Bradenton Beach Scenic Highway: Easy as an Island Breeze

    By Dalia Colon

    Where: About a 20-minute drive northwest of Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport or a 1-hour drive southwest of Tampa International Airport.

    Length: 3.5 miles.

    How to get around: Take the free trolley.

    Best time to visit: November to July, to visit the Sunday Beach Market at Coquina Beach.

    Fun fact: If you visit in May, expect to smell gardenias, jasmine and other sweet-smelling flowers at peak bloom.

    For more info: Check out bradentongulfislands.com or visitbridgestreet.com.
     

    Bradenton Beach on Anna Maria Island offers wide swaths of sugary sand with an old Florida feel.

    Bradenton Beach on Anna Maria Island offers wide swaths of sugary sand with an old Florida feel.

    Lara Cerri for Visit Florida

    Bradenton Beach resident Paul Curtis takes his morning bicycle ride on one of the many bike trails on Anna Maria Island.

    Bradenton Beach resident Paul Curtis takes his morning bicycle ride on one of the many bike trails on Anna Maria Island.

    Lara Cerri for Visit Florida


    When you visit Bradenton Beach on laid-back Anna Maria Island, getting there is half the fun.

    “To get on the island, our bus system hooks up with Sarasota. So you can go the airport and come out here and not need a car,” said Tjet Martin, co-chair of Scenic Waves Partnership Committee. Once you’re on the island, cruise around on the free Anna Maria Island Trolley, which operates from 6 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
     

    Trolleys run along the Bradenton Beach Scenic Highway on Anna Maria Island.

    Trolleys run along the Bradenton Beach Scenic Highway on Anna Maria Island.

    Lara Cerri for Visit Florida

    John Ginaven, of Longboat Key, visits Leffis Key daily to look for wildlife, including herons and white pelicans.

    John Ginaven, of Longboat Key, visits Leffis Key daily to look for wildlife, including herons and white pelicans.

    Lara Cerri for Visit Florida


    Recharge your batteries on quiet Cortez Beach or have a barbecue on family-friendly Coquina Beach. Stroll over the mangroves along the Lefiss Key boardwalk, where you’ll be greeted by wild racoons and toads. Try parasailing or rent a jet ski on the north end of the island. Stop by Island Time Information Center for some ice cream and souvenirs.

    Next stop: Bridge Street.                

    “It’s got such a vibe going on right now,” Martin said.

    Once the first bridge from the mainland to the island in 1926, historic Bridge Street is now a bustling enclave of restaurants, shops, bars and public events. Enjoy everything from the slightly upscale Blue Marlin Grill to lobster rolls at Island Time Bar and Grill.

    “You’ll see people in there in gowns, and you’ll see people in there in cut-off shorts and flip-flops,” Martin said.

    As the sun dips over the horizon, head to the patio of Coquina Beach Cafe for a sunset glass of wine. Keep the party going with live music along Bridge Street, and forget about the time. While the free trolley runs until 10:30 p.m., you can contact the so-called “Monkey Bus” to pick you up anytime. For fare, the bus accepts pay-what-you-can tips. How easy is that?

    Said Martin: “It’s really great living here.”
     

    Photos by Lara Cerri for VISIT FLORIDA

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