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University Town Center Brings Much Anticipated Shopping to the Area!

University Town Center Brings Much Anticipated Shopping to the Area!

Sarasota – When visiting it won’t take long to realize that dragging yourself away from the sugar-sand beaches of Anna Maria Island for shopping is nearly impossible! However, during times it may get a little rainy, take the day and head over to the BRAND NEW MALL in Sarasota!

The Mall at University Town Center (Mall UTC) just had it’s opening day on October 16, 2014.  The architecture of this mall is unique and attractive.  The glass brick roof keeps the mall light and bright letting the Florida sun shine through – it really compliments the fresh new mall. For us locals, it was very anticipated for the area! This multi-level, 880,000 square foot mall changed shopping for us here in Southwest Florida.

The mall which includes over 100 stores to shop, 12 places to get some food (including casual dining, fine dining and quick eats) as well as a list of upcoming events such as styling from Aveda Salon, Eye Wear Trunk Show, Designer appearance and fashion show at Dillard’s, and more!

Mall UTC  is located at 140 University Town Center Drive in Sarasota, FL 34243, which is only 30-35 minutes from AMI.  Time for some serious shopping fun!

Here is the Mall Directory:

  • 3D Crystals
  • Abby Iron Doors
  • Aerie
  • Aldo
  • American Eagle Outfitters
  • Ann Taylor
  • Anthropologie
  • Apple
  • Arhaus
  • Auntie Anne’s Pretzels
  • Aveda
  • Banana Republic
  • Bath & Body Works
  • Blend Bikinis
  • Bluemercury Cosmetics & Spa – Inside Macy’s
  • BOSS
  • Brighton Collectibles
  • Brio Tuscan Grille
  • Brooks Brothers
  • Brow Art 23
  • Buckle
  • Candy Barrel
  • Champs Sports
  • Chico’s
  • Chiquinho Ice Cream
  • Chubbies
  • Cinnabon
  • Claire’s
  • Clarks
  • Cold Stone Creamery
  • Cosmo Nail Bar
  • Crate & Barrel
  • Dillard’s
  • Elite Home Gamerooms
  • Everything But Water
  • Express
  • Express Men
  • Fabletics
  • Fast Fix Jewelry, Watch & Phone Repair
  • Fit2Run
  • Florida Currency Exchange
  • Foot Locker / House of Hoops
  • Forever 21
  • Forever Flawless
  • Fracassi Lashes
  • Francesca’s
  • Free People
  • Gap
  • Gap Kids
  • Gelato-Go
  • GNC
  • Go! Calendars, Games & Toys
  • Godiva Chocolatier
  • Great American Cookies
  • H&M
  • Hollister
  • House of Samsonite
  • Icing
  • iFixandRepair
  • Invicta
  • Janie & Jack
  • Jetsons Clothing
  • J.Jill
  • Johnston & Murphy
  • Journeys
  • Just in Case
  • Kahwa Coffee
  • kate spade new york (Inside Dillard’s)
  • Kay Jewelers
  • Kendra Scott
  • Kids Foot Locker
  • Kona Grill
  • Le Macaron
  • LensCrafters
  • Lilly Pulitzer
  • L’Occitane
  • LOFT
  • Louis Vuitton
  • LoveSac
  • Lucky Brand
  • lululemon athletica
  • LUSH Fresh Handmade Cosmetics
  • MAC
  • Macy’s
  • Mandarin Express
  • Masterpiece Group: Keller Williams Realty of Manatee
  • Mayors / Rolex
  • Michael Kors
  • Microsoft
  • Mimmic
  • Nespresso
  • New York Jewelers
  • Nrsh
  • Oakley
  • Obsessed Boutique
  • Organic Nail Bar
  • Perfume Plus
  • Piercing Pagoda
  • PINK
  • Pottery Barn
  • Relax Spa
  • Rise Pies Handcrafted Pizza
  • Robert Graham
  • Royale
  • Saks Fifth Avenue
  • Seasons 52
  • SEE Eyewear
  • Sephora
  • Shoe Elegance
  • Shoes Di Oggi
  • Skin Laundry
  • Soft Surroundings
  • Solstice Sunglasses
  • Soma
  • Sophie’s (inside Saks Fifth Avenue)
  • Starbucks
  • Starbucks (inside Macy’s)
  • Stuart Weitzman (Inside of Saks 5th Avenue)
  • Sunglass Hut
  • Sutra Beauty
  • Swarovski
  • Talbots
  • TeBella Tea Company
  • Tesla Motors
  • The Art of Shaving
  • The B12 Store
  • The Capital Grille
  • The Cheesecake Factory
  • The Walking Company
  • TINA Stephens (Tees By Tina)
  • T-Mobile
  • Tommy Bahama
  • Tricho Salon
  • Tumi
  • Urban Outfitters
  • Vans
  • Venus Med Spa
  • Vera Bradley
  • Victoria’s Secret
  • Vineyard Vines
  • Visit Sarasota County Information Center
  • White House | Black Market
  • Williams-Sonoma
  • Yankee Candle Co.
  • Zagg
  • Zales
  • Z Gallerie

