Looking for the best things to do on Anna Maria Island, Florida? With such a beautiful setting with so many activities for kids, this beautiful spot is an epic beach vacation for families.
Just off of Tampa, Anna Maria Island is a picturesque, idyllic beach location perfect for families on a road trip or who are looking for an extended Florida vacation.
Its Gulf Coast water mirrors the Caribbean for its teal color and clarity, and its soft beige sand beaches are second to none in Florida. Most days the water is calm, like swimming-pool calm. And, you might even see a manatee swim by.
It is reminiscent of many of the dreamy beach quotes and beach captions that remind you of why you need to take a beach vacation! If you are looking for a low key family vacation, this is one you would love.
Our family has rented a VRBO here for several years. And when someone asks for a family-friendly quieter beach vacation perfect for toddlers to teens, Anna Maria Island, Florida can't be beaten.
But just because it's quiet doesn't mean there aren't awesome things to do on Anna Maria Island. There are so many activities! So, pack your flip-flops and bathing suits and get ready for the family beach vacation you will want to return to year after year.
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Where is Anna Maria Island?
Many people have never heard of Anna Maria Island, and boy are they missing out on one of Florida's best-hidden treasures. This gorgeous spot is a barrier island on the Gulf of Mexico.
Located on the coast of Manatee County, Florida, Anna Maria Island is only seven miles long, just southwest of Tampa and directly south of St. Petersburg.
About 55 miles off the coast of Tampa (around an hour and 15 minutes drive), Anna Maria is a hidden gem on the west coast of the state on the Gulf of Mexico. Other close vacation areas include Siesta Key, Manasota Key, Venice, Longboat Key, and Lido Key.
About Anna Maria Island, Florida
There are three separate cities on Anna Maria Island – Holmes Beach, Bradenton Beach, and Anna Maria. It’s a small beach town perfect for families with plenty of kid-friendly activities, restaurants, and gorgeous beaches.
There are a few hotels and inns, but vacation rentals make up the majority of places to stay on the island. Many of them have pools which are perfect for a lazy day around the house or relaxing after a busy day.
You won’t find any high-rises and very few popular chain restaurants on this island.
This quiet, uncommercialized atmosphere comes from the fact that there are strict regulations governing the types of businesses and buildings allowed on Anna Maria Island.
The beaches are pristine with powder-soft sand, and the teal-emerald green water is beautiful. Its beauty inspires many artists and you can find great art for purchase at the island's several art galleries.
Why Vacation on Anna Maria Island With Kids
There are so many reasons to vacation on this island. Here are my top reasons:
- The pristine beaches are far removed from more commercialized beach locations, which makes it feel like an “old-style Florida” beach vacation.
- You won’t find many chain restaurants and hotels here.
- It is not a “party atmosphere.”
- There are so many great things to do on Anna Maria Island, but everything is at a slower pace, so you return from your vacation rested instead of frazzled.
- Have I mentioned the teal crystal clear water and soft white sand?
- It's a hidden gem families love!
You’ll love how you can step back in time to enjoy a family beach vacation like those years ago while still enjoying today’s amenities. It’s almost like a secret that you likely won’t see on a list of popular Florida beaches, and we prefer it that way.
Best Things To Do on Anna Maria Island With Kids
There are so many awesome things to do on Anna Maria Island with kids. Here are our favorite family activities!
1. Visit Anna Maria Island's Best Beaches
Since this is a fun, relaxing vacation, going to the beach is clearly one of the best things to do in Anna Maria Island for families. Set on the Gulf of Mexico, these teal-colored crystal clear waters and soft beige sand beaches are highlights of the trip!
There are several main beaches to visit based on where you’re staying.
The best Gulf Coast beaches on Anna Maria Island are:
Bean Point Beach
- This is the best beach on Anna Maria in our opinion (and our favorite beach.)
- Located at the northern tip of the island.
- There are no restrooms.
- Has epic sunsets.
- Great for families.
- No public parking (limited street parking) but there is beach access from the side streets.
- No lifeguards.
Anna Maria Bayfront Park
- Located on the North East shore of the island, just south of the Rod & Reel Pier.
- Great for day visitors with a playground, picnic pavilion, grills, and limited parking.
