People who live on Anna Maria Island have more occasions than most to pack up some food to go. One of the most obvious and appealing reasons to pack a picnic is to take it to the beach. Whether it’s to eat at one of the picnic tables at island beach parks, or to enjoy on a blanket under an umbrella, there is nothing more pleasant that eating at the beach.
Several times we have spontaneously thrown our supper into a large tote bag, and driven to Bay Front Park to eat at a table. Last year, this was where we enjoyed Christmas dinner, followed by a long, leisurely walk around the top of the island. Once, on New Year’s Day, we took a small brunch to the beach and enjoyed it on a park bench. Part way into the meal, an elderly man wandered over and asked if he could join us. The three of us sat side-by-side on the bench staring at the Gulf. We offered him a cookie, which he accepted.
Another island activity that often calls for packing a picnic is boating. Whether it’s sandwiches, or supper, there’s nothing as pleasant as eating a nice meal on the water, especially if the weather is pleasant. And if the weather isn’t pleasant, good food might be even more of a welcomed addition to the day. One day last summer we were sailing in Tampa Bay and the afternoon storms were worse than expected. We lowered the anchor and heaved to. As we sat below wincing at the lightning strikes, I was glad that I could offer some good food to help pass the time and distract us. We enjoyed Cuban and turkey sandwiches, watermelon, mango, grapes and brownies. If it had turned out to be our very last meal, at least it would have been a good one.
Although I love the thought of eating food fresh from the garden, the fact is, some foods taste no better when you grow them yourself. For example, I’ve never thought a home-grown carrot tasted any better than store-bought. It makes it hard for me to want to spend the time involved in gardening, especially during Florida’s warmer months. However, there are some foods that grow here with almost no attention, and they taste far better than store bought. We acquired two such delicacies with our Anna Maria Island property when we bought it ten years ago.
When we met at the lawyer’s office to close on the purchase of our new home, I asked the previous owner if it were necessary to water anything in the yard. Completely new to Florida, I had absolutely no experience or knowledge of landscaping and gardening on Anna Maria Island. “If you want bananas, you’d better water those,” he said. That was all.
Since then, we have done very little watering, including of the bananas that grow along the property line. Every once in awhile, when it’s been extremely dry, we give them a little water. Every year or so, we give them a little fertilizer. When we cut off the old, tattered fronds, we leave them under the banana trees and they act as mulch, holding in whatever moisture may be in the soil.
Anna Maria Island is a great place to spend Spring Break, as long as you’re not looking for a party. Not every college student is an extrovert. Many are looking for something a lot more interesting than joining a herd of students who are experimenting for the first time with alcohol, sex and drugs. For those college students who are mature enough to already be clear about these things, and who are intelligent enough to want to do more with their time than run with the crowds, Anna Maria Island is a lovely destination for Spring Break or any other holiday.
When is the Anna Maria Island High Season? That depends on who you ask. For the rental industry, most tourists come in winter, between Thanksgiving and Easter. Rates go up towards the end of November and down about the beginning of May.
But times are changing and the “shoulder” seasons are extending into all of November and after April. Summer is also the busiest time for day visitors, who escape the inland heat for the cooler beaches and water activities and bring their kids who are out of school. Longer daylight hours attract after-work beachgoers. However, these visitors don’t have an impact on the rental real estate market as much as they do on the restaurant and bar trade.
As a year-round resident, who endures the high humidity and storms of summer, my respect for the wisdom of the snowbirds grows every year. From October through May, there are many days that are just about perfect. The people who come here during that period avoid a lot of discomfort and worry. They don’t have to worry about whether they are in a structure that will withstand the high winds of summer hurricanes. They don’t have to postpone a walk for fear of being struck by lightning, as often is the case in summer. The good news for those of us who stay here year-round is that high tourist season does not fill the entire period from October through May, so we get to enjoy many days that are near perfect, without crowds.
The busiest time of year seems to be around Presidents’ Day, the third Monday in February. Schools are on break and warmer weather brings out the winter hibernators. Travel can be brought to a standstill for hours as cars search for parking spots and bridge openings stop traffic flowing. Congestion is increasing each year as more people discover Anna Maria Island and try to squeeze onto a finite space.
We moved to Anna Maria Island in 1999, soon after Publix opened a small grocery store on the island, just off of Manatee Avenue on East Bay Drive in Holmes Beach. In fact, as we arrived in town, after a three-day car trip to get here, we stopped at the island Publix to pick up a few essentials before walking into our new home and starting to unpack boxes. It was amazing that we ran into the only three people we already knew here, in the bakery section of the new store. It made us feel at home.
Since then, we have enjoyed having such a good market on the island. It is a lot smaller than the Publix, or Albertson’s, or Sweet Bay markets in Bradenton. But whoever does the buying and stocking of the Holmes Beach Publix does an amazing job. Rarely do we feel the need to go to a larger store to get something that’s not available in the island Publix. At the moment, the only such item I can think of is a particular boxed Chardonnay wine from Australia, which used to be carried on the island, but is no more.