The Key to the Keys: Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key
Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key are the northernmost island getaways of the Sarasota-Manatee area. If this is the first time you are considering a short vacation or even a whole season in Sarasota or Manatee counties, it’s important that you have a working knowledge of the “barrier islands,” also called “keys,” so let’s start at the top.
The keys are the place — and the only place — to find the beaches and the Gulf of Mexico. They provide a constant source of fun and relaxation, and if a hurricane shows up, they’re supposed to act as a barrier that protects the mainland from the heaviest tidal surges and winds. (We haven’t had a direct hit from a hurricane for almost 60 years so nobody really knows how effective they would be.)
The keys islands form a 25 mile, almost continuous chain that stretches from the top of Manatee County to the bottom of Sarasota County (and continues south). Here’s a Google map:
Even though the layout of all of the keys is similar (Gulf to the west, bay to the east, sand and tropical foliage in between), the culture varies widely, and you need to know what might fit you best before choosing where to stay.
I’m going to tell you about each, going from the north down, then give you a description. This blog posting will cover the popular Anna Maria and Longboat Keys. The next posting will describe the keys south of these — Longboat Key, Lido Key, Siesta Key, Casey Key, and Venice Beach.
Anna Maria Island, directly across from the city of Bradenton is an 8 miles island that is home to three little towns – Anna Maria Beach, Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach. One long road and two bridges to the mainland are the main thoroughfares on the island. The atmosphere is distinctly ultra-casual (think bathing suits, cut-offs and flip flops) and fun. Beach houses and small motels hug each other up and down the island, although there are a number of single family homes on the waterways that come into the island from the bay (east) side. I don’t know what the average visitor age is on Anna Maria, but I’m guessing it’s on the young or at least young-at-heart side. Join Marie Piston for a tour!
Adjacent to Anna Maria’s southern end and across from southern Bradenton southward to downtown Sarasota is Longboat Key, a twelve mile string bean of an island with one main road bisecting it. Visit the Longboat Chamber of Commerce! Miles of heavily used bike trails make Longboat a must for bikers. and with four golf courses and countless tennis courts, it’s a haven for the outdoor land sports athlete. Large mansions of the “rich and famous” (ok, more rich than famous) are on the southern end. Excellent restaurants abound. Ironically, while many of the seasonal rentals are Gulf front condos, a large number of the weekly vacation rentals to be found are old style Florida — either single family houses or beach bungalows. Cottages like these old ones are still very much in supply.
There are no bridges to the mainland, so to leave Longboat Key you must head north to the ultra-casual Anna Maria Island, or south to the upscale places of Lido and St. Armand’s Keys.
Come find your Anna Maria and Longboat Key rental at SRQrents.com!
Judy Gee, owner