- Near many restaurants and has views of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.
- A great spot for families and faces Tampa Bay.
- Has outdoor showers, restrooms, and water fountains.
- No lifeguards but it is a public beach.
- Southern end of the island in Bradenton Beach.
- Great for a family beach day.
- Has changing cabanas, concessions, pavilions, grills, picnic tables, restrooms, water fountains, a gift shop, and parking.
- Lifeguards on duty and it is a public beach.
- Best shelling beach to find seashells.
- Located in Holmes Beach (and many families' favorite beach).
- Great for a family beach day.
- Has changing cabanas, concessions, pavilions, grills, picnic tables, restrooms, water fountains, a play area, volleyball nets, and a playground
- Lifeguards on duty.
- It's a public beach with limited parking and easy beach access.
- Located on the Southwest side of the island in Bradenton Beach
- Considered an “old Florida” beach.
- Great for nature lovers and bird watching.
- There are no public amenities, but it is a quiet beach.
- There is a parking lot.
- Lifeguards recently added.
- Southern part of the island.
- Great snorkeling between Bradenton Beach and Coquina Beach near the piers.
- Can find great surfing at this beach.
- No lifeguards.
- Mostly used by those staying there.
- In the middle of Anna Maria Island.
- Known for its “old Florida” feel and gorgeous beaches.
- Can find great surfing (the beach at White Street is popular for surfing.)
- Limited street parking (unless you go to one of the main beaches like Manatee Beach.)
- More condos and small resorts than in the city of Anna Maria (Northern part of the island.)
2. Visit Anna Maria City Pier
The 100-year-old Anna Maria City Pier was closed for a while due to damage from Hurricane Irma. But it has recently been rebuilt!
Located on the North end of the island, it is a good spot to try fishing in Tampa Bay or just have a lookout on the ocean and see the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. You can also look for manatees and dolphins while enjoying the views from the Anna Maria City Beach Pier.
3. Enjoy a Day at the Pool
Many of the Anna Maria rentals have a private pool. We have often used our home rental's pool for a break from the beach. It is one of our favorite things to do in Anna Maria Island with our kids.
4. Rent Bicycles
A fun thing to do when visiting Anna Maria Island is to tour the island with a bike! There are several spots to rent a bike for the day or duration of your trip.
One of our favorite things to do with kids on Anna Maria Island, there are bike lanes and sidewalks where you can ride your bike. But do take caution when on Gulf Drive, as it is a busy road.
5. Shop on Pine Avenue
You’ll find tons of fun things to do on Pine Ave. There is fantastic shopping and dining, as well as historical activities. Even just taking a stroll down Pine Ave is a great thing to do in Anna Maria.
6. Make A Donut At the Donut Experiment
Stop at the Donut Experiment on Pine Ave to custom make a crazy, deliciously flavored donut.
Create any donuts you want from the huge selection of toppings and frosting at The Donut Experiment on the island. Or choose their specialty donut creations, Sriracha and Key Lime.
This shop sometimes has a long wait, so go early if you can!
7. Get Your Picture Taken At The Old Anna Maria Jail
Or get your picture taken at the old Anna Maria Jail.
Built in 1927, this open-air jail housed people arrested for minor crimes where they were swarmed by the mosquitos on the island. The punishment worked because no one wanted to spend the night there again! I
f you want to learn more about local history, stop by the Historical Society Museum and Park next door.
8. Wildlife Spotting
There is so much wildlife on Anna Maria Island. In fact, from May to October, Loggerhead turtles nest on the beach.
At night, residents and vacationers must turn off their lights so turtles don't become confused and can safely make their way back to the ocean. In addition to nature preserves in the area, you can also watch turtle nesting spots or reach out to Turtle Talk to learn more about them and get a tour.
9. Tour Anna Maria Island in a Golf Cart or Trolley
The island is small enough that you can rent a golf cart to travel around on. One of the best places to rent a gold cart is AMI Adventure Rentals or Beach Bums.
There is also a free trolley that goes all over the island. Its one of the best things to do to get an overview of the island or just get around.
10. Visit Historic Bridge Street
We love to visit Bridge Street on Bradenton Beach for shopping and dining. There is a great souvenir store, as well as some specialty shops.
