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Big Alligators and Big Fun at Circle B Bar Reserve in Lakeland

So just what is there to do at Circle B Bar Reserve in Lakeland? Lots.

Circle B Bar Reserve offers peace, quiet, and bird and gator spotting. Located on 1,267 acres of what was once a cattle ranch, Circle B Bar Reserve (find a link to a small map and more info about the reserve here) is now operated by Polk County Environmental Lands and is a great–and free!– place to visit. Here’s why:

Saharan sunrise at Circle B Bar Reserve.
  1. It’s a bird watcher’s and nature lover’s dream. Egrets, herons, woodpeckers, ibis, and dozens of other birds were spotted during our recent visits. Circle B is also known for eagles, armadillos, bobcats, and otters, to name just a few.
  2. It’s popular for nature photography. Visitors with fancy cameras and even tripods are commonplace at Circle B Bar Reserve.
  3. You will likely see alligators. We can’t promise you’ll see the massive gator crossing a trail as shown in this video from Tampa’s Fox 13 in 2018, but with the massive size of Lake Hancock onsite, you’re bound to see, at a minimum, gators coasting along in the water.
  4. You’ll help educate the kiddos on nature. There’s a Discovery Center to help everyone in your crew learn more about the reserve.
  5. Circle B Bar Reserve is a peaceful place to take a walk and get away from the digital world. Need we say more?
Landscape view at Circle B Bar Reserve. L
Egret at Circle B Bar Reserve, munching on a dragonfly.

Get Ready for Your Next Visit to Circle B Bar Reserve

So, what are some tips to keep in mind for visiting Circle B Bar Reserve in Lakeland? Here are a few pointers.

  • If you’re visiting with kids, plan your trail walk in advance. That’s because there’s a labyrinth of trails onsite, some of which are longer and less shaded in the others. You probably know what your kids can handle depending on their age, so check out the trail descriptions at this link. Some easier trails include the Shady Oak Trail, Alligator Alley, and Lost Bridge. (Our personal fave is Alligator Alley with the views of the massive Lake Hancock.) Look near the Discovery Center for a paper copy of the map. There also are maps on display at some points along the trails but we found them small and hard to read. So, grab a paper copy or take a picture of the map and then you can enlarge it with your phone. Of course, if you have any questions about where to go, staffers at the Discovery Center can help.  
  • Wear good walking shoes. You would think this would be obvious but during a recent morning visit, we saw two—TWO—grown men in separate groups who were barefoot. This is Florida, people! There are surely snakes all around, not to mention animal droppings and sharp sticks. Ow.
  • Bring water while you explore. Again, this seems obvious, but we don’t mind stating the obvious. Although you’re probably wise enough to think about water, what we didn’t think about during one recent visit to Circle B Bar Reserve is that we’d end up on a trail that would take us to another trail and before we knew it, we didn’t know where we were—and it was about 95 degrees outside. Thankfully, we did have some nice agua to keep us hydrated but if we didn’t, our little adventure would have been less pleasant, especially because we also had a big Nikon camera to lug around.
  • Respect any signs for trail closures. Sometimes, certain trails are closed for maintenance or to give the animals living there some space and privacy—such as during alligator mating season. Considering the size of some of those prehistoric creatures, we’ll give them all the space they need. The Circle B Bar Reserve link here will alert you to any trail closures.
  • Keep the pets at home. Pets aren’t allowed at Circle B Bar Reserve, surely because of the abundance of wildlife living there. Apparently, music and balloons aren’t allowed, either (we’re guessing for similar reasons). However, there are picnic areas, so if you’re OK having a lower-key celebration, this could be your park.
  • Respect the wildlife at a distance. When we lived in Lakeland a few years back, there was another park where people would go to see “Big Mama,” a 12-foot gator living there. We heard that people would try to get near Big Mama and feed her. We don’t know if everyone who did so survived, but suffice to say that the nice folks at Circle B want you to take your snaps of their resident gators and other animals from a respectful distance. See, socially distancing prepared you for this—and that’s what telephoto lenses are for!
  • Make a side trip to downtown Lakeland. If you’re visiting from outside of the area and want to make the most of your time, nearby downtown Lakeland has some cute restaurants and shops. It also has Lake Morton (famous for its resident swans) and Florida Southern College, with its Frank Lloyd Wright architecture.
Heron at Circle B Bar Reserve.

