10 best waterfront restaurants for outdoor dining around Anna Maria Island
Following the positive feedback from our previous outdoor dining guide, we’re serving up another list of places to dine and drink al fresco here in Southwest Florida.
To create this list, we picked our favorite waterfront restaurants offering outdoor dining on Anna Maria Island and the Manatee County side of neighboring Longboat Key. To determine the popular menu items, we consulted with the restaurants (and also offer some personal faves). And while on the phone July 1-2 with the restaurants, we were told by all 10 that they’re requiring their employees to wear face masks while following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
For those unfamiliar with the area, Anna Maria Island consists of three separate cities, which are north to south: Anna Maria, Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach. On June 25, Holmes Beach issued a mandatory face coverings ordinance that states “every person over the age of 6 who is away from his or her residence should wear a face covering when closer than six feet to another person with who he or she does not reside.” Two days later, the city of Anna Maria issued a similar order requiring face mask use. The Town of Longboat Key, located south of Anna Maria Island, issued an emergency ordinance requiring face masks on July 2.
Also, keep in mind that while Florida has banned drinking at bars again, “restaurant bar areas are allowed to operate at 50% capacity, with social distancing, and seated service only,” according to the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association.
Finally, we didn’t forget about all the waterfront restaurants offering outdoor dining in Sarasota as well as on Siesta, Lido and the Sarasota County side of Longboat Key, which we wrote about for a June 18 Ticket cover story. And in the future, we plan to spotlight spots for outdoor waterfront dining in South Sarasota County as well as the rest of Manatee County.
Anna Maria Island Beach Cafe
4000 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach; 941-778-0784; amibeachcafe.com
Like a beach concession stand but way better, Anna Maria Island Beach Cafe at Manatee Public Beach allows folks to enjoy a fun meal while soaking up the sun mere steps from the Gulf of Mexico. Open daily from 8 a.m.-8 p.m., the cafe recently replaced its popular all you-can-eat pancakes special with the equally enticing four pancakes and three sausages for just $5.99. Other popular breakfast items include the various three-egg omelet offerings as well as the biscuits and gravy, while lunch and dinner favorites include the fish and chips, fish tacos, Greek salad and the grilled chicken Oriental salad.
Anna Maria Oyster Bar on the Pier
200 Bridge St., Bradenton Beach; 941-778-2662; oysterbar.net/pier
The lone island location in John Horne’s group of four Anna Maria Oyster Bar restaurants found across Manatee County, AMOB on the Pier allows patrons arriving by land or sea to dine and drink from the base of the historic Bridge Street Pier overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway across from the Cortez fishing village. Offering lunch and dinner along with a full bar, AMOB favorites include the Grandma Georgie’s Chipotle Oysters baked with chipotle sauce, parmesan cheese and garlic butter; coconut shrimp (dusted with coconut flakes and fried to a golden brown and served with an apricot horseradish dipping sauce); and the fish and chips made with four pieces of deep-fried pollock.
6600 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach; 941-778-6444; beachbistro.com
Easily one the most famous restaurants in Manatee County, Beach Bistro with its cozy, enclosed dining room located right on the sands of Holmes Beach remains temporarily closed due to the coronavirus. However, patrons can order some signature Bistro dishes — Lobstercargots, One Helluva Soup, grilled grouper sandwiches and more; plus craft cocktails to go — from sister restaurant Eat Here (open for takeout Wednesday through Sunday, 5-9 p.m., 5315 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach; 941-778-0411), and perhaps picnic on the beach. Or, dine at home while watching the Bistro’s beach cam (beachbistro.com/live-streaming-camera), which is livestreaming 24/7.
200 Gulf Drive N., Bradenton Beach; 941-779-2222; beachhousedining.com
Part of Ed Chiles’ trio of waterfront restaurants dotting the Manatee County shoreline from Longboat Key (Mar Vista) to Bradenton Beach (Beach House) to Anna Maria (Sandbar), Beach House boasts a recent multimillion-dollar makeover that makes each visit feel like a trip to a trendy, tropical resort getaway. Open for lunch and dinner, popular dishes include the Gamble Farm house salad (veggies and lettuces from Chiles Group’s own farm and other local sources, topped with manchego cheese and tropical vinaigrette; add chicken, shrimp, salmon or mahi mahi); seafood roll (lobster, crab claw, domestic shrimp, and scallions blended with mayo, served on a house-made hamburger bun with fresh, sliced tomatoes and lettuce); and fried shrimp (Gulf of Mexico white shrimp, lightly fried, served with french fries, coleslaw and cocktail sauce). On June 25, Beach House, along with Mar Vista and Sandbar, announced that “a mask is now required upon entry in all inside areas of the restaurant, retail, bars and restrooms.”