And there is excellent waterfront dining here as well! You can also enjoy the views from the pier.
11. The Fish Hole Mini-Golf
Located in Bradenton Beach, this unique mini-golf course looks like a beautiful botanical garden and is reminiscent of the “old Florida” style. There are plenty of misting stations and fans if you get hot.
Afterward, grab a meal or a coffee and do some souvenir shopping at one of the shops in this fun district. It is one of the best things to do with kids on Anna Maria Island.
12. The Real Beach Horses
Take a scenic trail ride on horses through the gorgeous Deer Prairie Creek Preserve. It is a unique way to see a variety of animals and nature on this fun thing to do with kids in Anna Maria ages 8 and up. But they offer much more than this. You can take air or water tours too at the Real Beach Horses.
13. Shop at the Coquina Beach Market
If you’re looking for unique gifts and souvenirs, then you want to visit the Coquina Beach Market. Here you’ll find local arts, crafts, jewelry, baked goods, fresh produce, photography, and much more.
14. Take a Dolphin or Manatee Watching Tour
Dolphins and manatees are local residents of Anna Maria's waters. In fact, it is not uncommon to see one or the other swim by while you are in the ocean or dining at one of the beachfront restaurants.
But, to guarantee you see some dolphins or manatees on your trip, a dolphin tour with Paradise Boat Tours and The Real Beach Horses is a great thing to do in Anna Maria Island with kids!
15. Go Snorkeling
Anna Maria's waters are crystal clear, making it perfect for observing the underwater world by snorkel. You can just go in the calm waters off the beach or book a tour.
There are several tour companies on Anna Maria Island that will take you out snorkeling in the pristine Florida waters. Nature Coast Excursions, AMI Escapes Boat Tours, Passage Key Dolphin Tours, and Egmont Key Adventures, are a few of the places that have snorkeling tours.
16. Fishing on the Anna Maria Island Piers
The piers are the perfect places to fish on the island all year round. Whether you visit the Anna Maria City Pier, the Rod and Reel Pier, or the Bridge Street Pier, there are several locations to fish on Anna Maria Island.
You can also fish at the quiet Bean Point on the Northern tip or from some of the other beach locations. Get fishing supplies on Cortez Beach at Annie’s Bait and Tackle or Boca Bait, located in Bradenton. If your kids love fishing, this is one of the fun things to do on Anna Maria Island.
Note that you may need a fishing license before fishing, so be sure to check the fishing license requirements.
17. Surf Camp for Kids
Every year the West Coast Surf Shop hosts a week-long youth surf camp in July. Veteran instructors teach the kids to surf. So any kid interested in learning to surf would love this camp!
Eternal Summer Surf Camp also has surf camp sessions throughout July and early August. These lessons take place in Holmes Beach on the beach at White Avenue – known for being one of the best beaches for surfing on Anna Maria Island.
18. Have Breakfast and Shop at Ginny & Jane E's Cafe and Store
One of our absolute favorite spots and things to do on Anna Maria Island with our kids every trip is to visit and have breakfast at this whimsical local favorite. Not only do they have delicious breakfasts. But it has a wonderful shop perfect for souvenirs kids will love.
It is decorated with fun, whimsy colors and retro decor, making it a special place to visit for the whole family! We go back several times each vacation.
19. Catch A Glorious Anna Maria Sunset
One of our favorite things to do on Anna Maria Island with our kids is to watch the sunset. While you can catch the sun setting from several of the beaches, the ones nearest to Bean Point have the best views of the sun going down over the horizon.
20. Seashell Hunting
Anna Maria Island has fantastic seashells for those who like to collect. My kids love to go seashell hunting during the day. You might even be one of the lucky ones to find a sand dollar!
There are many gorgeous seashells to find on Anna Maria Island and they make great keepsakes of your family vacation.
Where to Eat on Anna Maria Island with Kids
21. Visit and Dine At The Rod and Reel
The Rod and Reel is one of the best places to eat on the island. Enjoy some local favorites, traditional meals, and famous seafood specials while overlooking the ocean.
If you dine outside, you might even spot a dolphin swim by (we did!) The Rod and Reel Pier is also a great place to go fishing.
