“A Magical Place”
By: Marie LeClaire
Originally, Anna Maria Island (which could be reached only by boat) served as a hunting and fishing island. George Emmerson Bean, the first resident of Anna Maria Island in 1892, must have envisioned greater potential for this lovely island surrounded by the beautiful waters of the Gulf of Mexico. I suppose he had a dream when he began to develop Anna Maria Island with the help of the Anna Maria Beach Company in the early 1900’s. Today, when one visits the seven mile island comprised of three cities (Bradenton Beach, Holmes Beach, and Anna Maria), he is swept back into a charming paradise that time has seem to have forgotten, and that is a good thing!
If you are looking for high rises, fast food restaurants, and neurotic tourists driving on the wrong side of the street, this may not be the island for you. There is everything from cozy cottages, luxurious suites, to million dollar villas. Cafes, ice cream parlors, unique island shops, and gourmet dining are plentiful. One can go biking, swimming, snorkeling, boating, parasailing, jet skiing, or just simply read, and relax. All kinds of activities can be found on Anna Maria Island. However, the people here just know how to take time and appreciate it. Maybe it’s the water, with its turquoise breathtaking beauty. There is something magical about the view that just makes you stand back and say, “Aw,” (even if you don’t say it aloud).
We recently stayed at Tortuga Beach Resort (1325 Gulf Drive, North Bradenton Beach). Not only is Tortuga Beach Resort easy to access, but it has something for everyone. There is a gorgeous private white sand beach complete with beach chairs, a boat dock (yes, you can bring your boat), beach towels available at the office, a French restaurant, Le Petit Café, which offers incredible take-out food that can be enjoyed at your villa or perhaps on a picnic at the beach, several barbeque grills, and three heated swimming pools.
Tortuga Inn offers several different accommodations. Tortuga Gardens are really luxury condos featuring a courtyard including a 15-foot waterfall; Bayfront Villas South and North, with incredible views of the Sarasota Bay and Intercostal Waterway, offer a semi-private spa and heated swimming pool; the Palm Court South and North apartments spotlight towering palms and two water gardens; and the Gulf View Studios, of course, offer views of the Gulf of Mexico. Several sizes of apartments are available in each location. Many have two bedrooms and two baths with a complete kitchen, some with one bedroom, bath and kitchen, and several studios. Just pick the amount of space you need. You will not be sorry wherever you choose to stay. All the rooms are immaculate, tropical, inviting and relaxing. The landscaping throughout the resort is a tropical paradise.
Oh, and did I mention that it is pet friendly. Yes, you can bring your best friend!! She will be glad you did.
When we weren’t cooking in our villa or getting delicious take-out from Le Petit Café, we had lunch at the Sandbar, 100 Spring Avenue, Anna Maria. The New England Clam Chowder is delicious, as well as, the Fish and Chips and Maryland Crabcakes. We also decided to have dinner one night at a little café on the beach. The view was so incredible that we didn’t even care what the food tasted like; however, Gulf Drive Café, 900 Gulf Drive North, Bradenton Beach, offers not only a wonderful view, but the food is scrumptious. And, they care about the turtles, so you get to eat dinner on the beach with only faint candlelight. Hard to see, but who cares….so romantic! Any room left? Joe’s Eats and Sweets Homemade Ice Cream and Fudge scoops up a quality rum raisin and quite a variety of flavors to please anyone in your group.
I must mention one more little treasure before closing… The Sun and Surf Beach Shop, 5418 Marina Drive, Bradenton. Before you even enter this cute beach shop, you will be welcomed with colorful parrots and birds. Many of these exotic birds can speak, whistle, sing, and some can even dance and ring a bell. We spent as much time outside the store as we did inside.
Mr. Beans dream became a reality, and I for one am glad it did! He knew back in the 1900’s how to live simply, taking your time, and appreciating the beauty around you. All you have to do is visit this charming little flip flop wearing island to be sold. It truly is a magical island! Don’t take my word for it, come see for yourself.