There are places we visit that leave an imprint on our hearts and breathe air into our souls. Those are the places I go back to. Anna Maria Island, Florida is one of those places.
When I first suggested having a blogger retreat in Anna Maria, everyone was excited but most people had no idea why I suggested it. Most of the group had never even heard of this small island about an hour south of Tampa, Florida. I’d never heard of it until three years ago. And now it’s one of my happy places.
As we were walking on the beach to dinner the first night, one of my friends asked, so what it is about Anna Maria that made you choose here for the retreat? What is it that you love so much?
A few minutes later they understood, without me ever saying a word.
Why Anna Maria Island is a Return Place
For anyone who has been to Anna Maria, you probably already know. For those of you who haven’t, I’m going to try to put my love of the town into words but the only true way to understand why I love it so much is to go there yourself.
I’ve been to a lot of beach towns, coastal towns, tropical towns, you name it. They all have their own feel but many have that beach feel + a touristy feel on top of it. Anna Maria doesn’t. As soon as you cross over the bridge, you can just feel your blood pressure dropping as you slowly drive, with your windows down, past the cute pastel colored beach houses and locals riding around on their bicycles. It’s not so much a Jammin’ by Bob Marley vibe but rather Bubbly Toes by Jack Johnson. It’s slow-paced, beautiful, and a place to reconnect with both nature and yourself.
The food is one of the biggest reasons that Anna Maria brings my family back year after year. There are plenty of beach towns but how many beach towns have your mouth watering every time you describe the food to other people. With everything from toes in the sand restaurants like The Sandbar to handmade authentic Italian at Vinny’s, Anna Maria has it all. And these kid-friendly restaurants are ones that make our itinerary on every visit.
Anna Maria doesn’t just have good food, it has great food. I don’t take the word favorite lightly, and I can easily say that the donuts at The Donut Experiment, the chicken quesadillas at Poppo’s Taqueria, the beets and kale salad at Eat Here, and the potato soup at Blue Marlin are my all-time favorites. They are dishes I crave regularly, dishes that have me trying to convince my husband that we need to head back to Anna Maria for a weekend just to curb my cravings. He agreed once.
It may not be a world renowned beach like Turks and Caicos or Culebra, but the beach in Anna Maria is in a league of its own. It’s the only beach that no matter when I visit, I always see dolphins swimming off in the distance. And the beach I will let my son play on without being worried he’ll be knocked over by the waves.
When we’re in a hurry or trying to get my son down for a nap, the beach across from Tortuga Inn is a decent option. But when we’re looking for the beach experience, we drive to the northern most tip of the island and find the secret entrance right by the big vacation home that we always dream about renting someday. We park on the street and walk down the narrow path, shoes on to avoid the little stickers. Then we walk and that narrow path becomes a wide open beach that stretches in beautiful sand to your right and left and gorgeous gulf ocean for as far as your eye can see.
The sand is soft. The ocean waves are small but large enough that you can still spend hours jumping over them. And the rest of the world just melts away. One day I am going to rent that big house on the northern most tip of the island just so I can be on that beach from sun up to sun down.
Just a few minutes from our favorite beach is a pier that starts with a cute ice cream shop and ends with a great view somewhere out in the middle of the ocean. The sunset shots are phenomenal, much better than the yummy but just okay ice cream. Just okay ice cream that’s a tradition, making it better than okay.
On the south side of the island you’ll find the famous Bridge Street pier, which is more known for views of fishing boats than sunsets. But it’s a must-see and a great place to explore after eating breakfast Island Creperie or dinner at Blue Marlin.
On one end of Pine Avenue you can find my favorite donuts on the planet. And on the other end is the pier with sensational views. And packed into the 1/2 mile in between is the cute Shiny Fish Emporium where you can paint your own sand dollars, tons of local and sustainable boutique shops that are part of the Pine Avenue restoration project, and an Instagrammer’s dream. And if you’re lucky, a local event or festival like the Easter egg hunt we went to a couple of year’s back.
I’m not typically a return visitor. I stay somewhere and the next time look for something else that’s reasonably priced and meets my needs. I am a Tortuga Inn return visitor. The only time we didn’t stay at Tortuga Inn was when we decided last minute to pack up and visit Anna Maria right after spring break, and they were sold out. Never again.
Tortuga Inn is the place to stay on Anna Maria. With two pools, a location right across from the beach, huge rooms with tons of multiple bedroom suite options, and fantastic customer service, there really just isn’t a better choice. It’s cliche I know, but when we’re there, it’s like our home away from home.
Located just about an hour from the Tampa airport, Anna Maria is a great weekend trip added to a longer Florida visit. We’ve found that three days at either the beginning or the end of a week-long Florida vacation is the perfect amount of time to melt away the stress from life, enjoy a full day at the beach, and fill up on all of my local cravings. After our three days, we’re always ready to either head home or to the busier activities we love in the Tampa area.
There aren’t many things I can say that my little family always does, traditions that we have just as our family. Visiting Anna Maria Island is one and maybe the only one. Even if it means just flying out for a weekend to get my maple bacon donut and chicken quesadilla fix, I hope to continue the tradition as long as I possibly can. And I highly recommend everyone visit at least once; just know that like you can’t eat just one potato chip, you won’t be able to visit Anna Maria just once. It’s a return place.