Gulf Drive, Anna Maria, FL 34216
More in this neighborhood: Manatee beaches
The island just south of Tampa Bay is split into three quaint towns. Bradenton Beach is home to condos, resorts and waterfront rentals. Holmes Beach, a collection of small-beach houses and hotels, sits in the middle. It's most familiar spot is Manatee County Beach, which is the first thing most visitors see when they cross the bridge to the island. At the northern tip lies the city of Anna Maria. With its killer view of the Skyway Bridge, and cute little shops and restaurants, Anna Maria is the island's best kept secret.
The 7-mile shoreline feels and looks like what we imagine a beach would look like if you spread vanilla pudding all over the place: The sand is awash in a creamy, pale color, cool to the touch even on a sweaty August day and soft between your toes. Unlike most Pinellas beaches, Anna Maria has some Australian pines to provide a smidgeon of shade here and there.
Local spots of interest include the Rod and Reel Pier, with a locals bar on one level and a casual restaurant above it; the Sandbar, mere steps for the water, where if you correctly predict the time the sun will slip into the horizon, you'll earn your table a free bottle of champagne; and the Beach Bistro, one of the area's best restaurants. And no visit to the island is complete without a visit to the iconic city pier, which celebrated its 100th birthday in May 2011.
Some things to consider: The trip from Tampa Bay can be an hour or more in heavy traffic (but the end result is worth it); parking is plentiful in public beach areas, but be mindful of residential areas where you could get towed; and there are no lifeguards or public restrooms or showers.
Read what the Bradenton Herald wrote about its beloved fishing pier.