VIBE: Family Friendly
Manatee Public Beach, 4000 State Road 64 and Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, FL 34217
Updated January 25, 2023: What is the best beach for family fun with an island vibe? We recommend Manatee Public Beach near Bradenton. We lived on the Gulf coast when we first moved to Florida, and have been there many times. It was unaffected by 2022 hurricanes.
What is the nicest part of Anna Maria Island?
Anna Maria Island is a 7-mile long barrier island on Florida's Gulf Coast. It is one of the most popular destinations in Florida, with over 400,000 visitors annually. The island has a population of about 3,000 year-round residents and a number of vacation homes and condominiums. It is famous for its sunsets, which are often photographed. Close to Tampa International Airport, Anna Maria Island has become a popular tourist destination. Grab your rental car and make your way to unique hotels and restaurants. It is especially nice for families with kids who can enjoy the calm Gulf water. We like Manatee Beach and Coquina Beach the best.
Manatee Beach Sand
We used to live in the Bradenton area and visited Manatee Beach as often as possible. It's such a beautiful ride past the popular causeway beaches. There are people fishing, jet skiing and riding horses in the shallow water. The sand is white, typical of a Florida west coast beach. It is more compacted than other beaches so make sure you have a spike for your umbrella. You will have to work to get it in deep. The sand is a little different than Siesta Key Beach. It may get hot on your feet during the summer so bring sandals to wear until you reach your chosen spot. Then settle in and relax near the Gulf of Mexico shore.
Manatee Beach Water
With the clear blue water at Manatee Public Beach, you can see many types of fish swimming around you. You may also see dolphins and the occasional manatee. When we lived there, people used to gather around manatees that swam by. We recommend you keep your distance but bring your snorkeling gear so you can get a good look at this live undersea treasure. Kids with goggles will love swimming in the warm, shallow water that is almost always calm.
Anna Maria Island Beach Parking
Parking at the beaches on Anna Maria Island is a challenge! The free parking located at Anna Maria Island Beach Cafe is where we always try to park (Manatee Public Beach). It gets very busy, very fast. You must be prepared for a line up that starts back on the causeway. Unfortunately, it is only one lane. The bonus is the cafe has enjoyable food: I had the Grilled Chicken Caesar. No reservations are required at the restaurant. They have breakfast and entertainment beginning at 5:30pm (subject to weather conditions). For more parking options, try Coquina Beach's large free parking lot a few miles away.
Showers and picnic tables are available. A Publix store is nearby if you forget your sunscreen (don't park there unless you are a Publix customer). There is also overflow beach parking at Anna Maria Elementary School which provides 60 additional parking spaces. It is located at 4700 Gulf Drive and is within walking distance of the parking lot at Manatee Public Beach. Like Madeira Beach, there is a free Island Trolley. If you have an RV and need to park, try spending that day on Coquina Beach at the southern end of Anna Maria Island. The free parking lot there is much larger and they are supposed to add 700 more spaces in the near future.
Do you love beach volleyball? This is the place to do it. If you love to swim, swimming here is very safe and enjoyable. The lifeguard stations are well-manned and the beach patrolled for safety by an award-winning crew. If you want to explore Anna Maria Island without a traffic headache, then try the free Island Trolley. It is air-conditioned. Several trolleys loop the island from Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach, up to the City Pier in the City of Anna Maria on the northern end of the island on a daily basis. The main attraction on Anna Maria Island, however, is the fiery sunset at the end of your beach day. It is worth every ounce of effort you expend to reach this beach. Like Siesta Key Beach, the sunsets are breathtaking.
Look Out! this Could Happen...
We can't stress this enough: find out if Red Tide is at your desired beach BEFORE you go. Do not miss this step with any of the Florida Gulf Beaches or you may be disappointed. The drive can take awhile and if Red Tide is present at high concentrations the beach may be uninhabitable. There are often dead fish and the odor can make it hard to breathe. The other issue is traffic congestion and crowds so access this website to view the crowd meter. It will also tell you about tides, winds, water quality and temperature. They even have a sunburn meter! If you take these easy steps, you will likely have a wonderful beach day you'll remember forever. Make sure you head out early and plan to stay all day to witness the sunset!
What We Really Think About Anna Maria Island
The word is out and this is a popular beach for everyone! With a restaurant, live music and beautiful sunsets it's one of the best beaches you can visit. Yes, parking can be a problem, particularly on weekends or during tourist season. Parking regulations are heavily enforced so stick to the rules. The beach is groomed, very clean and the Gulf water is the among best clarity you can find anywhere. It is almost as nice as the Destin beaches! We ate at Island Time Bar and Grill at 111 Gulf Dr. S., Bradenton Beach and had fish and chips. We categorized this as a camping beach, although you can't camp right on the beach. But the closest RV Park is very close and just over the causeway. Holiday Cove RV Resort is less than a mile from the beach and has great reviews.
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Susan and Bruno are travel bloggers specializing in Florida beaches on every coast. Take a road trip or plan a Florida vacation.