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There’s nothing like a sunset view in Bradenton Beach, Florida.

If you’re planning a vacation to Bradenton Beach in Southwest Florida, then you’ll want to find out all there is to see and do in this beautiful beach town right on the Gulf of Mexico.

To give you some context, Bradenton Beach is located just minutes away from Sarasota, Lakewood Ranch, and Bradenton. Of course, those could be some long minutes if you’re caught in snowbird traffic (“snowbird” is the nickname for the retirees, often from the Midwest New York, or Canada, who live in Florida for part of the year).

Bradenton Beach is located on Anna Maria Island, which is home to the town of Anna Maria, Holmes Beach, and Bradenton Beach. Anna Maria is well known and often celebrated for its “old Florida” feel and family atmosphere. We agree that it’s terrific, but don’t forget about the rest of “the island,” as locals call it.

Just south of Bradenton Beach, once you cross over Longboat Pass Bridge, is the tony beachside town of Longboat Key.

A peaceful summer day in Bradenton Beach.

When you cross the Cortez Road bridge into Bradenton Beach, you’ll definitely get a small beach town feel, as the Gulf of Mexico view is visible ahead of you and you see pedestrians making their way to lunch or dinner The Beach House, a well-known restaurant right on the Gulf.

Tourists (who wear swimsuits even if winter temperatures are in the 60s–“Yikes!” exclaim Florida natives) stroll along to make their way back to their Bradenton Beach hotel or rental and stop for ice cream along the way. If you make your way down Bridge Street, you can find a treasure trove of shopping (more on Bridge Street in our tips below).

The Bradenton Beach area is so scenic that a few movies have been filmed nearby, including “Out of Time” with Denzel Washington. We’ve seen local restaurants that once had signs that said, “Denzel Washington ate here.”

Here’s our guide for what’s fun to see and do when you visit Bradenton Beach.

Life is “beachy keen” in Bradenton Beach, Florida. Here are some photogenic clouds you’ll find in the area from April to October.

7 To-Do Tips for a Visit to Bradenton Beach, Florida

Hang out at the beach. Well, this is an obvious tip, right? The good news is that there’s some nuance to it. “Bradenton Beach” isn’t just one stretch of beach in town. Although much of the beach area is called “Bradenton Beach,” there’s a smaller stretch called Cortez Beach that we like for fishing, picture taking, and hanging out the beach without too many people (usually). Then there’s Coquina Beach, a popular stretch of beach that includes a ton of parking, a playground, picnic areas, and a restaurant. Coquina Beach also features some shady spots. Arrive early if you want to make Coquina Beach your destination and you plan to use one of the grills or if you want a good parking spot.

On Bradenton Beach piers, you’ll often finds birds that pose while you take their picture. Here’s a great blue heron.

Whatever beach area you pick or can find parking at, you’re likely in for a treat. The Gulf waters are usually clear or turquoise, and you’ll find white or light-colored sand. Although the waters can get fierce during a bad storm or any other turbulence in the Gulf, most of the time it’s smooth sailing and swimming. As you may know, the Gulf is known for its calm waters versus the Atlantic side’s waves.

Watch a sunset. If you’ve come to the west coast of Florida, then you probably know that you’re in for a sunset treat. On your phone, check your weather app to verify what time you can watch the sunset or visit this site. In the summer, it can be as late as 8 or 8:30 pm. In the winter, it’s closer to 5:30 or 5:45. Anywhere on the beach is a good place to be to watch the sun quickly make its way down the horizon. You’ll likely be there with many new friends (aka tourists from Indiana and Michigan) who have the same idea as you, but it’s OK. Everyone seems to be in a good mood.

The clock tower on the Bridge Street Pier.

Visit the Bridge Street Pier and Bridge Street shops. Surprisingly, Bradenton Beach has a bayside pier and some shops that not even known by all locals. The Bridge Street Pier is an ample-sized, long pier that makes a great destination to watch the sun rise, fish, or watch traffic crossing the Cortez Road Bridge. You can find the pier by looking for clock tower at the beginning of it.

