Last Updated on November 17, 2022
If you are looking for fun things to do on Anna Maria Island in Florida, then you’ve come to the right place! Below I’ve listed the best things to do on Anna Maria Island and travel tips to this charming island in the Sunshine state.
Until recently, when trying to find hotels in Venice, Florida, I came across information about Anna Maria Island, or what some people call “AMI.” I read how this small island has some of the best beaches in Florida, and I was instantly committed to booking a trip there.
Anna Maria Island has become one of my favorite Florida destinations with a modern but old Florida vibe. And while the beaches there are gorgeous, there are many things to do on Anna Maria Island where everyone can find something to enjoy and have fun!
Where is Anna Maria Island Located?
Anna Maria Island is in Manatee County, Florida, a little over an hour’s drive southwest of Tampa. It is surrounded by four bodies of water: the Gulf of Mexico, Longboat Pass, Anna Maria Sound, and Tampa Bay.
You can find a map of Anna Maria Island here.
The island is ideally situated 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 to Anna Maria Island.
Quick Facts About Anna Maria Island
- Anna Maria Island comprises three cities: the City of Anna Maria, Holmes Beach, and Bradenton Beach (I find this slightly confusing because I initially thought they were the names of the public beaches!)
- The City of Anna Maria became a city in 1923 and is one of the earliest resort communities for Florida on the Gulf of Mexico coast. Holmes Beach City was established in 1950, followed by Bradenton Beach, initially known 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!
Best Things to Do on Anna Maria Island
So, what should you do on Anna Maria Island? Here are my favorite things to do on this small island in the Sunshine State:
- Swim or watch a sunset at one of the prettiest beaches in Florida
- Have fluffy pancakes on the beach
- Eat at the many delicious restaurants and satisfy your sweet tooth
- Take an evening stroll down the Anna Maria Island City Pier
- Go shopping on Pine Avenue and Bridge Street Pier
- Grab the best cinnamon roll or scone that you’ll ever have
- Visit the Anna Maria Island Historical Society Museum and City Jail
- Take a side adventure to Egmont Key State Park
- Go horseback riding on the beach
- Drink some cocktails at the “Doctor’s Office”
- Have some fun with mini-golf at the Fish Hole
- Hike a trail through the Leffis Key Preserve
Swim or watch a sunset at one of the prettiest beaches in Florida
One of the most popular things on Anna Maria Island is visiting one of its white sandy beaches with the pretty turquoise water you see in the Gulf of Mexico. The beaches are clean and great for families, couples, and solo travelers. I could easily spend several days on the beaches in Anna Maria Island if only my skin allowed me to do so!
Sunsets are also spectacular on Anna Maria Island as the sun sinks below the horizon casting beautiful golden and orange hues – it’s very easy to take many pictures!
Most of the beaches on Anna Maria Island will have the following:
- Showers and Changing Areas
- Picnic areas and/or grills
- Nearby cafes or restaurants
Please note, however, that dogs, alcohol, and glass are not allowed on the public beaches on Anna Maria Island. There are a few places near the beaches and piers where you can have your dog on a leash.
Which beach should you go to? Here are our favorite beaches on Anna Maria Island:
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.
This beach is fun for the whole family and has a lifeguard on duty. It is a gorgeous beach with white powdery sand, seashells, pretty blue-green water, and many 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.
Bean Point Beach:
Location: Bean Point is located on the northernmost tip of Anna Maria Island in a residential area at 793 North Shore Drive, Anna Maria, FL 34216.
A local recommended this private, secluded beach with few beachgoers. It’s a beautiful beach that is great for taking beach photos and viewing wildlife. You might see a group of manatees in the water if you are lucky! We also saw many birds, one cooling off its feathers on a rock as boats drifted by. You probably won’t see as many visitors at this beach since it is located in a residential area of the island.
While this beach is gorgeous, there are some essential things worth noting. First, there are no lifeguards on duty, and you will want to be careful of possible riptides. You will see signs around the beach informing you about rip tides and safety. Due to this beach’s northernmost location, the water can be a bit more turbulent than the other beaches we visited on AMI.
Second, at Bean Point Beach, there are no public amenities such as restrooms, showers, or changing stations, so you will want to plan accordingly.
Also, parking can be tricky as there is no big public parking lot, and you will want to go early to find a space. We had to park on the side of the road in a residential area. But you will see signs on the streets indicating if you can park there. We had a group in a golf cart patiently waiting for our parking spot when we left.
Once you’ve parked, be prepared for a walk and follow the signs to reach Bean Point Beach. We also referred to our phone GPS to ensure we were going the right way.
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.
Location: If you enter Coquina Beach on your GPS, it should take you to it, but it is located on Gulf Drive South in Bradenton Beach, FL 34217.
