BEST Things to do on Anna Maria Island
Anna Maria Island is one of our favorite places in Florida! It still has a bit of that old Florida charm, plus there are gorgeous white sand beaches, amazing restaurants, and plenty of fun things to do on Anna Maria Island.
Anna Maria is a 7 mile long barrier island on the west (gulf) coast of Florida. It is south of Tampa and west of Sarasota and you can fly into either of these cities. Tampa International Airport is a little farther away than the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport, but it tends to have more flights.
Anna Maria Island, which you will often see abbreviated as AMI, has three bridges for access. Once you cross onto the island you immediately feel that you are in a different world, a world that is brighter, prettier, and more beach-y than the one you left behind.
Cities on Anna Maria Island
There are three cities on the island. From north to south these are: Anna Maria, Holmes Beach, and Bradenton Beach. As a visitor you really aren’t going to be able to tell when you are leaving one city and entering another.
Parking on Anna Maria Island
The two not so good issues on the island are parking and traffic. Anna Maria has gotten very popular in recent years and the main road can get a bit congested. You might also discover that it is hard to find parking at the beaches and other popular places especially on the weekends.
One option that the city offers to help overcome the traffic and parking problem is the trolley system. There is a free trolley that you can use to get around on the island. It runs from the City Pier to Coquina Beach with stops every 2-4 blocks along the way. The trolleys typically run at 20 minute intervals from 6:00AM to 9:00PM.
If you do drive you can expect to encounter traffic. It’s really ok. Just be prepared to go slow. I mean is that such a bad thing? You’re on island time! Relax and keep an eye out for pedestrians and bikers crossing the busy road.
Despite the traffic and parking issues, Anna Maria Island is a wonderful place to visit!
Here is a list of all the best things to do on and nearby Anna Maria Island!
Things to do on Anna Maria Island
Visit the beautiful beaches of Anna Maria Island
Of course one of the things that everyone must do on Anna Maria Island is hang out at the beach! I promise, Anna Maria Island has some of the best beaches in Florida. Some say that they are some of the most beautiful beaches in the US and we would agree!
The sand is white and the water is clear. Most of the time the seas are calm. Plus you have beaches on both the gulf and the bay!
Our favorite beach on AMI is Bean Point. It is a truly one of the most gorgeous beaches I have ever seen. Check out this list of the beaches on Anna Maria Island to determine which ones you might want to visit.
We also have a list of beach essentials that is perfect for any of the southern beaches.
Enjoy Delicious Food
You will be impressed with the restaurants on and around Anna Maria Island. You will find everything from fine dining to seafood shacks to walk up beach cafes. Eating amazing food is one of the best things to do on Anna Maria Island.
If you want to know which restaurants are my favorites you can check out this post about the restaurants on and around Anna Maria Island.
Stroll or Fish From the Piers on Anna Maria Island
Pier life is the good life and their are three great piers on AMI. I would suggest visiting all three!
- The Rod and Reel Pier is the most rustic of the three. It is a no-frills place with an old Florida feel. It is also home to one of our favorite restaurants, the Rod and Reel Pier Restaurant which is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You can fish from the pier for a small fee. There were many local fishermen there on the morning that we visited. This pier would be a great place for some early morning fishing followed by a delicious breakfast.
- The Anna Maria City Pier was damaged by Hurricane Irma and has only recently reopened. It has been around for over 100 years and although battered by various storms through the years it has always been rebuilt. This is a beautiful place for an evening stroll. You can fish or watch the boats go by. There is a snack bar on the pier and some nice, clean public restrooms.
- The historic Bridge Street Pier is a fun spot on the southern side of the island. It is sometimes known as the Bradenton Beach Pier. This pier was originally built in the 1920’s and at one point provided the only access onto the island. It is home to the well-known Anna Maria Island Oyster Bar where you can grab a casual meal. This is also a favorite of those who love to fish and you will also see lots of pelicans and other birds flying around.
Watch the Sunset and Look for the Green Flash
You can’t visit Anna Maria Island and not spend your evenings watching the sunset. Some say that Bean Point is not only the best place on Anna Maria Island to watch sunset but also the best sunset spot on the entire Florida Gulf Coast.
But really any of the beaches would be a perfect AMI sunset destination!
Another option would be to choose one of the oceanside restaurants for a sunset drink or meal. The Sandbar is a casual favorite. For fine dining you can have a gorgeous sunset meal at the Beach Bistro.
As you watch the sunset see if you can catch the famous “green flash.” This occasionally happens just as the sun sets into the ocean. The green flash is a meteorological phenomenon that occurs at sunset when the conditions are just right.
We happened to catch the flash one night on Anna Maria Island. It was fascinating to see!
Visit the Fishing Village of Cortez
The fishing village of Cortez was one of my favorite places near Anna Maria Island. You drive across a small draw bridge and seemingly back in time.
Cortez actually started as a fishing village back in the 1890’s and still feels old-Florida authentic. Spend some time enjoying the few blocks of historic cottages and the overall feel of this unique little village!
You will definitely want to eat some seafood at one of the fish shacks in Cortez. This is fresh off the boat seafood. My very favorite meal in the area was at the Star Fish market and restaurant. The location of Tide Tables restaurant was perfect and the food was great there, too.
There is also a small maritime museum in the village of Cortez that you might want to check out. Note: You will need to make reservations which you can do online at this link.
Go Horseback Riding on the Beach!
Have you ever dreamed of riding horses in the surf? You can actually take a short drive from Anna Maria Island to Palma Sola Bay and ride horses on the beach and even into the water!
Check out C Ponies Horseback Riding. You will be very impressed with these gorgeous Gypsy Drum horses most of whom were rescued from difficult conditions.
