Anna Maria is a colorful island off Florida's Gulf Coast that offers a beach vacation with small-town charm. NY1's Valarie D'Elia filed the following report.
Go down a street on Anna Maria Island and it looks as if a box of crayons melted over many of the charming buildings, which are often no taller than a palm tree.
If it wasn't for real, one would think Anna Maria is a scene in a cartoon version of old Florida. Residents still get their news from local papers and in place of chain restaurants, mom-and-pop shops dole out handmade doughnuts and tacos.
A barrier island along the Gulf of Mexico between Sarasota and Tampa, Anna Maria stretches for seven miles, connecting the sunny and sandy destinations of Anna Maria, Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach.
A range of accommodations from funky motels to private homes, cottages and low-rise condos can come with kitchens for extra savings.
"I think that's one of the reasons we decided to come here because it's a great family vacation," says a traveler.
For a romantic splurge, Beach Bistro, which Zagat calls one of America's best fine dining restaurants, is located waterfront in Holmes Beach. Its more casual sister, Eat Here, is close by in a no-fuss shopping strip.
The historic city pier is the local landmark. A house built on the end of it in 1920 fell into Tampa Bay six years later, and is now part of the historical park and museum.
Anna Maria is so laid back that everything moves slowly here, especially the traffic at 25 mph. Visitors who ditch the car can go around town in a free trolley, tool around on a bike or rent an electric golf cart.
Those who come from October through May can snag a seat at the Island Players Community Theater, going into its 65th season.
Hopefully, Anna Maria will survive the growing pains of its increasing popularity and keep its small-town character intact. For more information, visit www.annamariaislandchamber.org.