The first time I hopped out of the car, walked through a sand dune, and onto a beach on Anna Maria Island, I knew I had found something truly special. The small stretch of sand was dotted with a handful colorful beach umbrellas, the water was calm — a bright, clear shade of turquoise reminiscent of the Caribbean — and a gentle breeze was coming off the gulf water.
Since that first visit several years ago, I’ve visited numerous Florida beaches, but none quite match the charm or magic of Anna Maria Island.
While I’d love to keep my paradise a secret, that’s just not my style. I love this beach and want to share it! Here are 11 reasons I fell in love with Anna Maria Island, and why you most certainly will too.
The sunrises and sunsets are incredibly beautiful.
The sunsets at Anna Maria Island are some of the best I’ve seen in Florida. Even cloudy sunsets are prettier than most! But the great thing about Anna Maria Island is that it’s an island, which means you can catch both the sunrise AND the sunset if you’d like. The City Pier located at the north end of the island is a great spot to catch the sunrise, and The Kokonut Hut is perfect for catching the sunset while you sip on a beachy cocktail.
The beach is hardly ever crowded.
With the exception of late January – early March (and holidays), Anna Maria Island remains a relatively sleepy island. Coquina Beach, Manatee Beach, and Holmes Beach have more foot traffic due to the sizable public parking areas. However, there’s decent street parking in the area around the Cortez bridge so the crowds in that area are lighter. I love parking just past Joe’s Eats and Sweets for two reasons: less people on the beach, and closer proximity to ice cream when a craving strikes.
Joe’s Eats and Sweets ice cream (and other various sweet treats).
The first time I spotted Joe’s Eats and Sweets, I had to go inside. The exterior is painted with rainbow stripes and adorned with ice cream cone decorations, so I couldn’t NOT investigate. Once inside, I was further won over by the homemade flavors: key lime cheesecake, carrot cake, and pistachio among my favorites. The retro ice cream printed carpet inside only adds to the quirky ambiance. Any time I visit AMI, I stop at Joe’s. The day just doesn’t feel right without my ice cream cone. I’ve tried other spots on the island, and still think Joe’s is the best.
“Secret” beaches are yours to discover if you’re willing to put in a little work.
Although I’ve been visiting Anna Maria for years, it took me awhile to venture to the North and South ends. But this is where the magic is! The most northern point of the island is almost completely residential and much quieter. Check out the small beach area by the City Pier, or venture to the northern most point, Bean Point. To the south, you won’t want to miss Beer Can Island. Although this hideaway is technically on Longboat Key, it’s so close it counts! The water is clear, you have to walk through a little mangrove path to get there, and once there huge uprooted trees and driftwood make up tons of beach nooks. It’s the perfect place to pretend you’re on your own private island.
Beach cocktails at the Kokonut Hut.
Picture this: you’re sitting underneath your own personal tiki hut table, staring out at white sands and calm, clear water, wondering how life can get any better. And then a key lime colada materializes on the table in front of you, the perfect cool treat to end a wonderful day. (There might even be some live beach tunes in the background.) This is life at The Kokonut Hut.
Tacos. Tacos everywhere!
My Anna Maria Island beach diet consists of four main foods: fish tacos, grouper sandwiches, other tacos, and ice cream. My favorite place for tacos on the island is definitely Wicked Cantina, an inviting and beachy Tex-Mex joint serving up a mean mango margarita (cannot have any less than 3) alongside delicious tacos. Speaking of delicious tacos, the shrimp tacos and carnitas tacos are personal recommendations. And FYI, the charro beans have bacon (!!!) in them. The service is always on point and the outdoor patio offers a view of the beach. Can’t go wrong.
Made to order donuts. Need I say more?
I owe the discovery of The Donut Experiment to my grandpa, who’s insatiable sweet tooth led him to this donut shop multiple times last winter. Instead of walking in and picking pre-made donuts, you fill out a fun little order card and custom choose your toppings. Then your order is made fresh right before your eyes and delivered shortly thereafter. The secret is definitely out about this place, so arrive early or expect to wait in a bit of a line. Either way, it’s totally worth it.
The free trolley offers the perfect way to get around.
It took me awhile to ride the trolley because for the longest time, I didn’t know it was free! To catch the trolley, just look for a trolley stop sign on the main roads (Gulf Drive in most areas) and you won’t have to wait more than 20 minutes or so for a trolley to come through. Catch a ride all the way from Coquina Beach (South) to the City Pier (North) and hop on and off at any designated stop. The trolley is a great way to get around instead of driving from place to place.
There are no high rise hotels or tacky tourist shops.
What you won’t find on Anna Maria Island: kitschy shops selling a bunch of tourist junk, high-rise hotels, enormous condo complexes, and overcrowded beaches. What you will find: cute and colorful bungalows, locally owned eateries, small boutique hotels, beach rentals, and oodles of small beach town charm. While tourism has made an impact on the island, and fewer locals live there each year, the island does keep its authenticity fully intact.
The food scene has more to offer than beach dives and casual eateries.
Good food is a requirement in my travels, but beach towns aren’t always hot spots for foodies. However that’s not the case on Anna Maria Island. Apart from typical tiki bars and beachy dives, the island has much to offer. Dine with your toes in the sand at Sandbar Restaurant as you indulge in the freshest seafood in a classy beach setting. Waterfront Restaurant serves creative, approachable, and fresh dishes in an upscale setting without managing to be stuffy OR overpriced. (Try the edamame salad at lunch!) And if you’re going for ambiance and top-notch eats, pop on over to Longboat Key to Mar Vista Restaurant. They’ve got an incredible outdoor seating area on the bay with twinkling outdoor lights and waterfront tables. I recommend the Caribbean grouper or poke bowl!
Sea creatures are easy to spot.
May is my favorite month of the year to visit Anna Maria Island because I almost always see something really neat in the water. From manatees, sting rays, mysterious fish and dolphins to the occasional seagulls mating (I’ve seen it all) there’s an abundance of wild life at the beach. The waters are calmer and clearer than usual in May, so maybe that’s why sea friends are easier to spot. The weather is also stellar this time of year.