Are you looking for fun things to do on Anna Maria Island in Florida? You’ve come to the right place! Here, I have listed the best things to do on Anna Maria Island, along with some travel tips for this charming destination in the Sunshine State.
Anna Maria Island is known for having some of the best beaches in Florida. In fact, Travel + Leisure recently recognized AMI as one of the top places to visit. Personally, I have grown to love AMI because it offers a unique blend of modern and traditional Florida vibes. While the beaches are breathtaking, there are plenty of other enjoyable activities on the island, making it a great destination for anyone.
Just Exactly Where is Anna Maria Island Located?
Anna Maria Island is in Manatee County, Florida, a little over an hour’s drive southwest of Tampa. Four bodies of water surround the island: the Gulf of Mexico, Longboat Pass, Anna Maria Sound, and Tampa Bay.
You can find Anna Maria Island on the map here:
The island is near major cities in Florida: St. Petersburg, Tampa, Bradenton, Sarasota, and Venice. You can easily visit all or some of these cities while keeping the island your home base for your vacation. For example, we spent a day in Sarasota to visit Siesta Key Beach since I heard it’s the best beach in America, so naturally, I had to see it! It was an approximately 50-minute drive from our hotel to Siesta Key, making it a great day trip from Anna Maria Island.
Also, we took a road trip to Anna Maria, but if you want to fly, the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport or the Tampa International Airport are the closest airports.
Quick Facts About Anna Maria Island
- Anna Maria Island has three cities: the City of Anna Maria, Holmes Beach, and Bradenton Beach. At first, I found it slightly confusing because I thought they were the names of the public beaches!
- The City of Anna Maria was founded in 1923 and is among the first resort communities on Florida’s Gulf of Mexico coast. Holmes Beach City was established in 1950, followed by Bradenton Beach, initially referred to as Cortez Beach, in 1952.
- Today, Anna Maria Island is a growing community. However, you won’t see many chains or franchises on the island; much of the island is geared toward local and small businesses, which I love!
The Top Things to Do on Anna Maria Island
Here are my top things to do on Anna Maria Island. You can select each one to go directly to it or scroll down to read them all!
Relax on Gorgeous Beaches and Watch Watercolor Sunsets
Anna Maria Island is famous for its beautiful white sandy beaches with turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The beaches are clean and great for families, couples, and solo travelers. I would love to spend several days on the shores of Anna Maria Island if only my skin would allow me to do so!
Also, sunsets on Anna Maria Island are spectacular. As the sun dips below the horizon, it casts an array of beautiful golden and orange hues that make for stunning pictures.
Most of the beaches on Anna Maria Island have the following:
- Showers and Changing Areas
- Picnic areas and/or grills
- Nearby cafes or restaurants
Please note that dogs, alcohol, and glass are not allowed on the public beaches on Anna Maria Island. However, a few areas near the beaches and piers allow dogs on a leash.
Which beach should you go to? Here are our favorites:
Manatee Public Beach:
Location: If you enter the island via Manatee Avenue, you’ll see a sign for Manatee Beach and parking. The GPS address is 4000 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, FL 34217, in Holmes Beach.
Cost to Visit: It’s free!
Manatee Public Beach is a great, family-friendly beach with a lifeguard on duty. It is gorgeous with its white powdery sand, seashells, pretty blue-green water, and plenty of beach birds. You can bring your beach chair and umbrella. Or, if you are like us and forget your umbrella, they have on-site rentals. Also, don’t forget your volleyball to play on the beach.
We didn’t have any trouble parking at Manatee Public Beach since the lot is large, but if you visit during weekends, holidays, or peak season, it might be challenging to find a parking spot. For that reason, you may want to come early!
Bean Point Beach:
Location: Bean Point is on the northernmost tip of Anna Maria Island in a residential area at 793 North Shore Drive, Anna Maria, FL 34216.
Cost to Visit: Free!
A local suggested this private, secluded beach with fewer beachgoers. It’s a pristine beach that is great for taking beach photos and viewing wildlife. If lucky, you might see a group of manatees in the water! We also saw many birds, one cooling off its feathers on a rock as boats drifted by. Since this beach is in a residential area of the island, it’s less likely to be crowded with visitors.