22. Get An Epic Meal At Poppo's Taqueria
While this restaurant is a quick service taqueria (think Chipotle), it offers one of the best meals on Anna Maria Island. When you get your taco fix at Poppo’s Taqueria, located on Pine Avenue, you will discover some of the freshest, most delicious tacos we have ever had.
Make your own tacos, burritos, and quesadilla with fillings and toppings made from local ingredients. It's one spot we go back to each year.
23. Enjoy The Views And Seafood At The Sandbar Restaurant
One of the best things to do in Anna Maria is to dine beachfront at The Sandbar Restaurant. Not only will you dine on delicious food made from local and sustainable ingredients with your toes in the white sand. But, you can do so while watching one of Anna Maria's gorgeous sunsets.
One note is that this restaurant does not take reservations so do get there early to get your name on the list. And be sure to try their incredible key lime pie!
24. Grab A Giant Cinnamon Roll At Ginny & Jane E's at the IGA
As I mentioned above, one of our favorite things to do on Anna Maria is to get breakfast – at least once, if not twice – at Ginny & Jane E's. But not just any breakfast. One that includes a homemade giant cinnamon roll!
It goes great with their fresh smoothies, delicious coffee, and it's fun to enjoy while taking in the whimsical decor.
25. Order In From Pizza Social
Order in pizza from Pizza Social and enjoy a game night or head to the beach afterward. This is our favorite local family pizzeria and the perfect place to get a slice of pie on vacation. You can either pick it up from their Pine Street shore or have it delivered to your vacation rental!
26. Dine At Anna Maria Oyster Bar
You guessed it; this family-friendly restaurant specializes in oysters and other local seafood fares. Though they have several locations, Anna Maria Oyster Bar on the Pier is in Bradenton Beach and is an idyllic waterfront restaurant. It is a great beachfront dining experience with wonderful seafood.
27. Enjoy A Meal Overlooking The Beach At Gulf Drive Cafe
Another one of our favorite spots on Anna Maria Island is grabbing a meal at the Gulf Drive Cafe in Bradenton Beach, a waterfront restaurant. Their large, delicious menu has a variety of traditional and seafood favorites, delicious desserts, and an onsite gelato bar! This is definitely one of our favorite places to eat with kids in Anna Maria Island.
28. Grab A Cone From Dips Ice Cream
Noted as the best ice cream on Anna Maria Island, this is a must-stop on your trip to get one of their delicious ice creams with a large variety of flavors. A stop for ice cream is a must-do on your visit to Anna Maria Island.
A few other ice cream shops to try:
- Joe's Eats and Sweets in Bradenton Beach
- Holy Cow Ice Cream in Holmes Beach
- Two Scoops Ice Cream in Anna Maria
- Anna Maria Island Creamery and Bakery in Anna Maria
Where to Stay on Anna Maria Island
My family and I have a couple of favorite places to stay when we go on an Anna Maria Island vacation. Our preference is in the city of Anna Maria as it is quieter than Holmes Beach or Bradenton Beach.
It is also more family vacation rentals than hotels or resorts, making it less crowded. We have rented a home for two weeks, two summers in a row, and it was a wonderful way to vacation. Often the homes are big enough for a multigenerational family vacation.
But here are some options for where to stay:
Airbnb or VRBO Home Rentals
If you can, rent a home on the island through VRBO or Airbnb. It’s so nice to have a house and pool (if you can find a house with one). Also, vacation rentals are becoming more popular because of COVID-19 and social distancing.
We also love that they have kitchens, so we can save money by making our own meals and bringing some of our own food. And, there is a Publix nearby where you can either shop or get Instacart delivery right to our vacation rental.
At the end of a long day, you can come back and jump in the pool after supper or just spend a day relaxing and reading by it. Or the kids can hang it playing with one of the road trip activities they brought along. It feels just like spending a relaxing Saturday at home, just in a much better location.
So, check out the Anna Maria Island rentals to find the perfect house for you and your family.
Hotels, Bed and Breakfasts, and Inns
There are a few hotels, resorts, bed and breakfasts, and inns on the island. Check out what might be available on Booking.com.
