Florida’s Sarasota-Bradenton area is well known for attracting older travelers, but it might surprise you how much Tampa’s neighbor to the south has to offer people of all ages -- particularly golfers. Next time you’re planning a golf getaway with your buddies, consider a trip to the Gulf Coast.
Where to stay
Rather than finding a hotel, opt to rent a beach house. When split with friends, the cost is pretty affordable and it comes with an awesome level of privacy and convenience. Anna Maria Island, the northernmost part of Bradenton’s barrier island, is home to nationally renowned white-sand beaches and clear water. Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach, both slightly farther south, are nice options as well.
AirBnB has a fairly big presence in the area, so that’s a great place to start your search. Rental services like Island Real Estate can also help you find a place that meets your needs. The island is home to lots of great dive bars and seafood restaurants. Don’t miss Wicked Cantina on Anna Maria. Try some of its signature Tex-Mex, and wash it down with a John Daly – sweet tea vodka and lemonade – or a cilantro margarita.
Where to play
When it comes to golf, the area has lots of courses to choose from, but one of the unique options is IMG Academy Golf Club. You may be familiar with IMG, a world-renowned boarding school and athletic training facility, because it’s bred golf talent from Michelle Wie to Paula Creamer. It’s also the training ground of superstar athletes in other sports, including Serena Williams and Cam Newton.
From the back tees, the 18-hole championship course measures 6,855 yards, with a stunning island green on 10. Its well-maintained greens and fun layout make it well worth the green fee (usually under $30 in the summer), which includes complimentary balls at the range and a GPS-equipped golf cart. For a different golfing experience, try Pinebrook Ironwood Golf Course. It’s short, which makes it great for walking if you’re visiting in the winter, but it’s full of water features which makes for a fun, little challenge.
If you don’t mind traveling slightly north of Bradenton to Buffalo Creek Golf Club in Palmetto, there’s a chance you may encounter a celebrity. I’m not referring to one of the many pro golfers that call Florida home, but rather the gigantic alligator that recently took the internet by storm. At just over 7,000 yards, the Ron Garl-designed course is worth the drive. The atmosphere is fun, and the pace of play is usually pretty quick (which is not always the case in South Florida).
What else to do
Bradenton is not only home to great golf, but it also has plenty of other outdoor activities to offer. Newly-renovated McKechnie Field, located just 15 minutes from Anna Maria Island in downtown Bradenton, is the spring training home of the Pittsburgh Pirates who have a huge fan base in the area. The Bradenton Marauders play there in the summer, and though the stadium can get hot, it’s definitely a cool place to watch baseball. Consider attending on a Thirsty Thursday, when select drafts, including some local craft brews, are just $1.
There are a few charters that will take you deep sea fishing from Anna Maria, which is a fun way to spend an afternoon. You just might catch your own dinner. If you prefer something a little more daring, consider an outing with Top Gun Flyboards. They set you up with a sort of jetpack that uses water pressure to propel users into the air. Individual and group lessons are available.
Where to drink
One last tip for your trip to Bradenton: A visit to the local breweries makes a great ending to a day on the course or in the water. Darwins Brewing Company’s Circa 1926, a tangerine wheat ale, is a refreshing choice in Florida's hot summer. Nearby, Motorworks Brewing also has some great drafts, as well as a yard full of cornhole sets and frequent live music.
After a beer or two, head to Council’s, a pool hall that serves the best burgers around. It’s so old school that it doesn’t have a website, and local legend says that the griddle hasn’t been cleaned in nearly 100 years (to add flavor). It’s a one-of-a-kind place, but beware: It’s probably not your best bet if you’re trying to impress someone. On the plus side, you’ll be unlikely to run into many tourists there.
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