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Holidays in Bradenton & Gulf Islands: Florida, but not as you know it

Some of you probably haven't heard of Bradenton. That’s okay, we hadn’t either. We’ve since learned, however, that this region on the Gulf of Mexico is a real insider tip in Florida! Located just 40 minutes south of Tampa, the old charm of Florida has not yet given way here, as in many other places. The result is an authentic experience full of outdoor activities, beautiful beaches and unique nature reserves. Plus, Bradenton has a 94% return rate for travellers, which means once you’re in the know, you’ll want to come back! 

Explore the Bradenton Area with us, which also includes Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key. We've got all the information in this handy guide, including how to get there, what to do and how to save! Read on, pirates.

How to get to Bradenton

There are direct daily flights from the UK to Tampa International Airport with Virgin and British Airways. From there, you can easily reach Bradenton by car, taxi or public transport. The journey takes about 50 minutes by car from Tampa.

Orlando is a 2-hour drive away, so if you've hired a car, Bradenton makes for a great twin-centre destination.

Pirate tip 🏴‍☠️: While it might seem easier to fly directly to Tampa, we suggest you search for indirect flights into Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport with Delta Air Lines. More often than not, you’ll be able to find a much cheaper flight, plus it’s much closer to Bradenton, which means you could be on the beach in 30-minutes after landing.

Don’t forget! A visa or ESTA is required to enter the USA. Remember to submit the ESTA application on time. This should be done at least 72 hours before departure.

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When to go

Thanks to its tropical climate, temperatures average between 18 C to 30 C year round. The best time to visit weather wise is between May and December. If you're looking to snag a bargain, we suggest visiting sometime between August and December.

Getting around

Renting a car is not necessary for exploring Bradenton. Although it may be helpful if you plan to visit other cities, it is not required to enjoy what the area has to offer.

To reach Anna Maria Island, take the ferry from downtown. Once there, you can explore on foot, by bike or hop on the free public trolley bus. This is an accessible and convenient way to explore the island.

Pirate tip 🏴‍☠️: Families who want to combine a beach holiday with a visit to a theme park will benefit from renting a car. Legoland and Busch Gardens theme parks are both easily accessible by car from Bradenton and Anna Maria Island.

Must-visit places in the Bradenton Area

Combining history and natural beauty, the Bradenton region has plenty to offer visitors. To ensure you don't miss anything, we've outlined our top recommendations for places to visit in the area.

Downtown Bradenton

Downtown offers a chance to experience old Florida and explore cultural sights and attractions. We particularly like the laid-back atmosphere of Downtown. You'll be able to enjoy the area without all the crowds (which is especially nice if you've just come from Orlando or Tampa).

Take a stroll on the Riverwalk, which follows the Manatee River. While it's only 1.5 miles long, there are loads of attractions along the way, including a 400-seat amphitheatre that hosts concerts, a skate park, beach volleyball courts, and a fishing pier.

Pirate tip 🏴‍☠️: The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature should not be missed on any family holiday, because there you can see manatees up close. Injured manatees are cared for there and released back into the wild as soon as they are healthy.

The historic fishing village of Cortez

Cortez is not just any fishing village, it is the oldest fishing village in Florida. A feast of fresh fish and seafood should definitely be on your to-do list. We recommend the Star Fish Company, a seafood market and restaurant. After your meal, peruse the Sea Hagg, a quirky shop that has mermaid- and nautical-themed merchandise.

Bradenton’s Village of the Arts

Spend the day exploring this eclectic community of historic 1920s cottages in rainbow colours, housing everything from award-winning restaurants to art galleries and craft shops. Whether you’re searching for the perfect coffee, a healing yoga session or vintage vinyl, you’ll find it here.

Longboat Key

Longboat Key is best known for luxury resorts, fine dining and golf. So if you are looking for something a little more upmarket, this is the place to be. But even here you will find picture-postcard beaches, so getting up for a game of golf may be difficult.

The island offers uninterrupted views of the Gulf of Mexico and has 12 public beach access points, which also includes Whitney Beach, known for receiving the Blue Wave Certification from the Clean Beaches Coalition.

