It’s true what they say: It’s nice to just get away from it all. Packed calendars, Zoom fatigue, chasing the perfect work-life balance … they can all put a little strain on day-to-day life and cause couples to lose sight of how much they love just being together. The occasional break from routine is essential, and we’re of the mind that the Bradenton Area, FL, is the ideal destination to discover someplace new — and rediscover one another.
Bradenton is Old Florida at its finest, and we’re breaking down all the reasons why it makes the perfect spot for your next couples’ vacation.
Why the Bradenton Area is The Perfect Couple’s Escape
Catch a flight into either Tampa or Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport and pick up your rental car for a few days of relaxing fun just a short drive away. From the quaint cottage art galleries of downtown Bradenton to the long, wide beaches of Anna Maria Island to the mangrove forests of Robinson Preserve to the cozy fishing village of Cortez, there’s something for every level of adventure that you are looking for. The Bradenton Area offers modern towns with small-town charm, easy access to the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, and the lovely waterways of the Manatee River and Tampa Bay.
Where to Stay
Couples have an impressive variety of lodging options in the Bradenton Area. The helpful BradentonGulfIslands.com can point you toward many alternatives on the mainland or the islands of Longboat Key or Anna Maria (AMI to locals and frequent visitors). Visitors can pick from luxurious resorts or hotels, as well as all sorts of rental homes and condos for a little more privacy for your couple’s retreat. A few we’re partial to are Waterline Marina Resort & Beach Club on AMI and Bungalow Beach Resort in Bradenton Beach, closer to the southern end of the island.
Waterline is a member of the Autograph Collection, which means you can use or earn Marriott Bonvoy travel rewards during your stay. Located mid-island on the long and skinny AMI, Waterline is convenient to just about anywhere you’d like to visit during your stay. Plus, the handy Island Trolley has a stop right next to the parking lot, so you can ride around on the island all day for free. The lobby bar is a lively meeting spot before or after a meal at the hotel’s restaurant, The Château Anna Maria, that takes full advantage of the freshest ingredients. Enjoy some serious downtime at the resort’s pool or avail yourself of the luxuries of Beach Suites AMI, a beach concierge offering premium rentals of chairs, umbrellas, and more. Plus, they take care of everything, from setup to teardown.
Life at Bungalow Beach Resort, on the other hand, is intentionally a little quieter and more nostalgic than at the newer Waterline. Although the resort is certainly conveniently located for shopping, dining, and nightlife opportunities, the property exudes the “Real Authentic Florida” vibe that the Bradenton Area prides itself upon. Billing itself as an oasis within an island, once you pass under the gazebo entrance of Bungalow Beach, you’re living on island time. The enclave of 15 cedar clapboard bungalows is really its own little community, hosting guests in lodging options ranging from one-room studios to three-bedroom homes.
Where to Take in the Gorgeous Gulf Sunsets
Take an easy walk up to Bean Point Beach on the northern tip of AMI for another unique water view. Thanks to the orientation of the secluded beach, Bean Point offers the magnificent sight of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge sweeping over Tampa Bay along with a horizon-to-horizon aspect of where the Gulf meets the Bay.
Coquina Beach is another scenic area near the other end of the island with excellent facilities and a pleasant walking path along the shore.
While we’re on the subject of walking paths, it’s tough to beat the 1.5-mile Riverwalk along the Manatee River in Bradenton. With wide grassy areas to lay down a blanket for a romantic picnic and whimsical public art to view during your stroll, there are pleasant surprises around every corner on the Riverwalk. Or stop and sit a spell on one of the many swingsets strategically facing west for spectacular sunset views.
Where to Enjoy a Romantic Meal and a Drink
The Bradenton Area offers an extensive variety of dining options, from casual beach bars to burger joints to more formal opportunities to dress up a little for a special celebratory dinner. Start your evening with a craft cocktail at The Doctor’s Office on AMI. Located in a real former medical clinic, the talented mixologists behind the bar offer what they jokingly call “prescriptions,” classic drinks made using top-shelf spirits that promise to cure whatever ails you. Move on to Beach Bistro for shoreside dining with some tables actually set right on the sand. For a more casual option, The SandBar Restaurant is a favorite among locals who appreciate the laid-back vibe. The kitchen focuses on fresh, sustainable, and locally produced ingredients.
