Exploring Bradenton, Florida
Florida's "Sleeper" Vacation Spot
Where can you actually touch a member of an endangered species, watch the Pittsburgh Pirates play baseball while getting a suntan, stroll through the vicinity of Hernando DeSoto's historic 1539 landing, collect shark's teeth and coquinas, bask on the beach, and enjoy some of the freshest seafood in Florida?
Florida is a terrific place to visit on vacation. Unfortunately, very few people know about the hidden wonders of Bradenton. No, we don't have Disney World, or Sea World, or Universal Studios, but what we do have will intrigue you.
What makes life exciting? New people, new places, new learning, new cuisine, and new experiences - right? Well, in family-friendly Bradenton, FL - we have it all!
First of all, are you a baseball fan? Did you know that the Pittsburgh Pirates come to Bradenton's McKechnie Field for spring training? That's right, they do! Baseball greats like Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and Mike Schmidt have played at the field, which is located at 1611 9th Street, in Bradenton. Locals love to purchase tickets, and watch them train. It is one of the big spring highlights of the area. If you are a baseball lover, plan on watching them play!
You HAVE to See Snooty, the Manatee...
You'll never forget him!
Next, while you are in the area, schedule a trip to the Planetarium, the South Florida Museum, and the Aquarium, too! They are all conveniently situated in one location, and THAT’S where you will find the “endangered species” connection.
Everyone loves “Snooty” the resident manatee at the South Florida Museum’s Parker Manatee Aquarium, located at 201 W. 10th St., in Bradenton. Snooty has been delighting visitors to the Aquarium for many years. He frolics in a 60,000 gallon tank, amusing audiences of all ages, and is available for your enjoyment almost every day of the year.
While you are at the Aquarium, take a trip to another floor, and visit the Bishop Planetarium, where you will see a state-of-the-art domed theater. Enjoy shows such as The Ultimate Universe, and Secret of the Cardboard Rocket, for starters.
In the same building, is the South Florida Museum, replete with historical exhibits spotlighting events in South Florida’s colorful history. Open 7 days a week, their hours of operation are: January through April and the month of July: Monday through Saturday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sundays from 12 noon to 5 p.m. All other months, that would be May, June, August, September, October, November, and December, they are open 6 days a week, and the hours are: Tuesday through Saturday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sundays from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.
ALERT! During the months of May, June and August – December the South Florida Museum is closed on Mondays.
The Pittsburgh Pirates Spring training - love it!
Are you a baseball fan? Did you know that the Pittsburgh Pirates conduct their spring training in Bradenton, FL? Well, they do! They train right here, at McKechnie Field – and the locals love it!
McKechnie Field is #16 on the list of locations who have hosted the Pirates since 1900 – that’s over a hundred years. Other Florida cities that have hosted the Pirates are: Miami Beach, Jacksonville, Ft. Myers, and Ft. Pierce. McKechnie Field, where the Pirates have come to practice since 1969, was originally built in 1923.
Between 1991-1993, the ballpark underwent extensive renovations. Some of them included: the entire field being moved back from the street, and the addition of concession stands, wide access ramps, and about 2,300 additional seats for the fans.
In 2006, more innovations were implemented, courtesy of a grant from the state. That year, Florida’s Spring Training facilities for the Pirates received the luxury of better lighting, dormitories, and renovations to the minor league clubhouse. McKechnie Field is now considered to be one of the finest baseball facilities in the nation, and it is nestled right here in Bradenton; in the heart of Manatee County, Florida.
If you plan on visiting Bradenton anytime in March, plan on squeezing the Pirates Spring Training into your agenda.
Here Is The Book To Go With Your Visit!
Love to Fish? Love fresh Fish?
Caught in a matter of hours...
Nice day’s catch, wouldn’t you say? These were all caught, right here in Bradenton in April of 2010. This was just a small part of the day’s catch – and they were they good eating!
The two little girls helped their dad catch them, and boy, were they excited! What better way, to teach a child to work for its dinner? Sometimes, the little ones catch more fish than their parents, and there are plenty of good “fishing holes” to be found there. You can ask the locals, or join a chartered fishing trip and go out for the BIG ones!
