How to find the elusive sand dollar on Anna Maria Island.

Sand dollar on beach

Sea cookies, snapper biscuits, sand cakes, pansy shells, or cake urchins. It doesn’t matter what you call them, we all want to leave the beach with at least one perfect specimen to add to our shell collection.


While many visitors come to Anna Maria Island for the ocean breeze, the turquoise water, and the sunshine, you can also add shell collection to the list. The Florida waters are home to thousands of different forms of sea life that wash up on our shores, but few are more sought after than the elusive sand dollar. They adorn frames, vases, candles, necklaces and so much more. It is often said that the sand dollar is worth more than the real dollar.

I find the best beaches on Anna Maria Island for sand dollars is Bean Point. With some good detective work you can find them on Bradenton Beach, Coquina Beach or Anna Maria City Beach and everywhere between.

Rule #1~ Know and love your tide chart. Sand dollars are often found just slightly beneath the mean low water line. In other words, the lowest level reached by the sea at low tide. They can be found on top, or just beneath the surface of the sand in those areas.

Rule #2~ Use your very best sleuthing skills. Scour the sand for round patches or depressions in the sand. The natural holes around petal shaped middle will allow sand to fall in, creating just a hint of a round depression.

Rule #3~ Gently dig to the very bottom of the natural piles of shells. When the shells aggregate on the shore there is usually at least one hiding in there somewhere.

Groups of live sandollars
And you thought your house was crowded!

Rule #4~ Look for the spare change. (That’s what my family calls the little broken pieces of sand dollars.) Living sand dollars love to hang out together. According to the brilliant folks at The Bishop Museum of Science and Art there can be as many as 600 in a single square yard. If you find a lot of broken pieces in the same place then look a little further out into the water. There just may be an intact sand dollar that hasn’t washed up yet.

Rule #5~ Never, EVER, take a live sand dollar (or anything else living for that matter) from the beach. There are many cities where it is illegal and the fines are substantial. The legality aside, it would be a poor environmental choice. The ocean is a very delicate ecosystem. The clear, clean water we enjoy is brought to you in part by the living sand dollars. Sand dollars feed on small food particles in the sand, typically microscopic algae and tiny fragments of other dead animals. You wouldn’t want to go body surfing in that! If the sand dollar still has spines and feet then gently place it back in the water.

Sand dollars can somewhat tricky to find, but that is why it is so exciting when you find one! Hopefully you learned a trick or two that will help you in your hunting. Worse case scenario~ you spent a great day at the beach!

How to clean seashells: Anna Maria Island Insider Tips

seashells bradenton beach
Good day at the beach!

Day 3 at your Anna Maria Island rental and it is starting to resemble a seashore in its own right. Bags of moon snails, calico scallops, kittens paw, and banded tulips spill out onto the kitchen table as though they are trying to escape. You even managed to find a few of the elusive sand dollar and even one sea fan skeleton. There are at least two bags dedicated to the coquina shells because your daughter says “they look purply and I want to make necklaces for my friends”.

It is a beautiful day and you have the window open to enjoy the smell of the ocean breeze when something less pleasant catches a ride on the air. After a moment of investigation you realize that it is the bags of beach bounty that seem to be the source of the offending odor.

Have no fear, the pool water is here! I learned this on my first vacation to Anna Maria Island before we moved here. We had so many shells from Bradenton Beach that I think we paid twice the baggage fee on the way home!

That same bucket you used to make the epic sand art earlier in the day can come in handy once again. Start by brushing most of the sand out, then rinsing with water to not get sand in the pool. Fill half way with water, then simply add shells so that they are all completely immersed. Leave overnight and voila most of that ‘not quite the beach smell you like’ is gone! No pool because you went for a direct waterfront property? No worries. Some hydrogen peroxide and water from your local Publix at a 10:1 ratio in the same multipurpose bucket will also do the trick.

Fast forward to unpacking the luggage after the flight home. You now have your own personal collection of bubble shells, fighting conch, tritons trumpet, and yes, even lightning whelk. Because, as your son astutely pointed out, you didn’t have those ones yet.

