Anna Maria Island – Beaches & Charm Galore

beach 46Anna Maria Beach Island Communities

Anna Maria Island’s charm lies in its congenial air of unhurried tropical living. The three small cities on the Island have their own character — Anna Maria City is at the northern end of the island. Narrow winding streets are framed with lush tropical growth. Anglers of all ages fish from rustic, yet sturdy Rod and Reel or the Anna Maria City Pier. Magnificent white sand beaches overlook the enchanting Gulf of Mexico. Jet skis skim over the waves while sailboats drift along the coast. Families picnic on bay or Gulf-front parks. Sea oats sway gently in the soft Gulf breeze. Bicyclists pedal around the Island, passing a mixture of contemporary and historic buildings.

The island’s three cities (Anna Maria at the northern end, Holmes Beach in the middle and Bradenton Beach at the southern end) are easily accessed by three draw bridges — one for Longboat key to the south and two from the mainland which lie off the Island’s eastern shore across from Sarasota Bay and the Intracoastal Waterway.

Although known as a private island paradise, Longboat Key is only minutes from  Anna Maria, a half hour away the City of Sarasota offers a variety of cultural activities which includes Van Wezel Performing Arts Center, Asolo Theater, Ringling Museum, Sarasota Ballet, Opera the Florida Studio Theater and much more. Longboat Key offers a world class shopping experience at the renowned shops of St. Armands Circle, just a bridge away.

Anna Maria Island History

For thousands of years native Americans have been casting their nets and fishing from the sands of Anna Maria island, in particular, the Timucan and Caloosan Indian tribes. Up until 40 years ago the Bay was so full of giant sunray clams, you could pick them up by the bucket, shell middens on the Island are evidence that this was an important food source for the early tribes.  The area was claimed by Hernando de Soto for the Spanish crown in May 1539, but the Island itself wasn’t settled by Europeans until the arrival of the Bean family in in the late 1800’s.

While George Bean is generally considered the first modern settler (1893), Anna Maria Island was first developed by Charles M. Roser, whose Kennedy Biscuit Company became Nabisco. Roser (some here call him the Fig Newton King), is remembered on Anna Maria by the Roser Memorial Church, built in honor of his mother (the chapel is open to visitors weekdays). Roser’s old Community Center, brought to the island by barge in 1912 to be used as a pavilion when the town was founded, still houses community events as well as the local theater company, The Island Players.

Over the years, many have vacationed on Anna Maria, including James Agee, the novelist, and Walter Lippman, the famed journalist. It’s not a stretch to call Anna Maria a real, live Fantasy Island. No less than Ricardo Montalban, Mr. Roark filmed On an Island With You at the old Holmes Beach Airport.