Bradenton is a great place to catch:
- black sea bass
- blackfin tuna
- grouper of all types
- mahi mahi
- mangrove snapper
- puffer fish – soft and porcupine
- sand perch
- Spanish mackerel
- speckled trout
- sugar trout – also called sand trout
- whiting – and more.
Whether you go offshore, on one of the chartered excursions, fish off many of the area’s piers, or just cast a line off the many bridges – the fishing is superb!
P.S. You will need a fishing license, unless you fish from one of our fishing piers!
This Will Help You Identify Your Catch
History at the Mantaee Historical Village
No trip to Bradenton, FL, is complete without a visit to the Manatee Historical Village Museum. This excursion is fun for the entire family!
From “Old Cabbage Head”, the steam engine locomotive, to the old 1903 Wiggins general store, to the one-room schoolhouse – your family will enjoy every moment of its remarkable journey down memory lane. The 1912 Settler’s House is just typical “Florida pioneer” style. Manatee County has dubbed it “Cracker Gothic”, which is quite appropriate for it.
The smokehouse and the sugar cane mill are in excellent condition, thanks to a lot of restoration. In the third row, at the top, is the Cow Hunter’s bunkhouse. Florida did not have “cowboys”, or at least the cowboys did not like to be called that. They preferred the distinction – “Cow Hunters”. Underneath that photo, is the inside of the general store, and then below that, a typical Florida barn. They were small, because the livestock was outside, enjoying the lovely Florida sunshine. Oh, and do not miss the gift shop – it is delightful!
The Manatee Historical Village Museum is located at 1404 Manatee Avenue East, Bradenton, Florida 34208. They are open to the public -
Monday-Friday: 9:00 AM-4:30 PM
and also on the
2nd and 4th Saturdays of the month – 10:00 AM-4:30 PM
Please take time to stop by there for a few hours. It will feel like a “blast from the past” that you will never forget!
Shark's Teeth and Coquinas...
abundant, on Bradenton's beaches...
Who ISN’T intrigued by shark’s teeth? Want to collect some of your own?
Do you know what coquinas are? You don’t?
Many people visit the west coast of Florida, each year, and don’t even know that you can find shark’s teeth lying all over the many beaches there. Some beaches have quite an abundance of them, from very tiny ones – smaller than a penny, to quite large ones – as large as the palm of your hand. Shark’s teeth that large are few and far between, but several have been found here, over the years. No matter what their size, shark’s teeth are an interesting item to collect, for their unique shape and the sheer pleasure of finding a little bit of history – yourself!
If you don’t know what coquinas are, you’ll find out in Bradenton, at Coquina Beach. Located on the south end of Anna Maria Island, Coquina Beach has great parking, and an abundance of small, colorful coquina clam shells. Locals use the shells in many of their arts and crafts, because their colors are so striking, and they are found all over the beach – within easy reach. Coquina Beach is one of the largest beaches in the area, along with Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach. Although it is is technically in Anna Maria, a city in its own right – residents of Bradenton consider still it to be part of Bradenton.
Coquina Beach is a shell collector’s dream. You will find shells of many Florida creatures there, not just those of coquina clams. While you are in the area, sample coquina soup, from some of the fine dining establishments in the area.
Bradenton’s beaches are famous for their easy access to the water, great sunbathing areas, and tremendous fishing – so check all of them out while you are there.
Great Book About Florida's Beaches
Now, for the Restaurants!
There are SO many places to eat in Bradenton, that it is hard to pick the best ones. Living here since the early 1990s, we have had lots of opportunities to explore the possibilities.
Unfortunately, many of our very favorite restaurants are no longer in business. However, there are still many excellent eateries here to explore. Bradenton boasts quite a few pizza places, many Chinese restaurants, lots of sushi bars, hamburger "joints", American-style restaurants, Thai restaurants, and of course, the chain restaurants.
We have Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Carrabba's Italian Grill, Chick-Fil-A, McDonald's, Burger King, Bonefish Grill, and Pizza Hut, to name a few.