Holmes Beach Public Basketball Court

Holmes Beach Public Basketball Court

Anna Maria Island has one public basketball court located in Holmes Beach.  The basketball court is located across from the tennis courts just at the end of 62nd street just East of Island Real Estate.  It is a full basketball court fenced in so errand balls will remain in play.  I have used the court several times and have never seen others playing on the court so having the court available is a fairly good bet.

The closest vacation rental we have to the basketball court if you are looking to play everyday would be North Beach Village.



Florida Strawberry Festival | Plant City, FL

Florida Strawberry Festival | Plant City, FL

If you are visiting Anna Maria Island in the Spring then the Florida Strawberry Festival is a great event to visit.  The Florida Strawberry festival takes place in Plant City, Fl and typically lasts 10 days.  The Festival started in the 1930’s and has been going strong since the early 1950’s so planning to make the Florida Strawberry Festival each year seems like a safe plan!  Plant City is about 45 minutes from Anna Maria Island and is a fabulous day trip for the entire family.

They typically have 30 + rides for smaller children at the Florida Strawberry Festival.   There are crafts you can purchase, plenty of choices for lunch or dinner and of course every variety of strawberry dessert you can imagine.  There is a fee to enter the festival as there is often free entertainment throughout the day.  Each night there is headline entertainment and typically a few mature acts that you will recognize.  For example, Blake Shelton, Boys II Men, and the Oak Ridge Boys have been recent entertainers.  The headline entertainment requires separate tickets and the stadium seats about 3,000.

Below you can find details to get an idea of the great things to do at the Florida Strawberry festival.  Just a hop, skip and jump away from Anna Maria Island.  We provide many other ideas for things to do while visiting Anna Maria Island.  Visit our top ten things to do as a family post.  Might provide for some more ideas!  Enjoy.

The Florida Strawberry Festival
303 N. Lemon Street
Plant City, FL 33564-1869
(813) 752-9194


Drive In Movie Theater – Ruskin, Florida

Drive In Movie Theater – Ruskin, Florida

Yup, perfect late night entertainment can be found at the Ruskin Drive in movie Theater.  They pride themselves on being family oriented as the manager was quick to inform all at the drive in that shenanigans would not be tolerated.  The movie started at dusk which was around 8:30 PM for the middle of the summer.  They have the old style hang in your window speakers however you can listen in on your car radio also.  We sat outside in front of our vehicle in lawn chairs which was perfect as the night was a comfortable temperature.

Be sure to bring bug spray for mosquitoes as well as tics, etc.  We stopped at a store for some snacks and drinks prior to arriving.  The drive from Anna Maria Island was about 40 minutes.  The drive in has a two movie feature and for less than $20 our family was entertained from 8:30PM – 1 AM.  There was a 10 minute intermission between films and they show high quality films.  The films we saw, just came out and one was within the first week of being released. 

