The barrier island of Anna Maria, off the Gulf Coast of Florida, is famous for its chill and easy-going atmosphere, broad beaches, and incredibly clear waters. Located on the keys off Sarasota and Bradenton, just 50 miles south from Tampa, Anna Maria Island has no reason to envy the more popular Southern Florida Keys like Key Largo or Key West, off the coast of Miami.
AMI, as its residents and visitors commonly abbreviate its name, is known for luxury boutiques, unique shops, great bars and fine restaurants. It is a great family destination thanks to its laid-back living and its 7-mile stretch of powdery beaches of a bright white color.
But thanks to the coastline here it’s also a fantastic location for water activities. Which is why snorkeling in Anna Marie Island is slowly becoming more and more popular each year.
So what’s snorkeling in Anna Maria Island like? What’s the water conditions like, what marine life can you see, and where are the best dive spots?
Well as we know the waters off this island so well, we have all those answers – and more – right here!
- What is Snorkeling at Anna Maria Island Like?
- Our Top Seven Snorkeling Sites
- Tips For Your Snorkeling Holiday at Anna Maria Island
What is Snorkeling at Anna Maria Island Like?
Anna Maria has an “off-the-beaten-track” vibe that attracts watersport lovers, families with children and people looking for unlimited tranquility and relaxation.
Compared to the neighboring community of Clearwater Beach, which has equally beautiful beaches but a faster paced atmosphere with more activities and lodging options, Anna Maria Island is a more relaxed – even downscale, if you want – option.
That means this island is not only less busy than its neighbors, but that also the nature here continues to thrive.
Nature in all its forms is the main attraction on Anna Maria Island. The island is a bird sanctuary, where you can easily observe pelicans, cranes, herons, ospreys, seagulls, parrots, wood storks, roseate spoonbills and hawks.
However, there’s no doubt snorkeling is one of the major attractions for tourists coming to unwind on Anna Maria Island.
The gorgeous white sand beaches introduce bystanders to stunningly emerald green waters and surprisingly awesome seascapes. The sea is particularly calm here, especially in the summer months, and the visibility is out-of-this-world amazing. That means Anna Maria Island has exceptional snorkeling conditions.
Flora and fauna at Anna Maria Island is extremely varied and interesting too, and its excellent conditions make it the perfect spot for both beginner and seasoned snorkelers.
Snorkeling is possible all along the coast here, although it is recommended to avoid the northern tip, as this area is subject to dangerous rip currents.
What Will You See When Snorkeling at Anna Maria Island?
While strolling on the beaches or snorkeling on the turquoise sandy bottom, you may encounter nesting turtles from May to October, or their newborn offspring!
Anna Maria Island is also known as being a place for the passage of Mobula Rays, which arrive in extremely big numbers and move altogether in a spectacular dance – it’s incredible to witness.
The best place to spot these grandiose creatures is anywhere between the Rod N Reel Pier (which has a cafe that’s actually a great spot for breakfast) and the new Anna Maria City Pier. As well as up to the amazingly gorgeous Bean Point.
There, you will also be able to spot other types of rays, especially huge Southern Stingrays and friendly Eagle Rays.
The sandy bottom at Anna Maria Island is a favorite for manatees too. These giant mammals can be spotted feeding or playing on grassy areas on the sand. To see them while snorkeling is a truly majestic encounter. They particularly enjoy very shallow waters and will come really close to shore. They are very curious, friendly and playful.
Last but not least, the true protagonists of the waters around Anna Maria Island are probably the bottlenose dolphins. Especially if you go out on a boat, you should be able to spot their unmistakable profiles on the surface or see them jump out of the water as they race beside the boat.
Our Top Seven Sites For Snorkeling in Anna Maria Island
Of all the activities we can think of while vacationing on Anna Maria Island, we think snorkeling is the most exciting and enjoyable! It is perfect for everyone as it’s fun, easy and memorable.
The crystal blue waters, white sand bottom and tropical fish really do make it a wonderful place to grab a mask and explore the underwater world.
Here a few of the best Anna Maria Island snorkeling spots. Places you should not miss when on your underwater adventure here:
1. Holmes Beach
Holmes Beach is the place to be to start your snorkeling outings at Anna Maria Island.
At the beach you can find several snorkeling operators and beach shops, where you can rent some gear or board a lovely catamaran for a snorkeling session in the emerald green waters surrounding this cozy and unique place.