Bridge Street in Bradenton Beach has some unique shops. Here’s a sign for Tintos, a Colombian coffee shop.

Then there are the shops, bars, and restaurants on Bridge Street. Although Bridge Street isn’t long, it’s a nice eclectic mix. You’ve got mini golf (The Fish Hole Miniature Golf), a bar that loves the Green Bay Packers (The Bridge Tender Inn and Dockside Bar), a Colombian coffee shop (Tintos), a spa (Sea-renity Beach Spa), and several more finds. Take a walk along Bridge Street and you may surprise yourself with some new favorite shopping.

One view of a few stores along Bridge Street in Bradenton Beach. The Bridge Street shopping district is small but diverse.

-Eat! Like any good beach town, Bradenton Beach has several restaurants you can enjoy. The Beach House is well known and prides itself on sourcing much of its food locally. It’s also typically big and crowded. Daiquiri Deck is a local, well-known chain that has some cool Gulf views, as does Bridge Street Bistro. Anna Maria Oyster Bar is located right on the Bridge Street Pier. There are plenty of other local choices. Of course, don’t forget about ice cream during your beach vacation on Bradenton Beach. Island Scoops is one popular choice.

In case you need to know where the heck you are, here’s a sign in Bradenton Beach.

-Enjoy water sports. Whether you want to fish right off the shore or do a charter trip, you’ve got your choice. There’s also boating, dolphin boat tours (although you’ll sometimes see dolphins right from shore), parasailing, and scuba diving. Bradenton Beach isn’t well known for snorkeling–the waters are clear but not usually filled with colorful things to see as beaches in the Caribbean. However, anyone in your group who enjoys throwing on a snorkel mask may see a few interesting shells or fish. Best to ask the folks at any local dive shops about their snorkeling recommendations.

A pier along the beach in Bradenton Beach. Use the pier for fishing and sunset viewing.

–Visit some other nearby cool places. You could make a whole vacation of just hanging out at Bradenton Beach if you’re a real beach bum. Yet while you’re in the area, you may as well check out some other popular and cool places to see. Here are a few suggestions:

Anna Maria Island

Robinson Preserve, a peaceful oasis of parkland about 15 or 20 minutes away by car.

The Ringling art museum in Sarasota

St. Armand’s Circle in Sarasota, a popular shopping and restaurant destination

Cortez, a historical fishing village located just on the other side of the Cortez Street Bridge. There’s a small museum and a few restaurants.

MOTE Marine and Save Our Seabirds, two animal-geared places adjacent to each other

Leffis Key Preserve in Bradenton Beach.

Take a calming stroll at Leffis Key Preserve. One lesser known area of Bradenton Beach is called Leffis Key Preserve, located on the bay side of town. Leffis Key Preserve has a few walking trails and some pretty nifty views of the bay. There’s even a 26-foot “hill”–a big deal in flat Florida!

Some final tips for your visit to Bradenton Beach:

Think early. Over the 10+ years we’ve lived in Bradenton, we’ve watched Bradenton Beach go from feeling distinctly more crowded in the winter and spring because of tourists and snowbirds to staying busy year-round. Your best strategy is to arrive to the beach early. Otherwise, you’re likely going to be stuck in traffic going over the bridge and while driving around Bradenton Beach’s limited number of streets. Which brings us to our next tip….

Walk or use the trolley when you can. If you’re staying in a Bradenton Beach hotel/rental or anywhere on Anna Maria Island, there’s a free trolley that goes from north Anna Maria Island (specifically, the Anna Maria Pier) all the way down to Coquina Beach. Take advantage of it to minimize driving, or walk when you can.

–Grab a map. This may sound old school, but the maps that you’ll find in free newspaper-sized kiosks include large views of the island (bigger than your phone) along with local ads for businesses you might want to use. Those maps are helpful.

Say hello to some of our little friends in Bradenton Beach.

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