Ready to start the ultimate Florida Gulf Coast road trip? Begin your journey by exploring all the best things to do in Bradenton, Florida. This famous Florida vacation spot is located in Manatee County. It boasts beautiful beaches for suntanning and turquoise waters for swimming.
Expect to find historic state parks, wildlife viewing, and stunning beaches. The downtown area is small and quaint, full of unique eateries with gourmet food, local boutique shops, and fun art museums. And if the sun is too much for you, Bradenton also has many indoor activities to help you cool down.
Ready to plan your vacation? Have a look at this complete guide to the best of Bradenton, Florida.
Must-see places to visit in Bradenton, FL
Emerson Point Preserve
Only have one day in Bradenton? Add Emerson Point Preserve to your bucket list. The 365-acre preserve sits at the mouth of the Manatee River and Terra Ceia Bay. Kayak or canoe from one point to the other to see the best of Florida’s wildlife. Spending most of the day on the water will also allow you to see many different Florida marine habitats.
Get a little exercise by climbing the small observation tower for stunning views of Terra Ceia Bay along to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. You can fish from one of the preserve’s many piers or stroll along the boardwalks.
Bring some sturdy shoes so you can roam one of the area’s many hiking trails. Then, finish the day with a visit to the preserve’s native American historical sites.
Village of the Arts
For an eclectic and artsy vibe in Bradenton, head to Village of the Arts, home to some of the best art galleries in Florida. The village is made of small historic cottages, each one with a unique story and vendor. Browse through the quilt shops, the bakeries, and paint shops.
Grab a bite to eat in one of the many award-winning restaurants or get a drink from the pubs. The cottages have everything from knife sharpening to yoga to vinyl shops.
If you’re there on the weekend, you can also attend live music concerts and explore art exhibits.
Florida Maritime Museum
For an authentic maritime history experience, take the family to the Florida Maritime Museum, one of the most popular attractions on the Gulf Coast and one of Florida’s last fishing villages.
Drop the kids off at the education center, where they can do hands-on activities and make a souvenir or two to bring home. The exhibit center has permanent and revolving exhibits and a fascinating maritime library.
After your museum visit, head out to the historic fishing village of Cortez. Take a walking tour to learn more about the community. At the Hawkins Preserve cultural center, you’ll learn how to make boats by hand, and it’s also a great place to learn about the fishing culture in Florida.
Palma Sola Botanical Park
Looking to experience a typical Florida tropical plant oasis? Palma Sola Botanical Park has been repeatedly voted one of the best outdoor activities in Bradenton.
At Palma Sola Botanical Park, you’ll stroll through 10 acres of gardens and look for plentiful wildlife around the three lakes. The kids will like the butterfly garden. Adults will love the peaceful surroundings and the chance to see rare palms and fruit trees, and brightly-colored flowering trees.
Manatee Village Historical Park
For history buffs, Manatee Village Historical Park should be at the top of your to-do list. The open-air museum is a great place to learn the rich history of Bradenton. The village will take you back in time to 1840 before Florida had paved roads and electricity.
Two permanent exhibits showcase Florida’s first settlers and the way of life in Old Florida. Manatee Village Historical Park also features special events and temporary exhibitions throughout the year. Check out their online events calendar in advance.
Lake Manatee State Park
No, you can’t actually see a manatee at Lake Manatee State Park. Don’t worry though, there is plenty more to do at the 556-acre state park. The pet- and family-friendly park is a pleasing space for canoeing or kayaking and a great place for beginners to experience the water.
The small shallow swimming area is a great place to take the kids. You can launch your own canoe or kayak from the boat launch or rent one from the visitor’s center. Enjoy a picnic in the pretty covered pavilion after swimming or exploring the canals.
Bring your hiking boots and trek across the 6.5-mile trail in the park’s north end. For something a bit easier, you can hike the one-mile loop Oxbow Nature Trail. Lake Manatee River State Park is also home to some of the state’s most extensive equestrian trails, so you could easily spend the whole afternoon horseback riding.
Feel like camping while in the area? Not far from the lake, you’ll find a sizeable full-service campground. A tip: add mosquito spray to your packing list if you plan to stay in Lake Manatee River State Park overnight or in the evening.
Overlooking the Manatee River, Manatee Riverwalk is 1.5 miles long. Bring your bait and rod and try your luck along the fishing pier for redfish and trout. Hit the skate park to pump up your adrenaline or head to the beach volleyball court for a friendly game in the sand.
If you’re traveling with small children, make sure to visit the splash pad. Grab a seat on one of the shaded benches and watch your kids have the time of your life in the water.
If you feel like burning some calories, you can head to the Flex Lawn for daily free yoga and fitness classes. Bring your water bottle and join in on the fun.