As you sort through your treasures you find some perfect specimens. Alas, more often than not they have a bit of a green tinge and a crusty, leathery outer coating in places. That simply won’t do! You have big decorating plans for those shells. The good news is that there are simple ways to get those shells back to their former luster.

Conch
Crusty!

The eco friendly ways~

1~The miracle of Vinegar! Simple, easy and cheap. Poor a small amount of vinegar into a bowl or cup. Use a soft toothbrush saturated with the vinegar and gently scrub the shell. You may have to do this several times. Then wash with soap and water. Don’t soak in the vinegar though, it will cause a reaction between the acid in the vinegar and the calcium carbonate of the shells. The shells will actually dissolve. It is kind of fun to watch it happen to at least one though:-)

2~ Another cleaning wonder is hydrogen peroxide. Simply put the shells in a bowl and poor enough peroxide to sufficiently cover the shells and let soak for several hours or until a film covers the top. The peroxide has invasive properties making easy work of any bacterial cleanup. Rinse thoroughly and place to dry on a towel.

The not-so eco friendly ways~

1~ Soak your seashells in a 50/50 solution of bleach and water. The length of time depends on the type of seashells and the number of seashells being cleaned. Just be sure to remove them when the periostracum (that crusty, leathery covering that I mentioned earlier) is gone. I am not a huge fan of bleaching because the shell can absorb the smell. It can also lighten the color. If you try bleaching your shells, try not to leave them in the solution too long.

2~ Without question muriatic acid is the fastest and easiest way to clean your shells. It will almost magically strip the shell of any barnacles or algae and bring the color to back to life! Use only glass jars and plastic tongs due to the caustic reaction with muriatic acid and metals. Wear gloves and eye protection. In your first jar place 3/4 of a cup of water and 1/4 of muriatic acid. Fill the second jar with plain water. Take the plastic tongs and dip in the first jar for about 3-4 seconds then immediately place into the jar with water and place on paper towel or rags to dry. Be careful not to splash any of the liquid onto your skin. It can cause a nasty little burn. You can pick up muriatic acid at a local hardware store or pool supply company. Some states won’t allow you to flush hydrochloric acid unless you neutralize it first. Neutralize hydrochloric acid with baking soda. Wearing your protective garments and working in a ventilated area well away from children, pets, heat and metals, prepare a base mix. Mix 1 lb of baking soda with plenty of water. Slowly add the hydrochloric acid. The mixture will fizz. Add more baking soda until the fizzing stops. This means the hydrochloric acid is neutralized and can now be flushed down the sink with large quantities of water. I have only used this method once. It made me extremely nervous to work with such a strong acid.

There seem to be about a million and one ways to clean shells. My neighbor uses ants to remove any decaying material. I have heard that boiling works well. Some sites will tell you to bury them or freeze them. One of my friends puts her shells in the dishwasher. I have not tried any of those yet….. but you never know. If you know of another effective way please let me know by commenting below.

Now that you have a treasure trove of clean shells check our next blog at islandreal.com for suggestions on how to preserve them and some fabulous costal design tips using your new collection!

Your guide to shelling on Anna Maria Island beaches!

Shell on Anna Maria Island Beach

It is storming on the island today. The kind of storm where the rain seems to be falling horizontally and the palms sway with such exuberance that you think they may snap. That is great news for anyone who is interested in shelling on any of Anna Maria Island beaches.

During a storm the wind and wave action can wash up all sorts of treasures. From fossils and bits of coral to some of the more rare specimens. The longer the period of time between storms, the more will wash up. When the waters are calm the shells accumulate on the edges of the sandbars. A good ole tropical storm will break up even the most dense aggregate and send them toward shore. If you walk the beaches hours, even a day, after a good storm you are in for a treat. More than likely you will wander across little hills of shells scattered on the sand. Spend some time gently sifting through the collection. Some of the best finds are at the very bottom!

The tide plays a significant roll in the amount of shells to be found on any given beach as well. You will often find more shells 2-3 hours prior to low tide or an hour or so after. You can access a simple tide chart for Anna Maria Island here. If you want to get really technical, the shelling may be even better if you can go the days closest to the full moon. With the full moon comes the increased gravitational pull that can cause tidal extremes. With those extremes comes the shells that are normally still under water.

