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- Getting to Bradenton Florida
- Other Fun Things to Do in Bradenton FL with Kids
- Getting Around Anna Maria Island
Bradenton FL is located near Sarasota on the west coast (gulf side) of the Sunshine State. The year round mild weather, beautiful beaches and options for things to do make it a great vacation destination for families.
The writer was hosted for this trip.
Bradenton and Anna Maria Island offer vacation fun without feeling overly touristy. Bradenton is located on the Gulf of Mexico side of Florida. The Florida Gulf Coast is known for its gentler waters. The Atlantic side tends to have stronger waves, so Bradenton is a good fit for families with kids of all ages.
While this area of Florida caters to tourists, it manages to do this in a way that doesn’t feel overly commercial. Bradenton and nearby Anna Maria Island, a 7-mile barrier island, offer lots of fun and beach access. Pair the family-friendly beaches with seemingly endless dining and activity options and you’ve got a new vacation winner. There’s something fun for the whole family here.
Getting to Bradenton Florida
Bradenton, located in Manatee County, is served by the Sarasota-Bradenton airport. Several airlines fly in and out of here, including Jet Blue and Allegiant. If you’re a fan of Southwest Airlines, there’s good news! Southwest is operating new non-stop flights into Sarasota-Bradenton airport from four cities: Houston Hobby, Chicago Midway, Nashville and Baltimore/Washington International. These are short flights, making it easy to quickly get your toes in that gorgeous turquoise water.
If you’re driving or pairing your trip with another Florida destination, Bradenton is 115 miles from Orlando and 46 miles from Tampa Bay. If you are planning to go to Walt Disney World, Bradenton makes an awesome add-on. Other nearby cities worth exploring: Clearwater and St Petersburg.
SheBuysTravel Tip: We recommend you do Bradenton after Disney. You’ll appreciate the relaxation after your days of go-go-go-ing through the theme parks.
8 Fun Things to Do in Bradenton FL with Kids
1. Paint a Sand Dollar at Shiny Fish Emporium
The Shiny Fish Emporium, located on Pine Avenue, is one of the most fun things to do in Bradenton FL with kids. Adults will enjoy it, too. I certainly did.
Shiny Fish Emporium offers a unique experience for vacationers and local families with their array of specialty gifts, kid’s crafts and activities, and confections! A play area devoted to children provides a welcome place to relax, soak up the island vibe and let out your inner child while painting a sand dollar or munching on all natural frozen artisan popsicles!
There’s inside and outside seating available for painting. The shop has a very colorful, eclectic and happy vibe and they’ve got a great variety of merchandise, from Christmas ornaments to apparel to books and toys.
2. Explore Pine Avenue
Pine Avenue on Anna Maria Island offers lots of options for shopping and dining. While your kids might not be wild about the shopping part, there are a couple of stores you can dangle in front of them as a reward for being patient with you while you browse at the stores that sell chic housewares and gourmet picnic items.
One is the Flip Flop Shop and Candy Stop (needs no explanation) and the other is The Donut Experiment, where they make fresh donuts to order. There’s also the old jail that’s a fun photo opportunity. It’s obviously not in use anymore, but, according to the locals, there was never a roof on this building. In addition to being confined, prisoners also had to deal with the mosquitos. You can find a cool mural behind the North Shore Cafe, which used to be a schoolhouse.
You’ll also find art galleries, farmer’s markets, live music and other pop up events in the Pine Avenue area.
Pine Avenue is a LEED-certified Green Village and one of the top green projects in the state and region. There are some rentals on Pine Avenue. Be aware that if you stay here, you’ll need to take some extra steps to ensure you’re complying with their green initiatives.
3. Have an Epic Bradenton Beach Day
There are lots of options for family-friendly beaches in this area and you don’t have to look far to find the perfect beach. Where you’re staying is probably going to drive which beach spot you pick. Popular Bradenton beaches include: Cortez Beach, Coquina Beach and Manatee Beach.
These beaches have gentle waves and very soft sand. They’re definitely popular spots from spring break on through the summer but it’s easy to carve out your own space and maintain social distance. And you won’t find a wild, college spring break party atmosphere in Bradenton.
I recommend renting a cabana and beach amenities. If you’re road tripping, it might not be a big deal to load your beach gear into your car but, if you’re flying, this is definitely an essential service. My beach setup was arranged by AMI Adventure Rentals. AMI Adventure Rentals offers all sorts of rentals that can make your beach day and your entire trip easier. In addition to cabana rentals and beach gear, AMI Adventure Rentals can also secure bicycles, golf carts, and even baby gear. You can use them to book private tours and charters, too.
4. Go to the Bishop Museum of Science and Nature
Your list of fun things to do in Bradenton FL with kids isn’t complete without a good indoor activity. Even though you may primarily be interested in the beach, you never know what the weather is going to do.
The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature, located in downtown Bradenton, gives a look at natural history in this area of Florida. There’s a mix of both static and traveling exhibits. It also has a planetarium with different programs throughout the day. There’s also a manatee rehabilitation center and habitat, although that is currently being renovated. All of this is included in your admission ticket.
My favorite part about the Bishop Museum was Priscilla, who is a mastodon found in this area. You’ll see him right at the entrance. That’s right – him. Pricilla was named before archeologists discovered he was a he and just kept his name.
Covid protocols included lots of hand sanitizer available and distance markers on the floor. The flow of the museum has been restricted to a one way path to further eliminate contact. You’ll need to reserve your spot for Bishop planetarium shows in advance. They have capacity limits and do a great job at keeping people at least six feet apart. Face coverings are mandatory.
Exploring downtown Bradenton is fun on its own – there’s a mile or so of scenic riverwalk.
