Travel Guide: Anna Maria Island


I'm so excited and happy to finally get this travel guide up for y'all! If you have been following me for a while... you know that Anna Maria Island has been our families vacation spot for over a decade. It holds such a special place in my heart and we absolutely love going back every Summer! I wanted to share some of my favorite places that we go every time we go down there where we stay and continue to visit. 

Anna Maria Island

I wanted to give a little brief into what and where AMI is. Anna Maria Island is located in Manatee County just 20 minutes from Sarasota and about an hour outside of Tampa. This little island is only 7 miles long and just short 2 miles wide. The population is 8,500 (as of 2005) but growing! I still remember going for the first few years and it being super quiet but now there are a lot more people visiting (the word got out, lol!) but still is a quiet, relaxing place to vacation at with family or even friends. Even though it's a small island - it's packed with things to do and adorable shops and restaurants all near the beach.

While my family drives down for their vacation, once I was older and could only take a week at a time (they go for two weeks... miss those days!), I started flying into Florida. I fly into Tampa International and my family picks me up. It's about an hourish away from the island and of course the drive is beautiful going over the Skyway Bridge and enjoying ocean views! I'm always just happy to be in Florida and away from Ohio's crazy weather, lol! 

Where do you stay?

This is the most asked question that I've been asked so I wanted to be as thorough as possible for you guys. We have always stayed at the Bali Hai Beach Resort (it's an older place to rent) and we have so many memories there. My parents decided to try out a new place this past trip and we actually really enjoyed it. One of the main reasons we have continued staying at the Bali Hai is because you are literally right on the ocean. You walk out of your door and your patio meets the sand. It reminds me of our childhood so I was upset when my dad told me they were planning on staying somewhere new but this new place has so much more to offer.

Sun Plaza West is where they decided to rent for two weeks (my family goes for a total of two weeks and since being older, I fly down for one week to join them). This is a condo owned by a family so it's very homey, which we all agreed was super nice to stay in for the duration of the vacation. It's very clean, bright colors, spacious and overall it was an amazing experience. I think we are going to start booking there every summer just because there is more room.

The only "con" to staying at Sun Plaza West was that there isn't really a "beachfront". When I think of beach front - I'm imagining walking out and looking at the ocean without any obstacles. This was a higher level condo with parking beneath you so you did have to walk down some stairs and through a walkway to get to the beach (which is of course no big deal since we are all older and don't need to be watched anymore!). I would recommend the Plaza West to anyone going for the first time. The pool, tennis court, large living space and views are amazing.



This was the view from our front door... absolutely beautiful. I think also that I enjoyed the new views at the new condo since we have been going to the Bali Hai for so many years - it was a nice change to explore a different part of the island! 



The pool was super quiet everyday and we loved it. I love just being able to go there and unwind without a ton of people being around me (I'm 95 years old at heart). This was also a nice change of pace since the Bali Hai pool is always packed with people (I kept making "pros" and "cons" during our entire trip, lol). 



I'll breakdown my favorites on the island into categories so it's not so overwhelming all in one, if that makes sense! I'll start with food: there are so many good spots to grab either a quick bite on the water or just a romantic dinner for you and your significant other! Here are my favorites that we go to every year:

Favorite Food Spots:

1. Gulf Drive Cafe & Tiki Hut - This is the spot we go to first every time we visit the island. I love how it commemorates the beginning of vacation for us. When we first came here, it was only the restaurant portion & a little outside patio... years later they added the cutest Tiki Hut situation and now have tables on the actual beach! You are super close to the water so dining here is so relaxing and enjoyable - nothing will beat this view. I haven't had anything other than breakfast so I can't speak on behalf of lunch or dinner but the breakfast is amazing. They have a full bar, too so you can watch the sunset and grab a couple drinks while doing so!

2. Skinny's Place: Another spot that we like to visit on the island the first or second night... Skinny's! This is a teeny, tiny spot but has the best burgers & fries. It's almost right across the street from the public beach and fills up quick. I usually just get myself a cheeseburger and fries with of course a coke (comes in the bottle, what is better?!). We tend to grab these burgers more than once, they are so good and super quick! 

3. Island Creperie - This spot is technically in Bradenton but it's right off the island. Can you tell we love breakfast? My entire family gets the Sweet & Sour Breakfast that starts you off with a savory crepe and you end with a sweet one for dessert. My personal favorite is the Haiti Crepe... seriously SO good. I'm more a sweet crepe person. This is located right off of a pier so there are a bunch of adorable shops and things to do after breakfast as well! Another tradition of ours.

4. The Waterfront Restaurant - This is one of those restaurants that are a must-go when visiting the island. It overlooks the water and the food is seriously so yummy. Alex and I celebrated my birthday here last summer and we both really enjoyed our food! I also remember getting the Creme Brûlée and it was amazing. Such a great spot for date night or even girls night out!

5. Ginny & Janee's - This little cafe is such a cute spot located almost in the center of the island. We love coming here for a quick bite to eat whether it's breakfast or lunch and to grab a coffee. Their coffee is amazing! I prefer the iced coffee and my dad always drinks hot (Alex is the same way). Whatever you decide though, it will be worth it! Also, the interior is so unique and filled with vintage and collected pieces from all over the place.

