By Kelly Stilwell

For many years, my husband and I would visit his aunt and uncle in Siesta Key. Each time we would get on the plane to go back to Maryland, we would strategize our next Florida vacation. Finally, six years ago we decided to make the dream of moving here a reality, and we've never looked back.

#LOVEFL written on the Anna Maria Island shore sands

Anna Maria Island is sure to make you feel like this.

- Kelly Stillwell for VISIT FLORIDA

A tourism guide magazine

- Kelly Stillwell

Living 30 minutes from one of the most beautiful beaches in the world is pretty sweet, though it does create a problem when we're planning vacations. Where do you go when you live next to paradise?

We still travel because we love experiencing different cuisines and cultures, but it's hard to find a beach as beautiful as Anna Maria Island. Not only is it gorgeous, with powdery white sand, but because it's on the Gulf of Mexico, the water is warm most of the year, and there are usually just enough waves for the kids to have fun boogie boarding. Another plus? The sand is rarely hot because it's actually fine quartz crystals.

Another wonderful feature of Anna Maria Island is that there are no high rise hotels. Not even a fast food restaurant! A visit to Anna Maria Island is a true getaway.

Because I want you to have a perfect day on the Anna Maria Island beach, I thought I’d give you some ideas of what to expect and what to take with you. I hope this short list will make your visit to the beach even more enjoyable.

5 Steps to a Perfect Beach Day on Anna Maria Island beach

Timing - You must see the sunset on Anna Maria Island beach! If you go to the beach too early, especially with kids, you may not last until sunset. We like to go later in the day, around 2 or 3 p.m. That way we have the afternoon on the beach and can stay for sunset. If you;re visiting during season (roughly Thanksgiving through Easter), you may hit a little traffic when crossing the bridge onto the island, so take that in to account. Also, check the weather. This may seem silly, but it’s a good idea to make sure you aren’t hitting the beach at the same time we’re getting that afternoon summer thunderstorm. The rain rarely lasts more than 30 minutes, though, and it cools things down a bit -- making for a beautiful afternoon.

Location – There’s a public beach on AMI, but if you're visiting in season you may have a problem finding a parking spot. The public beach has a large lot, but nearly everyone parks there so we drive down Gulf Drive to the Sandbar at 100 Spring Avenue. There are a couple of small parking lots just across the street. My husband drops us off right at the beach with our gear and heads off to park the car. It usually takes him no more than five minutes to park and meet us on the beach. We sit down by the water directly in front of the Sandbar.

The Sandbar Restaurant on Anna Maria Island, in the evening

Sandbar Restaurant on Anna Maria Island

- Sandbar

Packing - You have to pack correctly for a trip to the beach, especially if you have kids. Please remember sunscreen. We always have an SPF 50 and a separate one for faces. You will want to take a couple of chairs, at least for adults, unless you prefer a blanket in the sand. Hats are a good idea, as is an umbrella. If you're visiting from out of town, you can search for beach rentals on AMI, and you'll find a few places that have chair rentals, as well as umbrellas, boogie boards, bikes, and even beach wheelchairs. Prices are reasonable, too. You can also book a kayaking tour or rent paddle boards if you're more adventurous. Don't forget to pack a small cooler of water. It's important to stay hydrated. Bring a book or magazine to read when you tire of looking at the waves, which may not happen, by the way.

The Sandbar, A toes-in-the-sand restaurant on Anna Maria Island

The Sandbar is a toes-in-the-sand restaurant on Anna Maria Island.

- Kelly Stillwell for VISIT FLORIDA

Food - We usually take a snack or pack a lunch. Publix Supermarket is right on East Bay Drive in Holmes Beach, and they have everything you could need, including prepared food, towels, sand toys for the kids, and reading material. On occasion we will have lunch or dinner at the Sandbar. It's one of our favorite restaurants and you can eat outside with your toes in the sand. The coconut shrimp salad is heavenly. You will want to walk up to the hostess and put your name in about an hour before you want to eat if they're busy. They will give you a buzzer that will let you know when your table is ready, so you can go back to your chair and book and relax. If you feel like doing a little shopping, you'll find a nice store inside for a souvenir sweatshirt or hat. They have a huge collection of nice beach clothing, too.

The white sands at the Anna Maria Island

- Kelly Stillwell for VISIT FLORIDA

A sunset over the Anna Maria Island waters

Sunsets on Anna Maria Island are a must-do.

- Kelly Stillwell for VISIT FLORIDA

Take a walk - As I mentioned, the sand is soft on AMI, so get out there and enjoy it!

A sunset by the Anna Maria Pier

Anna Maria Pier Sunset

- C W


Depending on the time of year you visit, you may see:

  • Manatees, right from the shore!
  • Pods of dolphins. Always exciting.
  • Turtle Nests. From May through October, you may see areas roped off protecting turtle nests. Five different species of turtle visit AMI, including the Loggerhead. If you happen to be visiting on a Tuesday in June or July, you can attend the Turtle Talk, which meets at Crosspoint Fellowship Church, at 8605 Gulf Drive in Holmes Beach. It's a free 30-minute program to educate visitors on turtle nesting. They give out free activity books and turtle tattoos to the kids, too. Check out their page for more info. We actually watched a turtle release when we first moved to Florida and it was amazing!
  • Nesting birds. Roped-off areas for nesting Black Skimmers, Least Terns and Sanderlings.
  • Bald Eagles, Osprey, Pelicans, and Seagulls.
  • Sand Dollars are in the Gulf. It's fun to dive for them, but please leave them there! They are a type of flattened sea urchin and will die if out of the water for more than a minute or so.

If you don't see a thing but sand, shells, and clear turquoise water, it still makes for a great day on Anna Maria Island. Ready to start packing?

Photos by Kelly Stilwell