An overhead view of Anna Maria Island.

By Anika Shah

Anna Maria Island’s (AMI) Chamber of Commerce is introducing an all-new passport program. The program is a coordinated series of stops to help visitors enjoy all the island has to offer.

Passport holders get their book stamped after visiting any of the participating establishments. The businesses included in the program cover accommodations, attractions, cafes, delis, restaurants, shopping, marinas, water adventures and more.

The four municipalities with passport locations are the City of Anna Maria, City of Holmes Beach, Cortez Historical Commercial Fishing Village and City of Bradenton Beach. When visitors have stopped at five locations from each of the four municipalities, for a total of 20, they will receive a free island explorer T-shirt. A total of 60 locations are available, making for countless things to do.

According to the chamber’s press release, “Anna Maria Island is a place where ‘Old Florida’ charm can still be found, flip flops are a way of life and the speed limit never exceeds 35 mph.”

Indeed, Anna Maria is ranked number one by Newsweek as the most popular beach town in the U.S. and its Coquina Beach is regularly listed among the top five in Florida. One reason the island is so highly regarded is because there is a strict rule prohibiting chain restaurants and big buildings. Instead, the beach cottages and laid-back vibes are emphasized. Anna Maria has a similar atmosphere to Key West, yet is closer and less crowded.

Anna Maria makes a doable day trip, with the drive taking just under one hour and 30 minutes with traffic. According to TripAdvisor, visitors cite Bean Point, the beautiful intersection of the Gulf of Mexico and blue waterways, as the best attraction. Going to eat at the Rod and Reel Pier, watching the sunset on the beach, biking the 7-mile island, visiting the historical museum and green village, chartering a dolphin tour, shopping on Pine Ave., taking pictures at the old jail and strolling Bayfront Park are must-dos. Finding parking outside main attractions can be difficult, so traversing the island via the free trolley is recommended.

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