8pm and the Sandbar Restaurant on Anna Maria Island is in full swing. Of course the full on wedding party helps the mood somewhat, but with nothing but miles of sand, sea and pelicans in front of you, you don’t need much persuading that life could be a lot worse. It’s a little bit special eating good food with Florida soft sand between your toes, the soft swishing sound of surf reminding you the warm Gulf of Mexico is a close neighbour.
The Sandbar is something of an institution on Anna Maria Island, a place of good cheer since 1911, and in a way reflecting exactly what Anna Maria itself is all about; a relaxed laid back corner of paradise, its natural beauty untarnished by developers, a place where you enjoy great food and wine, stunning white all public beaches and classic turquoise sea. Sandbar owner Ed Chiles is quick to point out the locals are committed to preserving this idyllic lifestyle whatever the cost. And you wouldn’t want to argue with a man of such influence, the son of Lawton Chiles, former Governor of Florida and owner of two other very popular Anna Maria watering holes, The Beach House and Mar Vista.
Just a few miles away from the bustle of downtown Sarasota and the glitzy Armand Circle, Anna Maria Island is a haven of tranquillity. You won’t find any high rise hotels here, and with traffic limited to just 20 miles an hour, no rush hour. In fact you’re better off taking the free trolley service that comes every 20 minutes to get yourself around the island. It even goes down to Armand Circle if you fancy some off island nightlife.
So, with no hotels to speak of just B&B inns in the main, you’ll be renting accommodation and there is no shortage of choice, from luxury beach side townhouses to old Florida style bungalows. Anna Maria Gulf Coast Rentals looks after an impressive portfolio of properties that can easily accommodate budgets of all sizes. Owned and operated by Englishman Bill Burnley, an island convert following his escape from the UK weather, you’ll be able to get a property for a week or a year. I had a beautifully appointed townhouse just a few steps from the beach, the family who owned it thoughtfully leaving all their equipment for us to use – even their bikes!
Anna Maria Island is the perfect getaway if you’re lusting for an island life in the slow and easy lane. However, you can venture away from paradise for a few hours and visit nearby Bradenton. A Saturday farmers market has live music, fresh produce and cookery demonstrations, whilst just a bit further on you can visit 63 year old Snooty, the oldest Manatee in captivity at the South Florida Museum the largest natural and cultural history museum on Florida’s Gulf Coast.
Back at the Sandbar, having enjoyed a sunset that will live with me forever, it’s time for another cocktail. And why not, Ed’s offered to buy me one.
Images (c) Andy Mossack
I love the sound of Anna Maria Island. How do I get there?
British Airways runs regular flights to Miami, Tampa and Orlando. Return flights from Gatwick to Orlando cost from £518, including all taxes, fees and charges, while return flights to Tampa cost from £518, Virgin Atlantic also runs regular services to Miami and Orlando.