Florida Scenic Highway: Bradenton Beach, Northwest of Sarasota
Length: 3.5 miles.
How to get around: Take the free trolley.
Best time to visit: November to July, to visit the Sunday Beach Market at Coquina Beach.
Fun fact: If you visit in May, expect to smell gardenias, jasmine and other sweet-smelling flowers at peak bloom.
“To get on the island, our bus system hooks up with Sarasota. So you can go the airport and come out here and not need a car,” said Tjet Martin, co-chair of Scenic Waves Partnership Committee. Once you’re on the island, cruise around on the free Anna Maria Island Trolley, which operates from 6 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Recharge your batteries on quiet Cortez Beach or have a barbecue on family-friendly Coquina Beach. Stroll over the mangroves along the Lefiss Key boardwalk, where you’ll be greeted by wild racoons and toads. Try parasailing or rent a jet ski on the north end of the island. Stop by Island Time Information Center for some ice cream and souvenirs.
Next stop: Bridge Street.
“It’s got such a vibe going on right now,” Martin said.
Once the first bridge from the mainland to the island in 1926, historic Bridge Street is now a bustling enclave of restaurants, shops, bars and public events. Enjoy everything from the slightly upscale Blue Marlin Grill to lobster rolls at Island Time Bar and Grill.
“You’ll see people in there in gowns, and you’ll see people in there in cut-off shorts and flip-flops,” Martin said.
As the sun dips over the horizon, head to the patio of Coquina Beach Cafe for a sunset glass of wine. Keep the party going with live music along Bridge Street, and forget about the time. While the free trolley runs until 10:30 p.m., you can contact the so-called “Monkey Bus” to pick you up anytime. For fare, the bus accepts pay-what-you-can tips. How easy is that?
Said Martin: “It’s really great living here.”