While we haven't listed them all, below are some of our favorites!
Since the 1920s...the place to go.
Here’s where the locals go, for the freshest seafood around. No, you will not be seated at a fancy table. No cloth napkins, no condescending waiters, and no extensive wine list. You may have to wait in line, before you can order. Shoot, you don’t even get china plates! Once you take a taste of their fare – we guarantee, you won’t care!
In their own words, from their website, which we have linked below, they say: “Starfish Company strives to serve simple Florida seafood prepared in the simplest of ways. Most items are either fried, grilled, blackened or sauteed. Sides are kept simple, too. There’s cole slaw, cheese grits and french fries. Of course, don’t forget the hush puppies!” This is direct quote, because we went straight to the horse’s mouth.
Starfish Company is not just a restaurant, it is a seafood market, and a dockside restaurant – all in one. For those who like a bit of history with their cuisine, the Starfish Company just happens to be one of the few working waterfronts, still left in Florida. You’ll love the view of Longboat Key, Bradenton Beach, and the mangrove islands, and some of the local fishing fleet.
Although technically located in Cortez Village, Bradenton residents consider it to be part of Bradenton. It is one of the few remaining working waterfronts left in Florida, and one of the few places that you can eat fish that was just caught – that same day!
For more information on one of the most popular places to get fresh seafood in Bradenton, visit their website:
Fire and Stone
If you have come to Bradenton for a vacation, and you and your family like pizza - THIS - is the place to go. Not only is the food prepared from scratch every day, but it happens to be the best pizza in the area.
You can choose to eat in, and order the pizza buffet, which includes dessert, or you can order from their extensive menu. They do not deliver, but we have called in our order and picked it up to enjoy at home many, many times.
My husband prefers his pizza with pepperoni, Old World sausage, and mushrooms. I like mine with fresh garlic, pesto, and more garlic.
If you prefer thin crust pizza, simply tell them when you are ordering, as they are very accommodating. The owner has started a wonderful business here in Bradenton, and the place is always crowded. Often, it is difficult to find a parking space - even if you just came to pick up a "take-out" order. Do not let the size of the establishment deter you. It is small, but the parking lot is always crowded; always a good indication of the quality of the food that it inside.
This is simply our FAVORITE place to go for pizza in Bradenton, bar none! We have two pizza places we really like in the area, but if we had to pick the winner, we would head to Fire and Stone. Check out their online specials before you go!
One word of caution - they are closed on Mondays, so don't try to go there then!
UPDATE - Fire & Stone had to close for a while, for some extreme remodeling. They are planning to reopen sometime in the summer of 2020. We have missed them, and will be delighted to see them "up and running" again!
Here is their menu:
Beach Bistro - Upscale dining at its finest...
Want a bit more elegant dining experience? Then, Beach Bistro is the place to go! Right on the beach, with fabulous views, they have been consistently rated one of the TOP best restaurants for fine dining in the state of Florida.
Established in 1985, by Sean Murphy and his wife Susan Timmins, Beach Bistro’s opening came right on the heels of a hurricane that pummeled their location, and the surrounding area, for three full days. Undaunted by adversity, Sean and Susan, with help from friends and family scrambled to get the restaurant prepared to open by their November first deadline.
From their own website, they say: “The Bistro endeavors to procure the very best American food product and serve it at its best. The Bistro Serves only ‘real fresh grouper’, ‘Prime’ American beef, domestic lamb and ‘the best Smoked Salmon in the free world’.”
Evidently, the customers agree, as they have been given kudos from: the Sarasota Herald, the Tampa Tribune and the St Petersburg Times. From the early 90′s the Bistro has been rated one of the “Top 20″ restaurants in Florida, and given the Florida Trend Golden Spoon award, and they have repeatedly received some of the highest Zagat ratings in the region.
For a truly elegant dining experience, visit Beach Bistro. Here is a link to their website, where you can view their menu:
Sage Biscuit Café
Come early, for breakfast or lunch - you will not be disappointed!