Getting to Anna Maria Island
Anna Maria Island is approximately 1 hour and 10 minutes south of Tampa via I-75 or I-275 S if you’re traveling by car on a family road trip. Just beware there might be a toll road depending on the route you take. If you are in the USA, flying into Tampa is the easiest airport and you can rent a car from there.
If you’re coming from out of the country, the most convenient place to fly into is the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, so visit that website for more information on international travel.
Getting Around The Island
You don’t need a car to get around the island but getting a car rental is easy. There are several places you can rent one, so it’s easy to get a beach rental. If you’re flying to Anna Maria Island, then you can rent a car at the Tampa or Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.
There is also a FREE Trolly that goes around the island with several bus stops. It makes it easy to get around and it's also a great way to check out the island for activities kids would love.
Golf Cart rentals are also very popular! Many people rent one from AMI Golf Cart Rentals, Gulf Coast Carts, Beach Bums Recreational Rentals & Gift Shop, and several other places.
Biking around the island is another mode of transportation.
Much of it is walkable to nearby shops and restaurants, as well. But it is hot in Florida, so this may not work in every situation.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Siesta Key better than Anna Maria Island?
In my opinion, no, not for families. While many people hear about Siesta Key and Sarasota, and Siesta Key Beach is rated the best beach in the United States, Anna Maria is (in my humble opinion) even better! And, it is also located on the Gulf Coast with the same crystal clear teal water.
Siesta Key has a lot to offer families, with a bit more of an active and vibrant vibe. It might be good if you have teenagers that need to keep busy.
Anna Maria Island on the other hand – while it can get busy – is generally less crowded. It shares the same gorgeous teal water as Siesta Key, but without all of the heavy hotel and resort traffic. It is ideal for a wonderful family vacation or a multigenerational family vacation.
Which is better Anna Maria Island or Longboat Key?
While they share the same coastline being about 15 minutes apart, Anna Maria Island is better for families with more to do than Longboat Key. Longboat Key is a bit quieter, so it may be better for couples and anyone wanting a quieter vacation.
Is Anna Maria Good For Families?
As you can tell from the post, I think it is great for families. And in fact, families are the majority of the visitors in the summer.
With great places to stay, plenty of things to do on and near Anna Maria Island with kids, gorgeous Gulf Coast beaches, and great restaurants, Anna Maria is good for families of all ages and sizes and a fantastic island vacation.
How far is Disney from Anna Maria Island?
If you are visiting Universal Studios and wanting to know how far Orlando is from Anna Maria Island, it is a bit further around 118 miles. Depending on the route, it could take you two and a half to three hours.
So, they aren't near Anna Maria Island to visit it on a day trip but you could extend your vacation to include this wonderful beach location.
When is the best time to visit Anna Maria Island?
Visiting Anna Maria Island is possible during all four seasons, as it has lovely weather all year.
It is Florida, so it is going to be hot in the summer months (but you can jump in the ocean!) From January through March and October, it is a bit cooler and quieter.
But we have gone in late June and July the last two years, and though it was hot, it was perfect beach weather.
Is Bradenton Beach Family Friendly?
Yes, it is. Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach is listed as one of the best beaches for families. It has changing cabanas, concessions, pavilions, grills, restrooms, water fountains, a gift shop, parking, and lifeguards on duty.
What are the best beaches on Anna Maria Island?
Some of the most popular beaches on Florida’s Anna Maria Island are Coquina, Holmes, Bradenton, Bean Point, and Manatee Public Beach.
Does Anna Maria Island have clear water?
Yes, Anna Maria Island has gorgeous beaches with clear water that has emerald green hues. It is so clear, it is like a swimming pool usually (unless the surf is churned up from a storm.) But you can literally see your toes.
Are there alligators on Anna Maria Island?
Yes, the amazing ecosystem here has crocodiles and alligators along with manatees, black bears, and other local wildlife. You don't typically see alligators on the beach, but you could see them in lakes or in one of the wildlife preserves.
Final Thoughts on Your Anna Maria Island Beach Vacation
Anna Maria Island is definitely the perfect place to bring your family for a vacation. We have gone there many years, and it is an idyllic beach experience with so many fun things to do with kids.
There are diverse activities that will appeal to any member of your family, excellent restaurants, and great family memories. It is one of our favorite family vacations to take with our kids.