Anna Maria Island offers everything a family needs for a distanced vacation

Planning a trip during a pandemic is weird and there are a lot of questions on how to make it work. People are looking to find destinations that have adapted to COVID-19, are a bit quieter, calmer and offer the ability to distance responsibly. It’s also recommended to keep risk of exposure down to stay within a reasonable drive from your home, avoiding multiple stops and overnights.

The best part about vacationing close to home is that many local destinations need the business to make it through the year. The tourism industry has been hard hit by the pandemic and if you are looking to travel, look to support them.

About 40 minutes from our home is Anna Maria Island. After realizing we needed a change of scenery and sense of calm, Anna Maria Island was the perfect choice for us. We found Anna Maria to have everything you’re looking for in a safe, responsible and enjoyable summer vacation/staycation, all within driving distance from Georgia or Florida. For other staycation ideas in Florida we’ve placed our favorites here.

We stayed for the month of May and though it was early in the COVID Pandemic, the island had already implemented a thoughtful and comfortable process to business as usual. This was evident immediately upon arrival when we saw some of the shops offering open air shopping, drive-up food pick up, curbside cocktails and ice cream window service!

Tips for a family vacation Anna Maria

Our vacation rental agency, Sato Real Estate, went above and beyond to help find accommodations for us. They also offered a no-contact key pick up, with a gift bag neatly placed outside inclusive of the island map, house keys and some check in goodies. We worked with Katie, who was wonderful. Katie sent multiple homes to meet our needs. The goal was to be as comfortable as we could at the home (we planned to be there a lot), with the ability to also move freely with little congestion. Plus kid and Frenchie friendly too.

We chose a canal front home on the North End of the island, near Bean Point. From here, you are away from any traffic or bustle and can settle into your island neighborhood. Resident based beach access is located a couple streets away in 3 different directions, with multiple access points, making it easy to walk, bike or golf cart to any entry point. Pine Street is located at the base of this area, so you still have access to all of the dining, shops and historic details.

Beach access points we like:

  • Gladiolus Street entrance (Bean Point, waves a big larger. More current, best sunsets)
  • Cypress Street entrance
  • Coconut Street entrance
Family vacation on Anna Maria Island
North End, Bean Point pristine beaches

Beach front can be pricey but luckily all Anna Maria Island homes are near the beach! Book canal front if you can instead. The kids will be busy all day right in your backyard with canal kayaking, SUP’s or fishing.

Family vacation on Anna Maria Island
Family paddling from our dock on the canal

Settling in on the island

Setting up shop at our vacation home was very easy. We drove from close in Florida and brought more than we needed for the trip, including a fair amount of groceries. We also brought our homemade go-to kids necessity bag, which saved us some time packing. Anna Maria Island has the General Store located on Pine Street for quick items and a Publix Grocery Store located near the entry point to the island.

Part of your setup is going to include toys and we recommend the Lazy Turtle Beach Rentals for great, quality products. Here, we picked up kayaks, SUP’s and a golf cart. All of these were available for daily, weekly or monthly rates.

It’s important to note as you settle in, you’ll immediately notice Anna Maria Island business owners and staff have taken a thoughtful approach to opening up the little shops that make the island eclectic, beachy, and easy going. With care, the business owners reimagined their models to suit the concerns of COVID-19 without removing the flair.

Where to eat on Anna Maria Island

Our favorite local flavors

Two Scoops: This ice cream shop setup walk up order windows to ease any indoor traffic. We, of course, developed new routines of our own like evening golf cart rides around the island to admire waterfront homes all ending in double scoop ice cream cones (every single night). Get the cookie dough.

Waterfront Restaurant: Offering both dine in/outside service and curbside service. We used the curbside pickup service regularly. The process was seamless. Our food was fresh and full of flavor and in perfect presentation, even in a to-go container. Order both the lobster bisque and shrimp and grits – they will not disappoint. Additionally, they offer a curbside cocktail bar. I’m hoping after COVID this is still a thing. Walk up, grab a drink and head across the street where you can take in the ocean view from the bay beach or right from you car!

Island Grill: The Island Grill was another place we often ordered in from. They offer delivery which was ideal for nights I was on lazy island time. The wood fired pizzas are top notch and we highly recommend the beet and goat cheese salad.

The Waffle Press: I found my latte mecca and possibly the fountain of youth recipe in an open air waffle and roasting joint. These lattes were heavenly from the first sip to the last. Our kids savored the peal sugar waffles dressed in sweets like cinnamon sugar or breakfast ready poached eggs and avocados.

Waffle Press, Anna Maria Island
Waffle Press, Anna Maria Island

Other dining options we loved:

The Sandbar Restaurant: Outdoor beach front dining. Order in or take out available. Get the Brussels sprouts! Do not leave without them. Grocery pickup is also available.

Rod and Reel Pier: Located on the North End, fine traditional fish dishes and fried seafood favorites. We brought the kids here for fishing off the pier and would often grab takeout. Excellent location, stunning views and memorable sunsets.

The Ugly Grouper: You’ll need to drive from the North End, and you’ll be happy you did. Outdoor seating or takeout available. I would more recommend this restaurant for dining in as it’s part of the experience. The Ugly Grouper offers live music, fresh fish, games and plenty of people watching.

The Donut Experiment: Fridays became donut days for us with hot and fresh donuts from the Donut Experiment. I hold them partly accountable for my COVID 19 pounds… Go traditional with glazed or sprinkled donuts or be like me, and add coconut shavings and Fruity Pebbles.

Donut Experiment Anna Maria Island
The Donut Experiment, Anna Maria

Daily routine on Anna Maria Island

  • Lazy breakfast and coffee.
  • Pool play and canal fun including kayaking through the mangroves, fishing off our canal dock.
  • Lunch by the pool.
  • Out and about: Beach afternoon, bicycle rides, golf cart rides and stops into shops like Pink & Navy, the Shiny Fish Emporium, Island Cabana, or pick up of pastries from Hometown Desserts (get the key lime coconut cake).
  • Back in the pool or on the canal before dinner.
  • After dinner golf cart ride for ice cream and to cruise the island or fish at the jetty, Bean Point or at Rod and Reel Pier.
Happy islanders!