For a beach visit in Bradenton, head to Coquina Beach. Located in Bradenton Beach on the southern end of Anna Maria Island, this sandy beach is a quiet place to relax solo or bring the family.
Once you’re done swimming, carve out a little time to see the small boardwalk, visit the souvenir shops, or settle down to watch the sunset.
Coquina Beach also has a playground for kids to run off some energy, as well as a volleyball sand court. The beach is next to a trolley stop, so you might want to buy a trolley pass while visiting Bradenton.
Built up an appetite? Head to Coquina Beach Cafe for some sandwiches and snacks to eat while walking along the warm sands.
Fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates? The team conducts spring training at LECOM Park in Bradenton. Depending on the schedule, you can also watch a Marauders baseball game: tickets for the minor league team tend to be very reasonable.
The stadium is enormous, and the layout ensures good seating throughout. LECOM Park is a great place to enjoy baseball either for the first time or as a baseball lover.
You might want to arrive early: the street can get jammed, and parking can take some time. Food trucks inside and outside the stadium sell traditional American baseball food. Grab some popcorn or a hot dog and enjoy the game!
Bishop Museum of Science and Nature
Formerly the South Florida Museum, the newly renovated and expanded Bishop Museum of Science and Nature has many exhibits and activities for adults and kids. Love learning about the galaxies? Take a seat in the planetarium and watch a show with the one-of-a-kind projection system.
Ready to see some manatees? The rehabilitation center at this natural history museum holds a 60,000-gallon water tank for sick or injured manatees. Watch them swim and splash around as they are nursed back to health and learn about the anatomy and lifespan of manatees.
Florida Railroad Museum
The Florida Railroad Museum is located in Parrish, one of Bradenton’s nearby cities. The main attraction at the museum is the train ride, traveling six miles through the towns of Parrish and Willow.
Choose the Train Robbery ride to experience an old western-style train robbery. The HOBO Campfire Cookout experience lets you stop and enjoy hotdogs cooked over a fire.
At the Florida Railroad Museum, you can also rent an entire party caboose or locomotive if you plan to have a special event or party while in the area.
Looking to try some local brews while in Florida? Motorworks Brewing opened its doors in 2014 and is recognized as one of the best breweries in Florida. The brewery offers unique beers and cocktails.
Spend time in the beer garden under the shade of the 150-year-old oak tree. If the weather isn’t cooperating, you can sit in the taproom and enjoy food and live entertainment.
Try one of the brewery’s seasonal beer flavors, or grab a pint of Pulp Friction or a can of V-Twin Vienna Lager.
Gamble Plantation Historic State Park
One of the most famous historic landmarks in South Florida, the Judah P. Benjamin Confederate Memorial at Gamble Plantation Historic State Park. Also known as the Gamble Mansion, it makes for a fun activity for all ages. Take a tour through the classic antebellum mansion to see historically-accurate furnished rooms depicting typical plantation life in the early 19th century.
This tourist attraction in nearby Ellenton is the only surviving plantation house in South Florida. It’s a rare opportunity to learn about plantation life and stroll the 16 acres of former sugarcane plantation.
Cortez Beach is one of the most visited places on Anna Maria Island near Bradenton, and it’s full of fun activities for the whole family. With warm water all year round and soft white sand, Cortez Beach is a small place to relax and soak up some Vitamin D.
Concession stands at the small pier and parking lot allow you to grab some cold drinks and small meals. Bring all your own beach gear, though, because there’s nowhere nearby to rent chairs or umbrellas. Luckily, several restaurants serving fresh seafood and ice cream shops are within walking distance of the beach.
Located near the Palma Sola Botanical Gardens, Robinson Preserve is just northwest of Bradenton. Visiting the preserve and the gardens will give you a full day of activities, including several hiking and nature trails, all classed as easy to moderate difficulty. In fact, many are paved and don’t even require hiking boots.
Outdoor education exhibits are ongoing, as are regular presentations on wildlife and species preservation. In the north of the preserve, you’ll find several canoe and kayak launch areas. Rent a kayak from the northwest entrance of the park and spend the day exploring the waterways and marine life of Robinson Preserve.
Sarasota Farmers Market
Open year-round every Saturday, the Sarasota Farmers Market is one of the top tourist attractions in the Sarasota area. Only about 20 minutes from Bradenton, the farmers market is an excellent opportunity to explore the region’s food and cultural scene.
Vendor options are endless, with everything from food to art to desserts. Some stands even serve key lime pie, a must-try dessert when visiting South Florida.
Live music and occasional special events are complemented by dozens of artisans selling hand-made artwork and crafts for souvenirs of your market shopping trip.
The market is located on a pretty street in downtown Sarasota, making it easy to check out the attractive town after your visit.