Bradenton. Anna Maria Island. Longboat Key  

Occasionally you run across one of those old photos: a vacation image of Florida before theme parks, malls, and Starbucks on every corner. The Florida of swaying palms, island beaches and lazy, laid-back living.

Countless first-time visitors to Florida assume those days are long gone – until they stumble upon Bradenton/Anna Maria Island/Longboat Key. Just south of Tampa, it’s an area easy to get to, yet slightly off the beaten path.

Many first get to know the sun-bleached offshore islands of Anna Maria and Longboat Key, laid-back vacation destinations gently rimmed by the warm, turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Here you’ll find some of the whitest, powder-soft beaches in America, and sunsets that beat any other. Pine Avenue, on Anna Maria’s north end, offers an island village filled with shops, cafés and diversions.

Here it’s easy to become an islander: quaint cottages and small, intimate resorts and inns invite with relaxing stays offering all the comforts of home. Rent a beach bike and explore. Ride horseback on Palma Sola Bay. Enjoy a morning Segway tour. This is the real deal. Authentic Florida, with a carefree local vibe.

But the islands aren’t the whole story. A mainland beckons with hundreds of experiences and favorite, brand-name hotels. Stroll Bradenton’s intimate, restored Old Main Street. Nearby, the new Riverwalk offers you miles of relaxing diversions as it meanders along the beautiful Manatee River.

Further east, amid unspoiled backcountry and rolling farmland, you can find nature and eco adventure of every kind and agricultural tours. Spend a day at a real, working winery or get an inside look into the day-to-day operations of a Florida dairy farm.

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Bradenton/Anna Maria Island/Longboat Key

Bradenton/Anna Maria Island/Longboat Key

Ride horseback on Palma Sola Bay.

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