Welcome To Bradenton, FL
Bradenton doesn’t figure in the Top 20 of Florida’s largest cities, but it certainly would of the state’s prettiest. Situated neatly on the coast between Tampa and Sarasota, it is the gateway to a gorgeous stretch of coastline as well as boasting its own delights for museums and parks, including a compelling slice of Florida’s pioneer history. This is also the place to come for a lively arts scene.
Highlights of Bradenton
- Itineraries featuring Bradenton:
Weather in Bradenton
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Things to do in Bradenton
The story of Florida’s west coast exploration and expansion is a key part of Bradenton’s history – discovered by the Spanish in the 16th century, fully established in 1842 and incorporated as a city in 1903 – and there is a lot to enjoy here, from the superb, family-friendly South Florida Museum to one of Florida’s iconic 19th century sugar plantations, with its fascinating Civil War connection. The delightful, compact downtown boasts several historic buildings, notably Manatee County Courthouse (1913), the Iron Block Building (1896) and the Bradenton Carnegie Library (1918), while the South Florida Museum, which incorporates the Parker Manatee Aquarium and Bishop Planetarium, is right at the heart of it all. The small-scale Manatee Village Historical Park and Florida Railroad Museum combine to complete a compelling picture of pioneer settlement and 20th century growth
Beaches & Parks
Bradenton is only a 10-mile drive from the coastal barrier islands (reachable by a series of bridges) that arc down the coast for 22 miles to Sarasota. They offer some of the best beaches along the Gulf Coast, at Anna Maria Island, Holmes Beach, Bradenton Beach and Longboat Key, with a mixture of seclusion and amenities. Holmes and Bradenton beaches tend to be the busier, with more laid-back style on Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key. These gorgeous stretches of sand are one of the prime reasons more than 3 million visitors a year head to Bradenton and Manatee County, although there are still plenty of attractions in the city itself. There are six state parks within the city’s district, with Robinson Preserve a great choice for hiking, biking and picnics. Be sure to check out De Soto National Memorial and Gamble Plantation Historic State Park in nearby Ellenton.
Culture & Arts
This section of Florida, including Sarasota to the south, is a notable repository for the arts, from theatre to the visual arts, and Bradenton’s walkable downtown area is packed with possibilities for a cultural experience. The Manatee Performing Arts Center is one of the state’s finest community performance theatres, with plays, musicals and galas year-round, while the nearby ArtCenter Manatee is an award-winning art gallery that showcases local artists, with art classes and programmes for children and adults alike. The innovative Village of the Arts is a separate neighbourhood community that allows resident artists to live and work in their homes, many of which have been turned into studios, galleries and other art-related businesses. For individual galleries, the Joan Peters Gallery and 11th Street Gallery are both highly rated and well worth a look.
Health & Spa
Bradenton is definitely a city that encourages outdoor activities and a healthy lifestyle, but for those who need a bit of extra encouragement (or pampering), there are 20 or so spas and yoga or Pilates classes that will happily take day (or week) visitors. Thrive Yoga & Fitness is a top recommendation from locals, while Spa Northwest offers excellent massage, skincare and wellness treatments, including couples massages, facials and health and nutrition counselling. Just as importantly, each of the state parks offers extensive hiking trails, especially Robinson and Emerson Point Preserves. Lake Manatee State Park is another popular ‘outdoorsy’ choice, with miles of well-kept scenic trails (albeit very hot in the summer months). For the ultimate in spa experiences hereabouts, though, head south to Sarasota where the Ritz-Carlton has a superb day resort spa.
Wildlife & Ecotourism
Having already underlined the area’s healthy outdoor credentials, you should know that there are dozens of opportunities to go hiking, biking, kayaking and paddle-boarding around the parks, rivers and intracoastal waterway (that separates the mainland from the barrier islands). Wildlife can be enjoyed on land at places like Felts Audubon Preserve (great for birding) and Robinson Nature Preserve, with its extensive boardwalk. On the water, the plentiful wildlife includes playful dolphins, manatees, stingrays and the ever-popular sight of jumping mullet, and there are several tours for just an hour or two or a full day exploring. Look for any of Coastline Dolphin & Snorkeling Expeditions, Riverside Tours or Five O’Clock Charlie Boat Tours. For guaranteed sightings of the local wildlife, head 10 miles south to Sarasota Jungle Gardens, where kids especially enjoy the exotic birds, lemurs, possums and even a skunk!
This is increasingly the place for memorable dining, whether just for something casual or a more upmarket experience. The big chain restaurants are not as noticeable here, hence one-off, local businesses are more prevalent, and usually good quality. Fresh, locally-sourced seafood is the top item on many menus, including oysters, shrimp and the invasive Lionfish (which, happily, makes for very good eating!). For a good all-round sample of the local style, check out Pier 22 on the marina riverside in downtown Bradenton, while Ortygia, by the Village of the Arts, is a great choice for authentic Italian (and vegetarian) fare. The Blue Marlin and Beach House on Bradenton Beach are both popular locals’ choices for great seafood. This part of the coast also has its share of micro-breweries, with Motorworks, Good Liquid, Darwin Brewing Co, Naughty Monk and 3 Keys Brewing all well worth trying.
Art and antiques are very much the order of the day when it comes to unique shopping in Bradenton. Both the Village of the Arts and ArtCenter Manatee are great places to browse the work of the many local artists. There are numerous galleries throughout the Village, as well as studios, cafes and speciality shops, like Mystic Mines, Jerk Dog Records and Frank Peter Antiques, among a wildly eclectic selection. Big-name shopping can be had nearby at Ellenton Premium Outlets, just a 20-minute drive north-east. Here, in a pretty open-air setting, some 130 outlet stores offer bargains on fashion labels such as Movado, Tommy Hilfiger, Polo Ralph Lauren and Nike. For something really original, visit Mixon Fruit Farms for an authentic Floridian experience where you can sample the local produce, take a farm tram tour – and see some of the local wildlife, like alligators!
Seeing as this is a coast and river setting, much of the outdoor pursuits tend to be of the watery variety, either kayaking or paddle-boarding, or something more energetic like jet-skis, parasailing and flyboarding (which is like a jetpack for the water!). Reliable operators for canoes and kayaks can be found at Surferbus for the Robinson Preserve area and Kayak Jack’s Paddlesports at nearby Cortez. Fishing is another top activity in this part of Florida, and you can try inshore and deep-sea varieties with either Tailing Tales Charters or Real Time Fishing Charters. For something a bit different, you can go horse-riding on the beach at Palma Sola Bay with BeachHorses, or tackle a challenging aerial adventure park at TreeUmph Adventure Course, climbing, swinging, zip-lining and free-falling from 15-60ft in the air! Bradenton also boasts 11 high-quality golf courses for those who enjoy the sport.