Enjoy your visit to the beautiful Circle B Bar Reserve, and make sure to tag us on Instagram with any photos you take. Our account is @Florida_Culture. For more Florida travel tips, check out our other articles on this site or on our other website, Florida Culture. Happy travels to Circle B Bar Reserve.

7 Florida Shows to Watch While You’re Staying Home

Looking for shows to watch while you’re stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic? Consider choosing a show that was set in Florida or with Florida connections. With the Sunshine State’s beautiful backdrops (even if some of these shows weren’t actually filmed in Florida), you’re guaranteed to see gorgeous scenery and most likely some wild-and-crazy antics associated with our fine state. This is by no means a “best of” list, but just something to get the binge-watching juices flowing.

Oh, and if you’re actually looking for things to do, you can check out the blog we posted recently on our other site, sharing some fun Florida-themed things to do while you’re stuck at home.

  1. “Tiger King.” We are relentlessly jumping on the “Tiger King” pop culture bandwagon with including this one. Although the new Netflix reality docuseries is mostly in Oklahoma—the home to “Joe Exotic”—there are several Florida connections, including Big Cat Rescue in Tampa and Maria Tabraue, an exotic animal owner/former drug dealer alluded to have inspired “Scarface” (an infamous film also tied to Florida). Joe Exotic—words alone just can’t describe him—is definitely an honorary #FloridaMan.
  2. Dexter.” This dark series from Showtime, set in Miami, focused on a serial killer who would only kill those he deemed as bad people. Dexter’s “dark passenger” made for some great acting and there are some great scenery shots, too, although we later learned the series filmed mostly in Long Beach, California, and not Miami. You can also find “Dexter” on Netflix. We especially recommend Seasons 1 to 4, the final of which featured the brilliant John Lithgow.
  3. Golden Girls.” This could be just the “comfort food TV” you need right now. The four gals who feel like good friends lived it up in Miami (actually, it was filmed in front of a live studio audience in California), contending with friendships, relationships, and a leftover slice of pie. Available on Hulu and Amazon Prime.
  4. “Bloodline.” Focusing on family drama, “Bloodline” features Sissy Spacek, Kyle Chandler, and other great actors managing the Rayburn family empire when their brother, the black sheep of the family, returns to town. The series is set in the Florida Keys and has tons of beautiful scenery to almost make you feel like you’re there. Available on Netflix, “Bloodline” stopped filming when it became too pricey to film in Florida.
  5. “Miami Vice.” Pastel suits, anyone? If you were alive in the 80s, you know the ubiquitous theme song to “Miami Vice,” is like Pavlov’s dog, calling you to the TV set. Miami police officers Crockett and Tubbs had fashion sense for their times, and Sonny Crockett even kept a pet alligator on his houseboat (don’t try that at home, kids). “Miami Vice” was shot in South Beach, Broward County, and Palm Beach County. It’s available on various streaming services.
  6. Burn Notice.” This USA Network comedic series focused on a spy who was made to leave his job, or “burned.” The show was actually shot all around Miami, including the Opa-locka/Hialeah Flea Market and the Biltmore Hotel, according to a Miami New Times article. It’s available on various streaming services. It’d be a good show to binge if you need comedy mixed with action and Hawaiian shirts.
  7. Floribama Shore” and “Siesta Key.” If you need something that’s completely mindless, check out these two MTV reality shows. You’ll see plenty of good-looking people cavorting together on the beach (remember the days when people gathered on the beach in groups?) with the requisite Sunshine State scenery. “Floribama Shore” is set in Panama Beach, and “Siesta Key” is set in, well, Siesta Key—named this year the best beach in the U.S.

We know there are dozens more shows set in Florida, not to mention many movies. Feel free to share other faves you have in the comments or on social media to help out others looking for something to watch!

