Last year I went on my first family vacation (besides visiting the in-laws) thanks to my hobby of sweepstakes. I had never been able to take my kids on vacation, stay in a hotel, and enjoy time away like so many other families – I was a single Mom for a longg time, and it just didn’t fit in my budget. When I found out I had won and that my husband wouldn’t be able to go (new job = no vacation time accrued = no go) I begged my parents to join me..we decided that even though the kids & I were going to Disney (which was awesome by the way) that we would head down to the beach and stay a week and make a real vacation out of it!
I hadn’t been to the beach since I was about 18 – that was a well, a lot of years ago. I knew I didn’t want to go to the overly popularized beaches that screamed ‘Spring Break’, drunk chicks, and loud neighbors, but I wanted to make sure that I found a beautiful beach with mild ocean waves so my kids could enjoy their first visit to the ocean without hassle. I didn’t want an overly crowded beach where I couldn’t find room to sit, and crazy people surrounding me. I wanted a family beach vacation – was that too much to ask?
I started researching and after a few (O.K. a LOT) of different websites I kept coming back to to what looked to be my ideal vacation – the island of Anna Maria. I’d never heard of it, and when I started talking to my parents about it, they hadn’t either..but the more we researched, the more we realized this was a place we just had to check out!
Photo from the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce Website
Anna Maria Island is a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico. Just 12 miles South of the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, this 7 mile long island Anna holds classic charm and beauty that have eluded so many popular beach destinations. As soon as we crossed the bridge into the island I was impressed. Though there are plenty of accommodations to chose from, the beach view isn’t blocked by hundreds of high rise hotels and condos. There are classy on the beach restaurants, diners, and even a pancake tiki bar on the beach (all you can eat pancakes for $5.99!) There are so many great places to eat & enjoy but well save that for another day 😉
Anna Maria Island consist of 3 main beaches – Anna Maria, Bradenton and Holmes. There are also some really great beaches right off the island, like Cortez, which is home of a really awesome fresh seafood place, that has the best shrimp and hush puppies EVER! (Look for that post coming soon too!) All the beaches are great, but I love the area on the tip of Anna Maria – there is just something tranquil about it.. I’ve already told my husband that as soon as we are financially able, that is where I want to move – or at least retire. I’m sure they could always use another insurance agent and blogger right?!
My idea of ocean fun is sitting on the beach and watching my kids enjoy the water and sand while I soak up some rays. My parents however, had been on a few cruises and to different areas where they picked up the hobby of snorkeling. I was concerned that the kids wouldn’t like the salt water and might be a bit freaked out by the wildlife swimming around them – but I was pleasantly surprised to find out that they loved it just as much as my parents.Some days were better than others (depending on the weather) but we were able to see a lot! Tons of starfish, sand dollars, crabs, and I even saw a stingray! There are also small sharks on occasion, though I’ve only seen those while out on the pier.
We spent most of our days (and evenings) on the beach. It was so relaxing, and even though we visited on 4th of July weekend, it didn’t feel overcrowded. It was dare I say – a perfect family vacation spot. In fact, we loved it so much we managed to make it back again this year.
We also LOVE LOVE that Anna Maria Island is on top of helping preserve sea turtle life. I have watched the Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch website & Facebook page for awhile and this year we were lucky enough to go on a beach tour. We learned about the sea turtles, and why it is soo important for us to protect the turtles and their nest anyway we can. We were lucky enough to find a nest on our tour – it was definitely a memorable experience. I am determined next year that we are actually going to be able to see some sea turtle babies make their way back to the ocean!
My son even got to assist in marking off the turtle nest so it wouldn’t be disturbed!
We are hoping this trip becomes a family tradition – next year I’m going to try to get my husband down there, along with my sister and her family. There are tons of houses you can rent, or hotel rooms, condos, etc, depending on your needs. They have a Publix right on the island so you can stock up on groceries if you prefer to have some meals at home – but trust me, you do not want to do that every meal. Tons of great restaurants, you definitely need at least a week just to try all the great food!
Now while this island is extremely family-friendly, there is a night life for those of you that enjoy it. There is Rod n’ Reel Pier that’s been on the island forever, that has a place to eat and also to have a few drinks. Though most places close up shop pretty early, I’d say this is a perfect balance between family and adult fun times.
If you are looking for a new vacation spot, or maybe you are just curious – I would definitely suggest taking the trip to Anna Maria Island…and No, this is not a sponsored post, I just really love the place so much I wanted to share. I wish I would of known of this island years ago – I think I would of already made it my home!!
You can check out the great adventures that others are having on Instagram using the hashtag #AnnaMariaIsland or #AMI.