By Wanda McKinney
I dreamed that I had escaped to the perfect getaway.
As I slept, I visualized swaying palms, beautiful beaches, and not a
high-rise condo in sight.
Colorful shops and local restaurants added charm,
and a laid-back vibe erased all cares. I awoke smiling but shook my
head. Surely there was no such piece of paradise left. Then I
discovered Anna Maria Island.
About the Island
Surrounded by the Gulf of Mexico, Tampa Bay, and the
Intercostals Waterway, Anna Maria Island is an easy 1 1/2-hour drive
It's only 7 1/2 miles long and less than a mile wide
and, for starters, boasts not a single towering condo. (No building
over three stories is allowed.) Chain restaurants? Very few of them.
The restaurants are delightfully local and extremely good. In other
words, you’ve stepped into the Florida of decades ago, with one
major difference: New amenities enhance the old charm for a winning
Favorite Restaurant: Rod & Reel Pier Restaurant
A girl's gotta stop for food (thank goodness). My
favorite was Rod & Reel Pier Restaurant at the end of the pier. I
learned to go early to beat the crowds, which consist of locals and
visitors. While I dined on fresh grouper just pulled from the Gulf,
I watched a stunning sunset, along with a grand view of the Sunshine
Skyway Bridge, festively alight at night. My evening entertainment
was a more serene version of Vegas acrobatics, consisting of
manatees and dolphins putting on a show, while people fished off the
pier, pulling in redfish and mackerel.
Contact Information: (941) 778-1885, 875 North Shore
Dr, Anna Maria, FL 34217
Restaurants With a View
For toes-in-the-sand dining, the Sand Bar Restaurant
wins out. Everything tastes better if you’re sitting at a table on
the beach, with waves gently splashing nearby. No reservations are
accepted, but you’ll dine on such delightful entrées as freshly
caught grouper and top sirloin, starting at $14. Contact
information: 100 Spring Avenue; www.sandbar-restaurant.com or (941)
The Waterfront Restaurant. Ask to sit near the
porch, and you’ll have a grand view of the bay. If the white
chocolate-raspberry cheesecake shows up on the menu on your visit,
give in. Contact information: 111 South Bay Blvd.;
www.thewaterfrontrestaurant.net or (941) 778-1515.
Most Colorful (and Tastiest) Breakfast Spot
Ginny’s & Jane E’s At the Old IGA. The cinnamon
rolls are Frisbee-size but taste much better.
Contact Information: 9807 Gulf Drive; (941) 778-7370
Best Burger Joint/Dive
Skinny’s Place. They serve Coke in frosty 8-ounce
bottles and make a mean grilled chicken sandwich.
Contact information: 3901 Gulf Drive North; (941)
778-7769. (Cash only.)
No malls here. But I found delightful buys in dozens
of spots dotting the island. My favorite shopping area is Bridge
Street on Bradenton Beach (the southernmost city on the island).
There’s another pier here and a shopping street with Bridge Street
Jewelers (I didn’t resist the beautiful silver bracelet adorned with
a palm tree.) And the winner of my Most Kitschy contest is Bridge
Street Bazaar. This charmer features fun wall plaques and pink
flamingos galore, plus pirate and other nautical items. Any wife
would love the sign reading, “Old fisherman lives here with his best
Shopping Information: Art Attack, The Sailor’s Knot,
Bridge Street Jewelers, Bridge Street Bazaar. All located on Bridge
Explore the Island
After a couple of days of living my dream of
sanctuary and sun, sun, sun, I wanted to see more of the island.
Hopping on board the free trolley (which circles every 20 minutes)
was a terrific way to get an overview of Anna Maria. I watched
people bicycle in pretty Bayfront Park, located next to Anna Maria
City Pier. And I jumped off to visit the Anna Maria Island
Historical Society, with its long-vacant and amusingly graffiti-covered
Day Trip: Village of the Arts
One day I took a little side trip off the island to
Bradenton to explore Village of the Arts. This artists’ colony
covers several 1920s Crayola-colored cottages, each featuring a
variety of artsy offerings, most open Friday and Saturday. My
favorite was Dancing Crane Gallery, with its sculpture, jewelry, and
ceramics. I especially loved the gem shop inside, where an artist
designs your own piece of jewelry on the spot. I also enjoyed
Village Voices & Eclectic Art Emporium, with its Florida
author-written books, an art gallery, and local woodwork.