Bradenton and Sarasota, their secrets.

Via Highway 41 or I-75 South, Bradenton and Sarasota offer another string of beaches close to Tampa (36 miles south).  The beaches begin on Anna Maria Island, west of Bradenton.

To get there, head west on Route 64 for about 15 miles. Along the way, stop for a free visit at Heritage Village, a huddling of historic structures in a park setting. Pause also in downtown Bradenton at the South Florida Museum and Bishop Planetarium on 10th Street, north of Route 64/Manatee Avenue.

Snooty the manatee is the star of the museum, where he has his own aquarium (that he now shares with a buddy). In its Mediterranean setting, the museum takes you through the eras with well-done vignettes. Before the Palma Sola causeway to Anna Maria, about 4 miles west of downtown on Route 64, turn right on 75th Street to visit De Soto National Monument, marking the supposed landing spot of explorer Hernando de Soto with exhibits and reenactors.

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Anna Maria Island, photo below, holds three easygoing beach communities: Anna Maria, Holmes Beach, and Bradenton Beach-with their share of great restaurants, fishing piers, and water sports opportunities. Local waters are known for their populations of jewfish, a gigantic game fish. Route 789 runs the length of the island and connects to those to the south. At the island’s south end, Coquina Beach wraps around and a bridge leads to Longboat Key, an exclusive resort and residential island with sparse beach facilities.

Its manicured, landscaped yards make a lovely, scenic drive. At the north end, turn east on Broadway Street just after the bridge to sample fresh seafood and long-standing seafood houses.

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Across another bridge to Lido Key, turn left to go to City Island and Mote Marine Aquarium, renowned for shark and marine mammal research. Visit the shark tank, aquariums, touch tanks, manatee tank, and preserved giant squid. Nature boating tours depart from the aquarium.

Pelican Man’s Sanctuary and Sarasota Baywalk lie in the same vicinity.

Halfway down Lido Key, you’ll come to St. Armands Circle, a world-class shopping and dining arena. Lido’s lovely beaches are to the south; downtown Sarasota lies to the east, cross Ringling Causeway to get there.

Sarasota is known for its artistic temperament.

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If you are a fan of Top Tennis player, try to find time to visit the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Sarasota. You will find the place where Andre Agassi, Monica Seles, Jim Courier, Pete Sampras and some other top ten player were born. (Nick Bollettieri with the former top ten Monica Seles,photo below)

Downtown, you’ll find galleries along Palm Avenue and elsewhere, along with theaters throughout the Theatre and Arts District. North of downtown on Highway 41, turn left on Boulevard of the Arts to take the kids to G. Wiz, a cutting-edge hands-on museum.

About 2 miles north on Highway 41, turn left on Bayshore Road for a visit to Jungle Gardens, where bird shows, animals, and lush surroundings will please the entire family. Sarasota’s finest attraction, Ringling Estates is also on Bayshore Road.

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The Ringling Museum of Art boasts a collection of Rubens tapestry and other Baroque art collected by its namesakes. In the same complex, visit Ringling’s Italian palace, a circus museum, and a fine theater. At the southern edge of downtown Sarasota, Selby Gardens is known for its orchids and other native and exotic landscaping.

From there, head south along Highway 41 to Siesta Drive, which will take you to Siesta Key, home of the world’s whitest quartz sand beaches. The south bridge at Stickney Point Road will take you back to the mainland.

This tour could extend as far south as Venice, taking in Casey Key and Nokomis Beach along the way, including Historic Spanish Point, a collection of buildings and gardens from Sarasota bygones. Casey Key and Nokomis Beach occupy an island known for rich homes and fishing.

Venice’s beaches have a reputation for shark toothing.

This tour: Approximately 100 miles

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