Anna Maria Island Beaches

couple beach 3Beachin’ It!

Sunscreen? Check. Towel? Check. Beach chair? Check. You’ve gathered up all the necessary beach accessories, but where are you actually going to “beach it?” There are miles of white, powdery Anna Maria Island beaches to choose from, but which best suits your needs? There are many things to consider, like which beaches have bathrooms? At which beach are you most likely to spot a manatee? And where — oh where — are you going to find a parking space? We’ve put together a beach guide that will help you find the perfect spot, so you will get the most out of your visit to Anna Maria Island’s beaches.

Coquina Beach

At the southernmost tip of Coquina, you’ll see a beautiful view of Longboat Pass and Beer Can Island – a gorgeous spot where the water is a crystal-clear turquoise color. The rugged outline of the island, seen across the pass, serves as an interesting beach backdrop — with scraggy outlines of old, Australian Pine trees (fallen from previous storms) atop pristine white sand. Consisting of one mile of beachfront real estate, this park provides plenty of space to spread out.

  • Location: 1800 Gulf Drive South, Bradenton Beach. Located at the southern tip of Anna Maria Island, just before the bridge to Longboat Key.
  • Target Audience: Perfect spot for big groups and families. With lots of picnic areas and facilities, this makes it ideal for family reunions, birthday celebrations and playgroups.
  • Parking/Transportation: Plenty of free parking! But if you don’t have a car, you can take the island’s free trolley that stops here every 20 minutes.
  • Eats: Coquina Cafe that provides the usual seaside snacks like cold sodas, ice cream and hot dogs! The park also offers loads of picnic tables that are shaded by the large Australian Pine trees, so this is the perfect place to pack a picnic and dig in!
  • Restrooms: Yes, several bathroom facilities including showers.
  • Lifeguards: Yes
  • Playground: Yes. Perched right in front of the ocean on the white sand, this is one of the most picturesque play areas you’ll find. Unfortunately, the play ground is not at all shaded, so make sure to slather plenty of sunscreen on the kiddos.
  • Other Amenities: Free beach volleyball court (BYO ball).
  • Privacy: It can be crowded, especially on weekends and holidays (when there are usually lots of celebrations taking place here), however the park is expansive, so there is ample room for everyone.
  • Best asset: Make sure to visit Coquina Bay Walk at Leffis Key, a nature walk that’s located just across the street on the bay side. It contains 30 acres of winding boardwalks and trails where you can walk above the mangroves catch glimpses of some wading birds that are hiding amongst the foliage.
  • Wildlife Spotting: During the summer months, if you look offshore, you’re likely to see schools of Tarpon fish rolling. It’s a beautiful site!

Cortez Beach

The locals used to call this beach “Three Piers,” but unfortunately, the old piers are no longer safe to walk on, but the beach is still beautiful. With quick access from parking lot to beachfront, this is a great beach to visit if you only have few minutes.

  • Location: As a part of Bradenton Beach, Cortez Beach stretches between 5th and 13th Street on Gulf Drive.
  • Target Audience: Its close proximity to Bridge Street makes it perfect for people who want to break up their beach time with some shopping, eating and strolling.
  • Parking/Transportation: Free parking is available just off the side of the road. Usually, there are plenty of parking spaces for beach goers and a very short walk from the parking lots to beach. So if you have a car full of beach toys, this is an ideal spot. Just pull in, park and be on the beach in less than half a minute! For trolley riders, there is a stop at Bridge Street (which is a few streets north of where Cortez Beach starts).
  • Eats: No concession stands, but nearby Bridge Street is lined with plenty of eateries, including the Island Time Bar & Grill that has outdoor tables with umbrellas. Perfect for sandy toes and beach attire. Joe’s Eats and Sweets is also a great spot to grab an ice cream cone!
  • Restrooms: None, but there are public restrooms at the pier located on the east end of Bridge street. Probably a 10-minute walk from the Cortez beaches.
  • Lifeguards: No
  • Playground: No, but unlimited sand and a couple of buckets can provide hours of fun for little ones!
  • Other Amenities: If you decide to take a stroll down Bridge Street, continue all the way to the end of the street where you will reach the charming Bradenton Beach City Pier. Don’t miss the old clock tower – a great backdrop for photos that will look reminiscent of vintage post cards.
  • Privacy: With far less parking and facilities than Coquina, it’s not as populated.
  • Best asset: Perfect spot for skim boarding and surfing.
  • Wildlife Spotting: Sand fleas and coquinas! Take the kids (or be a kid yourself!), and dig a hole in the sand at water’s edge and look for the little critters who dig their way under the wet sand. When you find a few, put them in a bucket with sand and a little water – unlimited fun! However, don’t let the bucket sit in the direct sun for too long; the sand fleas and any live shells (including coquinas) cannot live in extremely hot water. While you’re hunting for sand fleas and coquinas, also be on the lookout for shark’s teeth.

Manatee Beach

This is often the beach that comes to mind when people think of Anna Maria Island. At the western end of State Road 64, it’s often the first “beach” people see after a very long drive. We say, as soon as you arrive on the island, head straight here, park your car, take off your shoes, get your toes in the sand and get a frozen cocktail at Manatee Beach’s Tiki Bar!

