Old Classic Florida

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Feb. 21, 2014 3:53 p.m.

Where to Find Old, Classic Florida

In Boca Grande, Apalachicola, Sanibel and Anna Maria, you can find beach bungalows, vintage hotels, fresh seafood and local character

THE SPARE KEY | Anna Maria

WISH YOU WERE THERE | A view of the beach on Anna Maria Island on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Jason Myers for The Wall Street Journal

This town on a slim barrier island about an hour south of Tampa has no grand-dame hotel, no sprawling wildlife preserve, no historic waterfront. And that’s part of what makes it appealing. Anna Maria is nice but not glitzy, quiet yet not desolate, with just enough quirk to keep things interesting.

Anna Maria occupies the northern cap of the island that bears the same name, and is dominated by palm trees and low, pastel beach cottages. Renting one of these charmers is the way to go, lodging-wise—for a couple of hundred dollars a night, you can have two or three bedrooms, stainless-steel appliances, a pool and the foliage-fringed beach a five-minute walk away.

The implausibly named Ginny’s and Jane E’s Bakery Café and Island Coastal Store is a local institution, a former IGA grocery store that now houses a maze of mismatched tables, books and beach “collectibles.” An egg sandwich is the sensible choice at breakfast; to indulge, opt for a freshly baked cinnamon roll blanketed with glaze. Anna Maria’s commercial stretch, dotted with upscale mom-and-pop shops, is a couple of blocks away. The Island Cabana stocks Lilly Pulitzer clothing, colorful accessories and housewares. The Olive Oil Outpost sources oils from around the world; you can fill your own bottles from their stainless-steel tanks. For more DIY action, head down the street to Anna Maria Donuts, where customers pick the icing and topping for their made-on-the-spot treats. Tiny Hometown Desserts makes Key lime pie in regular and gluten-free versions.

There are a few options for waterfront dining in Anna Maria. Rod & Reel Pier, at the end of a weather-worn dock near the very tip of the island, recently reopened after being damaged in a September fire. It’s once again serving up generous helpings of fried oysters, grouper and shrimp. On the island’s other flank, the Sandbar has seating right on the sand, and a nightly tradition: The table that correctly guesses the exact time of the sunset wins a bottle of Champagne.

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