With a seven mile coast line of exquisite sugar-white sand, an average daily temperature of 84 degrees and 361 days of sunshine per year, you'd be forgiven for thinking such a place doesn't exist. But it does. With a rustic charm, a laid-back Floridian style and unhurried tropical living, the word 'recession' will be far from your thoughts.
The locals want to get to know you and the local businesses welcome you with signs that say 'come as you are' and promising to 'feed your soul'; a truly indicative symbol of the delight that is Anna Maria Island, Manatee County, Florida.
This hidden gem is located 40 miles south of Tampa, surrounded by the Gulf of Mexico on the West, Tampa Bay and Anna Maria Sound on the East and Sarasota Bay to the South. The Island consists of three town communities; Anna Maria City to the north end of the island, which houses some of the largest residential homes. Holmes beach in the centre and Bradenton Beach in the south; with its fun shops and restaurants. However with only 8,000 inhabitants on the Island, it is far from being crowded.
Steeped in Floridian history, the Historical Society, founded on the Island in 1990 and supported passionately by the local residents have embraced and preserved the Island's heritage which encompasses the charm that is Anna Maria Island. Properties and buildings which have celebrated 50 years are awarded plaques to be recognised as part of the culture, and restaurants such as Skinny's Place and The Sandbar (www.sandbar-restaurant.com), proudly tell their stories, not only through their websites, but through the owners, who in most cases can still be found behind the bar, greeting you with welcoming smiles, as wide as they were, the day they opened.
Most people visit Anna Maria Island for the exquisite beaches. You can relax in the serenity that is Holmes Beach, capture the feel of old Florida on the remote stretch of Anna Maria Beach, or simply enjoy the warm seas of the Gulf and the amenities playgrounds, picnic tables and showers that the more popular beaches (Manatee, Holmes Beach, Coquina) have to offer. Wherever you decide to laze, the beaches are true paradise and deliver the most magnificent sunsets to rival anywhere in the world.
Anna Maria also plays host to beautiful wildlife; watching laughing gulls, snowy egrets, pelicans and herons, observing bottlenose dolphins and manatees or respectfully admiring the sea turtles who come ashore to nest between May to October, are all favoured pastimes of visitors and inhabitants alike.
Also popular here is fishing, be it from a dock on the bay, throwing a line from one of the three rustic and historic piers to chartering your own boat from Old Cortez fishing village. An angler's paradise, an amazing array of fish can be found in the depths of the beautiful gulf. Kayaking through the network of canals, taking an Eco-Tour with Beach Bums, bike riding along the narrow winding streets, setting sail along the coast, or even trying yoga on the beach, are as much exertion as you will find yourself doing on Anna Maria Island (rental; www.beachbumsami.com).
But, if that even seems too much, the islands only Body and Sol Day Spa can be discovered for an extensive range of beauty treatments, massages and general pampering; also essential for wedding parties, which are becoming increasingly popular, as couples begin to discover the idyllic setting and romantic sunsets that make Anna Maria Island the perfect backdrop for a beach-wedding dream. So much is the interest in the Island for weddings, it is being heralded as the No.1 Wedding Destination in Florida and to support this, the Island held host to their first Wedding Fair in 2008 and offer an on-line Wedding Directory detailing all the local businesses to help plan the perfect day, www.annamariaislandweddingdirectory.com.
Whatever you to do on Anna Maria Island, you will only want to do it at a slow pace. And, to explore, you don't even need to sap your energy with walking. The Island has a free trolley service, which travels from Anna Maria Pier in the north to Coquina Beach on the south, from 6am to 11pm daily. Winding down on this island is instant, as you settle in to a taste of Florida's very own yesteryear paradise.