As usual, they had a snack bar that was open for the majority of the night and they served inexpensive 12″ pizza’s, nachos, hot dogs, snacks, drinks, huge pickles, etc.  It was like walking back in time even as compared to Anna Maria Island’s historic environment.  The snack shack is not much to look at but it does the job.  Below are directions from Anna Maria Island…Be careful, bring cash as they take no credit cards or checks.  They allow no RV’s or motorcycles and ask extra large vehicles to sit in the back.  I would estimate they can accommodate about 100 vehicles and we visited on a weeknight and had a great spot without much difficulty.

From the South (Bradenton/Sarasota):
Travel 64 EAST to North on I-75; at the Sun City Center/Ruskin exit, Turn left WEST on CR 674 ,go to US 41 right turn heading north; Pass 19th Ave. Drive-In is on the right side of the road.

Ruskin Family Drive-in
5011 U.S. Hwy 41 North
Ruskin, Fl, 33572
(813) 645-1455

Not in the mood to watch movies outside.  Check out our local movie informational page.

Great Shopping & Great Deals at Ellenton Premium Outlet Mall

Great Shopping & Great Deals at Ellenton Premium Outlet Mall

For some great shopping at even better prices, you must make the trip to the Ellenton Premium Outlet Mall. This outdoor mall is about 40 minutes from Anna Maria Island, and is located just off I-75 and US-301 in Ellenton. The mall contains 130 outlet stores, like Kate Spade, American Eagle, Levi’s, Billabong, Victoria Secret, etc.  You can find an entire list of the 130 stores by visiting their website

If you happen to get hungry while you’re shopping til you drop, the mall does have a few dining options. There is always the classic options of Starbucks and Auntie Anne’s Pretzels, but there is also a Greek place (Oh! Greek), a burger joint (Fresh Burger), and a Chinese spot (China Max).

Make the trip to Ellenton an all day excursion, and after you shop enjoy some ice skating at Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex, located less than a mile from the Outlet Mall!

Ellenton Premium Outlets
5461 Factory Shops Blvd, Ellenton, FL 34222
(941) 729-8615
Mon – Thurs 11am – 7pm, Fri & Sat 10am – 8pm, and Sun 12pm – 6pm. 

If you’re looking fore more shopping options, check out The Mall at University Town Center (UTC) in Sarasota! 

Anna Maria Island Three cities – Anna Maria, Holmes Beach, Bradenton Beach.

Anna Maria Island Three cities – Anna Maria, Holmes Beach, Bradenton Beach.

Anna Maria Island three cities; Bradenton Beach, Holmes Beach, and Anna Maria City all offer a unique vacation. Anna Maria Island is approximately 7 miles long and 8 blocks wide.  There are three access points to the island all requiring you to pass over drawbridges. Typically the bridges open twice per hour and require only a five minute wait. Traveling South to North the access points to Anna Maria Island are Longboat Key (Gulf Drive),  Cortez Bridge (State Road 684), and Manatee Avenue Bridge (State Road 64). The entire island is in Manatee County and we have two zip codes of 34216 and 34217.

Anna Maria Island three cities’ beaches

ALL the Gulf of Mexico beaches on Anna Maria Island are open to the public.  Some prefer one cities’ beach over another, however, the difference between beaches are the amount of visitors on each. The softness of the sand, number of seashells, color of the sand, etc are similar if not the same for all gulf beaches.

There are public access points all along the island. We always suggest you ask how far the closest beach access is compared to where you are staying. In addition, if you have congestion expectations for the beach you visit, be sure to ask the vacation rental office for area suggestions on where to reserve. Try to get a definition in number of blocks, number of homes you have to walk past, or does it require a bicycle ride? It’s safe to say that you can bicycle to the Gulf of Mexico beach from anywhere on the island without much difficulty.

No high rises in Anna Maria Island three cities

Anna Maria Island’s uniqueness revolves around its gorgeous white powdery beaches and zoning guidelines for both commercial and residential properties.  No drive thru’s are allowed on the island.  The maximum height for all buildings on the island is 37 feet.  There are two buildings on the island taller than the 37 foot moratorium built prior. Zoning has ensured that no enormous buildings enter the island’s skyline. The miscellaneous zoning laws as well as the current City boards will ensure that Anna Maria Island continues to be considered “old Florida”. A quiet place families come to enjoy. The beach and a simpler life we all aspire to attain full time in our lives is here!

