Exploring Florida’s Gulf Coast? Clear some space in your itinerary and experience the best things to do in Anna Maria Island. The barrier island is home to endless beautiful beaches and small-town charm. Anna Maria Island also has a rich history that still flourishes in the local community.
On your Anna Maria Island trip, you could spend an entire week beach-hopping up and down picturesque Gulf Drive in Manatee County. But then, of course, you’d miss out on dining at oceanfront restaurants in Bradenton Beach or browsing art galleries and boutique shops on Pine Avenue.
Not sure what to do on Anna Maria Island? Start planning your trip with this guide to the best places to visit in Anna Maria Island, FL.
Best places to visit in Anna Maria Island, FL
Whether you’re here for one day or one week, Bradenton Beach is one of the most important places to see in Anna Maria Island. The exciting Sarasota Bay beach town offers a fishing pier and a parade of white-sand beaches, not to mention fun activities and water sports.
The pace is slower in Bradenton Beach. Its streets are walkable, filled with boutique shops, classic restaurants, and art galleries. And the surrounding scenery will stop you in your tracks.
The views don’t get any better than at the end of the Bradenton Historic Street Pier. Around the pier, you’ll find the impressive Anna Maria Oyster Bar.
Once you’ve sampled the local oysters, stick around for kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, or relaxing on the beach.
A beach day at Holmes Beach offers some of the finest Anna Maria Island sightseeing opportunities. Holmes Beach boasts three miles of pristine, sugar-sand beaches and bright turquoise water. It’s one of the most residential quarters of AMI.
Although it’s one of the most beautiful beaches on Anna Maria Island, Holmes Beach is not as crowded as the more popular Bradenton Beach. You can feel confident about having a large patch of sand for yourself here. With limited public parking, however, arrive early to secure yourself a spot at this favorite beach.
One of the most enthralling Anna Maria attractions also leaves from the Holmes Beach area. Anna Maria Island Dolphin Tours depart daily to various destinations. It’s the best way to see dolphins on the island and get up close to other sea life, such as sea turtles and manatees.
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After your dolphin tour or a day of soaking up the sand, freshen up and relax with friends and family at one of the many beachside bars and restaurants around Holmes Beach.
Rod and Reel Pier
Tucked away on the north end of Anna Maria Island is a hidden gem and local favorite: Rod and Reel Pier. Since the late 1940s, this seafood restaurant has been preserving “Old Florida.” Rod and Reel Pier continues to serve traditional fare and local favorites. Its unique dishes have made it an Anna Maria treasure.
The restaurant enjoys a casual dining atmosphere, with the pier going off the Gulf Coast. You’ll marvel at stunning ocean views from the comfort of your seat.
If you feel like catching your own dinner, bring along your fishing pole and fish right off the side of the pier.
With stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean and smaller beach crowds, an afternoon at Bean Point is always well spent. Bean Point is a historic part of Anna Maria Island, being the former home of the island’s founder George Bean.
Today, Bean Point offers some of the most scenic beachfront found in Anna Maria. Treat yourself to pristine white sand beaches and views of manatees, who love the shallow turquoise waters. (And don’t worry: These gentle giants aren’t dangerous!)
Bean Point Beach has no facilities, and there’ll be a short one-mile walk to reach your destination. This may put off some travelers, but it only serves to give the adventurous beach bum more room to spread out and relax.
After spending hours under the warm Florida sun, you may start to feel a little restless. If that’s the case, it’s time for a hit of shopping. And there’s no better place to do that in AMI than along Pine Avenue.
Begin at the Gulf Drive end, passing numerous fascinating art galleries as you wander. Soon you’ll pass upscale boutiques and thrift stores selling exciting vintage wares, including the popular Shiny Fish Emporium.
Finish your time on Pine Ave with a trip to Ginny’s & Jane E’s Cafe and Gift Store on Gulf Drive. This local institution combines vintage clothing with an expansive coffee and ice cream bar.
Grab a piece of homegrown art or a unique postcard before sampling their decadent baked goods, ice creams, and espressos.
Anna Maria Island Historical Museum
On Pine Ave, the Anna Maria Island Historical Museum remains of the top tourist attractions on Anna Maria Island. While you’re hopping from shop to shop or enjoying your delicious ice cream, don’t skip out on learning the fascinating local history.
The Anna Maria Island Historical Museum has some of the town’s most important artifacts, information, and exhibits. All combine to display the island’s rich history.
At the museum, you can learn about the island’s beginnings as a Native American fishing camp, through to being a Spanish colony and to when George Bean set about developing his enormous estate.
Anna Maria Island Historical Museum is found within a former ice house, built over a century ago. But it’s the cheeky Old City Jail that’ll, surprisingly, put a grin on your face. The Old City Jail is infamous for not having a roof, doors, windows, or bars. Snap your picture in front of it to capture one of the top points of interest in Anna Maria for your IG feed.
Historic Bridge Street
One of the best places to go on Anna Maria Island is Historic Bridge Street. Whereas much of Florida has developed coastlines of condos and high-rises, AMI has kept the charm of old-time Florida. Nowhere is this more noticeable than when strolling down beautiful Bridge Street.
Now known as the Historic Old Town District, the street is a hub of activity from tempting boutique stores, restaurants, and laid-back bars.
A key part of the Bridge Street experience is the walk to the end of the Anna Maria City Pier. Once the only means of access to the island, it’s transformed into a popular fishing pier with gorgeous views and unbeatable sunsets.
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The Anna Maria City Pier can be reached via the Anna Maria Island Trolley.
Coquina Beach remains as it has been for decades. With tall pine trees lining the beach, impeccable scenery, and classic lifeguard stands. A good thing, too, seeing as Conde Nast Traveler believes the sand here is as good as any around the world.
