Bradenton’s Native American Heritage
The Fairytale Traveler
I live in Bradenton, and have spent countless hours barefoot on its sandy shores, hiking through its mangroves and exploring its history. It’s one of Florida's most popular destinations for its turquoise coast and laid-back vibe.
It’s also rich with the history and culture of the Calusa, the Native Americans who preceded us, even if their footprints are a bit blurry. There are few written remnants of tribal culture, and what we have primarily are tools, jewelry and a few archaeological sites.
But here are some facts about the native Calusa that Ranger Daniel Stephens at De Soto Memorial National Park shared with me:
- They died out in the late 1700's/early 1800's from tribal conflicts and European diseases
- They are known as the "shell Indians" and did not make pottery but used shells for tools, jewelry and mounds -- even building entire cities on shell middens
- They were sailors and traveled by dugout canoes along the many waterways in southwest Florida. In Bradenton they sailed the Manatee River
- They were fierce fighters and responsible for the deaths of Ponce de Leon and Christopher Columbus
Here are some places to further explore Calusa culture in and around Bradenton:
I love visiting the De Soto National Memorial. It's pet-friendly, breezy and has winding sandy trails for you to explore the shores of the Manatee River. It's the site of an ancient Calusa village and would have been the scene of a large society of natives who spent their days going from this shore to the Portavant Temple at Emerson Point Park in their intricate canoes.
This is a free park open to the public. It has a living history exhibit, which goes from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. (4 p.m. on busier days). The park itself is open 7 days a week from 9 a.m.-5.p.m.
For more information on booking a kayaking tour, and other things to do, check out their outdoor activities.
Tip: If you ask a ranger you can get a guided tour and they will point out the archaeological sites to you.
A key point on the trail of Native America in Bradenton, Emerson Point is a stunning and serene blast into Florida's native landscape. With a front seat along the brackish waters of the Manatee River and the Gulf of Mexico, from its tower on a clear day you can see the massive Skyway Bridge, which connects this region to south St. Petersburg. Its winding boardwalk trail will lead you through sweeping moss and palm trails along inlets where you will get a front seat to the wild side of Florida nature.
The South Florida Museum
Located just a few minutes from De Soto National Memorial, the South Florida Museum is home to a large collection of Native Florida Indian artifacts including shells, pottery, jewelry and depictions of their early life. The museum is also home to the local celebrity manatee, known as "Snooty." You'll also find early marine and mammal fossils and archaeological material on archaic and pre-contact cultures.
There's a planetarium and an aquarium as well, so plan to spend at least 2-3 hours here.
Additional Points of Interest
These are both very much worth the drive. Plan to spend an entire day to do both, half a day for one. Bring water and good shoes.
- Historic Spanish Point - about 30 minutes south into South Sarasota
- Indian Mound Park - about 45 minutes south into Englewood
Things to Know About Visiting Bradenton
- It gets very busy from December through May because it’s a second home to our part-time residents and seasonal tourists from points north
- The weather is almost always warm with a couple of "cold snaps" here and there over winter (and by winter I mean from January to the end of March)
- Summer is hot but it's easy to stay cool when you're by the beach or the Manatee River. Just remember sunblock, bug spray, sunglasses and light colored clothes
- There are lots of budget-friendly things to do in the area to add to your adventure
Where to Stay
I highly recommend you stay somewhere off the beach to save on spending; most beach places are weekly rentals.
I can also highly recommend you stay at Palmetto Riverside Bed & Breakfast. It is an absolutely pristine historic place to stay right in the middle of everything and just 15 minutes from Anna Maria Island. It's located on the Manatee River with a front seat to where Native Americans would have sailed in their canoes hundreds of years ago. It's also located across from the Regatta Pointe Marina, where at The River House Reef & Grill you can enjoy dinner, brunch or just drinks on the water. Catch a Florida sunset or take a sunset sail; it's truly amazing.