Here Are 6 Things to Do When You Visit St. Augustine–a 2021 Update

Morning view of Matanzas Bay in St. Augustine, Florida.

Looking for the best things to do in St. Augustine, Florida? Florida Culture’s got you covered. We’ve made nine or ten visits to the oldest town in the U.S., with our annual pilgrimage taking place on a recent late June/early July weekend. Despite the heat, we always enjoy our time in St. Augustine. Our collective experience has led us to share some insider tips to help guide you on things to do in St. Augustine during your next visit.

Creepy and Spooky in St. Augustine

1. Go ghost hunting. If you’re walking around downtown St. Augustine, you’re essentially walking over dead bodies. The city has had its massive share of strife and bloodshed since its founding in 1513, and all of that violent history makes for some popular ghost hunting. Even if you’re a skeptic, you still may get some amusement out of the city’s many ghost tours tours.

Image taken during the St. Augustine Lighthouse ghost tour–a photo blooper or something otherworldly??

Insider’s tip: Know what kind of ghost tour you want in St. Augustine. The Ripley’s Haunted Castle Tour allows you to enter the Haunted Ripley Castle, part of the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum. If you want history mixed with a workout, sign up for the St. Augustine Lighthouse’s Dark of the Moon Tour, which takes you up and down a vertigo-inducing staircase (219 steps each way) for an ultimately awesome view of the area. Wear comfy shoes and bring water if you choose the latter. The former lighthouse keeper and his family members are said to haunt the lighthouse. The Ghosts and Gravestones trolley tour is family-friendly for tweens, teens, and adults and will take you on a trolley to see some of the city’s most haunted places. Tour guides dress in period costumes, and you’ll get to step out and spend a few minutes at two haunted sites, such as Tolomato Cemetery. Arrive a few minutes early to check out Old Town Trolley’s new Cromwell’s Parlour of Paranormal Curiosities, set up like a dark, old-time parlor that showcases paranormal and psychic tools of the past. Book ghost tours early as they fill up quickly, or you may find yourself doing a ghost tour when it’s still light outside. It’s not quite as spooky then.

Sunrise, St. Augustine Beach.

Get to Know Downtown St. Augustine

2. Check out the downtown shops and museums. No visit to St. Augustine is complete without a walk along St. George Street, which is filled with shops, restaurants, and other attractions. If you’re into shopping, then you’ve got your share of niche stores as well as tourist traps. If you are more culturally minded, there’s the Oldest Wooden School House, the Saint Photios Greek Orthodox Shrine, Potter’s Wax Museum, the St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum, and the Ripley’s Museum, all located near or on St. George Street. One newer attraction we got to check out this year was the Medieval Torture Museum, which is pretty much what the name implies. Located on St. George Street, it’s a private collection that shows the tools and methods used in medieval times (and even by some cultures today) to torture those who have supposedly done wrong. It’s not for everyone, but we enjoyed it and thought it fit in well with St. Augustine’s dark past.

Insider’s tip: Parking can be tricky in downtown. If you can find on-street parking, do so, as that will be the best rate. Otherwise, there’s a large garage that charges a flat fee of $15. You can also find smaller lots around town that charge $10 to $15. Some attractions in downtown like Old Town Trolley Tours offer a discounted all-day parking rate provided you’re using the trolley that day.

The St. Augustine city gates on a cloudy day. You’ll see these gates on one side of St. George Street in the downtown area.

Yet There’s Plenty to See Beyond Downtown St. Augustine

3. Go beyond downtown. Downtown St. Augustine and the main pedestrian walkway of St. George Street is where many tourists will congregate, but there’s so much to see beyond there.

Insider’s tip: Consider the following additional destinations for fun beyond the shopping around St. George Street: St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum (a real workout going up the lighthouse stairs but worth it for the view), St. Augustine Alligator Farm (nature and photography lovers, don’t miss the bird rookery), Adventure Landing (great if you’re with kids and need an arcade-type experience), the Fountain of Youth, and beautiful Flagler College. Another destination we have yet to visit but that we hear is interesting is Fort Mose Historic State Park, which was a free slave settlement established in 1738 for slaves seeking freedom from the English colonies in what is now the Carolinas. There are monthly musket firing demonstrations.