The Sage Biscuit Café is relatively a "newcomer" to Bradenton, but they are swamped every day! Everyone who has ever eaten there, has good things to say about it.
Situated in a strip mall not very far from Bradenton Beach, the café is family owned and operated, and specializes in fresh, prepared-on-the-premises food.Hungry for hash? Theirs is homemade, with onions and peppers, and topped with two eggs - cooked to order. In the mood for an omelet? There are six to choose from, or you can create your own, with four different ingredients out of the fifteen that they offer. Waffles? They have them, along with Biscuits and Gravy, Bruschetta Burgers, salads, wraps - well, there are simply too many things on the menu to list them all.
Their Sage Biscuits are their "signature" offering, and once you have one, you will crave them. If you come for dinner, you'll miss them, as they are only open from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m. - but they are there 7 days a week.
The menu is extensive, and sure to have something to please everyone - especially vegetarians. Don't miss The Sage Biscuit Café if you are in our area!
Good luck finding a parking spot...
As stated above, the café is only open from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m. - so plan on visiting them for breakfast or lunch. They are relatively new, so we are trying to help spread the word. The menu is extensive - get comfortable before you begin reading it! Link to their menu, below:
Nam Fong's Chinese Restaurant
Nam Fong's has been here in Bradenton, since the 1980s. If you are visiting Bradenton, and get that "I need some good Chinese food" feeling, pay them a visit!
Their restaurant is easy to find, as it is in a shopping center, right off one of the main thoroughfares in Bradenton. It is a tiny, little restaurant, but there is ample seating inside to accommodate quite a crowd.
Unlike so many of the take-out Chinese food places that we have, Nam Fong's consistently serves excellent, freshly prepared food. It is family owned and operated, and the same family has been serving us for over 20 years.
Their menu has the usual Lo Mein, Egg Foo Young, Wonton Soup, Egg Rolls, and other dishes you would expect to be able to order at any Chinese restaurant. For duck lovers, Nam Fong's has Lemon Duck, Mandarin Duck, and Pressed Duck. There are twelve different entrées that feature shrimp, thirteen with beef, eleven with chicken, and many vegetarian choices.
A few of the house specialties are:
- Hong Kong Scallops
- Chow Hoi Sin
- Mongolian Beef
- Sum Kip Tai
They are not open on Mondays, so don't come then. Their hours are: Tuesday - Saturday 10 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Sunday's hours are the almost identical - they close at 8:00 p.m. that day.
Before I forget, their tea is really good; never bitter and they only accept cash, so bring some with you!
At present, this is the only place we have found their menu online.
Mr. Bones BBQ Bradenton claims it!
Mr. Bones BBQ is just the best place in the Bradenton area, for finger-lickin’, palate-pleasin’ barbequed ribs! Even though they are located on Anna Maria Island, Bradenton locals have counted on Mr. Bones since 1992, to provide the best baby back ribs in town.
In addition to their famous ribs, Mr. Bones has quite an array of homemade recipes – something to suit everyone’s taste! The theme is full-flavored food, enjoyed in a funky, eclectic casual atmosphere. How about General Moe’s Watercress over curried fried rice, or Chicken Tikka Masala – sound good? You can feast on half-pound burgers or barbeque sandwiches, if you’re in to grab a quick lunch, or opt for one of their unique vegetarian dishes.
One of their specialties, is Biryani Rice – hot, curried rice sweetened with raisins, almonds and coconut served with a cucumber yogurt riata on the side. That, is a dish! Mr. Bones serves up traditional Creole dishes, Indian dishes, and good old homestyle favorites.
You can’t miss the sign – it has become a local landmark. In the mood for ribs by the beach – try Mr. Bones! In a nutshell, Mr. Bones is the strangest, most unusual, best funky restaurant in the Bradenton area. Check it out - you won't find food like this at any of the chain restaurants. You will never forget eating here, either!
More details? Check their website, below:
For super fresh authentic Mexican food, try Poppo's!
We actually have Poppo's at two different locations in Bradenton. One, is on Manatee Avenue West, the other is on Anna Maria Island, which those of us who live in Bradenton, considered close enough to include in our favorite Bradenton eateries.
