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Anna Maria Island - including Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach

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Anna Maria Island is a sub-tropical key (small island) said to be discovered by Ponce De Leon in 1513. It is a fascinating archipelago island off the west coast of Manatee County, Florida. A 2005 estimate by the U.S. Census Bureau put the population of the key at 8,500 happy island inhabitants. A fixed bridge across Longboat Pass connects the island to Longboat Key on the south.

BRADENTON BEACH The first thing one sees when traveling north on Gulf Drive, the major thoroughfare, is Coquina Beach, several miles of dazzling white sand, with tree shaded parking, lifeguards, concession stands, restrooms, showers and a playground for kids of all ages. There are several old piers where you can fish or sit and watch the dolphins swim by. Coquina beach is in the village called Bradenton Beach. The island-end of the 1921 bridge that connected Anna Maria Island to the mainland has been developed into a bazaar on the pier. The bridge was wooden and was replaced in 1967 by a draw bridge that opens to allow boat traffic on the Intracoastal Waterway. The pier is an extension of Bridge Street on which events such as car shows and art shows take place. Bridge Sheet is for shopping. Dockside Bar and Bridge Street Market are famous for old Florida charm. The Hive, a store specializing in unique art, woodware and clothing, is nearby. Also on Bridge Street you will find the Back Alley, a shop that teaches crafts, and the Bridgetender Inn, a dockside treasure right on the water. The historic Bridge Street merchants’ group cautions one not to miss the great jerk chicken, bangers and mash available at the pier.

Places to stay on Bradenton Beach include the Tradewinds Resort, the Tortuga Inn Beach Resort and the Bridgewalk Resort Hotel. Before you leave the pier play a round of miniature golf at the Fish Hole, a fun activity themed on an old Florida fishing village.

You could rent a bike and tour the 7-½ mile long island at a leisurely pace or hop on the free Anna Maria trolley that stops at dozens of places along the only north-south road on the island.

HOLMES BEACH, population 5,100, is the next community to the north and the largest on Anna Maria Island. “The Knot”, a Conde Nast magazine, named Anna Maria island Florida’s number one Beach Wedding Destination. More than 1,000 weddings “happen” each year on the island. A network of planners, caterers, and hosts are available to make any wedding dream come true. A white dove release - a symbol of love, can be arranged to commemorate the nuptial event.

The Anna Maria Island Wedding Merchants hold an Annual Wedding Festival to that takes place every February. More than 70 wedding related vendors are available to help plan the perfect wedding. Everyone is invited to “smell the flowers, taste the cake and check out the honeymoon suite.” The award winning Beach Bistro Restaurant is often chosen as the venue for after-ceremony receptions.

The beach at Holmes Beach is very popular with vacationing families. There are Australian Pines along the white sand that provide shade for picnicking. The Café on the Beach is a source of scrumptious pancake breakfasts. There are volleyball nets and beachside showers, and no high-rise buildings.

CITY OF ANNA MARIA is on the north end of the island. It is an extremely active art community that includes an Island Playhouse that was built on the mainland and transported to the island by barge. The Anna Maria Historical Society said that it has served as a church, a school house and a City Hall in its long life. The city has a bird sanctuary, a city pier, public tennis courts and plenty of restaurants to provide a different one everyday while enjoying a long vacation. The Beach Bistro at Island’s End has the highest Zagat rating for a restaurant in Florida and has also been the recipient of many Golden Spoon Awards. Also famous are the Sandbar and the City Pier Restaurant. Places to stay include the Sunset Garden Resort and the Harrington House Beachfront Bed and Breakfast.

Sea turtles come ashore on the island to nest from May through October. Pelicans, cranes and wild parrots abound. Dolphins play in the wake of boats. Bring your camera!

THE ISLAND’S DISCOVERY – The Anna Maria Island’s Chamber of Commerce reports that Juan Ponce de Leon discovered the island in 1513. Well … Historians agree that he arrived on the shore of the island then but that Calusa Indians in 80 war canoes attacked the Spanish ships before anyone could land and drove the ships away.

So, the big question is... Did Juan Ponce de Leon really discover Anna Maria Island?

FINALLY – If you watched the movie “Out of Time” starring Denzel Washington, or “The Perfect Storm” starring George Clooney, you have seen a few bits and pieces of Anna Maria Island.

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