Gulf Drive Cafe
900 Gulf Drive N., Bradenton Beach; 941-778-1919; gulfdrivetiki.com
A true sand-in-the-toes dining destination, Gulf Drive Cafe on Anna Maria Island offers safely spaced “shadow tikis” overlooking the ocean that nicely sit two to four, as well as plenty of other outdoor dining options. Open daily from 7 a.m.-10 p.m., popular menu items include the crab cake sandwich (crab meat gently blended with a touch of lemon and Old Bay seasoning; fried until golden brown and served on a brioche bun with lettuce, tomato, red onion, and a side of cocktail sauce), the Island Grouper (grilled or blackened grouper fillet topped with mango papaya salsa; served with rice and a vegetable medley) and the Shrimp Diablo pasta (blackened jumbo shrimp, penne pasta, spicy lobster butter, goat cheese, green onions, house-made tomato cream sauce). For breakfast (served until 1 p.m.), check out the benedicts or perhaps go with the Gulf Drive omelet served with bacon, sausage, ham, onions and cheddar cheese.
Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant and Pub
760 Broadway St., Longboat Key; 941-383-2391; marvistadining.com
Tucked away on Longboat Key overlooking Sarasota Bay, Mar Vista offers guests arriving by land or sea a tropical setting that includes seating on the covered deck or under a canopy of buttonwood trees. Open for lunch and dinner, popular items include the Bud & Old Bay shrimp (head-on shrimp sautéed in Budweiser, Old Bay and butter, with grilled bread), Mar Vista tater tots (potato, onion, pepper jack cheese, with chipotle honey mustard), and the grilled grouper (served with okonomiyaki “bacon cabbage cake,” unagi sauce and Gamble Creek Farm garlicky braised greens).
The Rod & Reel Pier
875 N. Shore Drive, Anna Maria; 941-778-1885; rodreelpier.com
If you’re seeking an Old Florida restaurant right on the water — where I’ve spotted numerous dolphins, a shark, manatees and even a loggerhead turtle over the years — be sure to visit The Rod & Reel, which has been operating since 1947. A two-story structure located on the end of a fishing pier overlooking Tampa Bay and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, the restaurant offers upstairs dining on the covered outside deck overlooking the water and beach, as well as indoor dining with spectacular views. Open daily from 8 a.m.-9 p.m. and serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, Rod & Reel is best known for its daily fresh fish specials. Popular menu items include the grouper Reuben (sauerkraut, Swiss, Thousand Island on rye), Mexican grouper (blackened and served over rice with grilled onions, peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms and medium salsa), and the seafood combo (grouper, shrimp and scallops; grilled, blackened or fried).
100 Spring Ave., Anna Maria; 941-778-0444; sandbardining.com
Open since 1979 but with at least one major renovation over the years, Sandbar is the oldest and most famous of Chiles’ three waterfront restaurants. Offering covered outdoor seating, the restaurant places diners practically right on the powdery white sand of Anna Maria overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. Serving lunch and dinner, menu “classics“ include the fried shrimp platter (half-pound domestic shrimp, hush puppies, coleslaw, lemon, cocktail sauce, fries), seafood and grits (domestic shrimp, fish medallions, Bob Woods country ham, bell peppers, gravy, Bradley Store cheese grits) and stuffed shrimp (five large domestic shrimp, shrimp and crab meat stuffing, beurre blanc sauce, Sandbar rice, farm-fresh veggies). Pro tip: start your meal with the delicious crispy Brussels sprouts (sweet ginger-soy sauce, honey sambal sauce).
800 Broadway St., Longboat Key; 941-259-4600; dineshore.com
The second Shore location — the original is on St. Armands Circle — this one opened in 2019 and occupies prime property between the Longboat Key public pier and Mar Vista, with 400 feet of waterfront and plenty of outdoor seating. Serving lunch and dinner, visitors by land or sea enjoy favorites like the Shore burger (house ground daily beef, Tillamook cheddar, bacon jam with lettuce, tomato, onion, and side of truffle fries), Kung Pao calamari (Napa cabbage, red pepper, toasted peanuts, basil, mint and cilantro), Florida black grouper sandwich (Creole grilled with slaw, pico de gallo, lemon mayo, and side of truffle fries), and the miso-marinated black grouper (crystalized ginger basil sticky ride cake, sake-braised shiitake mushrooms, miso coconut vin blanc). There’s also the forest mushroom & black bean burger with Veganaise and vegan kale ‘Caesar.’ Guests are required to wear masks until they are seated and when walking through the dining area.
111 S. Bay Blvd., Anna Maria; 941-778-1515; thewaterfrontrestaurant.net
Overlooking Tampa Bay and the newly reconstructed Anna Maria City Pier, The Waterfront occupies an adorable former home with open-air patio dining providing spectacular views, especially at sunset. Open for lunch and dinner, popular appetizer items include Bob’s lobster bisque (lobster stock, cream, sherry), baked brie (phyllo wrapped, honey, toasted almonds, grapes, apples, crackers), truffle gouda mac ‘n’ cheese (truffle oil, gouda, buttery breadcrumbs; add barbecue pulled pork or baon bits), as well as the tropical and beet salads, both with chicken, beef or fish options. The Waterfront also excels at craft cocktails such as my personal fave, the jalapeno margarita made with El Jimador Blanco Tequila, fresh lime, fresh basil, cilantro and jalapeno, and served on the rocks.
READ MORE: 10 best waterfront restaurants for outdoor dining in Sarasota
READ MORE:10 most famous Sarasota restaurants everyone should visit
READ MORE: 10 most famous Bradenton area restaurants everyone should visit
Read more stories by Wade Tatangelo
See all of our Sarasota-Manatee restaurant news