Rod & Reel Peer. Photo courtesy of Kelly Denski.
Rod & Reel Peer. Photo courtesy of Kelly Denski.

When you think of Florida vacations, you probably think of theme parks in Orlando and lounging on the beach outside of a resort. It’s hard to get away from the touristy areas in a state that is made for tourists, but there are many hidden gems if you know where to look.

I traveled around Anna Maria Island, a charming island with friendly locals, and I found the best places to explore, eat and relax.

Anna Maria Inn

Believe it or not, I found the perfect hotel right off the bridge getting over to Anna Maria. The Anna Maria Island Inn is separated into 2 buildings with the lobby on the coastal side. This charming hotel is on the small side and feels more like a home than just another hotel room. I stumbled across this island in the off-season and was lucky enough to have no one in the neighboring rooms. Because of the low volume, the hotel gave me an upgraded suite, an extra night and 2 parking spots–and all of this in the same 24 hours I found the island. The grounds have home gated fencing and 2 pools- one private pool connected to a fenced in private suite. All in all, very peaceful.

The rooms are clean, cute and softly gulf coast Florida themed without going overboard. The room I stayed in had a nice kitchen set up with a fridge, stove, microwave, coffee maker and coffee and plenty of counter space for all your groceries. There is also a small dining room table with a few chairs. On the other half of the room is the living room with comfortable new couch, coffee table, and a TV set up.

This newly renovated hotel felt like a home away from home!

Peaches Cafe

This is a wonderful little breakfast nook on Holmes Beach for quick and yummy sit down breakfast or lunch. The staff is super friendly. You can also tell that they get to know their local community, it’s not uncommon to overhear the wait staff at the table next to you asking about a customer’s family. When I asked about the area, they were very gracious to me, and gave me a map of the area with stores and activities.

Rod & Reel Peer

Rod & Reel Pier. Photo courtesy of Kelly Denski.
Rod & Reel Pier. Photo courtesy of Kelly Denski.

I came across the Rod & Reel Pier towards the Northern tip of the island. It’s an old looking pier that has had its time with the sea. Rod & Reel Pier isn’t the best beach to visit if you are looking for long sandy beaches, but children were using the pier to do cannonballs into the water below while their parents lounged on the shore nearby, admiring the clear blue waters. The pier itself had a quick sit food stop. It was the type of place to ignore the ‘no shoes no service’ rule. People in sandy bathing suits munched on fries and burgers while sitting sea side.

Scott’s Deli

For lunch, I stumbled across a small deli near the hotel in Holmes Beach. Scott’s had an easy menu and create your own deal with wraps, sandwiches and such. The deli is located in a small pavilion with outdoor patio seating perfect for people watching. I say 5 out of 5, but I’m a sucker for deli.

Mermaid Café

I picked up a rental bike to bike around the island and decided to pop into the coffee shop next door, the Mermaid Café. The Mermaid Café is very cute, serving up smoothies, lattes, and coffees. The interior had that beach flare with touches of pink and casual seating, using patio sofa chairs and bar stools. I ordered iced coffee (which I recommend) and placed my coffee in my bike basket, then I was on my way.

The Sign of the Mermaid

After a day biking around the island, I cleaned up nicely for a girl’s night. My friend and I found The Sign of the Mermaid, a restaurant open for breakfast and dinner. This is the place to go on the island if you are looking for fantastic seafood with a great atmosphere. Their continental eatery features seafood inside a 1912 antique filled house. I got the island salmon and the lobster bisque, both fantastic. Besides dinner, The Sign of the Mermaid is known for breakfasts, award winning pies, and fresh food.

Beer Can Island

Beer Can Island. Photo courtesy of Kelly Denski.

About 15 minutes back towards Sarasota, North Shore Rd, Longboat Key, is Beer Can Island. Beer Can Island is a low key sand bar where the locals go to hang out, and by that I mean literally string up their hammocks on the woodsy beach. A hidden gem like this draws in artists for photo shoots, couples picnicking away from crowded beaches, and dog owners playing in the shade. And the sunset is absolutely stunning.

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