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May 2008

Almost Gulf-Front
108 78th Avenue
Holmes Beach, Anna Maria Island, FL 34217
Almost Gulf-Front Web Site

Welcome to www.weloveourlife.com. This is our page dedicated to our experiences while staying at a private residence called Almost Gulf-Front in Holmes Beach on Anna Maria Island, Florida.


Accommodations Amenities Food Bar/Lounge Service Attractions Dining Nightlife Weather Tips



Accommodations

We rented the house for the week – the second time we have done this. The pictures on the website are very accurate, but maybe don’t do the place as much justice as they could. It was very easy to deal with Anna Maria Island Accommodations (866-264-2226). We simply called and told them what property we were interested in and put a deposit down on credit card. They promptly sent out a confirmation. We called the day before just to confirm, and asked about the check-in process if our flight was delayed. They were very accommodating.

The property was only one house away from beach towards the upper end of the island. Since the street dead-ended at the beach, it was very private and there was little traffic. When we first drove up, we were somewhat concerned, as we pulled right up to a garage door that was in bad shape, with 5 trash cans sitting next to it and a pile of what looked like an old fence. There was very little curb appeal. When we got out of the car, we realized the shot of the “front” of the house was actually on the side. The house is situated sideways to the street to allow for the generous “backyard” area. Once we saw this, we relaxed a little.

We had gone to the Publix supermarket and were taking our food into the house when we discovered ants all over the kitchen counter, sink, and stove. We killed as many as we could and set the groceries on the dining table for unloading, not wanting to put any food on the counter. We found a secure cabinet, which is where we put things like crackers, bread, etc. We’ve learned in the past to bring along quart and gallon size zipper bags to use once we open things – it keeps it fresh and – in this case – keeps the bugs out. Unfortunately, the ant problem stayed with us all week. We had to be very careful in the kitchen and only set things on the counter momentarily. We did let the property managers know upon check-out. We realize it is a one-story house close to the beach and there will be bugs, but a monthly spraying around the house by an exterminator would have alleviated this problem. Clearly because of this the kitchen wasn’t as functional as we would have liked it to be. Also, the refrigerator door didn’t really shut quite right and we had to fool with it each time to make sure it shut. There was an automatic ice maker, which we appreciated. Another down side in the kitchen was that the outlets had no face plates – which isn’t a good situation for families with kids. The kitchen had a dishwasher and electric stove/range, along with a small counter-top microwave. There was an ample supply of dishes, but the one thing we really wanted – a fry pan to make eggs in the morning – was missing, and Lori learned how to cook Egg Beaters in the microwave.
The overall décor of the house was perfect – casual, with “beachy” artwork and signs throughout. The flooring in the kitchen, dining, and living area was tile. The living area had a comfortable sofa and love seat and coffee table, but the ceiling fan did not work.
There was a fireplace (wood-burning, we assume – not that you’d use that much in Florida) and a large flat-screen TV was mounted above it. We appreciated the flat screen TV although it would have been nice to have a listing of the TV channels.
The master bedroom was nice and private and had a queen bed, bed-side table, dresser, and two closets, and opened into a bathroom with a tiled shower with bench. There was a TV in the bedroom and this ceiling fan worked.
There was a bedroom that led out to the pool area – we think at one time it was probably a Florida Room or screened-in porch, as it had two sets of double doors into the living room. This was furnished with a Tommy Bahama-style queen bed and dressers. This room had a tile floor.

The third bedroom was down the short hall from the master (it also connected to the other bedroom that we think used to be a porch) and contained bunk beds, a closet, and a small TV. Both the master bedroom and the bedroom with the bunk beds were carpeted. Carpet remnants were scattered throughout the tile areas and we think they probably should have used area rugs instead, as the carpet was light in color and had some stains. There was also a hall bath with a tub/shower combination.

The house was a perfect size for the two of us and would also make for a great house for a small family. We think the reason they turned what seemed like the old porch into a bedroom was that if adults were out in the pool area they wouldn’t want to walk in through the kids’ bedroom. Our guess is the house was probably built in the 1950s or so but has been updated.

Resort Amenities

The absolute best part of the house was the outdoor pool area. There were beautiful pavers, and crushed shells off to the sides. There was a privacy fence all around and lots of tropical plantings. The pool itself was free form and there was a shallow area (a few inches deep) big enough for us to put two chairs in the pool (as shown on one of the pictures on the website). There were a few benches in the pool.
There was also a round whirlpool with a waterfall that went into the pool. The pool is heated but if you wanted the optional hot tub heat it was $100 extra – we paid for it and it was worth it. We were given a remote control that would concentrate the heat in the hot tub and turn on the jets. There were jets on the floor but it was a bit too much so we stuck with those around the sides. The remote also operated lighting.
Right next to the hot tub was a tiki hut with thatched roof. This was not shown in the pictures and was a welcome surprise as it provided shade. We had found inexpensive blow-up floats that we took with us and used all week. Honestly, we spent an awful lot of time in the pool area. It was like our own little Gilligan’s Island. The pool boy came out one day and checked the chemicals. We really rented this place for the outdoor area and we were not disappointed.

Resort Food

We made breakfast for ourselves several times – although we had to make the eggs in the microwave. We left a note upon checkout suggesting a fry pan. We also got sandwich makings and ate lunch out by the pool.

Resort Bar/Lounge

We enjoyed having drinks by the pool and did our best not to take glass there. To that end, there was a limited supply of plastic in the kitchen – we ended up buying some disposable plastic cups to use. We found a plastic pitcher and would use it as a cooler by putting a bottle of wine in that and surround it by ice.

Resort People/Service

The people at Anna Maria Island Accommodations were very nice and when we checked in, it seemed they would have been willing to tell us about the island, but we had been there several times before. They do give you this cute little canvas bag with a flip flop graphic that contains a map of the island and information.

