The Great Outdoors in Bradenton, FL
Hidden Gems, Parks and Preserves
As a mom to three boys, when the Northern winters get to the point where they’re no longer “playable” for sanity’s sake we escape each year to our all-time favorite beach town, Bradenton, Florida. It’s Vintage Florida, pristine and unspoiled.
This year we decided to really take advantage of soaking in the vitamin D (Did you know vitamin D is just as important for strong bones as calcium?) and booked a campsite at Lake Manatee State Park, and while we felt rustic and wild, the bathrooms were clean as a whistle! The boys loved running around all day, renting canoes and fishing. We explored other near-by parks like Neal Preserve, thick in mangrove forests, with well-maintained boardwalks and a tower overlooking the bay. We even saw dolphins in the mangroves as we watched the sun go down.
Another must-visit is Emerson Point Preserve, where the boys got their history lesson as I read aloud the well-marked trail kiosks narrating the history of the area, as they searched for fossils and wildlife! We even enjoyed our lunch from the top of a Native American Mound with views of the Gulf of Mexico and Manatee River.
Speaking of lunch atop a Native American Mound, let me tell you how many unique picnic spots we enjoyed on this trip. With the goal of being outside, we didn’t have time to waste inside a café, lunch was just part of the outdoor adventure! Here are our top 3 most unique picnic spots in the Bradenton Area:
One morning we drove to nearby Anna Maria Island’s Bean Point Beach after stopping into Ginny’s & Jane E’s Café for the (no exaggeration) best locally-made cinnamon rolls I’ve ever devoured! They are served warm, and when eaten on powder-soft, white sand at tranquil Bean Point Beach the experience is magical.
Another totally different, but just as unique picnic spot is De Soto National Memorial. On the way, we picked up lunch at Poppo's Taqueria, a great Mexican inspired restaurant. Upon arrival at De Soto National Memorial, we experienced the living history program of Camp Uzita and enjoyed the beautiful trails by the water as we downed our delicious tacos.
Lastly, a classic picnic spot (and perfect for people-watching) is on the Downtown Bradenton Riverwalk. Near-by I’d recommend grabbing an ice cream cone from Corwin's and finding a table near the Riverwalk’s excellent playground and splash pad.
The Stories They’ll Tell
One way we wanted to make this getaway extra-special was to choose an activity that each of our boys (who are all totally different) would talk about for years to come. For Cody, our 12-year-old, it was TreeUmph! Adventure Course, where we were all challenged and became each other’s biggest cheerleaders as we climbed, jumped, and swung through 10 football-fields’ worth of ropes and zip lines.
Finn, our 10-year-old, will be talking for months about how he beat his big brother on the track at Andersen RacePark (and I was happy that go-kart safety was a top priority with staff)! And for sweet Avery, our eight-year-old, the Kayak Tour we took with Beach Bums Rentals where we saw dolphins and manatees will go down in history as the coolest thing ever!
For me, the obvious answer is that seeing your kids laugh, enjoy nature, and work together is the best gift. But, if we’re talking activity-wise, our ‘Dip Net in the SeaGrass Flats’ tour by Around the Bend Nature Tours was one for the books. We felt like true naturalists as our expert guide helped us catch and identify wildlife and their importance to the ecosystem. These stories will get us through until we’re back again!