Beyond its beautiful beaches, the area offers many thrilling vacation opportunities for lovers of sports, adventure and shopping.
It’s a gorgeous afternoon on the north end of Longboat Key, a narrow barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Bradenton in Manatee County. Only a few people are walking on the beach, with its palm trees, snow-white sand and turquoise gulf waters. Manatee County is bordered by the Gulf of Mexico and located between Tampa to the north and Sarasota to the south.
Dream Beaches of Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key
A bit farther north and connected to Longboat Key by a drawbridge lies Anna Maria Island. The sand on Coquina Beach, one of the most beautiful beaches on Anna Maria Island, sparkles bright white. Along the beach, tall trees create a shaded area where public barbecue grills and tables invite people to picnic with family and friends.
With Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key, Bradenton offers two dream islands along the Florida coast. No wonder these two islands are very popular for weddings on the beach – there’s no more romantic place to watch the sunset than over the Gulf of Mexico.
Sports Fun: IMG Academy and Premier Sports Campus
If you’re looking for sports and high-energy action, Bradenton is the ideal location. The region is home to the IMG Academy, one of the best-known and most-respected sports centers in the world. Athletes of all ages come from around the globe to improve their techniques in sports such as golf, baseball, basketball, football, soccer, tennis, lacrosse and track and field. The academy is home to the well-known Nick Bollettieri Tennis Program, as well as other sports facilities. This is where Steffi Graf, Andre Agassi and Sabine Lisicki have trained, to name just a few. Tourists and families can also take advantage of the state-of-the-art facilities at IMG Academy. Plan sessions for a day, a weekend, a week or several weeks with instruction from world-class coaches.
Nearby, in residential Lakewood Ranch is the Premier Sports Campus, which attracts both athletes and sports fans. With its 22 grass fields spread across four square kilometers, the facility offers opportunities to attend or participate in regional and national tournaments for soccer, lacrosse, polo, rugby, archery, football and various other sports, as well as the ability to train and accommodate disabled athletes.
Activities that Pack an Adrenaline Rush
Find high-speed thrills on the racetrack at Andersen RacePark, which offers go-karting for adults and children as young as five-years-old and guarantees fun for all ages. And you can race without fear because the track provides all of the safety equipment you’ll need to race.
For those who like action surrounded by nature, head to TreeUmph!, a big, beautiful park with canopy trails, zip lining, suspension bridges and many other challenges that will make you feel like Tarzan. Here, too, the focus is on the whole family – the kids will love the high-flying adventures. Not a fan of heights? No problem. TreeUmph! has courses for everybody.
Shopping: Ellenton Premium Outlets and Lakewood Ranch’s Main Street
Drive to the nearby Ellenton Premium Outlets, the biggest outlet shopping center on Florida’s West Coast. In a lovely and inviting atmosphere, wander among shops including Lacoste, Michael Kors, Nike and Calvin Klein, and enjoy the many great bargains the 130-plus shops offer. There’s a playground to let the children burn off some energy as well as a chocolate shop and ice cream parlor.
Lakewood Ranch’s Main Street is a walkable shopping and dining area where visitors can stroll among the many attractive shops, boutiques, restaurants and bars. There is even a mini golf course where families gather for an evening round of putt-putt. Lakewood Ranch Main Street has an especially inviting atmosphere in the evening, when people come out to enjoy dining on the sidewalk or to catch a movie and enjoy a few drinks. The first Friday evening of every month is Music on Main, when hundreds of people crowd Main Street to listen to free live music and enjoy the family-friendly ambiance.
For more family fun, pay a visit to The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature, where you’ll find a large number of historical and natural exhibits and one of the largest planetariums in the United States.