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!

Bean Point – Anna Maria Island’s Secret Serenity

Bean Point is a must stop spot on Anna Maria Island. it’s a local secret that provides the most breathtaking views of the sunset on a pristine beach.  Named for George Emerson Bean, the first permanent resident of Anna Maria Island, Bean Point is located on a secluded stretch of beach at the northern end of what was Bean’s original homesteaded property.

You won’t find a parking lot, or any large signs, to direct you to this treasure of nature.  To get there you’ll need to head North of the City Pier in Anna Maria on North Bay Blvd.  The “main entrance” to Bean Point is located at a small crossroads.  You will notice the tree lined path that divides the two properties at the the intersection of North Bay Blvd & North Shore Dr.  If you ride your bicycle, you can ride right up the path, and park just to the side of the classic, wooden footbridge that sets the tone for your Anna Maria beach experience.  If you drive your car, you have a few options.  There are actually entrances at the corners of Fern St & N. Shore Dr, and Gladiolus St. & North Shore as well.  Each of these entrances is marked by a small white posted sign that merely states “Public Beach Access”.  Using the intersection of North Bay blvd and North Shore will provide immediate access to the famed “Bean Point” but half the fun is getting there?  Using the public beach access point to the South will allow you to walk along the beach and take in the sites where the Bay and Gulf meet.  When parking you can choose a spot near any of these entrances, and take the path out to the beach.

Local Tip: parking regulations are strictly enforced on Anna Maria Island.  If it says No Parking, don’t do it. Unless you want a ticket. If you do park on the roadside be sure your tires are off the asphalt street. If just 1″ is on the street you most likely will return with a bad surprise after your leisurely stroll along Bean Point. There are spots along the side streets, including Gladiolus and Fern.  To park near the footbridge entrance, I would recommend heading down to Jacaranda to find an empty (and legal) parking place.

Once your car is settled, head up the nearest path to the gorgeous turquoise waters where the Gulf of Mexico meets the Tampa Bay.   After your leisurely stroll down the path, turn right when you get to the sand, and head north to the point, for spectacular views that include the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.    If the tide is low, you can see the sand bar just off the coast.  Just a little wading into the warm water will take you there, and you can shell ‘til your heart’s content!  The views are amazing, the water is inviting, and the atmosphere is relaxed and serene.  There are quiet spots to sit and enjoy the view, and watch the waters and the wildlife.  I love where the water collides as the tide shifts from the East side of Anna Maria Island to the West side.

There are signs of life relaxing all over the Point. There is always something to delight the bird watcher too, with several different types of birds to entertain you as they guard their beach turf from one another.

So head over to Bean Point and capture a quiet beach moment or a breathtaking sunset, and enjoy one of the most relaxing spots on an island famous for its relaxation.

Anna Maria, The Community Fig Newtons Built

Anna Maria – As you wander down the beach, watching the waves dance to a brief kiss on the sand, imagine the fierce spirit it took to develop this tropical paradise from then to now. It helps to eat a Fig Newton while you are pondering, because….

In 1891 a Philadelphia baker, Charles Roser invented and then patented the machine which inserted fig paste into a thick pastry dough. Kennedy Biscuit Company purchased the Roser recipe and started mass production in 1891. The product was named Newton after the small town of Newton, Massachusetts. When Kennedy merged with the New York Biscuit Company to form NABISCO, they trademarked Fig Newtons.

Around that same time, George Emerson Bean had homesteaded the northern 160 acres of Anna Maria Island in 1892.

With his financial windfall from the sale of his recipe and patent on the machine to make Fig Newtons, Charles and his wife moved to St. Petersburg, where he started a real estate development company. Charles had a sharp business mind and realized the opportunities that this little oasis provided. He partnered with Beans’ son, George Wilhelm Bean, after he inherited his fathers homestead in 1898 and the Anna Maria Beach Company was born.

They laid out the street maps, built sidewalks and a water system and began selling lots. At this time the only access to the island was by boat, so Roser built a 678 foot long pier to accommodate the ferries that would bring residents and day trippers to the Anna Maria Beach Company. Next he built the Roser Memorial Church in homage to his beloved mother. It was the first church on the island and has continued to grow and flourish over the 101 years it has been in existence! Roser also had a real estate business office built right at the end of Pine Avenue to catch the eye of everyone stepping off the pier to enjoy the island. It was a dream to own a piece of this paradise back then and it still is. For more interesting information on Anna Maria Island, check out the AMI Historical Society.

Birds Nesting Anna Maria Island – Spring is Here!

The spring nesting season is upon us here on Anna Maria Island. At the north end of the island, near Bean Point, and also in mid-Anna Maria. Where the beach is extremely wide and covered with small dunes and patches of beach grass, the seabirds are nesting.

Nesting shorebirds

Terns, black skimmers and sanderlings are sitting on their nests. Little scrapes in the sand are shorebird nests. Additionally, nest scrapes are very difficult to see. Often the Audubon Society comes out and ‘ropes off’ the nesting areas with skinny stakes and string to keep curious beach goers out of the area.

It’s very easy to scare a bird off its nest without even noticing that there os a nest. So, if you’re out walking at the north end of Anna Maria Island, please be careful.

The Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird monitoring is an excellent Anna Maria Island shorebird resource. This non-profit organization is responsible for turtle monitoring. In addition to their turtle efforts, AMITW tracks shorebird development each spring.