Jim Abbott on Travel
Postcards from Florida
April 6, 2013
No matter what anyone might tell you: Getting there isn't always half the fun.
On a recent day-trip from the Orlando area to Anna Maria Island, the commute wasn't even a fraction of the day's entertainment. With a soul-sucking series of traffic jams on Interstate 4 in Orlando and Interstate 275 in Tampa and St. Petersburg, it was more like a 31/2-hour lesson in pleasure subtraction.
A more efficient road warrior might have avoided the I-275 congestion ("malfunction junction," according to one local I encountered that afternoon) in favor of the less crowded Interstate 75. Alas, my traveling companion had never been across the mammoth Sunshine Skyway Bridge, an experience that always comes with the risk of gridlock.
Fortunately, Anna Maria Island — a 7-mile stretch of barrier island on the Gulf Coast about 20 miles west of Bradenton — specializes in stress reduction. We rolled the windows down for the final approach on State Road 64, a leisurely drive across the draw bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway.
Our afternoon checklist was a quick tour of the island's three tiny towns (Bradenton Beach, Holmes Beach and Anna Maria), including a stroll along the two rustic fishing piers on the north end of Anna Maria, toes-in-the-sand time on Holmes Beach and a trip south on Gulf Drive toward the fishing village of Cortez.
Sunsets are revered on Anna Maria Island (annamariaisland-longboatkey.com), where the daily ritual inspires spontaneous applause and ringing bells at spots such as the Sandbar restaurant on the north end of Anna Maria. Since 1913, diners have gathered to watch the sunset from tables perched on the sand itself.
First, how about lunch? I'm a big fan of the ultra-rustic Skinny's Place, an institution on Holmes Beach since 1952. Patrons elbow toward the bar to pay cash only for a Skinny Burger ($4.60) or draft beer ($1.50) in a weathered hut that looks like a remnant of Gilligan's Island.
Across the street, Café on the Beach at the Manatee Public Beach, is famous for its daily all-you-can-eat pancake breakfasts and gorgeous view.
We finished our day at Anna Maria City Pier, where sting rays, pelicans and dolphins were visible from the deck. Across Tampa Bay, the Skyway Bridge looked more peaceful from a distance.
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