Incredible quartz-crystal beaches are just one reason to choose the Bradenton Gulf Islands for a mother-daughter vacation.Photo Credit : Kim Knox Beckius
Sponsored by the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“Looks like you’re on a middle school field trip,” my friend, Chris, texted in response to my latest barrage of photos, sent “homeward” to chilly New England from Florida’s perpetually warm Bradenton Gulf Islands. He wasn’t wrong. From the moment my daughter and I landed at Sarasota Bradenton International Airport until Breeze Airways whisked us back to Hartford—in less time than it takes me to drive from Connecticut to Portland, Maine—our days were curiosity-driven and carefree. This was day three of four, and we’d already racked up the kind of adventures that make a mother-daughter beach getaway a memory-book-worthy vacation.
“What’s next?” Lara asked, after we’d finished handpainting sand dollars at Shiny Fish Emporium. Mine was a primitive attempt at a beach scene, with blue-green hues inspired by the pristine waters all around us and a heart outlined in the glittered sand. Hers: a turquoise and royal-blue flower in a sea of pink and black sprinkles. She’s 20 now: more independent every minute, cute as ever wearing an oversized plaid shirt as a painting smock.
We’d already spent time on the mainland, exploring the colorful cottages in the Village of the Arts, where artists live, work, and sell their creations. We’d explored the mile-and-a-half-long Bradenton Riverwalk, grateful to feel the sun on our legs, knowing it was jeans weather back home. Most memorable of all, we’d observed two recently rescued manatees adapting to their new 60,000-gallon home: the Parker Manatee Rehabilitation Habitat at Bradenton’s Bishop Museum of Science and Nature. Safe now after suffering boat collisions, they munched entire heads of lettuce in a matter of moments.
Allowing our sense of wonder to “drive the bus” had served us well since we drove across the bridge to Anna Maria Island, too. We’d stumbled upon a farmer’s market on our way to lunch at the Waterfront Restaurant, found my daughter a music festival outfit at the Pineapple Marketplace, and learned a bit about Old Florida on a spin through the Anna Maria Historical Society Museum. Walking the length of Anna Maria City Pier was our introduction to this seven-mile barrier island’s fish-filled waters and incredible bird life. We even spied a real mermaid while lazing on the soft, cool sands of Cortez Beach. The blond woman in a monofin embodied Anna Maria Island’s playful spirit.
And then, there was nightlife… the kind of safe, laidback fun you’d associate with an island resort. We snapped sunset selfies on Bradenton Beach before feasting on enormous Gulf oysters at Anna Maria Oyster Bar. Then strolled along Bridge Street, enjoying the sounds of live music. Investing in fudge.
Still, I had an answer to my daughter’s question: Our most extraordinary adventure was up next. With our sand dollars carefully wrapped in tissue paper, we hopped back on the free Island Trolley, which dropped us just steps from our room at Pelican Post. There, our rental car had remained idle, but we needed it now for the short drive to Longboat Key, a similarly storied isle south of Anna Maria Island.
We met our Fun Florida Tours guide, Evan, at Ken Thompson Park just as a ribbon of peachy-pink sky emerged on the horizon. He was setting up our small group’s clear tandem kayaks and switching on the powerful LED bars that would illuminate the murky waters beneath us as we paddled into the darkening night. We saw schools of mullet on the run and spiky sheepshead hanging out beneath a dock. The littlest boy in our group netted spider crabs and an urchin. My daughter brought up a large shell that was still inhabited. As we paddled through a tunnel of red, black, and white mangroves, Evan said: “I don’t know who named them because they all look the same; they’re all brown and green.” For the first time, we realized just how big pelicans are, as they crash-landed into the branches above our heads to roost for the night.
Back in open waters, something large splashed and spooked us, and my daughter swiveled around, wide-eyed. Was it a snook? They can grow up to four feet long and nearly 40 pounds here. Maybe even a manatee? Or a mermaid? We still wonder. And isn’t that the best reason for a mother-daughter trip? To pause time and keep the awe and fascination of her childhood years alive.
Begin planning your mother-daughter getaway at bradentongulfislands.com.