Anna Maria Island

Anna Maria Island is a seven-mile-long island renowned for its stunning beaches. Travel + Leisure recently named it one of the best places to visit in 2024. The island comprises three cities: Anna Maria, Holmes Beach, and Bradenton Beach, all of which feature beaches with sugar white sand.

You can easily reach the island from Bradenton and is a great shout for a low-key day trip for couples or families. Once there, getting around is also easy with the free island trolley. It runs daily and connects all the beaches and main attractions on the island.

Take a stroll down Pine Avenue. It starts on the beach, where you might even spot dolphins and stingrays, and takes you past great shops and restaurants. Finish your walk at Anna Maria Pier. There is always a buzz of activity and fresh fish being brought ashore.

Where to stay


If you'd like to be at the centre of arts, culture, and sports then we suggest looking for accommodation in downtown Bradenton. There are a good selection of hotels, motels and holiday apartments that will fit any budget. Our top choices for mid-range hotels are the Compass by Margaritaville - located on the Anna Maria Sound, Springhill Suites and Hampton Inn & Suites Bradenton Downtown Historic District.

For self-catering options on the mainland, we suggest Shorewalk Vacation Villas.

Longboat Key

This island is a bit more built up with luxury resorts, fine dining, and golf courses. If you're seeking a more upscale experience, then a hotel on Longboat key will be a good choice. We highly suggest the 4-star Zota Beach Resort if you're looking to holiday in style. The highly-rated hotel ranges from $250-$350 per night.

Of course, there are also some budget-friendly options to choose from as well, including the Little Gull Cottages or the Sandpiper Inn. Groups and families will be able to find fair prices at the Sand Cay Beach Resort.

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Anna Maria Island

You won't find large hotels here, as the maximum building height is limited by law to just over 20 metres. Instead, stay in one of the colourful beach houses or a boutique hotel.

There are plenty of budget-friendly options. Mello Hotel is a great budget-friendly option for couples and younger travellers, while the Silver Surf Beach Resort is a great shout for those looking for an affordable but comfortable stay. You'll be a stone's throw away from a private beach. Plus, all rates come with complimentary continental breakfast.

Other accommodation options on the island include: Waterline Resort, Bali Hai Beach Resort and Anna Maria Island Inn.

Pirate tip 🏴‍☠️: Bradenton and Anna Maria Island are ideal destinations for large groups. You can choose from a variety of rental homes that are equipped to cater to the needs of families or large groups. We recommend booking Harbor Lane Court, a complex that includes four vacation rentals that can accommodate larger groups; Beach Side Paradise, which is located in Holmes Beach and sleeps up to six; this luxury villa that sleeps up to 8; and Tropical Hideaway, a holiday home in Bradenton Beach that sleeps up to 18 people.

The top 5 most-beautiful beaches in Bradenton

  1. Manatee Beach - This seven-acre beach on Anna Maria Island is perfect for families. It not only offers free changing rooms, showers and toilets, but also a playground and volleyball court, as well as picnic tables and barbecue facilities. Everything you could want for the perfect beach day!

  2. Coquina Beach - Coquina Beach is the largest beach on Anna Maria Island and, for many, the most beautiful. It's perfect for collecting shells and even surfing.

  3. Cortez Beach - In the south of Anna Maria Island lies the water sports stronghold of Cortez Beach. Here you can kite, windsurf and skimboard to your heart's content. The beach is just a short walk from Bridge Street.

  4. Bean Point - If you're looking for a little more privacy and peace and quiet, then Bean Point is the place for you. Even the locals still describe the white sandy beach as the most natural place on Anna Maria Island.

  5. Whitney Beach - Whitney Beach is also still considered a real insider tip. You can find this snow-white sandy beach in the north of Longboat Key directly between private beaches. Since the beach is still very natural, it's best to bring everything you need for a day at the beach with you.

The top things to do in Bradenton

Bradenton is known for its stress-free vibe, and as such, this Florida Gulf Coast destination offers plenty of outdoor activities for families and couples alike.

Watch dolphins and other sea creatures

Even those who are less keen on sports can experience a lot in and around the water. Observe the many marine animals such as dolphins, stingrays and sea turtles. It is a very special experience, especially for children, to be able to see the animals in the wild.