While this beach is amazing, there are some important things to remember. First, no lifeguards are on duty, so you must be cautious of potential riptides. You’ll notice signs around the beach reminding you about rip tides and safety. Moreover, due to this beach’s northernmost location, the water can be a bit more turbulent than the other beaches on AMI.
Second, no public amenities such as restrooms, showers, or changing stations exist, so you must plan accordingly.
Also, parking can be tricky since no sizeable public parking lot is available. It’s recommended to arrive early to find a spot. We ended up parking on the side of the road in a residential area, but there were street signs indicating where we could park. When we left, a group in a golf cart was patiently waiting for our parking place.
After parking, be prepared for a walk and follow the signs to Bean Point Beach. We also used our phone’s GPS to ensure we were on the right path.
If you take the free trolley, plan to walk approximately 15 minutes to Bean Point Beach, as the trolley will drop you off at Anna Maria City Pier instead. Or you can hop off at the stop closer to the Sandbar Restaurant (Pine Avenue/Crescent Drive). From there, it is about a 15 to 20-minute walk to Bean Point Beach.
Location: If you enter Coquina Beach on your GPS, it should take you there, but it is at 2651 Gulf Drive, Bradenton Beach, FL 34217.
Cost to Visit: Free!
Coquina Beach is a public beach on the island’s south side in Bradenton Beach City. This beach is similar to Manatee Beach but has more seashells. Additionally, a small pier extends into the water and is perfect for a short, leisurely walk.
If your vacation to Anna Maria falls on a Sunday, Wednesday, or Friday, then you may want to check out the beach market at Coquina Beach. Here, you can buy locally made arts and crafts, fresh produce, and jewelry from 80 vendors. Find more information about the market’s location and times here.
Sunset at Coquina is also beautiful with orange and golden hues, but it’s a popular location, so expect traffic when leaving.
Beach tip: Take note of the lifeguard tower station numbers for reference in case you want to go for a walk or get lost and need to find your belongings.
Location: Bayfront Park is in the island’s northern part, near Bean Point Beach. You can locate the beach on your GPS or at 316 North Bay Blvd., Anna Maria, Florida.
Cost to Visit: It’s free!
Like other Anna Maria Island beaches, Bayfront Park is great for families. It has many amenities and a playground for the kids. The beach is conveniently near the Anna Maria City Pier, restaurants, and retail stores. There are also ample free parking spaces for your visit.
Have Fluffy Pancakes on the Beach
Location: Anna Maria Island Beach Cafe is at 4000 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, FL 34217.
Having a cup of coffee along with some fluffy, buttery pancakes on the beach is an amazing way to start your day! At Manatee Beach, Anna Maria Island Beach Cafe offers all-you-can-eat pancakes. Since it is a popular cafe, you might have to wait for a table on the beach, but it’s worth it. We enjoyed pancakes and sausage while digging our toes in the sand and watching the waves.
But don’t leave your food unattended, as birds will quickly swoop in and steal your pancakes (as we quickly found out!).
Take an Evening Stroll Down the Anna Maria Island City Pier
Location: The Anna Maria Island City Pier is on a map here:
The golden hour leading into the blue hour (twilight) is a magical time to visit the historic Anna Maria City Pier as the boardwalk lights turn on and the sky deepens to pink and dark blue hues. People fish and put away their catch for the day while a live band or soloist fills the air with melodies.
The historic Anna Maria City Pier has seen its fair share of visitors. Constructed in 1911, it has greeted many tourists and residents to the island by steamship. It is 776 feet long and provides panoramic views of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, making it an ideal spot to watch the sunset.
If you are hungry, you can also grab a bite at the Anna Maria City Pier Grill. Don’t forget to walk down to the Roser Memorial Community Church on Pine Avenue, as it is close to the City Pier and beautifully lit at night with stained glass windows.
Go Shopping on Pine Avenue and Bridge Street Pier
If it happens to rain or you want a break from the beach, why not support the local businesses of Anna Maria Island by indulging in some shopping? Plenty of stores and boutiques offer various products such as delicious treats, unique clothing, jewelry, stylish home furnishings, souvenirs, and even pet items.