In addition to the cruises departing form the beach, one particularly remarkable area for snorkeling if you wish to do it by yourself is between the 4300 and 5800 blocks of Holmes Beach. That’s one of the best spots for seeing marine life.
2. Manatee Beach Park
This lovely place got its name as it’s one of the top warm water refuges for the incredible Florida Manatees.
The best months to see these creatures is between December and February, when the water temperature In the Gulf of Mexico is around or below 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius). That’s because manatees do not enjoy cold waters and so move to this warmer waters of Anna Maria Island during these months.
It is rare, yet not impossible, to views manatees around AMI in the summer months too, when the Gulf of Mexico temperature rises to more comfortable degrees.
3. Egmont Key
Egmont Key is an elongated island north of AMI. It is primarily a national wildlife refuge and has a few interesting historical sites to visit, including the lighthouse.
Its pristine beaches, which can only be reached by boat, open up to a turquoise sea full of life forms. That makes it the perfect snorkeling spot if you enjoy looking for sand dollars and sea shells.
The clear and shallow waters of Egmont Key hide a special snorkeling spot too – the submerged ruins of an ancient fort. That fort, now inhabited by hundreds of tropical fish, is a place that nature has claimed for herself over the course of time.
4. Regina Sugar Barge
The Regina Sugar Barge is one of the most famous snorkeling spots on Anna Maria Island.
This barge sank off Bradenton Beach during a storm in 1940, and its shipwreck now lays in about 20 feet of water on a sandy bottom, located 150 feet from the beach. Access to the barge is from the shore, between 8th and 14th street, right off the beach. It is easy to find thanks to the buoys that have been installed to mark it.
A visit to this wreck is made extra interesting thanks to the abundance of wildlife that has taken over the barge.
5. Passage Key
If the waters of Anna Maria Island are not clear enough, head to Passage Key, located between AMI and Egmont Key, for a truly mind-blowing experience. It almost looks like the Bahamas.
The shallow, transparent water there reveals a white sandy bottom that attracts tourists all year round. This place is mostly renowned as a nudist beach, but that’s not all it has to offer! It has been a national wildlife refuge for over 110 years, established to preserve nesting colonies of seabirds and wading birds.
The waters around Passage Key are also incredibly bright and one of the best places in the region to look for sea shells and sand dollars, but also small rays and crabs.
6. Piers Between Bradenton Beach and Coquina Beach
The piers between Bradenton Beach and Coquina Beach offer a few snorkeling opportunities, such as around 2300 block.
Stingrays and manatees love strolling near these piers, and you should be able to easily spot crabs, stingrays and schools of colorful fish.
Take advantage of the midday sun for the best visibility, and why not top off your snorkeling day with a delicious late lunch at the Gulf Drive Café which is right on the beach.
7. Jewfish Key
Jewfish Key is a green, lazy sandbar located between Longboat Key and AMI. It is quite big, and in close proximity to bars and restaurants. It is a private island with no more than ten homes where residents can only reach via boat.
The calm waters there are home to many fish species but this is also the ideal spot for paddle boarding and chilling in the sea!
Useful Tips For Your Snorkeling Holiday at Anna Maria Island
Snorkeling at Anna Maria Island is a fun and exciting activity for the entire family, and it can be done both from shore and from a catamaran.
In both cases, you can use your own gear or rent it as you please, no stress at all! The snorkeling shops and rentals are everywhere on the island, and many of them also offer guided snorkeling tours as well as fishing cruises, dolphin sightseeing and sunset cruises.
The best season to go snorkeling at Anna Maria Island really depends on what you are looking for. The waters are mostly extremely clear all year round, and the island experiences warm temperature throughout the seasons.
The coolest months are October to March, and you can expect some wind in this period, too. That means May to September will have hotter days but also calmer seas due to less wind. Which can equal better snorkeling.
There’s plenty of stunning beachside accommodation if your staying for longer than a day too, with our top pick being the Bali Hai Beachfront Resort and Spa which has wonderful sea views and is in an exceptional location for a snorkeling adventure.
As for where to spend time other than in the water, Pine Avenue is full of eateries, galleries and all sorts of shops. While in Bradenton you can buy food, arts and crafts, jewelry and souvenirs at the interesting Bridge Street Market.