Their Mexican food is FRESH, the meat that they use is free from antibiotics and growth stimulants, and the produce they use is organic.
Service is fast, and the food is excellent. On the menu are:
- Poppas Bowls and of course,
- Rice and Beans
- Chips and Salsa
For those of you who crave authentic Mexican food, take a jaunt to to Poppo's. They have lots of entrées for vegetarians, too! Everything is freshly prepared, with choice organic ingredients and hormone-free meats. The food is simply - great!
View their menu below...
Tex-Mex at Mexicali Border Café
Permanently closed due to a fire...
Just a few local favorites in our area...
Here some of the places that make the best food available in Bradenton, listed alphabetically, and not merely the ones who are featured in the paragraphs above. YOU might not consider some of these places to be "fine dining", but in our opinion, anytime you have an excellent meal in ANY restaurant, that is fine dining!
Are you a connoisseur of fine food? Do you have "gourmet" taste? Well, as far as I'm concerned, gourmet food is - whatever I put on the dinner table - because it is definitely fresh, different, and rarely tastes the same. However, some people think that word has a different connotation to it. They think, that you have to GO somewhere, and eat with a bunch of strangers, and pay for the food - even if it isn't very good.
Evidently, that's what a LOT of people think "gourmet food" is all about, and you probably don't want to cook, if you're on vacation - so.... here are some of the hot spots for elegant dining, with a hefty tab, served by ever-solicitous waiters, in someone's elses establishment. We are only listing the ones we enjoy the most, opinionated by personal experience.
- Anna Maria Oyster Bar
- Banana Cabana Caribbean Grill
- Beach Bistro
- Blue Marlin Grill
- Cedar Reef Fish Camp
- Danny's Pizzeria
- Fire and Stone Pizza
- Fully Belly Stuffed Burgers
- Gecko's Grill and Pub
- Gio's Pizzeria
- Island Gourmet Grill
- Island Time Bar and Grill
- Mocha Joe's
- Mr. Bones BBQ
- Mr. Tequila Mexican Restaurant
- Nam Fong's Chinese
- Ortygia - Peruvian cuisine
- Ocean Star sushi
- Pier 22
- Poblano Mexican Grill Bar
- Poppo's Taqueria
- R J Gators
- Sage Biscuit Café
- Sharky's Seagrill
- Starfish Company
- Sushi Sam OH Jung
- The Country Kitchen
- Thai Wasabi
- Waterfront Restaurant
The Bradenton area is constantly growing, and new restaurants are opening all of the time. We shall try to keep you abreast of the best ones - that is, the best ones in our opinion!
The Manatee Players - Our Very Own Theater Group!
Are you a theater lover? You are? Great! When you come here to Bradenton, don’t miss The Manatee Players. Here, we have another “sleeper”. Believe it or not, some of the locals don’t even know we have an excellent theater group, right here in Bradenton.
They may be small, but they pack quite a lot of talent into their performances, and since 2007 they have annually entertained an average of over 30,000 people. At present, they have been entertaining us in Manatee County for over 50 years.
Here are some of the shows – past, present and future! Gypsy, South Pacific, Annie, Singin’ in the Rain, Guys and Dolls, Oliver, Metamorphoses, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and Hello, Dolly!
The Manatee Players have a new building under construction, which promises to become a hotspot for the arts, right in downtown Bradenton. From their own website, paraphrased:
The new Manatee Players Performing Arts Center will be a state-of-the-art, one of a kind facility for the State of Florida…for professionals and non-professionals alike. Every facet of the theater will be handicapped accessible, including: the stage, catwalks, light and sound control booth, and orchestra pit. This added value to the community will allow the Manatee Players to engage all theater supporters, without obstructions due to physical limitations.
So, there – you have it. What more can I say? When you come to Bradenton, go downtown, and see the shows. You’ll be glad you did!
Hernando de Soto Lands in Florida
...a long, long time ago...