Pine Avenue and the Anna Maria Historic Green Village (located on Pine) are great starting points if you want to shop. Shops to check out include Anna Maria Olive Oil Outpost, AMI Beach and Dog Supply, The Island Cabana, Island Charms, Pink and Navy, Flip Flop Shop & Candy Stop, and Shiny Fish Emporium.
Or, if you fancy a walk on boardwalks near the water’s edge, you can explore the retail stores on Bridge Street in the southern part of the island. Once you are done shopping, you can end your day by eating some delicious oysters at the Anna Maria Oyster Bar on Bridge Street Pier while watching the sunset over the bay.
Eat Savory Meals at the Many Restaurants on AMI
Anna Maria Island has a diverse selection of locally owned restaurants, ranging from seafood to Mexican, French, American cuisine, and more.
As a helpful tip, go for dinner early, especially if you plan to visit the island during peak season, holidays, or weekends. We arrived at the restaurants around 5pm, at the latest by 5:30pm, and still had to wait 20 to 45 minutes (which isn’t too bad). However, by the time we finished eating, the wait time had increased to 1 to 2 hours in most places! And if you are a larger party, you should expect the wait time to be even longer.
Where can you eat on Anna Maria Island? Here are our top choices:
The Ugly Grouper:
Location: 5704 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach, FL 34217
While I enjoyed all the Anna Maria Island restaurants, the Ugly Grouper was my favorite. The service is outstanding, the food is delicious, and the atmosphere is fun! It is an outdoor restaurant with plenty of shade to cool down from the sizzling Florida sun.
My group had excellent grouper fish tacos, but I ordered the ugly chicken chunks tossed in garlic parmesan since I don’t eat seafood. My husband and I often joke about going down to Anna Maria Island for a quick trip just to eat here. I wish I could go back for more!
The wait at this restaurant can be pretty long due to its popularity. However, you can make the most of your time by drinking some of their crafty cocktails at the bar. I highly recommend trying the Mai-Tai. It’s mixed perfectly. Additionally, you can take memorable pictures with the enormous Ugly Grouper (which, despite its name, I think is quite cute), explore their small gift shop, or play outdoor games.
Another fun thing at the Ugly Grouper is that you can request songs when they have live music. This is the first time I have seen something like this at a restaurant where you scan the QR code at your table and choose from a long song list.
Location: 100 Spring Avenue, Anna Maria, FL 34216
This restaurant is a must during your stay on Anna Maria Island. Dining on the beach is an unforgettable experience, and this place offers many menu options. You can even request a table on the beach and enjoy your meal while watching the sunset. However, if you prefer to take a break from the sun, there is also an indoor bar area with limited seating.
The fried shrimp platter and the Sandbar burger did not disappoint. Of course, I couldn’t say no to a piña colada either.
The Sandbar also has a fascinating history. It stands on the site where one of the first bathhouses was built on the island in 1910. Going into the 1920s, it was named the Pavilion and expanded to include a tavern and dance hall. The Pavilion’s patrons were known for their wild parties, which ultimately resulted in the creation of the only jail on the island.
Unfortunately, the Pavilion burned in the 1940s but was rebuilt and named the Sandbar after extensive renovations. The restaurant has been owned by the Chiles family since 1979.
Location: 210C Pine Avenue, Anna Maria, FL 34216
Ready to customize your donuts? You can do that at the Donut Experiment!
These donuts are freshly made to order, and you can customize your selection by filling out an order form on the porch table or inside. You get to choose the glaze, toppings, and drizzle, and they will make your donut just how you want it!
I like to keep my donuts simple: vanilla glazed with chocolate chips and raspberry drizzle, perfection with every bite. You can view their complete list of choices on their website.
Tip: Locals and tourists love this trendy spot, and long wait times are expected. However, the wait is entertaining as you can watch the donuts being made.
