These days, it's getting harder and harder to find a taste of old Florida. Miami is a perennial favorite for the glitz and nightlife, and the Palm Beach social scene can't be beat, but if you're looking for an unpretentious beach town without a celebrity or a velvet rope in sight, head to Anna Maria Island.
Located off the coast of Florida in the Gulf of Mexico, Anna Maria Island is just seven miles long, and it has the look and feel of the Florida Keys 30 years ago. Beach cottages are painted in pastel colors with gingerbread trim, and hardly any buildings are higher than a palm tree. And forget about cruising around in a blacked-out SUV -- most people get around by bicycle or the free trolley.
Unlike most places in Florida, there are no high-rises, no chain hotels and no chain restaurants. Even the island's top-rated restaurant, the Beach Bistro, doesn't take itself too seriously. One of the starters is called "One Helluva Soup." This unpretentious attitude is pure Anna Maria -- the island isn't even remotely chic, which is exactly its appeal.Anna Maria Island actually consists of three towns. Anna Maria at the northern end has the most residential and has some of the island's largest homes. Holmes Beach in the middle has the island's supermarket and a few shops, and Bradenton Beach to the south, the most developed area, but it's still far from being crowded.
Access is easy. The island is 40 miles south of Tampa International Airport and 19 miles from Sarasota, and it's connected to the mainland by a causeway. Once on the island, a car isn't necessary, but it can come in handy for day trips.