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There's a reason that Anna Maria Island is so crowded...It's undeniably beautiful (and laid back)

Posted on by Brita Schumacher
We spent several days of spring break on the breath-taking island of Anna Maria. Let's just say that the cat is definitely out of the bag on Anna Maria-It was super crowded! However, it’s easy to see why people fall in love with this laid-back island.

Anna Maria, which is just outside the town of Bradenton, is about an hour and a half from Tampa and less than an hour to Sarasota. Despite dodging bikes and golf carts on the narrow streets, we all agreed that Anna Maria was worth every single wait-and there were a lot of waits.

The Ugly Grouper is a bustling, fun and eclectic spot. Yes, the wait will be long, but seriously I’m still dreaming about the blackened mahi-mahi, pineapple kebabs. Honestly, one of the best meals I have ever had. And yes, order the chips + queso appetizer. You will eat all of it. There is such a thing as noteworthy white queso, I promise. They even have my favorite beer on tap Mango Cart, so I am definitely going back to enjoy one of those. 
We stayed at the Compass Margaritaville Hotel, which is at the entrance to Anna Maria before the bridge. I guess technically it's still Brandenton, but it was a great choice. With its marina-side location, beautiful pool and fantastic pina coladas Compass, Margaritaville is a relaxing and quiet spot to spend an afternoon. The restaurant onsite is great. I actually ordered the power bowl two times-it was that good! And we all agreed that the breakfast was probably the best free hotel breakfast we had ever had. And you can't beat coffee with a view of boats pulling into the Sound. 
While on the island, you absolutely have to put Rod and Reel on your 'must visit' list. It is a pretty old school Florida feel.

The restaurant is small and busy, and the meals are pretty pricey, but it is literally freshly caught! Either way, do not let that stop you from visiting. Rod and Reel Pier makes the perfect spot for fishing and of course enjoying a cold Corona with views for days. The people watching is not too bad either. 
I have to be honest and say that I have never really put Florida and snorkeling in the same sentence before, but Anna Maria changed my mind on that. The water is so clear you feel like you are in the Caribbean. I recommend you bring your own snorkel gear and park in one of the city spots that line the ocean. So much free beach-front parking! Keep your eyes open as there are starfish everywhere and dolphins abound. 
If you are looking for more of a traditional beach day, head over to Holmes Beach. There are miles of powdery white sand beach and bigger surf for playing the waves. (Or watching from the shore like a paranoid mom like me!)
The location of Anna Maria makes it the perfect place to explore the area-there are so many other great locations nearby! Cortez Florida conjures up everything that Florida fishing towns were in the 80's. Don't miss making the short drive over to Cortez for a fun experience at Star Fish Company.
It's an experience! Get there before they open. I am telling you, if you don't get there before they open you won't be eating there!  Be sure to grab a number right away and prepare to wait. Bring Uno for the wait and watch the boats and birds swooping in like I did. The seafood is fresh and I’m partial to the coconut shrimp and conch fritters. Ps: They only take cash! 
Whether you are a big fisherman/person/woman or not, this is a great spot to take a fishing charter or guide.
You can go out into deep waters and catch grouper or wind your way back into the mangroves and catch big snook like we did.

Either way, you will love being on the water and taking in all the amazing wildlife that can pass by like manatee, sharks, dolphins and tons of incredible birds. 
Did I mention the water on Anna Maria is crystal clear and aqua? I am going to say it again. The water is amazing and picture perfect. You can tell all your friends that Anna Maria Island is some tropical place in the Caribbean, and they will believe you. 

Another tiny piece of advice?  Leave your white jeans and wedges at home. Anna Maria is Jimmy Buffett casual where cutoffs and a t-shirt go for anywhere on the island. I had a whole suitcase that never got used. Heck you could probably go to dinner in your bathing suit if you wanted.

I honestly hate to tell more people about Anna Maria, because it is already pretty full, but Sunshines, I couldn't keep this spot from you. It's that good.