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Anna Maria Island

Anyone who has ever been there will tell you that Anna Marie Island is a great place to relax and getaway from it all. Each of the island's three cities give you access to spectacular beaches and fun in the sun while at the same time offering a unique selection of shops, restaurants, and recreational opportunities. One thing that makes Anna Maria Island so attractive to visitors and year-round residents is its private island feel. You'll be swept away in a tropical paradise while still being close to everything you need in Sarasota on the mainland. It was once a well-kept secret among Florida day-trippers and has always been known for its sugar-white coastline, emerald Gulf waters and quaint business districts, even the office buildings there are brightly painted and decorated.

Couple photographs heron on Longboat Pass at the South end of Anna Maria Island

Things to do on Anna Maria Island

Unlike other popular Florida cities, jam packed with theme parks, multi-plexus and water slides, there are no lines on Anna Maria Island, except for the ones you draw in the sand. They have miles of pristine beaches, along with award-winning restaurants and specialty shops. One visit to Anna Maria Island and you will be calling it, as the locals do, by its moniker "My Island in the sun".

Anna Maria Island City Pier

The island has several piers, one of them is the Anna Maria Island City Pier. At the end of the pier you'll find a small tackle shop, and the City Pier Restaurant where you have to get a bowl of some of the best Lobster Bisque this side of New Orleans. The kids can cast a line in the water while Mom and Dad enjoy a cold brew, and a spectacular view of the nearby Sunshine Skyway bridge. The bridge spans Tampa Bay connecting St. Petersburg with Terra Ceia and at 29,040 ft., that's at little over 5 miles across, it's the world's longest bridge with a cable-stayed main span. The Sunshine Skyway Bridge is truly beautiful to look at and when you go over it there are places to stop and either take pictures or join the many others fishing there. Dolphins can also be spotted frolicking around the pylons, which is fun to watch and well worth the stop.

Anna Marie Island is bounded on the west side by the Gulf of Mexico, and on the south side by Longboat Pass; this separates it from Longboat Key. On the east side is Sarasota Bay and Sarasota Pass, while on the north side is Tampa Bay. Anna Maria Island is approximately seven miles long, north to south, but is so narrow in some places that you can see ocean on both the east and west sides at the same time.

In 1892, George Emerson Bean became the first permanent resident on the Island and homesteaded much of what is now the City of Anna Maria. In the early 1900s, Bean began to develop the Island with the Anna Maria Beach Company; they laid out streets, built sidewalks, houses and installed a water system. During this time, John Roser built the first church on the island, in memory of his mother. Roser was the creator of the Fig Newton, which he eventually sold to Nabisco Brands.

Anna Maria Island was only accessible by boat until 1921, when the wooden Cortez Bridge was constructed from the fishing village of Cortez, to what is now Bradenton Beach. Incidentally, the Bradenton Beach fishing pier is made of what was left over. Today, the island is serviced by a free trolley-style bus that runs north and south along the island on Gulf Drive. Unlike some places in Florida, during the developmental period of the island, it was very important to local city governments to preserve the heritage of Anna Maria Island.

Anna Maria Island Pier offers a great view of Tampa Bay and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge

With spectacular sunsets, tropical breezes and stars so close, you’ll swear you could touch them. Hollywood took notice, and over the years, Anna Maria Island became a favorite backdrop for Hollywood photographers. In 1948, the MGM film "On an Island with You", starring Esther Williams, Peter Lawford and others, was filmed here. Then again in 1998, the island was used to film "Palmetto," starring Woody Harrelson, Elisabeth Shue and Gina Gershon.

Anna Maria Island today is divided into the three cities: Anna Maria in the north, Holmes Beach in the middle, which is the commercial center and largest city, and Bradenton Beach in the south, whose main interest is in promoting tourism. According to a 2005 census, the combined population was approximately 8,500, although that number has probably increased by now.

The city of Anna Maria is a residential community and occupies the northern part of Anna Maria Island; it is known for its laid-back lifestyle and friendly people. They are community and nature minded people, and a lot of the property owners also live there part-time. The whole city is a bird sanctuary; pelicans, all types of cranes, herons, wild parrots, sand pipers and seagulls all can be seen here at different times of the year. and the aquatic life is remarkable too. (Sentence either needs to be elaborated on or removed) From May through October, the beaches of the whole island are prime nesting ground for endangered loggerhead turtles, off shore bottlenose dolphins are often spotted playing in the waters, and in the summer months, manatees can be seen all around the island.

Holmes Beach

The city of Holmes Beach was incorporated in 1950, and derives its name from Jack Holmes, a developer who came to the island after World War II. Sam and Annie Cobb first homesteaded on Anna Maria Island in 1896, in the area now called Holmes Beach, and in 1902, the first island post office was established in their home. Then came John R. Jones and Jose Casanas, who started a main source of income still prevalent on the island today - guided fishing tours. Jones piloted boats running between Tampa and Cuba, while Casanas relocated from the Canary Islands in search of mullet fishing grounds. Holmes Beach is still a popular tourist destination and has a wide array of vacation rentals and winter residences.

Beachhouse Restaurant on Bradenton Beach

Bradenton Beach

The southern part of the island, Bradenton Beach has miles of sugar sand beach, which makes it a perfect place for the sand sculpting that happens there every year. Two of the most popular beaches are Cortez Beach and Coquina Beach. Cortez Beach lies in northern section of the city, and has a lot of access, free parking, lifeguards on duty, restrooms, picnic tables and showers.

During the 2004 Hurricane season, Bradenton Beach City Pier was damaged and underwent a 2.2 million dollar renovation. The new Pier is completely rebuilt with a restaurant that serves the best lobster bisque you'll ever eat, a bait and tackle shop, a harbormaster's office and a 300 foot day dock. There are also a number of parks within city limits; these include Katie Peirola Sunset Park, which has especially nice sunsets, Lou Barola Park, that has a really great playground and Herb Dolan Park, where you can see Sarasota Bay, Anna Maria Sound and Tampa Bay all at the same time.

Coquina Beach

Coquina Beach

Coquina Beach lies at the southern end of the city; it too has large parking areas, lifeguards and public restrooms with showers, but this beach has a snack bar with a cafe like picnic area. The bay side of Coquina is popular with jet skiers, which is probably because of the boat launch there.

Anna Maria may be just a little island, but it has big heart and even bigger opportunities to get out and do just about anything you want. Inshore or offshore fishing tours with local guides, nature walks where you can see all kinds of birds, miles of beaches to play or just relax on. Then when you're ready to hang your hat, whether you're looking for a million-dollar villa, a beautifully restored home or a rustic cottage to rent or to own, this beautiful place has it all.

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