anna Maria is the opposite of slick. You won't find huge, minimalist hotels or super-trendy, flashy restaurants. In fact, once you cross over to Anna Maria, you may well think you've ventured back in time a decade, or two or three. The pace slows down. Literally. You can't drive very fast on the roads, and that's part of its charm.
(Rolling along in Anna Maria. Photo by Carol VanHook, Flickr.)
Instead, it's a good idea to put on some flip flops and stroll down to the beach. Here the Gulf of Mexico feels surprisingly warm, especially in summer time. The sand stretches on and on, just like the horizon.
(The beach is inviting. Photo by Carol VanHook, Flickr.)
You can lounge on the sand, and laze away the morning. Next up, it's time for lunch. Sometimes we'll stop by Publix grocery store for some deli sandwiches, or go to one of the little restaurants. Maybe that's the City Pier restaurant for seafood (which is, as you'd guess, located out on a pier). Or you might be hungering for Mr. Bones' barbecue. You can find casually elegant bistros, too, but no one dresses up very much, not even for dinner. Many folks rent houses, apartments, or condos with kitchens, so there's a lot of home cooking going on, too. With views like this, who minds eating in?
(Sea oats on Anna Maria. Photo by Island Runaways/Z.A.)
It's the kind of place where you might want to rent bikes and ride around. Get an ice cream cone and browse the souvenir shops. Fishing's always very popular, too. But if you don't manage to catch your lunch, the Rod & Reel Pier restaurant will cook you up some crab cakes or grouper.
(The simplicity of Anna Maria is part of its appeal. Photo by Carol VanHook, Flickr.)
Despite its having only a population of 8500 people, Anna Maria is divided into three municipalities, Bradenton Beach, Holmes Beach, and then Anna Maria (in the north). To cruise north and south on Gulf Drive, you can take the local trolley. Don't be surprised if you enter into a state of deep relaxation as you inhale the scent of the sea and settle into a quieter pace.
(Anna Maria at sunset. Photo by Island Runaways/Z.A.)
Gulf coast sunsets are usually spectacular, and Anna Maria is a terrific spot to watch the fading sky. Pelicans might glide by overhead, or if you're lucky, you just might see some bottle-nosed dolphins swimming past. I always find that a visit to Anna Maria brings on a sense of well-being, and a deep appreciation of the ocean and Mother Nature. If this sounds like your kind of scene, Anna Maria may be just the right island runaway for you, too.