Over on the mainland, Château 13 is another go-to for locals or visitors seeking a refined and intimate dining experience. Owned and operated by a family of Belgian ex-pats, Château 13 is committed to the European model of hospitality and even offers a private label French champagne. Near downtown Bradenton and the Riverwalk is Mattison’s Riverwalk Grille, a fine spot to dine al fresco on the water while sampling an international menu including fantastic seafood options. Beer lovers can sample craft drafts at a trio of excellent breweries in Bradenton, all within a quick rideshare trip of one another. Located in a former auto dealership, Motorworks Brewing is the oldest brewery in Bradenton and offers the largest outdoor beer garden in Florida. Darwin Brewing Co. originally brewed food-friendly beers on a small system. Their beers were designed to pair with the food at their Latin American gastropub but soon grew so popular that the brewery expanded and started selling their wares statewide. 3 Keys Brewing maintains their cozy brewpub vibe, serving elevated pub grub in their indoor dining room and open-air patio, along with a long list of beers, ciders, and honey meads brewed in-house.
Where to Have Some Outdoor Fun
With all those amazing dining and drinking opportunities, you might be looking for the chance to burn off a few calories with a little exertion in the open air. Lucky for you, the Bradenton Area has you covered with an array of outdoor opportunities. Beach Bums and many other outfitters rent kayaks and paddleboards, which offer your choice of some paddling in the Gulf or the calmer waters between the island and the mainland. Or heck, rent them for the whole day and try both places!
Another great spot for paddling is Robinson Preserve in the northwest corner of the Bradenton Area. Encompassing almost 500 acres of protected wetlands and beach areas, Robinson Preserve offers examples of several different coastal habitats easily visible along paved walking trails. A kayak launch area leads to three miles of blueways that wind among the marshes and through remarkable mangrove tunnels formed when groves of the aquatic trees form arches above the water.
Robinson Preserve is also a favorite spot for bird watching, a hobby that many newcomers discovered during time cooped up and socially distancing over the past year and a half. Even more attractive to birders is the Felts Audubon Preserve in Palmetto. The park was formed from a 28-acre land donation two decades ago and is now managed as a protected habitat for almost 200 species of birds and dozens of species of colorful butterflies.
Another excellent bird-watching venue is Jiggs Landing on the Ever’s Reservoir. Once an authentic old-school Florida fishing camp, Jiggs Landing now offers canoeing and freshwater fishing opportunities with the bonus chance to see an abundance of wildlife ranging from owls, ospreys, and eagles to alligators.
Where You Want to Slow Down & Just Relax
After a day of enjoyable exertion, you and your significant other deserve a little rest and relaxation. Start your day with a little morning self-centering at the Island Yoga Space on the north end of AMI, or for a little pampering, spend a spa day at Sea-renity Beach Spa & Bou-tiki on Anna Maria Island. The “tiki” in the name refers to a little grass hut on the beach where you can get a relaxing single or couple’s massage while listening to the waves crashing ashore. Indoor massages are also available if you prefer a more climate-controlled environment, as well as a full menu of spa treatments and facials.
Where to Shop for Mementos of Your Romantic Getaway
If your idea of relaxation is a little “retail therapy,” the Bradenton Area has plenty of fun shopping opportunities. The Village of the Arts complex in the Bradenton Area is an eclectic collection of galleries, studios, shops, and boutiques in colorful, refurbished bungalows situated around a four-block neighborhood. See artists at work and purchase some souvenirs to take home to remember your trip by, or stop into a bakery to grab a more fleeting memory to enjoy as you stroll from shop to shop.
If you’re looking for discounts on luxury brands like Calvin Klein, Coach, Kate Spade, Guess, and more, visit Ellenton Premium Outlets, which offers up to 65% off regular retail prices. Also on the mainland is Main Street at Lakewood Ranch, an open-air shopping center that includes boutiques, international restaurants, a movie theater, and a miniature golf course. Plus, the shopping mall often hosts farmers’ markets, concerts, and festivals.
Pine Avenue on the north end of AMI is another promenade packed with retail opportunities. Quaint restaurants, bakeries, and souvenir stores welcome guests to pop in for a bit to get out of the sun, and specialty shops sell everything from exotic olive oils to fine art. The Donut Experiment is a favorite spot to pop in for a customized donut topped with your choice of dozens of icings, glazes, drizzles, and sprinkles. The Island Cabana is a quaint boutique filled with clothes for the island lifestyle plus souvenirs and home decor to take a little bit of the beach home with you.
You’ll want to snap plenty of photos during your romantic retreat to tide you over with memories until you can make a return trip. Once you start to tell your friends about this gem of a vacation destination, you may find out that more of them have visited than you knew. It seems that some folks have been trying to keep the Bradenton Area a well-kept secret, but we’re guessing you’ll want to tell the world how much fun you had!
This article is sponsored by the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. All photography provided by the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.