One of our favorite personal destinations is free, but you’ve got to get up early: It’s a sunrise walk along St. Augustine Beach, near the pier. You’ll be surprised to see how many fellow early birds are there snapping pics of the sunrise. As a reminder, Florida’s east coast is known for its sunrises while the west coast of the state has brag-worthy beachside sunsets.

Ah, just another day on St. George Street in St. Augustine. The balcony toward the top shows the entrance to the Medieval Torture Museum.
“Kamping Kabins” at the St. Augustine Beach KOA. The type of cabin shown here doesn’t have a bathroom, but there are some larger cabins (including two right on the water) that have more space and a bathroom.

Check Out Your Lodging Options

4. Make the most of where you plan to stay. There’s no shortage of lodging choices in St. Augustine and St. Augustine Beach, from older or newer hotels to bed and breakfasts. Like many people, you’ll probably use Trip Advisor along with the amount of dinero in your wallet to make your choice, but consider our suggestions below as well.

Insider’s tip: There are some newer hotels right on the beach in St. Augustine Beach, including Embassy Suites. That said, there’s the charm of places like La Fiesta Ocean Inn and Suites, with friendly staff who deliver scones to your room every morning. Downtown, we hear great things about the Peace and Plenty Inn and Casa Monica Resort & Spa, the latter now owned by Marriott. Our fave non-downtown place to stay is the St. Augustine Beach KOA, which has RV, tent, and “kamping kabin” sites. Use the pool, rent a a banana bike, fish, or simply take in the calm of its pond….and you’re just five minutes from the St. Augustine Pier and about a 20-minute walk from Anastasia Island State Park, located very close to the pier.

One of the lions on the Bridge of Lions.

Fill Your Belly With Food in St. Augustine

5. Eat. Much like the lodging situation, there’s no shortage of great food in America’s Oldest City.

Insider’s tip: Although there is a food tour in St. Augustine, someone suggested to us a DIY food tour. Pick out a handful of restaurants or bars that you think look yummy, and plan with your travel companions to visit each one and try an appetizer or two. Some possible ones to include that we like: Harry’s Restaurant (oreo beignets? OK!!), the Tiny Martini Bar at the said-to-be-haunted Casablanca Inn, San Sebastian Winery (its upstairs restaurant is The Cellar Upstairs), St. Augustine Distillery, and The Floridian. For something more casual, we enjoyed Burger Buckets and Carmelo’s Marketplace in the downtown area during our most recent visit. There are tons of local restaurants to choose from but if the chains are your thing, we’ve also had good experiences at a nearby IHOP and Carrabba’s located a couple miles from the downtown.

St. Augustine Pier early in the morning. Notice the surfers who are up early as well.

Get a Behind-the-Scenes Look at Spirits (the Drinking Kind, Not Ghosts)

6. Find out how wine, spirits, and chocolate are made. The San Sebastian Winery offers a tour with its Florida-made wines that mostly feature the muscadine grapes grown in Central Florida’s Clermont. San Sebastian is owned by the larger Lake Ridge Winery & Vineyards in Clermont. St. Augustine Distillery makes vodka, whiskey, gin, bourbon and rum and is located in a former ice plant. Tours for both facilities are now self-guided due to COVID-19. Whetstone’s Chocolates also offers yummy tours. Just looking at their website will make your mouth water.

Insider’s tip: The best insider’s tip we can offer for these tours is to take advantage of them! Most are free (the Whetstone’s tour ranges from $6.50 for children to $8.95 for adults) and you’ll learn how wine, spirits, and chocolate are made. They’re yummy but educational, too.

One view from Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine.

