by The Editors | June 24, 2024

Unwind in Authentic Florida: A Weekend Escape to Bradenton

Plan a getaway to the Bradenton area, filled with vibrant live-work art communities, scenic riverwalks, relaxing ferry rides, bespoke downtowns and unspoiled beaches.

Forget about the hassle, hop on the Gulf Islands Ferry and be standing on the salty beaches of Anna Maria Island in less than an hour. Photography courtesy of Bradenton Area Visitors Bureau.

In a state surrounded by beautiful beaches, there’s one Gulf Coast enclave that stands out as a refuge for real, authentic Florida. Walk past brightly colored historic cottages, feel a soft Southern breeze drift over Manatee River, spot a pod of dolphins from the Gulf Island Ferry and melt into a postcard-worthy beachside sunset all in the Bradenton Area, which includes Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key. Take a quick weekend getaway and revel in the real Sunshine State, just a 45-minute drive from bustling cities like Tampa and Clearwater. For some travel inspiration, we’ve put together the perfect itinerary for an afternoon in downtown Bradenton and an evening spent on Anna Maria Island.

Bradenton’s Downtown Destinations

Shop, stay and play in charming downtown Bradenton. Photography courtesy of Bradenton Area Visitors Bureau.

Step into a painter’s palette come to life at Bradenton’s Village of the Arts, Florida’s largest live-work art community. This eclectic mix of painters, musicians and other artists live and create in this collection of 275 restored 1920s cottages, bungalows and Florida Cracker homes. Hosting art walks once a month, the artists welcome guests to view their work, shop, grab a bite to eat and perhaps take home a new piece or two. Find galleries, restaurants and specialty shops, like Jerk Dog Records, an eccentric vinyl shop celebrating indie music, or Birdrock Taco Shack, serving up wacky tacos (like the Thai peanut brussels sprouts taco or the shrimp west Indian taco) as well as live music.

Just a short walk from the Village of the Arts lies the Bradenton Riverwalk, a 1.5-mile stretch of brick pathway skirting the banks of the Manatee River. Cool off at the Family Fun Zone splash pad, cast a line off the fishing pier or spike a ball in a game of friendly—or competitive, depending on your style—game of beach volleyball. Only a few blocks away is the Springhill Suites Bradenton Downtown/Riverfront, the city’s only all-suite hotel and the perfect place to stay the weekend with unparalleled views of Manatee River.

Enjoy Floribbean cuisine and live music in the Bradenton Area. Photography courtesy of Realize Bradenton.

Manatee Magic on the Gulf Islands Ferry

For a worry-free way to get to Anna Maria Island, hop on the Gulf Islands Ferry—the only county-owned ferry system on the Southwest Florida coastline. Park your car downtown and spend the weekend vehicle-free by utilizing the ferry and trolley systems spanning downtown Bradenton and Anna Maria Island. After departing from the Bradenton Riverwalk Pier, take a 50-minute cruise down the Manatee River, passing the mangroves and marshes of Emerson Point Preserve and Robinson Preserve. Spy ospreys and eagles soaring ahead and get a glimpse of dolphins playing in the ferry’s wake or manatees gently bobbing in the water. These 49-passenger catamarans shuttles guests Wednesday through Sunday, and—if you download the free perks pass on your phone—you can get local discounts with your ferry ticket.

Anna Maria Island Oasis

After docking at the Historic Bridge Street Pier, explore one of Anna Maria Island’s most popular areas. Pop into shops off Bridge Street like Sea-Renity Beach Spa and Bou-tiki for ocean-inspired gifts, skin care and even massage therapy, or Bridge Street Bazaar, a one-stop-shop for beachwear, apparel and any forgotten sandcastle supplies. Hit a hole-in-one at the Fish Hole, the island’s resident miniature golf course designed after the Bradenton area’s historic fishing villages. Don’t leave without having a drink at Drift-In, the oldest bar on Anna Maria Island, which opened in 1925. The Cortez Beach bar was rumored to be briefly owned by legendary baseball player Babe Ruth, a frequent vacationer on the island.

Pop by a handful of shops and restaurants off Bridge Street. Photography by Bill Doster Photography LLC.

While on the island, stay at the Bungalow Beach Resort on Bradenton Beach, a collection of 15 boutique ocean abodes surrounded by sand dunes and sea oats. This Anna Maria staple was once a slew of Army barracks but has been renovated to retain the 1930’s charm with all of the modern-day glamour. Or spend the night at Silver Surf Gulf Beach Resort, and luxuriate in their private beach access, catamaran rentals and seaside massages.

After a short ride on the free island trolley to the north end of Anna Maria, experience the top-tier boutiques and gourmand must-stops off Pine Avenue, like the Olive Oil Outpost, offering internationally imported oils, meat and cheese spreads and wine tastings, drawing in visitors from around the globe. Shop designer brands at The Island Cabana and make a confectionary treat at The Donut Experiment, a build-your-own donut bar.

Enjoy everything Bradenton has to offer—even the beautiful beach sunsets. Photography by Bradenton Area Visitors Bureau.

Swing by one of the pristine beaches as the sun sets, dig your toes into the sand and watch orange and pink hues slowly sink under the horizon. As one of the few low-rise beaches—the skyline is skyscraper-free!—on Florida’s west coast, the summer sunsets are rich and untainted, much like its surrounding beaches, preserves and coastline. Enjoy undisturbed Florida at Bradenton and Anna Maria Island, where you’ll come for a day and love it for a lifetime. For more inspiration, visit