Tour of Florida – Discover Bradenton Gulf Islands

Our recent attendance at the 2018 Florida Governor’s Conference on Tourism was inspiring, to say the very least. Based on the information we gathered at the event, we have selected a few highlighted locations to spotlight on a virtual “tour” of Florida. These articles will be released in a series – each featuring a different location. For more information on the destinations we’re featuring, please click here. For now, please enjoy this second feature segment – on Bradenton Gulf Islands or refer to the first feature – spotlighting Amelia Island. Please note – information contained in this feature is not based on firsthand experience, but from promotional materials put out by representatives of the featured location at the 2018 Governor’s Conference.


The Bradenton/Anna Maria Island/Longboat Key area is located on Florida’s west coast between St. Petersburg and Sarasota. It is bordered on the north by Tampa Bay, and to the west by the Gulf of Mexico. Recent rewards and accolades include: Top 10 Island Beaches for Perfect Sand, Conde Nast Traveler: Coquina Beach on Anna Maria Island; Ten Best Little Beach Town in Florida, Coastal Living:   Anna Maria Island; Best Beach for Families, Family Vacation Critic /Trip Advisor: Manatee County Beach; Top 30 Island in the World, Conde Nast Traveler: Anna Maria Island; Top 25 Happiest Cities in the US, National Geographic: Bradenton.

The Bradenton Area is one of the few destinations in the state to have successfully preserved the characteristics of authentic Florida while also seeing major growth. Area beaches are found on the idyllic barrier islands of Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key, where cozy beachfront cottages, intimate resorts and inns and smaller, low-rise condos dot the landscape. Quiet villages offer boutiques, fine dining, cafes and a range of island-perfect shops: from fly-fishing charters, to bike, kayak or Segway rentals.

Those venturing off island or staying on the mainland find an area rich in all that Florida was before the age of the amusement park and expansive resorts. Visitors enjoy quaint downtowns embracing the past while offering entertainment, dining, history, culture and more. Those seeking to embrace Florida at its most natural can enjoy fascinating tours of working wineries, dairy and produce farms, as well as citrus groves and processing.

Easy to get to, but off the beaten path, filled with “Old Florida” ambience and brimming with opportunities to experience Florida at its most real and authentic, the Bradenton Area is a part of the state worth discovering and exploring again and again.

Did You Know…  

  1. The Bradenton Area has its own airport: Sarasota Bradenton International Airport (SRQ) offering non-stop service on Delta, JetBlue, United, US Airways, Air Canada and Elite Airways. 

  2. Bradenton is the birthplace of Horse Surfing. 

  3. Gamble Plantation Historic State Park preserves the historic Gamble Mansion, the last standing antebellum plantation house in South Florida.   

  4. Cortez Historic Fishing Village is the oldest working fishing village in Florida.     

  5. You won’t find chain restaurants or sky-rise buildings on Anna Maria Island. In fact, all accommodations measure three stories or less.     

  6. Anna Maria Island boasts seven miles of uninterrupted beach.  

  7. Tropicana’s juice production facilities are located in Bradenton.  

  8. Bradenton’s LECOM Park (formerly McKechnie Field) has been the Spring Training home to the Pittsburgh Pirates since 1969.  

  9. IMG Academy in Bradenton houses the Gatorade Sports Science Institute.  

  10. Pine Avenue on Anna Maria Island is “The Greenest Little Mainstreet in America” and Florida’s first LEED Platinum and Net Zero Energy  Retail Park.  

  11. Village of the Arts in Bradenton is Florida’s largest live-work art community with over 30 businesses calling the Village home.  

  12. Cortez Fishing Village is home to The Folk School offering programs for guests to immerse themselves in the activities of our settlers and ancestors, including quilting, soap-making, woodcrafting, net mending, fish filleting and more.

Soft Adventures Hard to Beat 

While planning a family vacation can be a wild ride, when selecting a destination, parents and children alike are in search of the real adventures, during which lifelong memories are made. For those looking for the perfect family vacation, packed with thrills for all ages, the Bradenton Area is hard to beat. Top options include:  

■ Horse Surfing  ■ Flyboarding  ■ Treeumph! Adventure Course  ■ Andersen RacePark

Size Up Our Signature Events 

Year after year, the Bradenton Area comes together to bring unique events to the destination, providing its visitors with worldclass activities to enjoy (and return for) time and time again. Top one-of-a-kind events include the following. All can be found here.  

