How to make the most of a beach vacation to Anna Maria Island.

Holmes Beach, Anna Maria Island, Florida
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Step foot onto Florida's Anna Maria Island, and you may never book a return trip home. From hidden, white-sand beaches and crystal-blue water to Instagram-worthy sunsets and delicious seafood at waterfront restaurants, you can experience all the trappings of an exotic, tropical vacation without even having to leave the United States.

On the west coast of Florida, neighbored by the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay, this seven-mile-long island invites travelers to soak up the vibes of its three cozy towns: Bradenton Beach in the south, Anna Maria in the north, and Holmes Beach nestled in between. The island maintains its chill vibe with speed limits that top out at 35 mph, and a consistent aversion to commercialization and towering condominiums. Yet still, the island is quickly growing in notoriety among beachcombers.

Here's how to visit Anna Maria Island now—before everyone else figures it out.

Where to Bed Down

Anna Maria Island offers accommodations for all types of travelers. Check out the BridgeWalk, located in the Bradenton Beach's historic district. Rooms here come with jacuzzi tubs and free Wi-Fi. Many rooms even come with screened verandas. Apartment-style suites come with mini or full-sized kitchens, perfect for a week away with the family.

For something more shabby-chic, opt for a cottage at the ​Bungalow Beach Resort, where cozy rooms feature plenty of white wicker furniture and beamed ceilings. Request a poolside bungalow or a studio with gulf-facing views.

At the recently renovated Sunrise Garden Resort, guest rooms have a decidedly old-school Florida vibe. All guests enjoy free laundry service, complimentary Wi-Fi, a full or partial kitchen, and access to a grill and heated swimming pool. Best of all, the property permits pets, making it easy to bring Fluffy along. The same innkeepers run Palm Tree Villas in Holmes Beach, where upscale details like private patios, granite countertops, and dishwashers elevate the homey spaces.

How to Get There—and Get Around

Before the word spreads too far, pack your sandals and book a flight to Sarasota Bradenton International Airport (it’s only 20 miles from Anna Maria). Regardless of which town you choose as a home base, the small island is easily walkable, but consider renting a bicycle if you plan on covering a lot of ground. It’s recommended that visitors check out the entire island, from Bradenton Beach City Pier to the northernmost tip of the island at Bean Point.

Beach, City Pier, Anna Maria Island, Florida
Credit: John Coletti/Getty Images

Plan on Outdoor Activities

Whether you're interested in sunning or paddling, Anna Maria Island is ideal for travelers who like to be outside. Balance out a sleepy day tanning and sand castle building with cycling, ziplining, and plenty of swimming.

Take to the water with an afternoon of kayaking (we recommend the Happy Paddler's Sunset Tour) or by testing your balance on a stand-up paddleboard from AMI Paddleboard Rentals. Get a glimpse below with Sea Kat Divers by diving and snorkeling at spots like Passage Key and Egmont Key. You may see sharks, stingrays, and manatees on your excursion. For something a bit more leisurely, hop on a mid-day Paradise Boat Tour where your chances of spotting dolphins are very high.

It could be said that big fish stories come true off the coast of Anna Maria Island. Deep sea fishing trips are easy to book and offer both hobbyists as well as beginners the chance to cast a line for bites from snapper, mackerel, and grouper. Charter a boat and listen to the captain for pro tips on how to hook some unique (and impressively large) fish.

Travelers less interested in getting wet should consider Bradenton Beach Parasailing. There's no better way to see the nature parks and stunning landscape. Other options for actively exploring the island include nature walks, a moderate bike ride, and even rollerblading.

Anna Maria's golf club may be members only, but avid golfers can easily head across the Manatee Avenue bridge to the mainland for a round of golf at Timber Creek or Pinebrook Ironwood. After you’re done hitting holes in one, take the kids to The Fish Hole for the 18-hole miniature putt-putt.

Bottlenose dolphin, Florida
Credit: D E N N I S A X E R Photography/Getty Images

Eat Plenty of Fresh Seafood

One of the promises of Florida island life is the fresh seafood—and Anna Maria Island is the rule, not the exception. But you'll want to fuel up for a long day at the beach with free coffee refills and all-you-can-eat pancakes at Anna Maria Island Beach Café.

Order the catch of the day (paired with crab cakes and chowder) on the covered deck at the Blue Marlin Grill. You can even go on a weekend for live music while you dine. For dinner, consider the fried oysters or blackened grouper with salsa and vegetables at Rod & Reel Pier, followed by “Dog Gone Good Ice Cream” at Two Scoops.

Sunset, Rod & Reel Pier, Anna Maria Island, Florida
Credit: John Coletti/Getty Images

Have a Quiet Night Out

Anna Maria Island is certainly not South Beach (nor should it be), and most people don't head to the island to party hard. If you do want a stiff drink and a late night, follow the locals to a favorite dive bar like Drift In in Bradenton Beach or Dcoy Ducks Bar & Grille in Holmes Beach.