Coquina Beach is another public beach located on the island’s south side in Bradenton Beach City. This beach is similar to Manatee Beach but with more seashells. There is also a small walkable pier that juts out into the water. And if you visit on Tuesdays (10am to 3pm) and Thursdays (3pm to 8pm), you’ll find about 100 vendors at a beach market.
Sunsets are also spectacular at Coquina with its golden and orange hues. Just be prepared to sit in some traffic when leaving, as this is a popular sunset spot!
Beach tip: note the lifeguard tower station numbers for reference where you leave your stuff on the beach if you decide to take a sunset walk or get lost.
Location: Bayfront Park is in the island’s northern part, near Bean Point Beach. You can locate the beach on your GPS or at 315 North Bay Blvd., Anna Maria, Florida.
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 located 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 at 4000 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, FL 34217.
Drinking coffee while eating fluffy, buttery pancakes on the beach is a great way to start the day! Located at Manatee Beach, you can have all-you-can-eat pancakes at Anna Maria Island Beach Cafe. This is a popular cafe; if you wait patiently, you can grab a table on the beach. 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 eat your pancakes!
Eat at the many delicious restaurants and satisfy your sweet tooth
Anna Maria Island has many delicious locally-owned restaurants you can choose from. Seafood is obviously a staple on Anna Maria Island, but you can also find other cuisines – Mexican, French, and American, to name a few.
As a helpful tip, go early for dinner, especially if you visit the island during peak season, holidays, or weekends. We arrived at the restaurants around 5pm, 5:30pm at the latest, and we still had a small 20 to 45-minute wait (which isn’t too terrible). But by the time we finished eating, the wait had gone up to 1 to 2 hours in most places! And if you have a larger party, expect the wait time to be 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 hot Florida sun.
Known for their excellent grouper, my party enjoyed the grouper fish tacos. Since I don’t eat seafood, I ordered the ugly chicken chunks tossed in garlic parmesan, and I wish I could go back now and have some more!
The wait here can be long as it is a popular restaurant. Still, you can enjoy some crafty cocktails at their bar (I strongly recommend the Mai-Tai), take some pictures with the enormous Ugly Grouper (Despite its name, I think it’s cute!), shop at their small gift store, or play their outdoor games, which I could not win!
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
I consider this restaurant an absolute must to visit while on Anna Maria Island. It can’t get any better than dinner on the beach. You can request a table on the beach if you want to dig your toes into the sand while enjoying one of their many menu options. But if you want 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 has some history. It’s on a site where one of the first bathhouses was built on the island in 1910. Then, going into the 1920s, it was named the Pavilion and grew to include a tavern and dance hall. The patrons at the Pavilion knew how to throw a party since it led to creating the only jail on the island.
Unfortunately, the Pavilion burned in the 1940s but was rebuilt and named the Sandbar after undergoing renovations. Since 1979, the restaurant has been owned by the Chiles family. Talk about a long history!
Location: 210 Pine Avenue, Anna Maria, FL 34216
Buying and eating donuts is already fun, but who knew this place could make it even more exciting? Ready to customize your donuts? You can do that here!
These donuts are made fresh to order, and you choose how you want yours by filling out the order forms on their porch table or inside. You select the glaze, toppings, and drizzle, and then they make the magic happen!
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: It’s trendy among locals and tourists, which leads to long wait times for your order. However, it’s not a boring wait since you can watch them make and customize the donuts.
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 were so flavorful, along with their chips and salsa.
It is a smaller restaurant where you order at the front register but has indoor and outdoor seating. You can also take your meal and enjoy it at nearby 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. They have indoor and outdoor seating, first come, first served, with a full bar on the first floor. The restaurant is literally on a pier and provides excellent 360 views of the water. You can come here to enjoy a bite to eat or go fishing.
If your schedule permits, try to stay for the gorgeous 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 serve sandwiches, soups, salads, and lots of seafood. Want to come for breakfast instead? They have a breakfast menu, and you can enjoy coffee and breakfast while watching boats and kayakers row by.
Beach House Waterfront Restaurant:
Location: 200 Gulf Drive North, Bradenton Beach, FL 34217
This restaurant is huge, with indoor and outdoor beach seating. We were treated to a lovely beach wedding while enjoying our dinner on the white sand.
Beach House Waterfront Restaurant is located on the southern side of Anna Maria Island in Bradenton Beach. Their menu has an excellent selection of seafood, chicken, New York Strips, and shareable sides. I enjoyed their spinach dip and the refreshing My AMI Vice and piña colada frozen cocktails.
Two Scoops Ice Cream:
Location: 101 North Bay Blvd., Anna Maria, FL 34216
After dinner, head to Two Scoops if you want homemade ice cream. They have 32 flavors, and I got a single scoop of cookie dough. Yummy!
Take an evening stroll down the Anna Maria Island City Pier
Location: You can find the Anna Maria Island City Pier 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 by steamship to the island. It is 776 feet long, and not only can you watch the sunset, but it also provides panoramic views of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.