Shopping in Anna Maria Island three cities

There are gift shops, pharmacy shops, restaurants, deli’s, hardware, lumber, and one large grocery store all located on the Anna Maria Island.  Everything is within a short 5-10 minute drive. If you don’t want to leave the island during your stay we have plenty of choices to satisfy your needs.  There are many accommodations on the island including Hotels, Bed and Breakfast’s, and of course vacation rentals.   Check out our Anna Maria Island resorts page that can help with some additional accommodations.

Tourist Seasons on Anna Maria Island

High season is Feb 1st to end of April.  Mid-Season is June 1st to Middle August.  Outside of holiday’s, last minute stays can be found outside of the high season.  See the below city descriptions to view specifics of each city within Anna Maria Island.


Bradenton Beach is the most Southern city on the island, and is the most congested of all three cities.  Gulf Drive runs North/South and offers the only access from Longboat Key or Cortez Road (Route 684).  So, two of the three access points on the island must travel on Gulf Drive which is one of the reasons Bradenton Beach is a bit busier.

In addition, Bradenton Beach has the highest density of condominiums on the island and has a bit higher population per square mile. Of course everything is relative. It’s like asking a person from New York City what is busy and then asking a person from Honeoye Falls, New York what is busy.  Relatively speaking, their definitions are correct but it’s difficult to define “busy.”  The best way to explain it is if you stay on Gulf Drive you will hear some road noise. I have never had anyone complain that Bradenton Beach was too busy if they stayed off Gulf Drive.  In fact, complaints of guests that stay on Gulf drive are few and far between.  Many visitors choose Bradenton Beach because the rental rates can be a little less expensive and gift shops, restaurants, and other shops are generally within a walk away.

These Rentals in Bradenton Beach can’t be beaten:


Holmes Beach is in the middle of the island and is extremely popular due to the large public beach at the end of Manatee Avenue (Route 64).  The middle city starts around 29th street and ends at Peppertree, about 55 blocks.  This area is considered quieter than Bradenton Beach and has many gift shops, restaurants, and the only major grocery store on the island.  Holmes Beach is considered quieter for several reasons.  Firstly, Holmes Beach has a mixture of condominium complexes and homes.  The mixture is about 30% condominiums and 70% homes.  Secondly, most of Holmes Beach allows for several routes that allow access North and South.  This provides for a lot less traffic congestion.  Holmes Beach has the widest section of the island and allows most of the East side of the island to view the Tampa Bay as well as the Skyway Bridge.

Key Royale is a more exclusive area of Anna Maria Island three cities.  All properties on Key Royale have varying degrees of water views, either canal or Tampa Bay views. This area also has many beachfront rentals to allow for beautiful views right from your vacation home.  In addition, the area offers the only golfing on the island with a 9 hole par 3 Golf Course.   It is a private golf course and requires some significant networking to find a member to allow you to be their guest.  Don’t worry, there are plenty of public golf courses nearby.  For shopping, East Bay Drive offers the newest plaza’s on the island and the ¼ mile stretch gives you access to several restaurants, gift shops, pharmacy, grocery store, hardware store, etc

We have quite a few vacation rentals in Holmes Beach – check them out! Here are a few of our favorites:


Anna Maria City is the most Northern area of the island.  It is very popular for those that desire extreme quiet. Anna Maria City starts at Peppertree up to the most Northern tip of the island.  Anna Maria city also has shops and restaurants.  The city is populated with homes rather than condos so the population density is much less as compared to Holmes Beach or Bradenton Beach.  Walking or bicycling in Anna Maria City is fantastic as there is very little traffic and home watching is spectacular.  Anna Maria City has two piers that you must visit while on vacation.  Grab an ice cream at  Two Scoops and walk the public pier at the end of pine and take in the million-dollar view of Tampa Bay.

Anna Maria City has some amazing rentals! We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the world-famous Bean Point – and here are a few other Anna Maria City rentals you should definitely consider:

H2o Watersportz – Jet Ski Rentals and More

H2o Watersportz – Jet Ski Rentals and More

H20 Watersportz has fishing charters, pontoon & deck boat rentals, Jet-Ski rentals, as well as kayak rentals, and excursions of all kinds.  Rentals include all safety equipment, a map of the riding area, and anchor packs.

