- If you can dream it, you can do it. Walt Disney
Explore Bradenton’s Old Florida history and visit its museums, parks and preserves. Don’t miss vibrant downtown Bradenton, the RiverWalk and the Village of the Arts – a working artists community. So take a break and visit Robinson Preserve, DeSoto National Memorial Park, the Cortez fishing village and the Manatee Village Historical Park. A collection of restored, historic buildings from Manatee County's pioneer past, the historical park includes a courthouse, one-room schoolhouse, farmhouse, general store, boat shop, steam engine and a Florida cowboy bunkhouse. It’s culture and it’s fun and it’s all in Bradenton. Plus, Bradenton is a short drive from such Gulf shores as Anna Maria Island, Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach.
Explore Anna Maria Island (in a golf-cart!)
Seriously, the speed limits allow for bikes, golf-carts, and a whole assortment of non-automobile options (four-man pedal car, anyone?) as viable transportation. The electric golf-cart has a top speed of almost 25 miles per hour and plenty of range to get you around the 7-mile length of Anna Maria Island. The town of Anna Maria (on the northern third of the island) also happens to be very eco-friendly and very environmentally conscious. That’s where we found Beach Bums, a beach supply and rental shop that lent us an electric golf-cart named Marlin.
There are a host of public beaches to explore on both sides of the island, though if you’re hunting for shells, Coquina Beach is your best bet. It’s one of six beaches to have earned the prestigious Blue Wave Certification from the Clean Beach Coalition. Boasting white, sandy beaches and beautiful, turquoise-blue water, Coquina Beach is a little bit of paradise (and my favorite beach from the trip). On the northern part of the island, the City Pier is a must visit for the adults and maybe some older children. Built in 1911 and stretching over 700 hundred feet long, the City Pier offers ample fishing opportunities and even a restaurant out on the water!
The island is full of fun places to visit, shop, and eat. If you’re a donut fan (and who isn’t?), definitely stop by the Donut Experiment for hot, fresh, made-to-order donuts with ridiculous toppings. Using a vanilla cake donut as their delicious canvas, customers are able to add their choice of sugar/frosting and topping, from salty bacon or caramel to sweet and crunchy Fruity Pebbles! Don’t let the long line discourage you! The donuts are worth the wait!
And, when you’re exhausted from a day on the beach (it’s hard work sunbathing and eating donuts!), head back to a breathtaking beach home. We stayed at the incomparable Malibu Beach house, which, in addition to being an 8 bedroom mansion within walking distance of the beach, had a deluxe heated pool with a waterslide, spa, and swim-up Tiki table. Talk about living in the lap of luxury – no one wanted to turn over the keys when our weekend came to a close!
Say Hi to Snooty at the South Florida Museum in Bradenton!
Who is Snooty, you say? Well, he’s just the oldest manatee in captivity in the world. He takes up residence at the South Florida Museum with two other younger male manatees. He can be found in the Parker Manatee Aquarium (where else?) swimming around and munching down on lettuce, carrots, and other fresh veggies. Parker Manatee Aquarium is also a rehabilitation center for injured manatees, and the exhibits around the aquarium detail the very real dangers manatees face in Florida. Be sure to stay for a presentation by a Manatee Care specialist and Snooty himself. South Floridians take their Snooty pride seriously! The museum gift shop had an entire assortment of Snooty themed merchandise available from stuffed animals to crossing signs.
However, the museum has so much more to offer than simply manatee related paraphernalia. From mastodon skeletons to giant megalodon jaws, the small museum is packed full of exhibits sure to captivate young and old alike. They even have a featured exhibit showcasing early native Floridian life. While perhaps a bit above younger children’s heads, the exhibits are exquisitely detailed and are worth exploring.
Last but not least, be sure to check out the planetarium! Offering both younger kid and high school level presentations, it offers a truly immersive experience for the whole family.