If you are hungry, you can 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
Why not shop and support some local businesses if you want a break from the beaches? Anna Maria Island has many stores and boutiques where you can buy yummy goodies, trendy and unique clothing, jewelry, home furnishings, souvenirs, and something for your fur babies!
Pine Avenue and the Anna Maria Historic Green Village (located on Pine) are great starting points if you want to do some shopping. Here are some shops you can check out: Anna Maria Olive Oil Outpost, AMI Beach and Dog Supply, The Island Cabana, Island Charms, Pink and Navy, Flip Flop Candy Shop, and Shiny Fish Emporium.
Or, if you fancy a walk on boardwalks near the water’s edge, you can check out the retail stores on Bridge Street in the southern part of the island. After shopping, you can end your day by grabbing some oysters at the Anna Maria Oyster Bar on Bridge Steet Pier while the sun sets over the bay.
Grab the best cinnamon roll or scone that 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 – and I am not the only one who loves these, as they quickly sell out 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. My favorite is the artwork and handcrafted items they display from local artists, including incredible paintings of landmarks around AMI. They even have a book wall that you can choose from for purchase.
Visit the Anna Maria Island Historical Society Museum and City Jail
Located on 402 Pine Avenue, you can visit the Anna Maria Island Historical Society Museum and City Jail Monday through Friday from 10am to 4pm (January through March) and Monday through Friday from 10am to 1pm (April through December). They are closed for September.
The museum is small, but it is free and provides a wealth of historical information and artifacts regarding the history of Anna Maria Island, from the early life on the island 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 of it. Constructed in 1927 to address unruly drinkers, the Old City Jail was not where you wanted to stay. The windows only had bars and no glass, leaving prisoners to nature’s elements and mosquitoes. Yikes!
Destroyed later in a fire, the jail is now a popular place to take photos when visiting the island.
Take a side adventure to Egmont Key State Park
If you want to explore beyond Anna Maria Island, consider a day trip to Egmont Key State Park. Egmont Key is slightly northwest of Anna Maria Island and southwest of St. Petersburg.
This state park is a place where everyone in the whole family has something to enjoy: a lighthouse, historical fort ruins (Fort Dade), snorkeling, and a gorgeous blue beach with tons of seashells.
You can take a boat charter or tour to reach Egmont Key. We went with Flip Flops Sailing since I’ve never been on a catamaran. It took about an hour and a half to get to Egmont Key, but the ride was smooth, and we saw lots of dolphins and seabirds along the way!
You can read more about our adventure to Egmont Key State Park in my article Swim at a Secluded Beach in Florida: Egmont Key.
Go horseback riding on the beach
Palma Sola Bay is one of the few places where you can legally ride horses on the beach in Florida. While I didn’t have this unique experience during our stay, it is one of the most popular things to do near Anna Maria Island if you love horses! If you want this memorable experience or check this item off your bucket list, you can check out these horseback riding companies for pricing and additional information: The Real BeachHorses and C Ponies.
Drink some cocktails at the Doctor’s Office
Location: 5312 Holmes Blvd. #B, Holmes Beach, FL 34217
If you fancy a cocktail, head to the bar called the Doctor’s Office, which just so happens to be the location of an actual doctor’s office on the island in the 1950s. Keeping up with the doctor’s office theme, you can schedule a 75-minute “doctor appointment” at this bar and order their attractive handcrafted drinks.
But you will want to book a reservation for The Doctor’s Office by calling them as it is a popular place to visit for residents and tourists. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of not booking a reservation in advance; therefore, we could not enjoy our drinks inside, but we took our “Painkillers” to go.
Have some fun with mini-golf at the Fish Hole
Location: 115 Bridge Street, Bradenton Beach, Florida 34203
If you are looking for fun that the whole family can enjoy, why not try a game of mini-golf? I’m lousy with the golf ball, but I still enjoy putt’n around for a few hours, and you can do so too at The Fish Hole Minature Golf. This mini golf course is located near historic Bridge Street, near many restaurants and retail stores.
Hike a trail through the Leffis Key Preserve
Location: 2351 Gulf Drive South, Bradenton Beach, FL 34217
If you enjoy taking a nature trail, you’ll want to add Leffis Key Preserve to your list of things to do on Anna Maria Island. The preserve is Anna Maria’s Island’s only nature preserve, and here you can walk on trails and boardwalks through a mangrove forest. You can even walk up a small hill to get an incredible panoramic view of Sarasota Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. While Leffis Key Preserve is small, you’ll see lots of plants and wildlife that make this a fun nature-filled hike!
Tip: 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?
It’s hard to say that there is never really a good time to visit the beautiful Anna Maria Island.
