Sitting on immaculate, white-sugar sand one
recent January evening, I was surrounded by a
flock of sea birds - common gulls, oyster
catchers, sandpipers, orange-billed royal terns,
their black crests flattened by Gulf breezes -
all of them squatting together and apparently
watching the horizon.
The few dozen people I saw on the miles of
beach were doing the same. I wondered if, like
me, they were enjoying the highlight of a very
laid-back day. On cue, a pair of dolphins leapt
across the water and a pelican dived in after a
Anna Maria Island is a narrow scrape of
land in the Gulf of Mexico, tethered by bridges
to the Florida mainland near Sarasota. It is
also a rare survivor of Florida's past, before
theme parks, shopping malls, restaurant chains
and high-rise hotels turned much of the state
into a kind of high-class holiday camp.
Today, it offers the same simple pleasures
that drew holiday visitors to Florida in the
first place: miles of perfect beaches, abundant
seafood and endless sunshine....
It is lapped by the pale waters of the Gulf
of Mexico and punctuated by fingers of salt
grass and sea oats. Beach development is minimal
because of the loggerhead turtles that nest here
from May to September. Limited facilities -
lavatories, cafes, lifeguards - are available at
two public beaches frequented by day trippers...
Accommodation is never more than a few
hundred yards from the beach and is always well
equipped. I filled my fridge with bottles of
Mexican beer, mountains of chunky (and cheap)
Gulf shrimp, and local stone crabs, before
setting out to look at other digs on the
At Cedar Cove Resort, "The Innkeeper" likes
to suggest a sort of "wasting away in margarita
land" ambience. But the casual dishevelment is
just a front. Inside, his pastel-painted,
1950s-style units are as spiffy and
well-equipped as any of the best...
The Gulf is calm with a clean, gently
graded bottom. Because it's relatively shallow,
it warms to comfortable swimming temperature...
Once, while searching for tiny coquina
shells at the water's edge, I came face to face
with a great blue heron. Standing more than
three feet tall, it calmly stepped aside and
watched me for a while, just an arm-span away.
On the Bay side, nothing was biting, though
pelicans loitered with intent. "Well it's not
about catching anything is it. Not here,
anyhow," one man drawled. Out on the bay, a
boatful of more serious anglers headed to deeper
waters, after grouper, snapper and amberjack...