Location: 212C Pine Avenue, Anna Maria, FL 34216
Want to try something different? Go to Poppo’s Taqueria to create your own tacos, burritos, bowls, or quesadillas. Their carnitas tacos are so flavorful, and you should definitely try their chips and salsa, too.
Although it’s a smaller restaurant and you must place your order at the front register, indoor and outdoor seating is available. Alternatively, you can take your food to nearby outdoor picnic tables.
Rod and Reel Pier:
Location: 875 North Shore Drive, Anna Maria, FL 34216
This restaurant gives off a New England vibe as soon as you walk inside the second floor of the building. Situated on a pier with stunning 360-degree views of the water, you can come here to enjoy a bite to eat or go fishing. They have indoor and outdoor seating, first come, first served, with a full bar on the first floor.
If your schedule permits, try to stay for the captivating sunsets! We were lucky to get seated by the window facing Sunshine Skyway Bridge. We saw St. Petersburg in the far distance and a family fishing on the pier.
They offer a variety of sandwiches, soups, salads, and seafood options. If you prefer, they also serve breakfast, and you can have your meal while watching kayakers and boats pass by.
Beach House Waterfront Restaurant:
Location: 200 Gulf Drive North, Bradenton Beach, FL 34217
Beach House Waterfront Restaurant is on the southern side of Anna Maria Island in Bradenton Beach. The restaurant is enormous and offers both indoor and outdoor beach seating. We witnessed a beautiful beach wedding while eating our dinner on the soft sand during our visit.
Their menu has an excellent selection of seafood, chicken, New York Strips, and shareable sides. I liked their spinach dip and the refreshing My AMI Vice and piña colada frozen cocktails.
Two Scoops Ice Cream:
Location: 101 South Bay Blvd., Anna Maria, FL 34216
After dinner, indulge in homemade ice cream at Two Scoops, where you can choose from 32 flavors. I had a single scoop of cookie dough, and it was so yummy!
Visit the Anna Maria Island Historical Society Museum and City Jail
Location: 402 Pine Avenue, Anna Maria, FL 34216
Cost to Visit: Free admission, but donations are appreciated.
Hours of Operation: Check their website for updates on their operating hours, which may vary seasonally.
Visiting the Anna Maria Island Historical Society Museum and City Jail is a great first-day activity for your vacation. Although the museum is small, it provides a wealth of historical information and artifacts about the history of Anna Maria Island, from its early days to the settling of Florida and the post-war economic boom.
How do you think Anna Maria Island got its name? Don’t forget to look for the sign in the museum regarding the two naming theories.
The Old City Jail is outside the museum, or what is left. Back in 1927, it was built to keep disorderly drinkers in check, but trust me, you would want to avoid spending a night there. The windows had no glass, only bars, meaning prisoners had to face nature’s elements and pesky mosquitoes. Can you imagine?
After being destroyed in a fire, the jail has become a popular spot for tourists to take photos while visiting the island.
Play a Round of Mini Golf at the Fish Hole
Location: 115 Bridge Street, Bradenton Beach, Florida 34203
Looking for a fun activity that the whole family can enjoy? Why not try playing a game of mini golf? Even if you’re not the best at golf like myself, you can still have a great time putt-putting around for a few hours. The Fish Hole Miniature Golf is a great place to do just that. Located near historic Bridge Street, this mini golf course is conveniently close to many restaurants and retail stores.
Take a Side Adventure to Egmont Key State Park
If you’re interested in exploring beyond Anna Maria Island, consider taking a day trip to Egmont Key State Park. This park is a little northwest of Anna Maria Island and southwest of St. Petersburg. Egmont Key has pristine and secluded beaches, complete with a lighthouse, historic fort ruins (Fort Dade), and the chance to snorkel in the blue-green water.
How do you get to Egmont Key State Park? The island is only reachable by boat or kayak. There is a ferry that departs from Fort De Soto Bay Pier (St. Petersburg), or you can charter a boat or do an excursion. Since we didn’t have time to drive towards St. Petersburg, we booked an excursion through Flip Flops Sailing. It took about an hour and a half to reach Egmont Key, but the ride was smooth, and we saw many dolphins and seabirds along the way.
