Island Honors

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Many people are discovering the beauty and tranquility of Anna Maria Island off the Gulf Coast.

The little tyke on the Anna Maria City Pier was in for some serious fishin' as he cast his line in the shimmering waters. "I'm going to catch a fish," he declared. His dad beamed, giving him a thumbs up.

Welcome to blissful, beautiful Anna Maria Island, a family-friendly island community tucked away on the state's Southwest coast, just west of Bradenton. Locals have long held Anna Maria's sugar-white coastline, clear Gulf waters and quaint business districts as somewhat of a well-kept vacation secret – now the rest of the world is catching on.


Winning Over Visitors

In recent years, the secret has definitely come out about where to take the entire family to go to revel in gorgeous waters, wriggle your toes in sugary-soft sand and enjoy a just-caught grouper sandwich.

First, Life magazine named Anna Maria Island one of eight "Island Escapes." It shared the honor with Maui, Bermuda and Jeykll Island, Georgia, among others. Then TripAdvisor TravelCast ranked it number one of the Ten Hot U.S. Destinations for 2007 (sharing the list with Kailua, Hawaii and Vail and Breckenridge, Colorado).

Why the accolades? The 7-mile-long island and its beach towns (Anna Maria, Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach) are chock full of serene beaches where the entire family can kick back on soft white sand, scan the shoreline for shells, swim in the turquoise Gulf of Mexico waters and even catch some boogie-board action. It's a place to enjoy the beach the way it used to be – no high-rise condos, no big chains and a whole lot of charm.


Exploring the Island

You might want to rent bikes or scooters, or maybe take to the water for a sightseeing boat tour, kayak ride or a half- or full-day inshore or near-shore fishing adventure (Anna Maria Island Fishing Charters is a good one to try). To get a truly delightful view of the entire island, make sure you take a ride on the free trolley that runs up and down the island.

Or, just chill. Get comfy in a beach chair and watch the kids play on jungle gyms at Bayfront Park, while you get an incredible view of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

All that activity is sure to make you hungry, and lucky you: choose from cool, Old Florida-style spots to upscale restaurants and everything in-between. There are enough choices to satisfy everyone's appetite and wallet.

Ed Chiles, son of Florida's late governor Lawton Chiles, owns three favorites. The Gulf-front Intracoastal Waterway and enjoy a center-cut sirloin. Save room for the key lime pie.


Kicking Back, Beach-Style

You'll need a spot to hang your bathing suit and stash all the kids' beach gear. Anna Maria Island has everything from bed and breakfasts to motels to condos to beachfront resorts, and if your "doorstep" isn't right on these highly lauded beaches, it sure is close!

Nestle yourself in at the charming and casual Tortuga Inn Beach Resort, where you'll find serene and lovely apartment suites, hotel rooms and studios set amongst lush foliage and tropical flowers. Two shimmering pools and a fishing pier on the Intracoastal and a private beach entrance – and do we have to leave?

Only if it means we can scoot down the road to the Tradewinds Resort, a true gem of a spot where pastel-colored cottages with flowering vines on the arbors line a private, palm-tree-filled oasis. Tranquility reigns supreme here – as it does all over the island – so once you arrive, go ahead and adjust your watch to laid-back island time.

For more information on planning your in-state getaway to Florida's Gulf Islands of Anna Maria Island, Longboat Key and the mainland areas of Bradenton and Lakewood Ranch, contact the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau at 941-729-9177 or visit www.floridasgulfislands.com .

Sponsored listings by VISIT FLORIDA Partners

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