Take it slow in Bradenton

With its sustainable values and starring role in a new episode of hit TV series Fantastic Friends, there’s no better time to visit Bradenton…

Team Wanderlust
21 September 2023
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Bradenton Area Florida

Stretching out into the Gulf of Mexico on Florida’s sunny west coast, Bradenton is easily reached via Virgin Atlantic’s direct flights from London Heathrow and Gatwick to nearby Tampa, and is also just two hours’ drive from Orlando. Starring in an upcoming episode in season two of the popular TV travel series Fantastic Friends, come and discover the city for yourself and explore an alluring mix of pristine golden beaches, exciting outdoor adventures and innovative sustainable initiatives…

Hit the coast

Go stand-up paddleboarding on Florida’s warm Gulf waters (Bradenton Gulf Islands)

It isn’t hard to fall in love with Anna Maria Island, which is attached to Bradenton via a long, slender causeway. Here you’ll find a Florida that’s like it used to be in the 1940s and ’50s: picture-perfect, pastel-coloured clapboard houses; gently swaying palm trees; fully stocked bait shops; island-style bar shacks serving Floribbean cuisine. At around 11km long and just over a kilometre wide, it has resisted the lure of big business. You’ll see no high-rises, chain hotels or restaurants – just independently run mom-and-pop stores, bars and restaurants, each as local and welcoming as the last.
You can choose from a wealth of accommodation, ranging from family-run guesthouses to boutique hotels or holiday homes by the beach. Indeed, it was in a clapboard beach house that the Harry Potter actors and twins James and Oliver Phelps stayed while filming the Florida episode of Fantastic Friends. From a similar waterside location, it’s easy to get out and about, whether attempting stand-up paddleboard yoga, going dolphin-spotting in Sarasota Bay or watching a Bradenton sunset in style by renting a cabana with Beach Suites.
If you’d rather explore the shoreline, Bradenton boasts myriad secluded stretches of sand. Head to Beer Can Island (also known as Greer Island) on Longboat Key for dazzling white shores and turquoise waters, or make for De Soto National Memorial Beach, another great place to watch the sun slowly sink below the horizon.

Stretch your legs

This lookout offers fine views over Robinson Preserve’s salt marshes (Bradenton Gulf Islands)

It’s not all about pure relaxation. If you want to experience more outdoor activities and culture, Bradenton has you covered. First, you’ll want to get out onto those shimmering green Gulf waters. Whether by kayak, paddleboard or motorboat, take things at your own pace and enjoy the scenery as you glide through tangled mangroves and past spectacular coastline.
Getting out on the water means getting considerably closer to nature. Sign up to an eco-tour, which explores the area’s local habitats and wildlife sustainably; you might even spot the odd alligator or spy an osprey swooping down on its catch. Trips typically range from birdwatching to spotting dolphins and manatees – you are in Manatee County, after all!
Later, wander the Bradenton River Walk, a 2.4km-long stretch of public green space overlooking the Manatee River. You’ll find public parks, live event spaces and plenty of places to stop and explore. Learn about your surroundings at the Bishop Museum of Science and Nature, which features a manatee rehabilitation habitat, a planetarium and regular exhibitions. And don’t miss Bradenton’s Village of the Arts, an eclectic artists’ community made up of colourful, historic 1920s and ’30s cottages, which now house galleries, studios, restaurants, bakeries and speciality shops. The area also holds fascinating Art Walks on the first Friday night and Saturday afternoon of every month.

Green focus

Wander the mangroves of Desoto National Memorial (Bradenton Gulf Islands)

This heavenly patch of Florida is home to some of America’s most beautiful landscapes: warm Gulf waters; wild mangroves that nurture dolphins, manatees, alligators and all manner of fish; and sweeping nature preserves, home to a range of wildlife, from rare birds to sea turtles. It’s on all of us to make sure they stay pristine.
Bradenton prides itself on keeping its piece of paradise as perfect as possible. Among a raft of sustainable initiatives is Love It Like a Local, which has partnered with the Leave No Trace campaign to encourage visitors to treat the area as if they lived there – keeping beaches and waterways clean, conserving energy, protecting local wildlife and supporting local businesses. Another interesting example is the All Clams on Deck scheme, which aims to restore local estuaries by replenishing clam populations and seagrass meadows to improve the quality of the water and create healthier habitats for both marine life and humans.
Even the local food scene is keeping things green, with a wealth of responsibly caught local seafood found on local menus. Its pioneering farm-to-fork restaurants aim to serve sustainable seafood from local fisheries, and many are working with organisations to avoid serving overfished species. Pioneering examples include the Chiles Hospitality Group, whose three wonderful waterfront restaurants subscribe to the Gulf Coast Oyster Restoration and Recycling programme, which repurposes used oyster and clam shells to create new ocean reefs.

Make it happen

Award-winning tour operator Ocean Florida (0203 5530 948) have years of experience throughout the Bradenton area. They offer a seven-night city and beach trip for £1,889pp (based on two adults sharing), including direct return flights from London Heathrow to Tampa, two nights at The Godfrey Hotel, Tampa, and five nights in a one-bedroom condo on Anna Maria Island, Bradenton.

For even more inspiration, head to the official Visit Bradenton Gulf Islands website.

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