■ The Bradenton Area River Regatta  ■ Symphony on the Sand  ■ Long Table at the Station  ■ The Bradenton Blues Festival  ■ ArtSlam

Setting the Bar for Sustainability (and Agritourism)

As sustainable tourism grows in popularity, the Bradenton Area is setting the bar, thanks in part to sustainable operations like:  

■ Bunker Hill Vineyard and Winery  ■ Pine Avenue  ■ Dakin Dairy Farm  ■ Gamble Creek Farm  ■ O’Brien Family Farms  ■ Mixon’s Fruit Farms  ■ Hunsader Farms

All-Star Destination for Sports 

With perfectly manicured grounds and open-air stadiums, Florida is a perennial favorite for top athletes, teams and coaches year-round. But not all areas of the state are on an even playing field. The Bradenton Area is emerging as the all-star sports destination in the state thanks to:  

■ IMG Academy   ■ Premier Sports Campus  ■ LECOM Park (formerly McKechnie Field)  ■ Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex   ■ Nathan Benderson Park

Dining: We Do It Differently  

The Bradenton Area offers arguably the best opportunities to partake in two Old Florida culinary traditions – Dock and Dine and Hook and Cook. 

Dock and Dine: Visitors spending the day on the open water and looking for a place to dock their boats just steps from a restaurant serving the freshest, seasonal seafood around can dock and dine at restaurants also offering the best food and views in the state. They include:  

■ Riverhouse Reef and Grill   ■ Seafood Shack  ■ Mar Vista  ■ Star Fish Company   ■ Pier 22  ■ Anna Maria Oyster Bar 

Hook and Cook: Those who catch something delicious (the destination is known for its redfish, snook, and tarpon) can bring their catch to many of these restaurants to be prepared to their liking. Top stops include:  

■ Mar Vista  ■ Star Fish Company  ■ Pier 22  ■ Anna Maria Oyster Bar

Unexpected Historic Charm 

From the site where De Soto came ashore and began his conquest and exploration of America, to the last standing antebellum plantation house in South Florida, the Bradenton Area is the perfect spot for families in search of a unexpected historic destination.Top historic events, sites and activities include:  

■ Manatee Village Historical Park  ■ Palmetto Historical Park  ■ De Soto National Memorial  ■ The South Florida Museum  ■ The Gamble Plantation Historic State Park  ■ The Fishing Village of Cortez

Superior Shopping Sites 

Those who get nostalgic for the time when chain restaurants and department stores were not on every street corner should look no further than the Bradenton Area where, local shops, general stores, boutiques and cafés line the streets instead and offer one-of-a-kind items for purchase. Top stops to shop are:  

■ Pine Avenue  ■ Main Street at Lakewood Ranch  ■ Historic Bridge Street  ■ The Village of the Arts in Bradenton  ■ Downtown Bradenton and Old Manatee 

Craft Breweries are Bubbling Up 

As the craft beer scene across the globe continues brewing, the Bradenton Area is bubbling up as a top destination for those in search of a place to enjoy the local flavors – all thanks to:  

■ Motorworks Brewery  ■ Darwin Brewing Company  ■ The Naughty Monk  ■ Three Keys Brewing

Unbeatable Beaches 

Found on the area’s barrier islands on the Gulf of Mexico, area beaches offer 16 miles of sugar-white sand with convenient public access. And, six of the area beaches have earned the prestigious “Blue Wave Certification” from the Clean Beach Coalition:   

■ Anna Maria Beach  ■ Coquina Beach  ■ Cortez Beach  ■ Holmes Beach  ■ Manatee Beach  ■ Whitney Beach 

Eco-Tourism Soars  

Known for its pristine beaches, cultural activities, untouched nature preserves and on-going efforts to preserve its “Old Florida” charm, the Bradenton Area is a top destination for eco-tourism. Just a few of the many experiences follow:  

■ Robinson Nature Preserve  ■ Emerson Point Preserve  ■ The Fishing Village of Cortez  ■ Kayak Tours at Beach Bums

There’s More than the Shore 

Though the destination is known for its beaches, for years Downtown Bradenton has been developing into one of the finest small downtowns in the country, helping to set the Bradenton Area apart from other beach destinations in the state thanks to the following downtown stops:  

■ Old Main Street  ■ The Riverwalk  ■ The South Florida Museum  ■ The Village of the Arts in Bradenton  ■ Manatee Performance Art Center

The Bradenton Area boasts…

Six Blue Wave-certified beaches

Anna Maria Beach, Coquina Beach, Cortez Beach, Holmes Beach, Manatee Beach,  Whitney Beach

Two wineries within Manatee County

Bunker Hill Vineyard & Winery, Rosa Fiorelli Winery

Close proximity to other popular Florida destinations. By car, you are only…

One-hour from Tampa, one-hour-and-45 minutes from Orlando, 3-and-a-half hours to Miami

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