Weekend on Anna Maria Island, Fla., one of three ways: on a budget, spending a bit more, or when the getaway calls for a splurge.
Trip tips: Located in west central Florida between Tampa and Sarasota, Anna Maria Island has kept its “old Florida” charm and lacks fast-food restaurants, chain stores and high-rise buildings. Surrounded by the Gulf of Mexico, Tampa Bay and the Intracoastal Waterway, the 7-by 2-mile island has miles of beautiful sandy beaches with Bean Point at the north. Bradenton Beach’s Coquina Park at the south end has pretty sandy beaches and shady picnic areas. Across the road is Leffis Key Nature Walk with 1,500 feet of boardwalks that meander through mangrove and natural shorelines on Sarasota Bay. Drive east from Bradenton Beach to the historic commercial fishing village of Cortez (National Register of Historic Places), one of the few remaining working waterfronts in Florida. Visit the old fish houses and the town’s Florida Maritime Museum (4415 119th St. W.). Don’t miss a stop at the Star Fish Company, a fish market and bayside seafood hangout (12306 46th Ave. W.).
Getting there: Tampa is a one-hour drive to Anna Maria Island. Based on 14-day advance purchase notice, one-way rates from $40 on Spirit; $68 on Delta. Sarasota is a 30-minute drive. Nonstop Delta flights from $114, based on 21-day advance purchase.
Stay: Homeaway.com features hundreds of private island rentals from $71 a night for two. Airbnb.com is another option with multiple listings for privately owned properties. The Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce also provides numerous contacts for villa to sailboat accommodations. www.annamariaislandchamber.org.
Eat: Enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner at the newly renovated Rod & Reel Pier restaurant situated directly over the Gulf of Mexico. Sandwiches, $4.25-$13; daily fish specials. 875 N. Shore Drive, Anna Maria. 941-778-1885, www.rodreelpier.com. Find a similar menu and setting at the City Pier Restaurant sitting at the end of the 710-foot boardwalk. Catch live music during lunch and dinner. 100 S. Bay Blvd., Anna Maria. 941-779-1667, www.facebook.com/Anna-Maria-City-Pier-131516579663.
Experience: Ride free aboard the Manatee Trolley on Anna Maria Island from 6 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Service runs every 20 minutes (stops are two to four blocks apart) from the Anna Maria City Pier on the north to Coquina Beach on the south. Trolleys offer both air-conditioned and open-air seating and bike racks. For 75 cents, catch the Longboat Key Trolley from Coquina Beach to downtown Sarasota, with stops on Longboat Key’s St. Armand’s Circle. Service runs from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. every 30 minutes. www.mymanatee.org/home/government/departments/public-works/transit-paratransit.html.
Stay: The Anna Maria Island Dream Inn on Bradenton Beach offers cottages with a kitchenette, living and dining areas and balconies. The property is within a mile of Bradenton Beach and Manatee Public Beach, and Historic Bridge Street’s restaurants, shops, bars and pier are within 2 miles. Rates for a three-night stay from $283 through Jan. 31; $425 February-April. 2502 N. Gulf Drive, Bradenton Beach. 941-209-1420, http://amidreaminn.com.
Eat: The Sandbar, a local favorite since 1911, offers a Sunday jazz brunch ($6-$16). Dine inside or on the covered deck on the white sand beach. The restaurant is also an ideal spot for cocktails at sunset. 100 Spring Ave., Anna Maria. 941-778-0444, http://sandbar.groupersandwich.com.
Experience: Selby Botanical Gardens, located on the shores of Sarasota Bay, surrounds visitors in tropical and waterfront beauty. The 15-acre gardens are made up of many smaller gardens with plants from New Tropic locations. Highlights include a rain forest, banyan groves, a Mangrove Bay boardwalk, fern and bamboo gardens. This urban oasis is within easy walking distance of downtown Sarasota’s best dining, shopping and recreation (admission tickets permit re-entry). Adults, $19; ages 4-11, $6. 900 S. Palm Ave., Sarasota. 941-366-5731, www.selby.org.
Stay: Find old Florida island charm at Bungalow Beach Resort. A former Army barracks from the 1930s, the resort features 15 cedar bungalows with wood-beamed cathedral ceilings, hardwood floors, bead-board walls and wicker furniture. On site are a pool, a cabana area and grills. Per-night rates range from $189 (courtyard efficiency) to $519 for a three-bedroom/three-bath bungalow (slightly higher February-April). Discounts for weekly stays. 2000 Gulf Drive N., Bradenton Beach. 1-800-779-3601, www.bungalowbeach.com.
Eat: Enjoy tropical breezes from the open-air patio at the Waterfront Restaurant (also indoor dining). Dinner entrees ($21-$32) include fresh from the Gulf seafood. 111 S. Bay Blvd., Anna Maria. 941-778-1515, www.thewaterfrontrestaurant.net.
Experience: Catch a Grapefruit League Spring Training game on Florida’s west coast. The Pittsburgh Pirates play at McKechnie Field in Bradenton (Feb. 29-March 30). Ticket prices range from $15 (standing) to $28 (Infield Box). 1611 Ninth St. W., Bradenton. 941-747-3031. Five other MLB Spring Training sites (Clearwater, Dunedin, Sarasota, Port Charlotte and Tampa) are within 50 miles. www.floridagrapefruitleague.com.