Kayak or Paddle board the Waters Around Anna Maria Island
Kayaking is one of my favorite outdoor activities and the waters around Anna Maria Island are perfect for paddling and exploring. We choose Happy Paddler Kayak Tours and I can definitely recommend them. We were happy paddlers!
You can choose to go with a guided tour or simply rent your kayaks and go on your own. We have done a lot of kayaking so we felt comfortable doing our own self-guided tour with a map through the mangroves. It was lovely and relaxing.
You might want to choose one of the guided tours through the mangroves or the popular coastal island tour or a sunset tour. Happy Paddler also rents stand up paddle boards.
Bike Anna Maria Island
Because the traffic can be a bit dense at times on the island bikes are a good way to get around. Beach Bums is considered to be one of the best places to rent bikes. In addition to bikes and even electric bikes, they also rent street legal golf carts, paddle boards, and beach supplies. They basically have all your needed island life equipment!
The Coquina Beach Trail is a great place to bike on the island. It runs under towering trees near the beach.
We discovered that parasailing is an extremely popular activity in the waters around Anna Maria Island. There are several places that offer parasailing.
YOLO Adventures is one of the top rated. It would be beautiful sailing over the clear blue waters and we talked to several people who said that they could see dolphin jumping in the wake of the boat pulling them.
Visit Egmont Key State Park
This is a state park with an interesting history that is also a wildlife refuge. You will find that this key is a wonderful place to explore the ruins of an old fort, see the lighthouse, and hike some of the old interior trails.
It is also a great place for peaceful walks on secluded beaches, shell collecting, and relaxation. The small island can only be reached by boat. There are several boat tour companies that go to the island or you can go via your own boat.
The south end of the island is closed to the public in order to be a nesting refuge for shore birds. Due to the remote nature of the island there are no restrooms or drinking water or other types of facilities.
Leffis Key Preserve
Leffis Key Preserve is a small preserve that is located just across from the entrance to Coquina Beach in the town of Bradenton Beach on Anna Maria Island. It is one of the few remaining undeveloped areas of Anna Maria Island.
Leffis Key Preserve is a significant estuary for the birds and marine life in the area. At Leffis Key you will find paths and boardwalks, benches, and a 26-foot high hill that will give you 360-degree views of the Gulf of Mexico and Sarasota Bay.
Go Boating in the Waters Around Anna Maria Island
One of the best things to do when you are at Anna Maria Island is to take a boat cruise of any kind. It is glorious to be out on the gorgeous waters of the gulf or the bay. You can rent your own boat or you can take one of the tours or fishing excursions that are offered by several companies in the area.
Anna Maria Island Dolphin Tours offers dolphin tours, sunset tours, and tours to Egmont Key which is the wildlife refuge mentioned above that is accessible only by boat. The waters around AMI are teeming with life and a boat is the best way to see it all.
If you would prefer to go on a catamaran ride you can check out Kathleen D Sailing Catamarans. They even have a full moon sail if you happen to be on the island when the moon is full.
There are also plenty of fishing charter boats to choose from!
Shopping on Anna Maria Island
- Pine Avenue is one of the best shopping areas on the island. It is located near the city pier and you will want to peruse the area both shopping and eating. There are some fun little restaurants in this area including the Donut Experiment where you can create your own donut flavors. You will also find a variety of nice gift shops, as well as clothing and jewelry stores. Stop in at Ginny and Jane E’s where you can get both a snack and a souvenir.
- One of the most interesting shopping areas on AMI is historic Bridge Street. You will find a variety of stores, from the ordinary tourist T-shirt shops to extraordinary jewelry and home decor, gifts and art galleries. If you get tired of shopping and need a little recreation there is even a mini golf place on Bridge Street.
- Coquina Beach Market will be a great place to combine shopping and strolling in the sand! This is a market on Coquina Beach that has a variety of vendors selling different items. Be sure and check their facebook to find out what days and hours the market will be open when you are visiting.
- If you want some more upscale shopping and are willing to take a little bit of a drive away from Anna Maria Island head to St. Armands Circle which is towards Sarasota. Here you will find more than 130 boutiques, shops, galleries, and restaurants.
Anna Maria Island Historical Society
It won’t take long to visit the Anna Maria Island Historical Society museum complex. It is small, but interesting and you will definitely learn about the history of the island. You can tour the museum which used to be an old ice house, the old city jail is the perfect place for a touristy photo opportunity, and the Belle Haven Cottage will help you to see what life was like in the early days of the island.
You can even download some brochures that will give you a self guided walking (or driving or biking) tour of the three cities on the island.
Learn About Ocean Life at the Mote Aquarium
The Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium is a great place to visit especially if you are “beached” out or have a rainy day on the island. They have touch pools and interactive exhibits to help you learn all about the marine life in the area. It is located in Sarasota but is worth the drive.
Enjoy Yoga on the Beach or on a Paddleboard
We were walking on the beach one morning and spotted a group doing yoga. How pleasant would it be to take a yoga class on the beach?! If you are feeling the need for a little stretching and zen during your time on the island check out the Salty Buddha. They have classes on the beach and even on paddle boards!
Watch for Turtles
If you are planning a trip to Anna Maria Island during the all-important nesting season it is important to know how to not be a deterrent to the endangered turtles. The first nests can be seen as early as May 1 and can last until the end of October. Check out the Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch for more information! Their popular turtle talks were cancelled in 2020 but hopefully will be back in 2021!
I hope that you enjoy your visit to Anna Maria Island! It is a beautiful place with a laid back and easy going atmosphere. Let us know what your favorite things to do on Anna Maria Island are!
Thanks for stopping by!