Don’t be afraid to do the shell shuffle! I have made some of my greatest finds that way. Stand in the water at about waist high and slowly, gently dig around with your toes in the sand. Proceed with caution, some may be sharp!

While enjoying the bounty the ocean has provided, make sure you do your part to protect it. Any garbage is detrimental to the delicate ecosystem of our oceans. Bring two bags, one for shells and one for litter. Sometimes the litter can be its own treasure. You can make a game of it, like a trash treasure hunt. If you want to get really creative make a scavenger hunt list for each member of the shelling group and the winner gets a triple scoop of ice cream from any of Anna Maria Islands fabulous ice cream shops!

You will find shells on any of Anna Maria Islands fabulous beaches. Most people you ask will have their favorite spot. My personal favorite is the path less traveled, Bean Point on the northern part of the island. If you opt to stay in one of the Anna Maria Island waterfront rentals your favorite spot just may be your ‘front yard’. Happy Shelling!

Best coffee shops on Anna Maria Island!

coffee on Anna Maria Island

One of the beautiful things about Anna Maria Island is the escape from the norm. You won’t find many of your run of the mill coffee places, you will discover something better! As a fellow coffee connoisseur I may have a few suggestions on where one might find the perfect cup on the island. This list is in no particular order, consider it a map.

If your vacation rental is near Bradenton Beach then you will more than likely visit the fabulous staff at Back Alley Treasures on multiple occasions, sometimes twice in the same day. To start with…great coffee, locally roasted and fresh ground. Add to that the fresh baked goodies and a great little wine selection and you have the makings of a perfect little pit stop! You can also order online if you are on a mission to be the first footsteps on the beach.

If you chose a Holmes Beach Vacation rental then you will more likely find yourself getting your caffeine fix at the Island Coffee Haus. This little coffee house has everything you need to kick start your morning, from rich espresso to full leaf teas and cold pressed green juice. They also have a wonderful medley of pastries and little breakfast sandwiches.

If you opted to stay at The Blue Bayou in Anna Maria City you have a great option that is probably within walking distance, or at least biking distance! Aptly named the North Shore Café, this is a great new addition to the northern coast of the island. This coffee shop is located directly at the end of a canal on Pine Ave with a spectacular backyard with tables, chairs and even cornhole. Great smoothies, homemade granola and some expert baristas make this a must stop. The café does not have a website yet but I will add a link as soon as they do.

I would wager that most of the Anna Maria Island rentals have a coffee maker, but you are on vacation after all. Sometimes it is just nice to pamper yourself and let someone else do the brewing for you. The best days always start with coffee on the beach. Enjoy!

coffee on the beach
This is where I want to be!

Top Ten things to do with Pets on Anna Maria Island

We love our furry family members, so why leave your pet behind when Island Real Estate Vacations has so many Anna Maria Island pet friendly properties.  The island is very dog friendly with water bowls randomly placed and lots of restaurants that allow pets in outdoor seating areas.    Unfortunately, Anna Maria Island does not have any pet friendly beaches but there are plenty of other options.  By the way, not sure if this is the exact order but they are all great things to do!

Continue reading Top Ten things to do with Pets on Anna Maria Island

Rhinos, Orangutans, and Panthers, Oh my! – Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa!

What makes for a better family outing than a trip to the zoo? Especially if its the amazing Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa. It is a home to over 1,300 animals, including Manatees, Orangutans, Giraffes, and more! Here, they rescue, rehabilitate, and then care for these animals.

This non-profit zoo is 63 acres, and draws over 1 million visitors each year! Which makes sense, because this place is AMAZING!!

The lush, tropical setting truly makes you feel like you have entered a new, wild world. Experience up-close animal encounters, do a behind the scenes tour, and take part in their seasonal events! Tampa is just a short drive from any of our Anna Maria Island Vacation Rentals! Worth the trip every time.

Address:
1101 W Sligh Ave
Tampa, FL 33604

Enjoy a Family Fun Day at Mixon Fruit Farms in East Bradenton

Looking for a fun family day outing? Tired of hanging out on Holmes Beach? Well then head over to Mixon Fruit Farms in East Bradenton (about a 30 minute drive).

