Come for charming boutiques, mom-and-pop eateries, and a hefty dose of Southern hospitality.
Anna Maria Island, FL
Credit: Getty/Melanie Wynarski/EyeEm

After a hectic few months, I wanted to slow down and unplug with a short getaway—and do it with my mom at my side. Our choice to downshift for a few days? Florida's Anna Maria Island—a little slice of Gulf Coast heaven that makes the perfect backdrop for a laid-back, mother-daughter vacation. We packed up the car and set out on our drive from Orlando with the lure of a quiet, coastal weekend leading the way.

The seven-mile stretch of island encompasses three quaint towns: Anna Maria in the north, Bradenton Beach in the south, and Holmes Beach tucked in the middle. We didn't find chain stores, fast-food restaurants, or high-rise hotels. Instead, we enjoyed charming boutiques, mom-and-pop eateries, and lots of local flavor that gave us a taste of old Florida hospitality.

This coastal gem maintains a chill vibe, with plenty of telltale signs. Speed limits top out at 35 mph, flip-flops grace bare feet, and there's a taboo on high-rise buildings  and commercialization. Perhaps one of the greatest draws for weary road trippers? The entire island is accessible by the free trolley that runs daily.

How To Get There
Flying into this seaside community is easy. Tampa International Airport is about an hour drive, while Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport is just 30 minutes away. If you're planning to hit the road and drive south, at least a few miles on I-75 is likely in your future. From Atlanta, the highway will drop you almost directly in Anna Maria Island. Just pack lots of car snacks.

Where To Stay
While plenty of beachfront cottage rentals and small hotels dot the island, we opted for a luxurious stay at the Waterline Villas & Marina in Holmes Beach. With 37 well-appointed two-bedroom suites (from $319 per night), the units feature a full kitchen and large, comfy living room. It was the little touches that went a long way with me and my mom though. The boat-shaped kitchen table, the glossy wooden staircase that wrapped to the first floor, and the turquoise umbrella resting in our suite foyer were friendly reminders that we were officially on island time.

For those looking to stick close to home, the resort offers plenty of amenities to keep you entertained. Complimentary bicycles for island cruising, sunset yoga sessions overlooking the marina, local-artist-led watercolor classes, a resort-style pool, and onsite restaurant make a case for never leaving the property at all. One morning we found ourselves doing just that as we sat on our porch overlooking the bustling marina, watching charter boats for family fishing trips and eco-tours gear up for the day.

What To Do
Of course, the desire to sit still didn't last long. Our adventures took us to pristine Holmes Beach where we strolled along the soft, powdery-white sand and watched the sun sink into the Gulf of Mexico. We explored Anna Maria Bayfront Park, which offers stunning views of Tampa Bay and the iconic Sunshine Skyway Bridge. We ambled along historic Pine Avenue, popping into working artist studios like Emerson Quillin's shop, whose whimsical brand of humor hit the mark for us. We tasted grapefruit-spiked oil in Anna Maria Olive Oil Outpost, which beckoned us with samples of flavored oils and freshly baked bread. And we explored the town's colorful, creative past at the free Anna Maria Island Historical Society Museum, including hand-woven baskets crafted from palmetto fronds.

In the Historic Bridge Street area (a bustling enclave of boutiques, shops, and restaurants), my mom and I boarded a 90-minute tour courtesy of Paradise Boat Tours ($30/adult). Captain Mike and his first mate Erin charmed the boat's half-dozen passengers with wildlife trivia and local history as we navigated through the intracoastal waterways spotting dolphins and egrets along the way. Another highlight was visiting The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature ($23.95/adult) for an up-close look at its handful of rescued manatees that will soon be released back into the wild. This well-maintained museum, located in downtown Bradenton, features two-floors of exhibits dipping into South Florida's past, plus an impressive planetarium.

Where To Eat
Plenty of local eateries drew us in with their small-town feel and home-cooked fare. For a hearty breakfast, we stopped at Minnie's Beach Café, a cozy, family-owned business since the 1990s. With room for just 50 diners (including counter service with five stools) the café boasts a blue-and-white nautical theme and kitschy rooster-shaped wall shelf. As the owner likes to say, "Minnie's is like a Cheers of the Island. If we don't know your name when you enter, we will when you leave!"

For another local-loved experience, we headed to Ginny's & Jane E's, an island staple for more than 15 years with an eclectic mix of café, bakery, and store. Here, you can grab a giant cinnamon roll (get there early—they sell out quick), borrow a book to read from the café library, or peruse the colorful gift shop.

Lunchtime took us to waterfront dining at Anna Maria Oyster Bar on the Historic Bridge Street Pier. We munched on heavenly coconut shrimp, tuna poke stack, and calamari as we watched the boats bobbing in the water.

One night, we ordered melt-in-your mouth eggplant and chicken parmigiana dinners to go from Vinny's Italian Kitchen so we could eat in our resort's nautical-inspired kitchen. Another night we wanted a more upscale experience, so we dined in the casually elegant Eliza Ann's Coastal Kitchen at the Waterline. We both craved shrimp scampi, and at the suggestion of our server, we added pasta to soak up the buttery lemon-basil-citrus sauce.

For our final just-us-girls meal before our drive back to Orlando, we lunched at the elegant Pier 22–the go-to place for weekday power lunches. Walking past the full sushi bar opposite the enormous aquarium, we snagged a table overlooking the Manatee River. We savored the Bruschetta Chicken with tangy balsamic glaze and a mammoth angus burger from the scratch kitchen as we soaked in the last of Anna Maria.We wish we could have stayed longer to explore more of the alluring island. But for this mother-daughter duo, we relished the postcard-perfect getaway to take in a bit of Old Florida charm.