Some final insider’s tips:

  • Make use of Groupon or those tourist guides you’ll find scattered throughout the city. Whether you like the online option or low-tech paper options, there are savings to be had. Although some of the coupons may save only a couple of bucks, it adds up over time.
  • Don’t miss Castillo de San Marcos, a 1600s fort in downtown St. Augustine that’s run by the National Park Service. It’s definitely worth a visit and has some great angles for picture-taking. In addition to your standard visit, find out when they do re-enactments of a cannon launch, complete with costumed re-enactors speaking Spanglish. San Marcos is said to be haunted, so another option is walking around the perimeter at night (the inside will be closed) and take pictures to try and capture spirits or orbs. The same recommendation holds if you’re walking the interior of San Marco during the day—if you’re into ghosts, take a few shots, and you never know what spooky images you’ll find…
Old Town Trolley tour on Magnolia Street in St. Augustine, a picturesque street that’s often photographed.
  • St. Augustine has two trolley tours—Old Town Trolleys and Red Train Tours. We’re a big fan of Old Town as we’ve also used it in other cities, but use whichever trolley line is convenient for you. They both are great and often offer discounts when visiting other area attractions.
  • Find some of our previous St. Augustine stories here, here (the latter two stories for the Canadian publication Dreamscapes), here (about the lighthouse), and here, from our blog. Let us know if you have other St. Augustine questions that you want answered.
Reenactors at Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine. Boy, they must be hot in those costumes.

11 Ways to Explore The Ringling Estate in Sarasota

If you’re in the Sarasota, Florida, area, and you haven’t visited The Ringling lately, you’re missing out.

This cultural gem–once home to circus magnate John Ringling and his wife Mable–features an art museum with European baroque art, a grand home right on Sarasota Bay, and a circus museum.

Yet that’s just half the story.

The museum and the home (called Ca’D’Zan, which means House of John) are very worthy of their admission fees--generally $25 per person for the museums and $20 extra for the home tour. (By the way, admission is free on Mondays everywhere except the Circus Museum and the Ca’D’Zan). However, we recently relished in the fact that walking on the grounds of The Ringling is free. As in gratis, no money. Next time you need a break and some fresh air, stop by. We think everyone in Sarasota should be taking advantage of this.

Here’s our guide on 11 things to do at The Ringling Museum Estate, aside from the museums–and here’s a link to a Ringling Estate map to help guide you. If you’ve ever visited the grounds, some of these ideas may be familiar. However, we hope that some will lead you on a treasure hunt.

  1. From The Ringling Rose Garden.

    Revel among the roses. Mable Ringling had a rose garden built at her home, and it’s full of a variety of roses with names like Popcorn, Love Song, and Barbra Streisand. The garden has stone-carved cherubs and benches for quiet pondering. Get your telephoto lens ready for closeups of these floral beauties. Volunteers maintain this Italian-inspired garden.

  2. Be among the banyans. Banyan trees are special because they form a huge canopy over the ground with its roots and secondary trunks, creating a tangled but lovely mess (see a picture at the end of this article). Find 14 banyan trees at The Ringling.  It’s the largest collection of banyan trees in Florida.
  3. Play. The David F. Bolger Playspace at The Ringling is located near the banyan trees and seems to stay pretty busy. It features a slide, hand-powered fountains, and basket swings.
  4. Find where this is located (see picture to the right). Let us know when and where you find it!
  5. Bring a sketchbook and drawing pencils or painting. You’re likely to spot several artists on the grounds. Perhaps it’s a nod to Sarasota’s appreciation for the arts, or perhaps it’s because New College of Florida and the Ringling College of Art and Design are so close. And we know you’ll already have your phone out for Insta-ready pics.
  6. Find out about native Florida trees. If you’re at Ca’D’Zan facing the bay and look to the left, walk just a few short minutes to find the Millennium Tree Trail, which gives background info on trees that are native to Florida. If you’ve been in the sun all day, the trail provides some welcome shade. Which tree is your favorite?



7. Thought-provoking art–discuss. Although we’re sure some of the art on display at The Ringling changes occasionally, we found this, er, interesting statue during our visit. From afar and from only the back, we assumed it was The Tin Man from “The Wizard of Oz.” Then we saw the face. The Cuban-American artist Coco Fusco created this in 2018 in response to divisive politics in the U.S. Love it? Hate it? Discuss!

8. Take in the horizon. The Ringling has so much beauty to see, but you can put that aside for a moment and just focus on the Sarasota Bay. Check out the water, and you may see fish or even the occasional sting ray. With the right lighting, you may snap a memorable pic of boats on the water. Imagine what it’s like to live at some of those houses with bay views.

