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Anna Maria Island & Bradenton
Holidays to Anna Maria Island, Bradenton and the Longboat Key Area transport you to a Florida gone by. Perched right on the Gulf of Mexico, with nothing for miles but sugar-white sands and sunkissed waters, this hidden gem is a chilled-out alternative to some of the state's more well-known locations. Enjoy laid-back days on the beach, kayaking adventures through the mangroves, and those world-famous sunsets.
This paradisiacal stretch of land also serves up a vibrant seafood scene, with quaint fishing spots and family-owned eateries. So make sure to grab yourself a grouper sandwich, or even catch your own supper off the City Pier! And while the island feels secluded, you're only 90 minutes from Orlando, 45 minutes from Tampa and a 3.5 hour drive to Fort Lauderdale.
Things to do
A small and intimate destination in Florida, loved for its slow pace of life, you’ve got an excellent fishing charters, wildlife tours and boutique shopping to explore.
Fishing charters, boating trips and eco-tours
Surrounded by the Gulf of Mexico, Anna Maria Island boasts an extraordinary fishing scene. Venture out to sea on a charter to experience catching your own trout, mackerel and flounder, or spot your first shark on a sight-seeing expedition. And if you’re feeling really fancy, book onto a private cruise for wine, cheese and those famous Florida sunsets.
Anna Maria Island is also lined with a system of waterways teeming with wildlife. Grab a paddle and weave your way through the hidden mangrove tunnels along Lido Keys, to see ospreys, great blue herons, pelicans, wood storks, and bald eagles, to name a few. If you're visiting between March and December you’ll likely encounter manatees. While bottlenose dolphins make an appearance year-round, as they feed and travel through the shallows.
Sun, sea and the beach by horseback
The beaches along Anna Maria Island are pristine, offering miles and miles of soft sand and gentle waves. One of the longest shorelines is Bradenton Beach, a natural setting that sees loggerhead turtles lay their eggs along the dunes from May to October. The waters here are calm and perfect for swimming. At its southern tip, you'll find Coquina, the place to see remarkable shells. From here you can walk along to Leffis Key for the best views of Sarasota Bay. This scenic waterfront is lined with quaint shops, eateries and open-air cafes.
Ever wanted to know what it feels like to ride horseback along the beach? There is nothing quite like the freedom of galloping along the shimmering sands of Palma Sola Bay. Children as young as three can take part too. Trainers will take you for the ride of your life along the shoreline and into the water, even teaching you a few tricks while you're in there!
There are tonnes of watersport adventures to be had too. From jet skiing to surfing along the turquoise waters at Holmes Beach (a must-visit for the all-you-can-eat pancakes).
Bikes, scooters, segways and the famous trolley
Zoom around the island with the wind in your hair and the sun on your face. This beautiful strip of land offers smooth flat planes to ride the coastline by Segway, scooter or bike. You could book a tour to uncover the island's rich history, visiting its famous landmarks, beaches and natural attractions, or simply go your own way. How about renting a tricycle or tandem? You can even add trailers, tag-a-longs and bike seats for your little ones.
Top spots to visit along your trails include the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, Tampa Bay, Anna Maria Sound and Sarasota Bay. You’ll cruise over bridges, see lots of wildlife and cover plenty of ground. Visit the Venetian Intracoastal Waterways to spot eagles, tortoises, manatees and dolphins, or discover art and interactive sculptures along the Bradenton Riverwalk. And if you want to take in the sights from the comfort of an air-conditioned bus, ride the free trolley that runs from City Pier to Coquina Beach, stopping off at fourteen hotspots across the island. With one arriving every 20 minutes, you can just hop on and off at your leisure.
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Fort Myers and Sanibel
The beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel in Southwest Florida are made up of over 100 barrier islands each offering visitors a different experience, but drawn together by unspoilt nature, white-sand beaches, turquoise waters and activities for all ages.
When you first step foot on these spacious, unspoilt sands, it’s hard to believe you’re only a couple of hours away from bustling cities like Miami and Orlando. And with so much untouched beauty surrounding you, the wildlife sightings are just as exotic, from its manatee-filled waters to its alligator-inhabited wetlands. But it’s not just about the beach here. If you’re not sunning yourself on the sand, you could be touring the former homes of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, or visiting a museum entirely devoted to seashells.
Things to do
Fort Myers & Sanibel is made for island hopping. There are so many stunning shorelines to choose from! After its 18th century lighthouse, Sanibel’s beaches are probably most famous for shelling, with over 250 seashells to hunt down between its coastline and neighbouring Captiva Island. If shelling isn’t your thing, hiking, canoeing and guided fishing tours are just some of the activities you can test out at Lovers Key State Park.
The seven-mile-long shoreline along Fort Myers Beach gets most of the attention (for good reason), but it’s the pedestrianised Times Square that sees all the action. Lined with restaurants, bars, ice cream counters and surf shops, this oceanside playground has something for all ages. It’s also host to a public party each weekend to celebrate the sunset. If you’d prefer to stay away from the hustle and bustle, nothing beats days at Bonita Beach Park.
Aside from the beaches, Sanibel is also home to The J. N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge. With over 7,600 acres of trails to explore, you could easily spend all day just spotting the many bird and reptile species living among the mangroves. For even more animal encounters, the Great Calusa Blueway’s wildlife-packed waters are a must for keen kayakers.
As for history, the island’s choice of museums are up there with its wildlife sightings. The biggest historical highlight is over in Fort Myers, along the Caloosahatchee River. Known as Edison and Ford Winter Estates, people come from all over the world to see Edison’s laboratory and gardens, where many of his experiments took place.
As one of the best shelling destinations in North America, it should come as no surprise that Sanibel is home to a building full of them! And if you thought you weren’t interested when you arrived, you will be by the time you’ve visited Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum.
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