However, hurricane season in Florida runs from June 1 to November 30, with August and September usually the height of hurricane season. Therefore, you might want to consider visiting at another time if you don’t want to risk a hurricane during your vacation.
When visiting Anna Maria Island, locals informed us that May, November, and December are great months to visit since it is generally not as crowded except during holidays, right before and after. If you want fewer crowds, try to go while the kids are back in school.
For our trip, we went in early June. Not too crowded during this time, but sweltering and humid! If you prefer cooler weather (I mean, not too much cooler because Florida is hot most of the year!), visit in October through November or January through February.
We did encounter some rain on our trip, but like most Florida thunderstorms, the afternoon storms come and go quickly!
Getting Around the Island
Driving and Parking
The island is approximately 7 miles long, and you can easily drive from one end to the other. However, if you visit during peak times, expect to sit in some traffic as most roads are two lanes.
The most traffic we hit was leaving Coquina Beach after sunset since everyone left the beach immediately after the sun dipped below the horizon. Even then, it wasn’t too terrible because I don’t think many places can be worse than Atlanta traffic!
There were also ample parking spaces around the beaches and shopping areas, but sometimes we had to look longer for parking spots for dinner. We were given a kind warning from a local that some of these parking spaces for residents and visitors might not be here for our next island visit due to ongoing parking updates and changes.
The Air-Conditioned Island Trolley
Possibly one of the best things about the island is the free trolley. Did I say free? Yup! It’s hop-on and hop-off, and you can choose how long you want to stay in each location.
The trolley runs most days from 6 am to 9 pm every 20 minutes and then every 30 minutes until 10:30 pm (times can be subject to change). It can take you from the southernmost tip at Coquina Beach up to the City Pier, the northernmost point.
A schedule for the trolley can be found at the Manatee Beach Visitor Center, but you can easily spot the trolley stops throughout the island. Also, there is a Trolley App called myStop that you can download for trolley times.
More information about the Trolley App and additional trolley services for the island can be found here.
The colorful, decorated Monkey Bus is a tips-based service you can call to schedule a ride anywhere on Anna Maria Island. They are open daily from 12pm to 3am, and you can call 941-565-6542 to book your ride. This is perfect if you want to stay out late to get a drink.
Rent a Golf Cart
The chances are pretty high that you will see many golf carts on the roads when you visit Anna Maria Island since it is a popular mode of transportation.
You can rent golf carts online or in person at different locations. To name a few, Beach Bums Recreational Rentals, Robinhood Rentals, and AMI Golf Cart Rentals are locations where you can rent golf carts.
As much as I wanted to rent a golf cart, I had to make this trip on a budget. So, we took my car to most destinations. Perhaps, it will be something we can do next time!
Ride a Bike or Grab a Kayak
The terrain of Anna Maria Island is flat and easy to navigate, so why not bring your bike or rent one to explore the island? It is perfect for getting off the beaten path while breathing in that fresh, salty ocean air.
Or, if you rather ride the waves, consider renting a kayak. We saw several kayakers in the bay and even some on stand-up paddleboards.
Check out AMI Beach Fun Rentals, Beach Bum Recreational Rentals, Lazy Turtle Beach Rentals, and Just 4 Fun Beach Rentals to reserve a bike or kayak for recreational use.
Our Accommodations Near Anna Maria Island
We stayed at the newly built Compass Hotel by Margaritaville on the Anna Maria Sound, about two minutes away from the island. You just have to exit from the hotel, hop onto the bridge (Manatee Avenue), and you are right there at Anna Maria.
Not only is it a convenient location, but it also faces a marina and a wetlands preserve, Neal Preserves. If you book, I highly recommend you book a room with a marina view, as it provides a view of Anna Maria Island and a gorgeous sunset. I wasn’t lucky to see a manatee here, but I read prior guests had seen manatees and dolphins near the marina.
My main reason for booking this hotel is the resort vibes, great views, convenient location, and the swimming pool. While it wasn’t on the beach, it was within my budget, as some hotels located directly on the coast and the island can be a bit pricey.
Two restaurants are also on-site: Floridays Woodfire Grill and Bar and Compass Bar and Chill. And the best thing? Complimentary breakfast is served daily at the Compass, and it’s scrumptious!
*Please note that any recommendations in this travel guide are my own opinions, not a paid affiliate.
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A Note on My Photos
As much as I would love to shoot my entire trip on film, I cannot spend that much money on film stock for a week-long vacation. Plus, if you have a husband who also shoots film, well, double that amount.
With that being said, this post contains a mixture of film and digital. My landscape and street photography are mostly film, except for some of the restaurants we visited. Even though I love product photography, most of the food and drink images you see are digital, as I don’t plan 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 my film images from my 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? I guess that would be me. At least I didn’t leave all the film at home because, well, that would be absolutely dismal.
Did this article answer your questions on the best things to do on Anna Maria Island? Please comment below!