My article, Plan a Day Trip to the Secluded and Serene Egmont Key, goes more into depth about how to reach the island, what to bring, and things you can do once you arrive.
Grab the Best Cinnamon Roll or Scone You’ll Ever Have
Location: 9807 Gulf Drive, Anna Maria, FL 34216
You can’t leave Anna Maria Island without stopping at Ginny’s and Jane E’s Cafe Bakery and Store. I love this unique, funky store and cafe with its gooey cinnamon rolls and delicious scones. However, you’ll have to get there early as these treats tend to sell out quickly in the morning!
But don’t worry if you don’t make it for one of their cinnamon rolls; they also serve breakfast and lunch, including quiches, sandwiches, salads, and soups. Their cheddar melt sandwich is so tasty with its cheesy goodness.
And as soon as you walk into the cafe, you are immediately greeted with many fun goodies and souvenirs you can take back home. Personally, I love their collection of artwork and handcrafted items made by local artists, including incredible paintings of landmarks around AMI. They even have a book wall where you can choose from various books for purchase.
Go Horseback Riding on the Beach
Palma Sola Bay is one of the few places in Florida where you can legally ride horses on the beach. Although I missed this unique experience during this stay, it is one of the most popular things to do near Anna Maria Island if you are fond of horses!
Drink Crafty Cocktails at the Doctor’s Office
Location: 5312 Holmes Blvd. #B, Holmes Beach, FL 34217
Check out the Doctor’s Office if you’re in the mood for a cocktail. This bar used to be the site of an actual doctor’s office on the island in the 1950s. You can book a “doctor’s appointment” and sip crafted cocktails that follow the doctor’s office theme.
To avoid disappointment, booking a reservation for The Doctor’s Office online or by phone is best since it’s a popular destination for locals and tourists. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of not booking beforehand, so we could not enjoy our drinks inside. However, we were able to purchase our “Painkillers” to go.
Hike a Trail Through the Leffis Key Preserve
Location: 2351 Gulf Drive South, Bradenton Beach, FL 34217
If you love exploring nature, you must add Leffis Key Preserve to your list of things to do on Anna Maria Island. This is the only nature preserve on the island and offers a unique opportunity to walk through a mangrove forest on trails and boardwalks. You can even climb up a small hill to take in a panoramic view of Sarasota Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Although the preserve is small, it is filled with various flora and fauna, making it a fun and exciting nature hike!
Note: While it’s great for walking with the family or solo, dogs are not allowed at Leffis Key Preserve.
When Should You Visit Anna Maria Island?
Anna Maria Island is a beautiful destination throughout the year, but it’s important to keep in mind that hurricane season in Florida lasts from June 1 to November 30, with August and September being the peak months. To avoid the risk of a hurricane ruining your vacation, you might want to plan your visit for a different time. However, summer and early fall are the best months for swimming.
It’s also important to be aware of red tide, a harmful algal bloom that can cause illness. Although it can occur on the Gulf Coast at any time of the year, it usually happens during late summer and early fall. Check for the red tide status here.
We went in early June, and while it wasn’t too crowded, the weather was sweltering and humid. And despite encountering some rain during our trip, like most Florida thunderstorms, the afternoon storms come and go quickly.
But visiting in October through November or January through February is best if you prefer cooler and drier weather. Keep in mind, however, that it might be too cold to swim.
According to the locals, May, November, and December are ideal months to visit Anna Maria Island since it’s generally less crowded, except during holidays, right before and after. If you’re on a solo or a romantic getaway and looking for fewer crowds, try to plan your trip while the kids are back in school.
Getting Around the Island
Driving and Parking
The island is about 7 miles long, and you can easily drive from one end to the other. However, during peak times, expect traffic as most roads are two-lanes. So, you may want to park your car and use one of the other modes of transportation listed below.
We encountered the heaviest traffic when leaving Coquina Beach right after sunset. This was because most people left the beach when the sun went below the horizon. Personally, I didn’t think the traffic was too bad because not many places have traffic worse than Atlanta!
We found plenty of parking spaces during our trip near the beaches and shopping areas. However, we sometimes had to search for a bit longer to find a parking place for dinner. A local warned us that some parking spaces designated for residents and visitors may be unavailable on our next visit because of ongoing parking updates and changes.
