Recognized for its “Old Florida” charm and friendly residents, Anna Maria Island attracts those seeking an island lifestyle from all over the U.S. and abroad. A Seven-mile strip of breathtaking white-sand beaches line this barrier island between the turquoise Gulf of Mexico and peninsular Florida. 

HISTORY

Anna Maria Island was discovered by the local Timucan and Caloosan Native American tribes and, later, by Spanish explorers (including Hernando de Soto) in the name of the Spanish Crown. Hernando de Soto and his crew entered the mouth of Tampa Bay, north of Anna Maria Island, in May 1539, passing the island by to make their landfall on the mainland.

Anna Maria Island was first settled in the beginning of the twentieth century by Tampa Mayor Madison Post who then named the island for his wife Maria and his sister-in-law Anna. As Cuban fishermen were the first visitors to the island at the southern mouth of Tampa Bay, the settlement was very soon dominated by nautical types. In 1892, George Emerson Bean became the first permanent resident on the Island, homesteading much of what is now the City of Anna Maria. After Bean’s death in 1898, the land’s ownership transferred to his son, George Wilhelm Bean, who partnered with Charles Roser, a wealthy real estate developer from St. Petersburg, to form the Anna Maria Beach Company in order to develop the area. The company laid out streets, built sidewalks and houses, and installed a water system.

Residents and visitors came by boat until the first bridge that was built to connect Anna Maria Island to mainland Florida began construction in the summer of 1921. After a heavy storm wiped out half the bridge, it was finished as scheduled in 1922. It crossed the bay to what now is Bridge Street in Bradenton Beach to the fishing town of Cortez. More people then began to visit the island, which caught the interest of several businessmen. Yet, somehow, communities here had more success than most in Florida in keeping out big developers. 

Nearly a century later, Anna Maria Island has become one of the most popular locations in Florida, visited by both locals and tourists. Its wildlife and nature has attracted many scholars of different sciences such as biology, and marine biology.

Fortunately, there’s little use for a car on the island and it’s more viable to use a bike, kayak, or flip-flops around the island. For your convenience, there’s even a free trolley, which circles every 20 minutes, shuffling up and down main Gulf Drive. Here, you’ll find the most beautiful beaches in the world; from Holmes Beach, stocked with restrooms, picnic tables and even a café on the sand, to Coquina Beach, where you’ll find plenty of shaded parking. 

Not far from the skyscrapers of Tampa, Anna Maria’s removal from hubbub makes it a quaint town both easy to reach yet unspoiled by the concrete and chain restaurants. Instead, what Anna Maria has to offer is an abundance of natural beauty and an array of colorful shops and local restaurants lined with swaying palms. It’s as if you’ve stepped back in time, into the Florida of decades ago, with one major difference: updated amenities. No malls to visit here, instead you’ll find a dozen delightful shops dotted across the island. Indeed, the dining is as tempting as the fishing that lures so many visitors. Options range from a classic grouper sandwich on the pier to world-class, upscale dishes using only the freshest catch. 

The waters surrounding Anna Maria are host to an assortment of wildlife waiting to be discovered, from wild dolphins to sharp-eyed ospreys. Here, you can experience one of the most abundant ecosystems on the planet. You’ll be amazed at just how much there is to see on this little island.

WHERE TO EAT

Serving exciting, sophisticated and exquisitely prepared Floridan Cuisine, Beach Bistro is an ideal spot to enjoy fresh fare, especially at sunset. Beachbistro.com

WHAT TO DO

To capture a quiet moment, head to Bean Point, a local secret that provides breathtaking views of the sunset on a pristine and serene beach. 

PLACES TO STAY

Tucked away on Anna Maria Island, Cedar Cove Resort & Cottages features a private escape amidst lush, tropical gardens and white sandy beaches. cedarcoveresort.com