  • Location: 4000 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach
  • Target Audience: Everyone! There’s something here for the young and old.
  • Parking/Transportation: There is a fairly large parking lot, but in peak season (February – April), it can fill up quickly…especially when it’s a gorgeous 80-degree day.
  • Eats: There’s an extensive menu at the Café on the Beach ranging from corn dogs to salads and seafood platters. The Café opens at sunrise and is most famous for its “All You Can Eat” Pancakes and Sausage breakfast, but it’s also a popular spot in the evenings with live music seven nights a week and great spot to watch the sunset. Visitors can also enjoy the Tiki Bar where the draft beer selection is impressive including Long Hammer IPA and Stella Artois. If you want a break from the beach, head across the street to find the ever-popular Skinny’s where they’re serving up burgers and beer in frosty mugs.
  • Restrooms: Yes, bathrooms and showers are available.
  • Lifeguards: Yes
  • Playground: Play sets for little kiddos and bigger kids and swing sets.
  • Other Amenities: A beach shop has everything from blow-up inner tubes, sunscreen, beach cover-ups and that shark’s tooth necklace you’ve been dying to try on.
  • Privacy: Not really something you’re going to get at this beach. You’re likely to have someone else set up their beach chair only a few feet away from you. It gets crowded, but that’s part of the fun!
  • Best asset: People watching! From teenage surfer dudes to retirees yielding metal detectors, this beach has something for everyone…especially those who delight in the pastime of observing others.
  • Wildlife Spotting: Seagulls. Maybe not the most prestigious on the birding list, but it is pretty fun to watch them fight over french fry leftovers at the Beach Café.

Bean Point

This area is one of the local’s favorites. It’s on the northernmost tip of Anna Maria where the beach is wide and the sand is spectacular. You’ll see sand dunes dotted with sea oats and many times, it’s the nesting spot for black skimmer birds and sea turtles. The problem? Not a lot of public parking, so unless you’re renting a house that’s close by so you can walk, it’s difficult to find a parking space. This is also more of a “walking” beach than a “swimming” beach – being on the tip of the island; the currents collide and present a pretty good undertow.

  • Location: There is public walk-through spot at Elm Avenue, just west of North Shore Drive.
  • Target Audience: People who want to curl up with a book and not be bothered.
  • Parking/Transportation: Check Elm and Sycamore Avenues for a few precious street-parking spots. Make sure to park in between the signs. To avoid the parking situation all together, take the Trolley to the stop at Pine and Gulf Drive. You can enter the beach by the Sandbar restaurant on Pine and walk a little north to reach Bean Point.
  • Eats: A short walk south on the beach will lead you to the Sandbar. There’s a walk-up bar serving frozen cocktails and a large outside deck with live music nightly.
  • Restrooms: No, your best bet is to walk to the Sandbar restaurant and grab lunch so you can also utilize their bathrooms.
  • Lifeguards: No
  • Playground: No
  • Other Amenities: Although the Gulf will mostly be your focal point, if you turn around, you’ll notice some of the island’s most ritzy and drool-inducing beachfront homes.
  • Privacy: This is your best option for a secluded beach. The beach is quite wide here and with little parking, there’s a limited public access.
  • Best asset: Quietness
  • Wildlife Spotting: Black Skimmer birds frequently nest at the northern-most point. Watch these birds catch their food as their bottom beak “skims” the water. You’ll also frequently see Blue Herons and White Egrets here.

Bayfront Park

Come to this small park for a beach day that’s made in the shade! If you don’t want too many rays, plop your chair down under one of the huge Australian Pine trees that call this park home. Being on the Bay side of the island, there is less “beach” but more interesting scenery – you’ve got the Rod and Reel pier to your left and the City Pier to your right and on a clear day, you can see the Sunshine Skyway and Egmont Key in the distance.

  • Location: 315 North Bay Boulevard, Anna Maria
  • Parking/Transportation: Plenty of parking. If you want to take the trolley, it stops at the City Pier – there’s a short path over the Humpback bridge to the Bayfront Park.
  • Eats: No concession stand, but plenty of grills, so bring some hot dogs and a bag of charcoal! If you don’t want to cook yourself, take a short walk north to the rustic Rod and Reel Pier for the island’s best grouper sandwich. Or if you want something a little more glamorous, head south and you’ll find The Waterfront restaurant on your right. We love their Fried Green Tomatoes and Tropicale Salad with Arugula, Hearts of Palm and Avocado. Yum!
  • Restrooms: Yes
  • Lifeguards: No
  • Playground: Yes, a large playground area including a swing set. This probably has the most extensive play area of all of the AMI beaches.
  • Other Amenities: Several small pavilions with picnic tables and grills. One large pavilion that seats 104 people and can be rented out for private functions. If not reserved though, it’s available for public use.
  • Privacy: We would rate this as a “3” on a scale of 1-5 for privacy. Although this is a community park, Bayfront doesn’t see as much action as Coquina or Manatee beaches.
  • Best asset: Because of all the shade, this is a perfect place to set up your beach chair and read a gossip magazine.
  • Wildlife Spotting: This is one of the best spots on the island to see a Manatee swimming by. They frequently swim up to the Rod and Reel Pier where they feed them fresh water from the hose. Manatees may swim in salt water, but they like to drink fresh water. (Who knew?) After they fill up on agua, they’ll keep on swimming right in front of Bayfront Park.