H2o Watersportz is just off Anna Maria Island, right over the Cortez bridge in the Seafood Shack Marina.  They offer a wide variety of high octane water entertainment options.

H2o Watersportz offers excursions of all kinds from Tampa Bay to Sarasota Bay.  Ask them about guided tours, shelling, snorkeling, and how to rent your very own captain for the day!  Rentals can quickly book in very popular periods so be sure to plan the services you require ahead of time.

H20 Watersportz
Seafood Shack Marina
4110 127 Street
Cortez FL, 34215

Crocodiles and Alligators, Friend or Foe

Crocodiles and Alligators, Friend or Foe

Anna Maria Island – Florida has an amazingly complex eco system home to everything from the Florida Black Bear to the majestic manatee, but a little known fact is that Florida is one of the only geographies that can support both alligators and crocodiles. So do these scaly reptiles pose a threat to the average vacationer?

Well let’s look at the facts; alligators are not naturally aggressive creatures. There were only 10 fatal alligator attacks in the US between 1970 and 2000 (compared to the 25 fatal attacks by house hold dogs just between 1970 and 1980). This works out to be about .3 per year and several of these reports were of people who started out with harassing or feeding alligators in their natural habitat. Crocodiles however claimed over 50 lives between 1990 and 1994. Having said that, NONE of these attacks occurred in the US furthermore these attacks were all credited to the freshwater crocs (like the one in the picture to the left) found in southern Africa and Australia, not the much more docile saltwater crocodiles found here in Florida.

In addition to this the American Alligator is known as a “Keystone Species” or one whose presence can affect the entire ecosystem. For example before the endangered species act alligators were hunted because local fishermen thought this would improve the numbers of game fish in the water. The outcome was an overpopulation of a type of fish called gar, and what is the meal of choice for gar? You guessed it, game fish and this caused a steep decline in their numbers. So at the end of the day the odds of an alligator invasion of your vacation rental is highly unlikely, if you leave them alone they’ll probably do the same. But if you find yourself yearning for an up close encounter they can be found at the Myakka State Park and viewed up close and personal from airboat tours.

Vinny’s Italian Kitchen Brings the Taste of Italy to Anna Maria Island

Vinny’s Italian Kitchen Brings the Taste of Italy to Anna Maria Island

If you are a fan of authentic Italian Cuisine, then we cannot suggest enough Vinny’s Italian Kitchen in Holmes Beach. Really, this place is fantastic from the minute you step inside and smell all of the deliciousness! The owner of this wonderful establishment, Chef Vincenzo, brought the tastes of his home country to the heart of Anna Maria Island in 2010. Many of his recipes come from his mother and grandmother, both of whom grew up in a small village in Italy. 

Vinny’s Italian Kitchen is a full Italian market, bakery, and restaurant in one convenient location. All the dishes here are prepared by hand with only the best ingredients. Some classic Italian specialties you can order at Vinny’s include Sausage & Peppers, Baked Ziti, Eggplant Parmesan, and many more. Actually, just about any staple Italian dish you can find here including Italian wines Vinny hand picks and has shipped direct.  The market features Italian meats and cheeses, gelato, Italian pastries and cakes.  Rustic thin crust pizza, Calzones and Stromboli along with flat bread focaccia are made in the stone fire oven.  Gluten free options are available as well! 

If you are planning a meal for extended family or friends visiting, don’t stress yourself out with cooking because Vinny’s Italian Kitchen has a catering menu with meals that can serve up to 10 people. Take credit for an excellent meal without all the sweat and hard work! Have a smaller group? Vinny’s also offers take-and-bake meals in their walk in cooler/freezer so all you have to do it heat it up and enjoy in front of your favorite Netflix show at home! 

Enjoy Vinny’s Italian Market and Restaurant Monday-Saturday 11am to 7pm. 

Vinny’s Italian Kitchen
5337 Gulf Dr, Holmes Beach, FL 34217
(941) 896-9754