By Amy Shepherd Nance
Here are 10 reasons why the Bradenton area is unbelievably romantic.
A little magic isn't difficult to come by in Florida's Gulf Islands of Anna Maria, Longboat Key, Bradenton and the Lakewood Ranch area. After all, its environs include the color-shifting Gulf and an island popping with brightly-hued beach cottages, parrots in the trees and restaurants inspired by mermaids. Here are 10 signs of romance that you won't want to miss. Let them point you to an unforgettable in-state getaway.
1. Cortez Fishing Village
Walk this historic fishing community set on Sarasota Bay and find yourselves returned to maritime Florida in the middle of the 19th century. The narrow streets lined with fishing cottages have sandy yards, and the air smells of salt. Meander down to Burton's store – a relic of the area's earliest years – or grab a fresh bite at the fish market and sandwich shop at Star Fish Company Market and Restaurant. The quiet, tidy streets here all lead to the water.
2. Manatee Players
A romantic night at the theater doesn't have to be stuffy or pricey. Catch a nostalgic musical like OKLAHOMA! at this local playhouse, which has been staging popular shows for more than 60 years and garnering national acclaim along the way. A brand new Manatee Performing Arts Center is in the works, but in the meantime, this downtown theater retains its sense of history and intimacy.
3. Rosa Fiorelli Winery
Try the Florida Muscadine White Dessert wine – called "Amore Wine" by the Sicilian family that runs this winery – and wander the vineyard that produced it. A Cheese and Cracker Tour gives you the rare treat of learning about how Florida grapes are cultivated and tasting the results. In the late summer, you can pick bronze and black Muscadine grapes fresh from the vine.
4. Sunset at Bean Point
At the northern end of Anna Maria lies this tucked away beach named for George Emerson Bean, the island's first year-round resident. Here the sand is soft and white, with gently sloping dunes and a dazzling view of Tampa Bay. Get here in the late afternoon and settle in for a picnic: the locals insist that Bean Point provides the best sunsets on the island.
5. Edible Art at Village of the Arts
Stroll this colorful district full of working artists and enjoy the bohemian spirit. Amid the camaraderie, you'll find yourselves drawn to Sweet and Savory Café, where each bite brings you closer to the belief that food is simple edible art.
6. Harrington House
The Harrington House Beachfront Bed and Breakfast is located on a tranquil bit of paradise known as Anna Maria Island. Tropical surroundings and serenity top the list. Savor a new breakfast selection every day from a collection of recipes prepared by their professional chef..
7. Gamble Plantation
The grounds of this plantation house are impressive: a real cane press. Walk the grounds where live oak are swaying with Spanish moss and consider the graceful impression this mansion makes from the outside. Try a guided tour after a quiet lunch at one of the picnic tables. There are no tours on Tuesdays or Wednesdays.
8. Sandbar Restaurant
There's a reason the Sandbar was named 'Best Wedding Ceremony and Reception Site' by The Knot magazine in its ‘Best of Weddings' issues since 2007. Have dinner on the sand at this beachfront restaurant – you'll still be able to hear the upbeat live music from the dining deck. Start with the Key West-style conch fritters and segue into fresh Florida grouper; you'll be sharing forkfuls of each other's meals in no time, pausing only to watch the boats passing by on the horizon – or the setting sun.
9. Captain Kim's Sunset Tour
Cruise on a slow-paced sunset tour with this cruise operator comprised of all-female captains. Or invent a cruise: Captain Kim's tailors its tours to suit your interests and will even pick you up at your own dock sometimes. Catering is available too, so couples can really sit back and take in the coastal flora and fauna.
10. Sign of the Mermaid
You can dine practically in the hearth of the stone fireplace at this intimate, family-run restaurant. With its charming name and cozy atmosphere, Sign of the Mermaid is an unabashedly romantic setting. This 1912 house has a tin roof, a creaky floor and is decorated with antiques. Tuck into the exceptional Florida Continental fare – black-edged grouper, duck, Florida lobster tail – but save room for pie. The chef, who also owns the restaurant, won best overall pie in 2007 and 2010 at the Great American Pie Festival.
For more information on planning your in-state getaway to Florida's Gulf Islands of Anna Maria, Longboat Key, Bradenton and the Lakewood Ranch area, call 941-729-9177 or visit www.floridasgulfislands.com.