9. Pay your respects. Somewhat hidden but near Ca’D’Zan you’ll find the Secret Garden and Ringling Burial Site. The feel of this small area is a little more somber than the rest of the grounds, but it’s beautiful nonetheless. Pay your respects to the cultural gift that John and Mable left Sarasota.

A view of Sarasota Bay from The Ringling Estate.

10. Get a “free” tour of the museums. Can’t make it to the museums? Then the gift shop is a plausible alternative until you have time or money to visit. Get a sense of the European, Asian, abstract, and circus art at the museums from the gift shop souvenirs.Get some gift ideas for the holidays or for the art appreciators among your friends.

11. Eat. As you walk in to the Visitor’s Pavilion, you’ll find The Muse Restaurant, which pleasantly surprised us with its gourmet vegetarian dishes such as squash gouda dumplings and fried green tomato ALT (avocado/lettuce/tomato). The Muse is operated by The Tableseide Group, which also owns Libby’s and Louies Modern. Later on, find the Banyan Cafe for a snack.

Let us know if you have other fave things you like to do at The Ringling!


One of The Ringling’s banyan trees.

Take the Quiz to Discover Fun Florida Facts!

Sunset on Bradenton Beach, Florida.

As you head on your road trip or vacation this summer, you’ll have some idle time where you’re waiting in line at an amusement park, sitting in traffic, or simply chilling at the beach. Make that idle time fun for your family or yourself by taking this pop quiz of Florida knowledge! All of these are true or false. Answers appear at the bottom of the page. Good luck.

  1. Florida has 67 counties.
  2. Explorer Christopher Columbus named Florida.
  3. The movie “Scarface” was filmed in Florida.
  4. Florida ranks number three among U.S. states for its population.
  5. More than 90% of the oranges grown in Florida are used as whole fruit (not for orange juice).
  6. Lake Okeechobee is the state’s largest lake.
  7. The capital of Florida is Orlando.
  8. More than a million alligators live in Florida.
  9. The fabled and famed creature Bigfoot has been seen regularly in Florida.
  10. Florida’s famous love bugs were created in a lab at the University of Florida.
  11. More than 70 million people visited Orlando in 2017.
  12. Florida has more than 1,300 miles of coastline.
  13. Plant City, Florida, is called the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World.
  14. Florida has produced two U.S. presidents.
  15. Old Florida postcard

    Gatorade was named for the University of Florida Gators.

Florida Fun Facts Pop Quiz–Answers

  1. True! Palm Beach County is the largest county in terms of land mass.
  2. False. Explorer Ponce de Leon named the state “la Florida,” which means “flowery place” in Spanish.
  3. False. Although this famous movie with Al Pacino focuses on Miami and the Cuban exiles, most of the film was shot in Los Angeles.
  4. True. The only states that rank higher are California and New York.
  5. False. Actually, 90% or more of the oranges grown in the Sunshine State are used for orange juice.
  6. True. You can see Lake Okeechobee from space.
  7. False. It’s Tallahassee!
  8. Some of the millions of visitors to Orlando in 2017.

    True. There are about 1.25 million alligators in Florida and a total of 5 million spread across the Southeast U.S. There are also crocodiles in south Florida.

  9. False. However, the Skunk Ape is Florida’s own legendary Bigfoot-like creature.
  10. False. That’s a myth. This report on explains why this isn’t true and quotes a UF professor who says, “If we created them, they would be orange and blue.”
  11. True. Orlando, America’s most visited destination, attracted 72 million people in 2017, according to Visit Orlando.
  12. True. It ranks second only to Alaska for its amount of coastline.
  13. True. This town in the Tampa Bay area produces an abundance of yummy strawberries in the winter. It even hosts an annual Strawberry Festival that attracts national music acts.
  14. False. It is one of the most populous states in the U.S. but surprisingly has not been the birthplace for a president.
  15. True. The drink was developed at UF.

Gators hanging out at one of our favorite places in Orlando, Gatorland.