A picturesque half-hour drive from Sarasota via Longboat Key and Lido Key, Coquina Beach offers picnic tables and grills. Load up your cooler, pack a lunch, and make a day of it.
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Beneath your feet, you’ll also notice a wonderful selection of different shells. Coquina Beach is one of the best places in AMI for shelling.
Sandbar Seafood & Spirits
Sandbar Seafood & Sprits has been a part of local life on Anna Maria Island since its doors flung open back in 1911. A change of ownership after 68 years in 1979 didn’t change the aura of The Sandbar. The new owners continue to preserve the restaurant’s iconic history.
A family-friendly restaurant, Sandbar Seafood & Spirits serves up locally sourced ocean-to-table fare. This helps to create deliciously fresh lunches and dinners. Examples of their amazing food include their specialty Tampa Bay Spanish Mackerel. You’ll also love their scallops topped off with zesty coconut milk and lemongrass.
But it isn’t just the food that’s memorable. With its beachfront location, The Sandbar offers impeccable ocean views. Dip your toes in the sand and enjoy a refreshing drink to maximize the experience.
Anna Maria Oyster Bar
Found at the end of the City Pier, the Anna Maria Oyster Bar is the best place in town to sample ocean-fresh oysters. Rock up on foot or tie your dinghy to the dock. Later, kick back with your partner, friends, or family and enjoy the views over the water.
The oysters aren’t the only mouthwatering food item on offer. You may come for the oysters, but you’ll stick around for the scrumptious fish and chips or the shrimp and scallops and the Maine steamed lobster.
If you love to pair your seafood with a memorable sunset, a key lime tart, and a cocktail, set your sights on Anna Maria Oyster Bar.
The Fish Hole
Wondering where to go on Anna Maria Island for some lighthearted fun? Enjoy a family-friendly afternoon or evening making your way around the Fish Hole mini-golf course. On historic Bridge Street, the course features 18 challenging holes. Each is surrounded by lush vegetation and a 3,000-gallon Koi Pond.
Fun and educational, the Fish Hole also offers a series of interpretive signs. Each one will help you identify the 50-plus species of plants that line the course.
Once you’ve crowned a champion on Hole 18, celebrate (or commiserate) at one of the many restaurants along Bridge Street.
Egmont Key State Park
For seclusion and the chance to get away from it all, Egmont Key State Park is a wonderful place to visit. The park is on an island that can only be reached by boat. Egmont features beautiful scenery, wildlife, and walking trails.
With its limited access, crowds are always small at Egmont Key. It’ll allow you time to explore the beaches and snorkel your way around the water.
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One of the most historic Anna Maria Island attractions, Fort Dade, is also found here. After swimming in the crystal waters, dry off and explore the abandoned outpost used in the Civil War.
Manatee Public Beach
Just off Gulf Drive, Manatee Public Beach is a favorite among locals and travelers alike. It’s easily accessible thanks to the Anna Maria Trolley. You can be dropped off on the sand’s edge for a memorable day at Manatee Beach.
Manatee Beach charms visitors with sparkling clear blue waters and soft white sand. Yet, it’s more than just another beach. The beach offers benches, grills, picnic tables, and even bike racks. You’ll have everything you need to enjoy an entire day under the gorgeous Florida sun.
To give yourself a break from swimming and sun tanning, walk along one of the many nature trails that leave from the outskirts of Manatee Beach. Wander among the untouched coastal habitats before firing up the grill for a group lunch.
Within the Bradenton Beach area, Cortez Beach is a long, sun-kissed stretch of sand. The beach features the best ocean-side nature on Anna Maria Island.
The picturesque Cortez Beach is home to towering palm trees, native grass, and sand dunes. It’s the perfect spot for plenty of bird watching. With bicycle and hiking trails, there are several ways of exploring your surroundings.
With a backdrop of turquoise waters, snorkeling at Cortez Beach is some of the best in the area. Spot turtles, vibrant schools of fish, and the odd wandering crab as you explore beneath the surface. During the heavier weather systems, however, Cortez Beach turns into a surfing hotspot. The beach belies its calm nature with sets of exhilarating waves.
Because the beach is undeveloped, there are no lifeguard stands or picnic tables. Yet with lower crowds and nothing but nature, Cortez Beach offers some of the finest scenery found along Gulf Drive.
Leffis Key Preserve
Anna Maria Island was, at one point in its history, overgrown with non-native plants. Leffis Key Preserve is a standup example of what restorative efforts can achieve. The estuary found within the preserve is nationally significant. It’s been returned to glory on the backs of volunteers.
Another prominent part of Leffis Key Preserve is the hill offering hikers panoramic views of Sarasota Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. The hill is surrounded by coastal ridge plants, southern red cedar, and green buttonwood among other native shrubs and trees. All were planted with the help of locals.
Leffis Key Preserve also features a series of boardwalks that traverse the mangrove forests. There are also viewing platforms out to the open water, complemented by interpretive signs.
Recommended places to stay on Anna Maria Island for sightseeing
For travelers, the best places to stay on Anna Maria Island fall around Bradenton Beach, Holmes Beach, and Anna Maria. These areas are home to most of the island’s top-rated hotels. Staying here, you’ll be able to tackle all the area’s top points of interest without a fuss.
With its private beach access, this comfy resort is the perfect choice for beach bums. Rooms are spacious and offer guests extra amenities like a small refrigerator and microwaves.
If you’re traveling as a couple or family, you’ll love extra space in the rooms & suites at this resort. Relax with a nightcap on your private balcony or patio.
For luxury digs on AMI, look no further than this lovely 4-star hotel in Holmes Beach. Besides its charming modern rooms, you’ll delight in a host of awesome amenities, including an outdoor pool, fitness center, and on-site restaurant.