5. Who Loves Baseball? Attend a Spring Training Game
Bradenton is home to spring training for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Nearby Sarasota hosts spring training for the Baltimore Orioles and the Atlanta Braves. For the 2021 spring training year, ball parks are operating at 25 percent seating. This isn’t one of the things to do in Bradenton FL you can do year round, of course, but if the timing works out and you’re a baseball lover, great!
6. De Soto National Memorial
The De Soto National Memorial, operated by the National Parks Service, commemorates Hernando De Soto’s landing on his first legendary expedition. Hernando De Soto was a conquistador who is known for discovering the Mississippi River.
If you have an NPS membership, make sure you take your card when you’re planning your visit to Bradenton. There’s also a Junior Ranger Program for kids.
7. Treeumph Adventure Course
Treeumph Adventure Course is the ultimate playground. They offer ziplining, climbing and leadership challenges. They’ve got something for all ages and skill levels. If you want something totally different that a beach day, we think this is one of the really fun things to do in Bradenton FL with kids.
8. Robinson Preserve
Robinson Preserve is a nature center and park featuring a natural expanse of dense mangroves, tidal marsh and intricate waterways. Very popular is The NEST, an interpretive center full of hands-on programming for every age.
Other Fun Things to Do in Bradenton FL with Kids
Like most Florida beach communities, Bradenton offers the standard fare in water activities such as parasailing, jet skiing, stand up paddle boarding and more. You’ll have biking, boating, canoeing and kayaking as options, too. You’re in an area with lots of options for watersports.
You’ll see plenty of vendors for renting a kayak, bike or other equipment. There are bike rental stands all over the place.
If you’re an art lover, check out the Friday art walks at Village of the Arts.
Check out the Bradenton Anna Maria Island Longboat Key tourism web page for more ideas.
Where to Stay In and Around Bradenton FL
Waterline Marina Resort
The Waterline Marina Resort is perfect for families and for multi-family/multi-gen travel. This hotel, which is part of the Marriott Autograph collection, is a small, upscale property located right on the marina. You’re within walking distance of lots of places to eat, drink and shop and near (although not quite within walking distance) some beautiful beach space. Since this property is located right on the marina, you can do boat tours that start right from the dock.
The Waterline Hotel and Marina features two bedroom, two bathroom condos, equipped with every amenity a vacationing family or group could want, including full-size washers and dryers and fully stocked kitchens.
The unit I stayed in was beautifully decorated with a view of the marina from the balcony. There were two spacious bedrooms, each with their own en-suite. The bedrooms are separated by the living area, which provides privacy and a buffer for noisy kids, if needed.
There’s also a feature that allows you to close off the living area and the master bedroom from the second bedroom. This offers additional privacy, noise reduction and security and would be perfect for a large family or two families vacationing together who still need some space.
The Waterline has a pool and recreation area, which was pretty basic but well-maintained. I didn’t eat at the restaurant but it seems to be very upscale. While probably not not kid-friendly, it doesn’t look like the type of place that caters to children or the type of place most children enjoy.
SpringHill Suites by Marriott, Downtown Bradenton
Downtown Bradenton is very scenic and walkable. You’ll find lots of shopping and dining options downtown and dotted along the 1.5 mile Riverwalk along the Manatee River. Spring Hill Suites is a great option for families on a budget, groups who want to primarily do activities in the Bradenton area versus Anna Maria Island or groups planning to go to baseball spring training. If your primary focus is to go to the beach or Santa Maria Island, you’ll have to deal with driving and parking.
The standard room at SpringHill Suites has two queen beds and a trundle bed. It’s an open floorplan but the living room/wet bar area is decorated in such a way that makes it feel like there’s a little bit of separation. There’s also free hot breakfast.
I’ve stayed at Springhill Suites in other locations and find their quality to be consistently great. This Springhill Suites meets that expectation of quality but it has its own charm and personality. The rooftop pool and lounge area are A+. It’s also one of the tallest buildings in downtown Bradenton so you’ve got a great view of the harbor and surrounding area.
SpringHill Suites downtown Bradenton is right next to Oak and Stone. If you love beer and pizza, you HAVE to try this fun taproom. They also have other menu items as well as a kids menu.
Read More: 10 Kid-Friendly Bradenton FL Restaurants
Other Bradenton Accommodations
There’s no shortage of beach cottages and vacation rentals in this area. There are multiple rental agencies on Pine Avenue and lots of cute places to stay along Gulf Drive North to check out.
High season is March through September, so definitely book your hotel or vacation rental at least a couple of months in advance. That’s not to say you can’t find great things last-minute, but in general, planning is your friend.
Getting Around Anna Maria Island
Anna Maria Island is very popular during spring and summer. From March through September, expect it to be busy. There is not a lot of parking and popular + limited parking isn’t a great combo. You can drive your car or rent a golf cart. A golf cart is a great way to get your gear to the beach, although, if you’re going to eat or shop, you’ll run into the same challenges with parking as you would driving a car.
There are two forms of free transportation; the free Anna Maria Island Trolley or the Monkey Bus. The trolley stops are plentiful and there’s an app you can download to help you better use the service. There are 14 different stops so you’ll be able to get where you need to go using the trolley. Look for the green trolley sign – they are not hard to spot.
Another option is the Monkey Bus. Call for a free ride from noon to 3:00 a.m. – (941) 565-6542. These busses are fun to look at (they’re converted school buses with some wild paint and lights) and are karaoke-equipped. How fun does that sound? Please tip your Monkey Bus drivers.
My best advice for getting around Anna Maria Island is to fully embrace being on island time and in vacation mode. Use the free transportation, ditch the idea of a schedule or timetable and truly enjoy being where you are.
Jill Robbins is a freelance writer covering lifestyle, travel, health, and commerce. Her writing has appeared in SheKnows, HuffPost, Tripsavvy, Insider, AARP, and other publications.