Sandwiched on Florida's West Coast between Tampa and Sarasota, Bradenton, which once touted itself as "our little secret," is a secret no more. The area was formerly a haven for retirees and seasonal residents escaping the cold weather.
Today, Bradenton is a year-round tourism destination growing in popularity. It has come along way since the Chamber of Commerce's 1985's advertising campaign was centered around the catch phrase, "Our little secret."
Top area attractions:
Bradenton Beach and Anna Maria Island
The white sand beaches of Bradenton's barrier island of Anna Maria - with its small and quaint cities of Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach, Holmes Beach and Longboat Key - is the area's biggest attraction. Day trippers from around Florida and even foreign visitors, now spend weekends, weeks or months at a time on the Island. Whether you want to relax on the beach, see the nests of endangered sea turtles, or fish and boat, the Island has it all.
Robinson Nature Preserve
Just over the bridge that connects the Island to the Bradenton mainland begins the 487-acre Robinson Nature Preserve, a park operated by Manatee County. Parking and admittance to the Preserve is free. It features miles of running, walking, hiking and bike riding trails. Kayak/canoe launches are available to take in the view of birds and wildlife from the mangrove filled waterways. Multi-level observation towers provide incredible views of the Preserve, the nearby Intra-Coastal Waterway, the Manatee River, the waters of Tampa Bay and the Sunshine Skyway bridge. Robinson Nature Preserve can be accessed off of Manatee Avenue W. (SR 64W) or off of 75th St. W. to 17th Avenue NW.
Photo: An observation tower at Robinson's Nature Preserve. Credit: Manatee County Government
Desoto National Memorial
Less than a mile from the Robinson Nature Preserve is another virtually undiscovered gem - Desoto National Park. This small park operated by the US National Park Service, does not charge an admission fee. Located directly on the Manatee River, it features a small beach, nature trail, a seasonal living history camp, welcome center, birdwatching and fishing. It is located on 75th St. NW. off of Manatee Avenue (SR 64W).
One of the most unique aspects of the Bradenton area is that you never know what sports celebrity might pull up next to you at a traffic light or be eating at the next table in a restaurant because of the IMG Academy. Located on a sprawling campus near 53rd Avenue West in west Bradenton, sports stars from throughout the world flock to IMG to develop or hone their game - from Carolina Panther QB Cam Newton to tennis and fashion icon Maria Sharapova, both have spent time in Bradenton at IMG. The Academy also boasts short term adult training programs in virtually all sports - with posh living accommodations available to suite any lifestyle.
South Florida Museum
The dowtown Bradenton Museum is comprised of three museums under one roof: the South Florida Museum, the Parker Aquarium and the Bishop Planetarium.
Bradenton's most famous resident resides at the Parker Aquarium - Snooty the Manatee. The oldest living Manatee in captivity, Snooty, who was born in 1948, is celebrated each year with a city-wide birthday party. The Museum is the largest natural and cultural history museum on Florida's Gulf Coast while the Bishop Planetarium offers state of the art astronomy programs in its multi-purpose, all digital, domed theater.
Bradenton & Major League Baseball
Bradenton's baseball heritage is rich and virtually unmatched in Florida. McKechnie Field is a throwback to days of yesterday. Since 1923 MLB teams have occupied McKechnie with the Pittsburg Pirates calling McKechnie and Bradenton their Southern Home since 1969.
Visitors to McKechnie are walking on hallowed ground, seeing the site where legends of the game and future Hall of Famers once played - from Babe Ruth to Roberto Clemente and many others - the nation's best baseball players from both leagues have taken the field. Although the Pirates are in town beginning in January until late March, McKechnie also hosts the Pirates Class-A minor league affiliate, the Bradenton Marauders. Pirate City, the Pirates minor league baseball complex located in East Bradenton off of SR 64 E, is another can't miss for true baseball fans. The state of the art facility is where the stars of tomorrow play for the Pittsburg Pirates in the Gulf Coast (Rookie) League.
For more information on the Bradenton area visit the Bradenton Convention and Visitor's Bureau.