The Air-Conditioned Island Trolley
One of the island’s best features is the complimentary trolley service. It’s hop-on and hop-off, allowing you to pick and choose the duration of your stay at each location.
The trolley runs most days from 6am to 9pm every 20 minutes and then every 30 minutes until 10:30pm (times are subject to change). It can take you from the southernmost tip at Coquina Beach up to the City Pier, the northernmost point.
You can find a schedule for the trolley at the Manatee Beach Visitor Center. However, you can easily spot the trolley stops throughout the island. Additionally, there is a Trolley App called myStop that you can download to check for trolley times.
Click here for more information about the Trolley App and additional trolley services on the island.
The colorful, decorated Monkey Bus is a tips-based service that can take you anywhere across Anna Maria Island. You can schedule a ride by calling 941-565-6542. It’s also the perfect option if you want to stay out late to drink.
Rent a Golf Cart
The chances are high that you’ll see many golf carts on the roads when you visit Anna Maria Island since it is a popular form of transportation.
You can rent golf carts online or in person at various locations. Some of these locations include Beach Bums Recreational Rentals, Robinhood Rentals, and AMI Golf Cart Rentals.
As much as I wanted to rent a golf cart, it was not in our budget. So, we took my car to most destinations. But maybe next time!
Ride a Bike or Grab a Kayak
Anna Maria Island has a flat terrain, which makes it easy to navigate. Why not bring your bike or rent one to explore the island? It’s perfect for getting off the beaten path while breathing in the fresh and salty ocean air.
Or, if you rather ride the waves, consider renting a kayak. We saw several kayakers in the bay and even some stand-up paddleboards.
Reserve bikes or kayaks for recreational use at AMI Beach Fun Rentals, Beach Bum Recreational Rentals, Lazy Turtle Beach Rentals, and Just 4 Fun Beach Rentals.
Our Accommodations Near Anna Maria Island
We stayed at the recently constructed Compass Hotel by Margaritaville, just two minutes from Anna Maria Island. All we had to do was exit the hotel, hop onto Manatee Avenue bridge, and we were right there at Anna Maria.
My main reason for booking this hotel is its resort-like atmosphere, great views, convenient location, and amazing swimming pool. Although it is not located directly on the beach, it was within our budget. Some hotels that are situated on the coast and on Anna Maria Island can be a bit expensive.
Not only is this hotel conveniently located, but it also offers a fantastic view of the marina and the Neal Preserves, a nearby wetlands preserve. If you decide to book a room here, I recommend choosing one with a marina view since it offers beautiful views of Anna Maria Island and the sunset. Although I wasn’t fortunate enough to spot a manatee during my stay, I read that previous guests had seen manatees and dolphins near the marina.
Two on-site restaurants are available at this hotel: Floridays Woodfire Grill and Bar and Compass Bar and Chill. The best part is that a complimentary breakfast is served daily, which is absolutely scrumptious.
Did this article answer your questions on the best things to do on Anna Maria Island? Please comment below!
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A Note on My Photos
I would love to capture my entire trip on film, but it’s not feasible to spend that much money on film stock for just a week-long vacation. Moreover, my husband also shoots film, so we spend twice as much.
That said, this post includes a blend of both film and digital photography. When it comes to my landscape and street photography, I predominantly use film. However, when it comes to restaurants, I tend to use digital photography for the majority of my food and drink images. While I love capturing images of my meals, I don’t always want to take a film photo of everything I consume.
My current film stock obsession is Kodak Portra 400. I love the pastel tones it gives when overexposed by two stops, making it fun and lively for beach photos. Most of the film images from this trip were shot with Portra 400, except one roll of Lomography 800.
Not to knock Lomography 800 because I think it is a great film, but I borrowed it from my husband’s camera bag since I mistakenly left all my film back at the hotel when we went out for dinner on the first night of our vacation.
Who packs a ton of film and then leaves it at the hotel? That is me! At least I didn’t leave all the film at home because, well, that would be absolutely dismal.