Discover Anna Maria Island
CINDY LANE | SUN
Grassy Point Preserve in Holmes Beach is accessible
by foot and by kayak.
There’s a lot to explore on Anna Maria Island, and here’s a taste of the highlights of its beaches and parks, its three cities, its heritage trail and its underwater wreck.
EXPLORE BEACHES and parks
Anna Maria Island’s beaches and parks are its main attractions, and the reason is clear - the emerald green waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
Named for the delicate, pastel creatures that dig into its shoreline, Coquina Beach on Gulf Drive in Bradenton Beach covers 96 acres on the southernmost tip of the Island. Trimmed with Australian pine trees that shade a recreational path, picnic tables, pavilions and barbecue grills, the beach has a snack bar, lifeguards, restrooms and showers, and plenty of room for a long, long walk.
Manatee Beach at the western end of Manatee Avenue in Holmes Beach features a playground, picnic tables, lifeguards, restrooms, showers, a gift shop and an indoor/outdoor snack bar with live music on weekends.
Bayfront Park in Anna Maria overlooks the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, the historic Egmont Key lighthouse and two piers - the Anna Maria City Pier and the Rod and Reel Pier, both popular fishing spots with restaurants. A playground and picnic tables make it a nice place for lunch.
Grassy Point Preserve’s mangrove tunnels on the bay side of the Island on the Intracoastal Waterway in Holmes Beach are perfect for kayak exploration. You may see roseate spoonbills, roosting pelicans and white ibis, or even one of Florida’s 4,800 endangered manatees. Or walk the short hiking trail and enjoy the native plants.
Butterflies are aflutter at the Anna Maria Island Butterfly Park at 5801 Marina Drive in Holmes Beach, open from dawn to dusk seven days a week. Native plants like passion vine, sweet bay and Dutchman’s pipe vine attract wispy creatures like the American Painted Lady, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail and Gulf Fritillary.
Explore Anna Maria Island’s cities
The northernmost city on Anna Maria Island, Anna Maria is home to the Anna Maria Island Historical Society Museum at 402 Pine Ave.
Housed in a 1920s-era ice house, you’ll learn fun facts like the Island’s original pronunciation, “Anna Mar-eye-ah,” how a diving platform was built in the Gulf of Mexico for an Esther Williams movie, and how the inventor of the Fig Newton helped build the Roser Memorial Community Church just up the street.
Next to the museum you can tour the Belle Haven Cottage and the Old City Jail. The story goes that prisoners at the jail, which had no window glass, were punished more by the mosquitoes and the heat than by the law.
Just north of city hall on Marina Drive is a skateboard park, where watching the stunts is almost as much fun as doing them.
Just behind it is Scentral Park, a dog park in the former outfield of Birdie Tebbetts field.
Historic Bridge Street is the place to go to fish in the Intracoastal Waterway off the historic pier. If you’re keeping track of time, the clock tower at the pier tolls the daylight hours, but you’re on your own after dark.
Explore the Gulf Coast Heritage Trail
The Gulf Coast Heritage Trail winds through Anna Maria Island on its route from St. Petersburg’s Sunshine Skyway Bridge south to Englewood Beach.
Accessible by car, motorcycle, trolley, bicycle or on foot, 12 of the trail’s 117 stops are here on the Island, showcasing cultural, historic, and scenic areas.
Here are the stops from north to south:
1. The path to Bean Point Beach at North Shore Drive and North Bay Boulevard marks the spot where the Island’s first homesteader, George Emerson Bean, settled 100 years ago.
2. Rod n’ Reel Pier, 875 North Shore Drive, was built in 1947 and offers fishing, a restaurant and views of Egmont Key and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.
3. The Anna Maria City Pier at 100 Bay Blvd. in Anna Maria was built in 1911 as a dock for excursion boats from Tampa. It’s now a restaurant and fishing spot with views of Egmont Key and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.
4. Bayfront Park on North Bay Boulevard.
5. The Anna Maria Island Historical Society Museum at 402 Pine Ave.
6. The Island Players at 10009 Gulf Drive N., founded in 1948, stages dramatic and musical productions.
7. The Anna Maria Island Art League, 5312 Holmes Blvd., features an art gallery with free receptions, and offers art classes, sponsors scholarships and presents the Springfest and Winterfest Festivals of Fine Arts and Fine Crafts each year.
8. The Artists’ Guild of Anna Maria Island, 5414 Marina Drive, features an art gallery and art demonstrations with free monthly opening receptions during the winter.
9. Manatee Public Beach at Manatee Avenue and Gulf Drive.
10. Historic Bridge Street once was connected to the mainland by the old Cortez Road bridge, now the Bridge Street Pier.
11. Coquina Beach, on the southern end of Anna Maria Island.
12. Coquina Baywalk at Leffis Key.
Explore the Regina
While visiting Anna Maria Island, divers may want to visit the wreck of the Regina, a state underwater archaeological preserve, marked by buoys off the 800 block of Bradenton Beach.
According to records at the Anna Maria Island Historical Society, the Regina’s story goes like this:
On March 8, 1940, decades before the American embargo against Cuba began, the Cuban tugboat Minian was towing the 300-foot barge Regina from Havana to New Orleans with a boiler on board that was used to turn Cuban sugar cane into molasses at sea on the way to market.
As it passed by Egmont Key that day during a storm, it was laden with 350,000 gallons of molasses and was pitching with the waves. Rough seas broke the towline between the vessels. The Minian made for Egmont Key, but the wind and waves drove the Regina south toward Bradenton Beach, where it grounded on a sandbar.
The St. Petersburg Coast Guard station couldn't send a boat because night was falling and the storm was too severe. Bystanders lit fires on the beach to encourage the stranded crew throughout the night.
The next morning, the Coast Guard's seaplane dropped life jackets, most of which were swept away. In desperation, the ship's cook, Severino Canisares, and the boat's mascot, a German shepherd, attempted to swim to shore, but drowned.
Two crewmen made it to shore with the help of a volunteer, Cortez resident Clayton Adams, who swam out to help them with a rope tied to his waist.
The Coast Guard sent a truck from St. Petersburg equipped with a gun to shoot a lifeline to the barge, but it didn't work. Volunteer Furman Smith took a dinghy out to the Regina and got a rope to the crew, who tied it to the barge. The other end was secured on shore.
Coast Guardsman Barney Barnett attached a boatswain's chair to the rope, took the chair out to the barge and helped the remaining five crewmen into the chair one at a time with the assistance of volunteer Jim Parker. Men on the beach pulled the chair down the rope to shore.
In all, seven of the eight crewmen survived.
And one chicken was saved, discovered on the barge's wreckage after the ordeal.
What’s left of the Regina, which is in pieces, is marked with a bronze plaque, and is visible even to snorkelers on a clear day.