How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Florida's Anna Maria Island — Where You're Basically Guaranteed to See Dolphins

Here's your ultimate guide to Anna Maria Island in Florida, including where to stay, when to visit, and what to do.

Aerial view of Anna Maria Island, Florida
Photo:

Thomas De Wever/Getty Images

With white-sand beaches, beautiful blue water, swaying sea oats, and incredible sunrises and sunsets, Florida’s Anna Maria Island is one of the most scenic destinations in the state. Add to that the salt air and a plethora of waterfront restaurants serving up fresh seafood and you have a feast for all the senses.

Located on the western coast of Florida with Tampa to the north, Fort Myers to the south, and the Gulf of Mexico on every other side, Anna Maria Island is a seven-mile stretch of laid-back beauty made up of three towns: Bradenton Beach to the south, Anna Maria to the north, and Holmes Beach in between. 

The Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce describes this pristine place perfectly: “Anna Maria Island is a place where ‘old’ Florida charm can still be found, flip-flops are a way of life, and the speed limit never exceeds 35 mph.” If you’re looking for high-rise condos and fast food-chains, you won’t find them here. 

Beloved among beachcombers, but off the beaten path of the average Florida tourist, Anna Maria Island is a Sunshine State gem with lots to do — but even more ways to do absolutely anything.

Best Things to Do on Anna Maria Island

Beach on Anna Maria Island, Florida

Melanie Wynarski/EyeEm/Getty Images

On Anna Maria Island, it’s all about the outdoors. Whether you want to spend the day at the beach or pick an adrenaline-fueled option like cycling, zip lining, or paddling, there’s plenty to do along this salty stretch.

Grab a stand-up paddleboard from AMI Paddleboard or enjoy afternoon kayaking with Happy Paddler. For the latter, you can rent your own equipment or go on a guided tour (there’s even a kayak fishing charter and sunset kayak tour available). Aspiring fishermen (and women) might also want to consider a deep-sea fishing charter on their visit to Anna Maria Island.

Dolphin watching with Paradise Boat Tours on Anna Maria Island, Florida

Jake Kuxhausen

Don’t want to work up a sweat? Paradise Boat Tours basically guarantees you’ll see dolphins when you explore with them, or book an Egmont Key snorkeling charter with Scuba Ethan’s Outdoor Adventures to explore a historic island and take a peek beneath the beautiful waters. 

And, in keeping with a true classic Florida vacation style, Anna Maria Island has activities like 18-hole miniature golf at The Fish Hole, rollerblading, biking, nature walks, and parasailing.

Where to Stay on Anna Maria Island

Guest room at Waterline Marina Resort, Anna Maria Island, Florida

Courtesy of Waterline Marina Resort

Whether you’re looking for a beachfront cottage, quaint bungalow, upscale resort, or vacation rental, Anna Maria Island offers lots of options.

Many families return year after year to the Bridgewalk in Bradenton Beach’s historic district. The apartment-style suites here come with mini or full-sized kitchens, there's an on-site spa and restaurant, and the hotel is only a block from the beach.

It doesn’t get much cuter than the recently renovated Sunrise Garden Resort, a pet-friendly, 16-suite spot with all the modern conveniences, and Palm Tree Villas in Holmes Beach is another quaint option with eight rooms.

Waterline Villas & Marina, a Marriott Autograph Collection property in Holmes Beach, is an upscale option for those with more forgiving budgets. Bungalow Beach Resort, with its graciously restored 1930s beach bungalows, is another great option, with charming cottages situated poolside or facing the Gulf. 

Best Time to Visit Anna Maria Island

Anna Maria Island is hot and humid almost all year long. However, the summer months (June, July, and August) are the hottest — and the wettest. It’s the Atlantic hurricane season, so there’s a greater risk of storms. Still, summer is prime time for a beach vacation, especially in a place as family-friendly as Anna Maria Island. Temperatures average a high of 90 and a low of 70 during this time of year.

Late spring to early summer (March to May) is the shoulder season. These months are warm and less crowded, but still a preferred time of year for snowbirds, so don’t expect the island to be completely without crowds. October is another nice month to visit; it’s a bit cooler and quieter than the previous months.

Where to Eat and Drink on Anna Maria Island

Double scoop of ice cream at Two Scoops, Anna Maria Island, Florida

Courtesy of Two Scoops

If you didn’t snap a photo at the Rod & Reel Pier, did you even go to Anna Maria Island? It’s an Instagram-famous spot, but many don’t realize it’s actually a restaurant, not a mere photo op. Located on a pier jutting out into the Gulf of Mexico and tucked away on the far northern end of Anna Maria Island, Rod & Reel Pier has been serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner since 1947. It’s a slice of old Florida and a favorite among locals and visitors alike.

Looking for a fun place for the whole family? Everyone loves The Ugly Grouper, where tropical cocktails and fresh Floribbean eats dominate the expansive menu. Everything is good here, but the grouper tacos — served in cheese “fan shells” with blackened grouper, cabbage, and fresh salsa — are famous for a reason.

Anna Maria Island Beach Cafe is another local favorite, especially for all-you-can-eat pancakes in the morning. It’s a place where you’ll dine on no-frills fare with your feet in the sand. If you fall in love and plan to visit again and again, order your drink in a take-home souvenir cup and you’ll get discounted refills every time you return. The hand-carved coconut option is a hit with kids — it can be used as a coin bank at home to save up for their next trip to Anna Maria Island.

Lastly, no Anna Maria Island vacation is complete without fresh donuts, so bike to The Donut Experiment, where you can individually customize freshly baked cake donuts with your choice of icing, toppings, and drizzles. Tip: Get there early or expect to wait in line up to an hour. 

And no matter where you eat dinner, save room for dessert. There’s “Dog Gone Good” ice cream waiting at Two Scoops, an Anna Maria Island classic.

Getting There

Highway to Anna Maria Island, Florida

Thomas De Wever/Getty Images

Sarasota Bradenton International Airport is the closest, located only 20 miles away, but it’s also easy to reach the area by car. You may not need it much once you arrive, though; visitors often choose to walk or rent a bicycle to explore on two wheels for the duration of their stay.

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