So how’d ya do? If you need to brush up on your Florida knowledge, make sure to read other articles on Florida Culture Travel. We have more than 60 Florida-focused articles where you can have fun learning about the Sunshine State. Got a place in mind for us to visit in Florida? Then leave a comment!

5 Things to Do in and Around Bradenton, Florida

There’s no shortage of things to do in Bradenton, Florida. After all, the Bradenton/Sarasota area garners worldwide praise for its beaches, natural beauty, and arts and culture. Most of the time, it’s simply a matter of choosing what you’re in the mood for on a given day.

Here are 5 things to do in the Bradenton area that Florida Culture recommends.


1.  Beach it out. OK—a recommendation to go to the beach in our area is low-hanging fruit, as that’s probably what drew you here in the first place. Still, try the beach at various times of the day for different vibes. Early morning is great for a walk and shelling, midday is ideal for swimming and people-watching, and the evening draws sunset lovers and picture-snappers from across the globe.

Venture out to try the various beaches around Bradenton and Bradenton Beach. Coquina Beach and the Manatee public beach have lifeguards (and some shade at Coquina), so they’re ideal if you have kids. However, there are other beach enclaves that have their own feel. Bean Point on Anna Maria Island and Beer Can Island (popular with boaters) are also great. Tip: As our beaches become more well-known, the traffic to reach them has gotten more congested year-round—not just in season. Plan your trip to reach earlier in the day, if you can. Or, stay near the beach so you only have a short walk.

The Tropicana train makes its way through downtown Bradenton near Riverwalk. Bradenton is home to Tropicana Orange Juice.

2. Stroll down downtown Bradenton’s Riverwalk. Riverwalk offers a scenic 1.5-mile view along the Manatee River in downtown Bradenton. Check out boats, a playground, public art, and the downtown Bradenton library, or South Florida Museum, among other sights. Once that walking tires you out, mosey on over to Main Street for a bite at O’Bricks or any of the restaurants or bars in this growing downtown area. Tip: From October to May on Saturdays, downtown Bradenton hosts its farmers’ market.

3. Find a beach alternative at De Soto National Memorial. Everyone has a favorite local park, and this is ours. De Soto National Memorial in West Bradenton is part of the National Park Service and offers history, spectacular views, and even something for Fido. The park is named for Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto, who landed in the Tampa Bay area in 1539. You can discover more about the area’s history at the visitors’ center or via the historic demonstrations that take place there. However, if you’re hankering more for sun and views, take advantage of the park’s several trails, many of them offering peaceful views of Tampa Bay. Some visitors to De Soto visit as an alternative to the popular beaches and make a day of it as the park has a few sandy areas. De Soto is a big hit with dog lovers, so Fido can be part of your beach day.

4. Get an arts education at Village of the Arts. Located near downtown Bradenton, this funky, colorful area features unique art galleries, stores, and eateries. It was created in 1999 by a nonprofit group as a community where artists could live and set up shop. If you’re looking for an interactive arts experience, this is the place to check out. On the first Friday and Saturday of each month, the Village of the Arts hosts an Artwalk event, where residents and store owners plan special activities for visitors. Don’t miss Bird Rock Taco Shack for tacos of all kinds (including vegan and vegetarian options) and nearby Motorworks Brewery, which is adjacent to Village of the Arts.


Bird Rock Taco Shack in Bradenton’s Village of the Arts.

5. Dine out. In the mood for seafood? Italian? Farm to table? Yup, Bradenton’s got it. There are too many great places to eat in town to name here, but we’ll share a small sampling. Near the beach, you’ve got the Beach House Restaurant in Bradenton Beach and The Sandbar, both of which offer Florida-caught seafood and farm-to-table dishes (the same company owns Mar Vista in Longboat Key). EnRich Bistro in West Bradenton is owned by a local family and serves gourmet and locally-sourced meals. Ortygia in the Village of the Arts serves delicious Italian dishes.


So many smells at De Soto park…

Have a favorite activity in Bradenton, Florida? Tell us in the comments. Who knows?! We may have a part 2 article to share other ideas!

Dogs also love the views at De Soto.

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