Spring break is just about here. A time for relaxation and (hopefully) enjoyment of warmer temperatures needed from the cold Midwest winters. This is a time of year when many families travel south to destinations boasting of palm trees and sandy beaches. It is often hard to find a location not flooded with tourists and beachgoers. My family and I were lucky enough to have stumbled upon Anna Maria Island, Florida, a few years ago. Anna Maria is a sleepy island about an hour southwest of Tampa. Three cities: Bradenton Beach, Holmes Beach, and Anna Maria make up the totality of this 7-mile island. You can go from the tip at Bradenton Beach all the way down the length of the island to the Anna Maria pier in a single day by bicycle.
What is the best part about it? It has not been commercialized or lost its character to tourist-centered establishments. Local restaurants and shops line the main streets, all boasting bright colors of paint with enticing window displays. Outdoor markets showcase unique artwork created from natural materials of the area that give the feeling of permanently being on the beach. It is almost as if this island was created for outdoor living. Given the 75-degree temperatures, the proximity to the beach, and the ease of bike travel, it is impossible to not want to be outside. With all that being said, here are my top ten must-do things on the island.
- The Beach
- This is a given for being in an area that boasts of such beautiful landscapes. Nothing compares to soaking up the sun in a beach chair while enjoying a good read. Having the chance to escape from the stresses of daily live and listen to the ocean waves is something I never tire of.
- This has become a tradition each year during spring break. About an hour before the sun is slated to set, my family and I make our way down to the beach near our house and spend time chatting while we wait. As it gets closer to setting, the colors of the sun deepen and intensify to hues that are more potent than I’ve ever seen. Seeing the sun sink beneath the ocean horizon gives the setting a magically realistic quality.
- Visit Two Scoops Ice Cream
- This is the supreme ice cream parlor on the island. They have over thirty flavors as well as breakfast and lunch food. My favorite flavors are either the Trash Can, which is chocolate ice cream with peanut butter mix-ins, or the Cake Batter. I always get a waffle cone with two scoops of ice cream as is fitting for the name of the establishment.
- Donut Experiment
- One piece of advice: get here early. By 8:30 it will be packed with people scrapping for their morning donuts. This is a create your own type of place. Each creation starts with a cake donut base that can then be customized to one’s liking. They have original glaze, maple, chocolate, vanilla, and caramel frostings to choose from. Their most unique (and delicious) combination is maple frosting with bacon and a drizzle of peanut butter over the top. The perfection lies in each donut not being too large or rich, but rather just right for a breakfast treat or for dessert.
- Bike ride to Bradenton
- It takes about half an hour to reach Bradenton from Holmes Beach. There are many shops and restaurants to be enjoyed. When the weather is nice, which it usually is, the bike ride takes you through a scenic route in which to enjoy the island and see many of its attractions and quirks.
- Ginny and Jane E’s
- This is a cute little coffee shop and store combined into one that offers delicious pastries and breakfast items in addition to trinkets and souvenirs unlike anything else to be found on Anna Maria. I would recommend either their sticky buns, which are topped with a caramel glaze and toasted pecans, or their as big as a plate cinnamon rolls that are dripping in icing. Enjoy with a cup of coffee or tea on their outdoor patio and it is unlike anything else for a morning on the island.
- Sandbar Restaurant
- For a nice dinner that is right on the beach, this is the best spot on the island. Located in the city of Anna Maria, this restaurant features a nice dining experience and great views of the sunset. I would recommend trying some of the locally caught fish they serve on their menu along with hushpuppies.
- Freckled Fin
- An Irish-themed pub and restaurant that offers traditional Irish fare. This is the place to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day if you are around. They have corned beef and cabbage, an Irish pizza with corned beef, cabbage, and eggs, and shepherd’s pie. Their environment is lively and oftentimes has live music in the evenings and weekends. This is a great place to hang out with a group of friends and grab a bite to eat and a drink after a long day on the beach or out in the sun.
- This is hands down the best burger on the island. It is a cash only restaurant and is a fabulous place to enjoy a drink and burger. They do not serve fries, but have bags of chips, coleslaw, and potato salad as side offerings. Their prices are reasonable, and their burgers are what you want: cheesy, meaty, and on a toasted bun. If you do not eat meat, they have grilled cheeses, peanut butter sandwiches, and other such offerings.
- As always, shopping is an integral part of any vacation of mine. There are numerous boutique-like shops along with more casual stores that are situated throughout the island where you can find t-shirts, shoes, flip flops, and swimsuits. There is no shortage of things to buy on the island and you are bound to find the perfect item.
Edited by Kristina Drendel