6. The Columbia 1905 - Everytime we stay on the island, we spend an entire day at St. Armand's Circle (which is about 20 minutes away) and grab lunch at The Columbia. It's my favorite meal of the entire vacation, sometimes we head there for another evening! If you have a chance to go, do it. The 1905 Salad & the mojito's are a must-have every trip. We have found that ordering mojito's separately taste a lot better than doing the pitcher even though it's a bit pricier that way! We've definitely experimented with them, lol. My go-to order is the 1905 Salad and then the Palomilla which is just delicious! My family usually goes with the Cuban Sandwiches and says they are the best.

7. Two Scoops Ice Cream - This is our go-to spot for ice cream basically every night while on the island! It's right across from the pier (which sadly is no longer there but I do hear they are building a new one completely). You're still able to walk across the street and view the water. We usually grab ice cream before sunset and head back to our place just in time to walk out onto the beach and enjoy the sunset. I've tried a bunch of flavors here and have never been disappointed.

8. The Donut Experiment - If you're into delicious donuts, this is your spot. They have everything from cereal toppings to yummy frostings. I love myself a cereal donut (fruity pebbles to be exact!) so I loved going out in the morning to grab these. It's on the opposite side of the island but I took my little sisters and we grabbed them on the Saturday morning we were there.

9. Smoqehouse - This is a newer spot and it's located on the island. We are always looking to try the new places that pop up and this was delicous. We stopped here on my last night and I ordered the pulled pork sandwich, side of fries and tried the house BBQ. It was all so yummy and I'd definitely recommend!

Favorite Things To Do On/Around the Island:

While we definitely enjoy our time at the beach & pool while staying on the island, there are days and mornings we like to explore or even go shopping for a bit! There's a bunch of activities to do on the island itself so for the majority of the time, we stay put but venture out one or two days. Here are my top favorites to do every summer: 

1. Visit St. Armand's Circle - So I know I had already mentioned this above but we come here every year for shopping, walking around + eating! St. Armand's is located in Sarasota, about 20-25 minutes off the island. It's a fun afternoon filled with checking out the cool stores (there are a ton of unique stores on top of good clothing boutiques/big brands) and stopping for food at The Columbia and most of the time ending the evening with Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream! It's a fun spot to visit once or twice while in the area.

2. Renting Bikes - My family and I rented bikes this year to just explore the island and check out the homes for sale (they are thinking of buying one, finally!!!). My sister and I rode around to check out the cute spots for backdrops for my photos, she's a trooper! I linked Beach Bums since that's a great spot to rent things like bikes, cars, golf carts but there's a bunch of options for bike rentals! 

3. Kayaking - We have been doing this for quite a few years and it's become one of my favorite things I look forward to doing! It's located in Bradenton right before the island bridge and it's a few miles both ways but totally worth it. We kayak our way through some cool sights and end at Watch Tower. There is an amazing view from Watch Tower of The Bay - something you must see for yourself! They have single and double kayaks so you can take the young ones with you if need be.

4. Putt-Putt - This one's a fun activity for a family when you travel with young kids! I remember going here when my sisters were both super young and didn't really enjoy things like kayaking or renting bikes. It's best in the evenings with the sun isn't beating down on you. There are a few shops and food spots (The Island Creperie is on this street!) that you can check out before or after, too. One of the Pier's is just down the street so we always walk that when we're finished. 

5. Jet Ski + Boat Rentals - We don't normally do these rentals but we always talk about renting Jet Ski's... I definitely want to do this next summer! 

6. Horse Back Riding on the Beach - So I'm super bummed that we didn't get a chance to do this, this past vacation. We talked about it and talked about it but I actually forgot about it until the last day when it was too late! We decided we are going to plan ahead this upcoming summer and schedule a time and date beforehand so I'm really looking forward to that. One of my bucket list items! 

7. Boutique Shopping on The Island - There are a ton of little shops here & there on the island so I always love to visit them while around. I always leave vacation with one or two cute new t-shirts reminding me of our time spent there! They are my favorites to wear. 


While we love to spend our time out and about... one of my favorite things to do on the island is just relax and spend time on the beach, walking up and down the ocean collecting shells with my sisters. We always have the best time when visiting and can't wait to make more memories on the island! I'm hoping we find a spot to call our own soon so I can bring my kids down every year just like my parents brought us. It's the best! 


I hope you guys found this post useful! It was so fun for me to type out everything I love about the island. If there are any spots that you love when you visit Anna Maria, make sure to comment below! I'd love any recommendations for what you guys love and to try them out next time we visit in June! xoxo

2 comments

  1. Very comprehensive write up. I live in Tampa and AMI is my favorite place by far in Florida. We usually just stay on the island so I appreciated your listing of other places off the island that we are definitely going to try on our next visit. If you haven't already been, eat here (eathereflorida.com), is delicious and I also recently heard about a former doctor's office that was converted into a bar, aptly named, The Doctor's Office, that looks very interesting. Maybe we'll run into each other one time. :-)

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    1. Aw thank you so much! My parents have eaten at "Eat Here" - I haven't tried yet! I definitely will get there though next summer when we visit :) Thank you!!!

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