Explore the Robinson Preserve

A very special highlight is the Robinson Preserve. You definitely shouldn't miss this 12,000 hectare nature reserve full of hiking and cycling trails. Here you have the opportunity to get to know Florida's original nature and get active again after long days at the beach. Kayaking and canoeing are also offered here.

Stroll through Palma Sola Botanical Garden

The botanical garden features a collection of rare plants, including palms (hence the name). Admission is free, so you might as well check it out. The garden is open daily, 8 am to sunset.

Travel back in time at the Manatee Village Historical Park

This open-air museum will take you back in time. It features 13 historical buildings dating from the 1840s and 1920s that you can explore to see how people lived in the past. Admission is free, and it is open Monday to Friday, as well as the 2nd and 4th Saturdays of the month from 9 am to 4 pm.

Spend the day on the water

Bradenton Gulf Islands offer a variety of water activities, including kayaking, stand-up paddling, diving, jet skiing, and parasailing. For a unique experience, try swimming with horses. You can ride bareback along Palma Sola Bay and 'surf' on the back of the horses. While in the bay, you might even spot dolphins and manatees.

Relax on one of the many beaches or don't do anything at all!

Bradenton heavily stresses the laid-back life. There are plenty of activities to keep you busy, but there's no pressure to do anything at all. If you want to spend your entire holiday at the beach, you can!

This laid-back paradise allows you to relax and adventure at your own pace.

Discover more fun things to do in Bradenton


Where to eat in the Bradenton Area

It should come as no surprise that you can find fresh fish and seafood in the Bradenton Area. However, you might be surprised at just how fresh you can enjoy it. The local dining scene has something for everyone, whether you want to relax with your feet in the sand at one of the many beach restaurants, or prefer something a little more action-packed.

Dock & Dine lets you dock your boat just metres from a restaurant, while Hook & Cook even lets you bring your own fish to the restaurant and have it cooked by the chef. It doesn't get much fresher than that!

Here are our top picks for places to eat in Bradenton...

Beach House: This restaurant was voted #1 waterfront dining and the best place to watch a sunset.

The Sandbar: Located on Anna Maria Island, stop by for lunch or dinner for locally sourced food. A special treat is that you can dine with your toes in the sand.

Downtown Bradenton Public Market: Where fresh produce meets art and music. Held weekly on Old Main Street.

Tide Tables: Fresh season in a laid back atmosphere with old Florida flair.

Pizza Social: Expect handmade pizza, fresh salads and craft beer on tap in a laid-back atmosphere.

Anna Maria Oyster Bar: Located on the Historic Bridge Street Pier, Anna Maria Oyster Bar

Turner Donut Shop: This budget-friendly spot serves fresh donuts and coffee. It's an easy breakfast option for under $10.

Two Scoops Ice Cream: A cute shop selling homemade ice cream, coffee and other snacks on Anna Maria Island.

Motorworks Brewery: Located downtown, this is a great place to grab a cold one in Florida's largest beer garden.

Daiquiri Deck: This colourful drinking spot serves up fun and fruity daiquiris in a variety of flavours. Watch the sunset from the rooftop bar. What's not to love?

Harry’s Grill: Burgers, local craft beer and live music is on the menu here.

Blue Marlin: Enjoy the boat to table menu with a local fresh fish selection bought in daily from the Cortez fishing fleet.

Pirate tip 🏴‍☠️: For a budget lunch, head to the fish markets in Cortez. We recommend Star Fish Company and Cortez Bait and Seafood for fresh seafood without the hefty price tag.

Sustainability and responsible tourism in Bradenton

Bradenton is committed to sustainability and responsible tourism. The local community promotes sustainable practices through green initiatives and conservation efforts to protect the island's natural resources.

Visitors are encouraged to experience the region like a local and participate in the popular Love it Like a Local scheme which provides tips on keeping beaches and waterways clean, conserving energy, protecting wildlife, and supporting local businesses. Visitors are also encouraged to be responsible and mindful during their stay by embracing Leave No Trace's principles.

On Anna Maria Island, you'll be able to support local and family-run businesses while shopping, dining, and staying. The absence of chain restaurants and overly developed areas on the island creates a relaxing atmosphere.