Explore their groves, check out their gift shop and market, enjoy some of their delicious ice cream, or grab a bite to eat at the Groveside Cafe.
I suggest doing all of the above!

Mixon’s also shares a portion of the groves with Wildlife Inc. Here, they provide care and shelter for injured animals like birds, reptiles, and more. They offer a wildlife refuge tour where you can meet the animals and see them up close and personal.

There is also a beautiful pavilion here that can be rented out for events and weddings. So if you or someone you know if planning the big day, you might want to have them check this place out!


Last but not least, make sure you place your order and have some of Florida’s famous citrus shipped home for you. From their grove to your door. It’s like shipping sunshine!



Address:
2525 27th St E
Bradenton, FL 34208

Eat Great Food at the Restaurant Eat Here in Holmes Beach

Don’t let the name confuse you! There is a restaurant here on Anna Maria Island that is actually called “Eat Here”. Located in Holmes Beach, Eat Here serves a variety of dishes in a casual, comfortable environment. This restaurant is owned by Sean Murphy, who also owns the Beach Bistro. So you know you can expect a good time and great food!


On the menu you will find fresh seafood, local farm products, pizzas, tacos, and more delectable bites. A few of their menu items include; Seattle Style Grilled Cheese, Gulf Coast Seafood Stew, and Lobster & Shrimp Tacos. Makes my mouth water just mentioning these dishes.

Eat Here is open for Dinner everyday of the week, from 5PM – 10PM. Since they offer lunch and dinner options, you may need to stay somewhere on the Anna Maria Island. Island Real Estate Vacations has some in Holmes Beach that you could walk or bike from such as the three bedroom Harrington Bungalow 6 or the beachfront luxury condo Vista Grande 1.

Address:
5315 Gulf Dr
Holmes Beach, FL, 34217

Need a Drink? Check out The Doctor’s Office (Bar) in Holmes Beach.

If you’ve never had a drink from The Doctor’s Office, you are missing out! No silly, it’s not an actual doctors office but a craft cocktail bar here in Holmes Beach that’s called the “Doctor’s Office”. This place is seriously awesome! And the cocktails are amazing!

Actually for more than 50 years, this space was the Island Doctors’ office. Now though you wont find a medical doctor on duty, just some fantastic local bartenders. A few of my favorite cocktails from here are The Bee’s Knees, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and The Nightingale.

Along with drinks, The Doctor’s Office also features some small plated food options. There’s artisanal cheeses, charcuterie, maple bacon, and the BEST Chocolate Budino (pudding) that’s topped with sea salt. It’s delectable.

The Doctor’s Office is open everyday of the week, from 5PM – 11:45PM. If you plan on closing the bar down… make sure you pick a great place to stay. Island Real Estate Vacations has some great locations within walking distance. You can’t wrong with Blue Lagoon 4 or Harrington Bungalow 5 which are perfect for a family and friends trip.

Address:
5312 Holmes Blvd. #B
Holmes Beach, FL 34217

Back Alley Treasures – Coffee, Wine, Craft Beer, and Funky Treasures

Get yourself a cup of coffee or an ice cold beer while you shop for local art and unique gifts to bring back home. Back Alley Treasures is a really cool bar and store located on Bridge Street (across the street from the Fish Hole)

Really, this place is super funky and fun. Find art by local artists, jewelry, clothing, stained glass, etc. Everything in this place is colorful and fun. Even if you don’t buy anything, It’s a great place to get a drink and hangout.

Speaking of drinks, they have tons to choose from. There are coffee drinks, smoothies, frozen lemonade, beer, and wine. Plus, you can make any of their smoothies or lemonades boozy, or ask for your coffee drink to be spiked. On one of our hot summer days, a frozen lemonade with a little (or a lot) of alcohol sounds pretty nice if you ask me.

Back Alley Treasures is open Monday – Saturday from 9AM – 8PM, and open Sunday from 9AM – 5PM.

Address:
108 Historic, Bridge St
Bradenton Beach, 34217