According to most historians, Hernando de Soto landed in Manatee County, in May of 1539 – at Shaw’s Point, right where Bradenton is today. There remains some controversy over exactly where de Soto’s expedition landed, but Manatee County claims it, and since 1948, has a De Soto National Memorial commemorating it.
His intent was not to establish a city. He was under orders, from Spain’s King Charles V, to “conquer, populate, and pacify” the area, which meant – in a word – exploitation. De Soto came to “La Florida”, as the Spaniards called it, in nine ships, with over 600 soldiers – to do just that.
Along with the soldiers, De Soto brought over 200 horses, and dogs, a herd of pigs, cannons, muskets, armor, tools, and other supplies. Hernando de Soto’s pig herd rapidly grew, and is responsible for the wild pigs that permeate Florida. They provide sportsmen with plenty of opportunities to hunt wild boar, as they are commonly called, which helps to thin out their ever-increasing numbers.
Unfortunately for de Soto, he did not find the gold and treasure that he came seeking, but his expedition managed rather successfully, to disturb the native Seminole Indian population, and change the direction of Florida’s history, forever.
When you come to Florida, be sure to visit the De Soto National Memorial, which is located at Shaw’s Point. Admission to the park is free, and you will get the opportunity to try on armor, see weapons typical of that period of history, and watch their free movie; Hernando de Soto in America. If you plan your visit between December and April, you can also visit Camp Uzita, which was established to give park visitors a taste of how things were for De Soto and his men, over 500 years ago. Park officials end Camp Uzita's season, with an actual re-enactment of De Soto’s landing, on the beach.
Bring your walking shoes to explore the trails, your binoculars to watch the birds, and your lunch, to enjoy at the picnic facilities. Before you leave, visit the bookstore, and take a little bit of Florida’s history home with you. The park is a delightful excursion back in time, and an experience that you will never forget.
Seminole Indians in Bradenton
Did you know there were Indians in Bradenton? When I lived in Florida back in the 1950s and 1960s, we used to see Seminole Indians all of the time. They are some of the original Native Americans. We used to see them selling things along the side of the road, and always enjoyed interacting with them. I remember the women's brightly colored clothing, and how impressed I was to see real-life Indians!
Somehow, they are often missing when one is studying the history of the United States, and yet, they played a major role, here in Florida. Have you ever heard of the Seminole Wars? There were actually two, and the dates are disputed, as to when they started and stopped. The general time period was somewhere between 1814 and 1819 for the first one, and the second one, between 1835 and 1842.
The Seminoles today, are still running the very first casino on Indian land, and also are involved in agriculture, cattle farming, and the tourist industry.
Photo from Wikipedia
Bradenton’s Logo – simple, yet effective.
How do you like our logo? It is not glamorous, but it is memorable.
Whenever you see this – you’ll think of Bradenton, FL – the “sleeper” vacation spot! They might have added a fish, the beach, and a manatee, but the simple style is unforgettable, and you’ll not forget your visit there, either!
More about our area on Amazon
There are so many interesting things about Bradenton, FL, as those of us who live here, know quite well! We are also neighbors to Anna Maria Island, Bradenton Beach, Holmes Beach, and Coquina beach, - all within about a 10 minute drive of downtown Bradenton.
We have included just a few things in our article that are available on Amazon, to whet your interest in our wonderful tropical paradise...
We Are On Florida's West Coast
Bradenton is on the the West Coast of Florida, in Manatee County. It is located about an hour and a half south of Tampa, and about 45 minutes south of St. Petersburg.
It is rich in history, loaded with sandy beaches, a fisherman's delight and a shopper's dream. If you have never been there, you really need to go. You will definitely enjoy your vacation here!
Where We Are
What Would Bring You to Bradenton?
All images by the author, unless specified otherwise. - E. Tack
Have You Been to Bradenton?
Are you ready to come?
If you are headed down to the Tampa Bay area, to visit or on vacation – take a little side trip, and come to Bradenton. We’d love to have you, and you’ll fall in love with our friendly people, incredible dining hotspots, wonderful climate, and sunny beaches. If you include Snooty, our beloved manatee, you’ll be back – over and over again.
© 2014 Emily Tack