Area/Attractions

Anna Maria Island is located 1 hour southwest of Tampa and 30 minutes southwest of St. Petersburg. It is divided into 3 towns – the City of Anna Maria in the north, Holmes Beach in the middle, and Bradenton Beach at the bottom. It is very easy to drive around the island, as you are never more than a few minutes away from anywhere you want to go. There are miles of beautiful beaches and the calm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. There are several well-maintained public beaches with good facilities. There are also deserted beaches. Vacationers can rent boats, go on boating excursions, go fishing, and countless other water-oriented endeavors.

We really just wanted to relax, and had no plans other than to enjoy beautiful weather and read by the pool, as well as having some good dinners. We managed to do all of that!

Dining

Ooh La La! Continental Bistro - Island Shopping Center, 5406 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach 941-778-5320
Ooh La La! Web Site
Lori had checked out this website before we went to Florida and decided she wanted to try this place out, so we went there on our first night – a Saturday. We were on the early side (around 6:30) and were hoping we wouldn’t need a reservation. It took us a little while to find it – it is tucked into an unassuming corner of a shopping center. Our GPS helped us locate it. The restaurant takes up the space of two units in the shopping center. We entered and were greeted immediately by a host who did not look disdainful when we told him we did not have a reservation. He simply asked if we wanted to sit on the restaurant side or the “music side,” explaining they had a guitar player that evening. We chose the music side, which was also the side with the bar. No problem, since Florida is non-smoking. We were given an excellent table by the window but facing inwards, looking down the bar to where a guy named Dan Mobley was playing guitar and singing. He was a great singer and acoustic guitar player; we enjoyed him immensely and he was happy to do requests.

Ooh La La! has a great wine selection, and it is very reasonably priced. We had a bottle of sauvignon blanc. Keith had the warm goat cheese salad, which he said was excellent. Lori had the Lobster Bourguignon as an appetizer – it was a small dish with six small scoops that held succulent pieces of lobster in a garlic butter sauce. It was delicious and next time she is going to get two – one as an appetizer and one for dinner! Keith ordered the veal francaise but actually ended up with the veal marsala, which was good. Lori had their scallops, which were rolled in Japanese bread crumbs and then sautéed in a garlic butter sauce. It was delicious, the service was good, and we lingered over our wine, enjoying the entertainment.

Unfortunately, we will not be able to return. Ooh La La! has closed.

Bridgetender Inn - 135 Bridge Street, Bradenton Beach, FL 34217 941-778-4849
Bridgetender Inn Web Site
We had been to the Bridgetender before, but only sat at the bar and had a snack. Lori liked the menu so we decided to try it for dinner. The Bridgetender is on the bay side of the island, down in the bottom third that is Bradenton Beach. The décor reminds one of a seafood place you might find in New England (and the owner is obviously a Green Bay Packers fan). We decided to eat inside, as there was a loud party at one of the outdoor tables. We had an excellent bottle of wine at the affordable price of only $20. Keith got a Caesar salad – which he said was fine but not the best he has ever had. As always, Lori was happy to munch on the croutons. We were served bread, but there was a brief delay as they were “out of bread” when we got there. That being said, our server Amanda was excellent, friendly, and knowledgeable about the menu. Keith went for the Chicken Schnitzel – a plentiful plate of chicken in bread crumbs topped with caper butter. Lori had the heavenly Seafood Wellington – a puff pastry full of crab, scallops, and shrimp with a decadent boursin cheese. It was topped with a crawfish cream sauce. Yum! It was a Sunday, and we went early and did not need a reservation.

Sandbar - 100 Spring Avenue, Anna Maria, FL 34216 941-778-0444
Sandbar's Web Site
We’ve been to the Sandbar every time we’ve been to Anna Maria. We went there on a Monday evening around 6 p.m. We’ve learned not to order everything at once or it comes out that way, so we started by ordering margaritas. Keith had the spinach dip (served in a bread bowl) and Lori had shrimp cocktail. We then ordered a bottle of wine and put in our dinner order – a steakburger for Lori and a buffalo burger for Keith. This is mostly an outdoor restaurant and people go here to watch the sunset. It is right on the beach and it is a very casual place. They’ve renovated in the past year and have added two high ceiling covered areas (sort of like a pergola/porch) to provide some shade. The thing to do at the Sandbar (just like its sister restaurant – the Beach House) is to let your server know what time you think the sun will set (hour, minute, second). The table that comes closest gets a free bottle of champagne. We knew the drill, and we had actually gotten a free bottle at the Beach House on our trip in 2007 (Lori is a bit of a weather freak). We took our time savoring our burgers and wine and watched the sun set, and then went back to our house.

City Pier Restaurant - 100 South Bay Boulevard, Anna Maria, FL 941-778-1515
City Pier Restaurant Web Site
We’ve seen this place but never been to it. You literally walk out on a long dock to the restaurant, which really is on a pier in the bay. It was actually a little freaky walking out there as there are no railings (people fish there) so if you have kids, take their hands. Also, don't be surprised to see some of the local pelicans on the pier looking in the bay for their dinner.
We were expecting something bare-bones but were surprised. There is actually an air-conditioned restaurant with a small bar in one corner. It has a wall of windows over the water and we were given a table by the window. There was a deck around the restaurant and you could watch people fishing. It would probably be a good place to take kids as they would be fascinated by the fishing. You could actually feel the building sway slightly (the motion of the water, we guess) which was a little freaky but we got used to it. This was one of our less expensive dinners. Keith had beer and Lori had white wine. There is plenty of affordable seafood at this place. Which meant, of course, that Keith played it safe and stuck with chicken tenders (he’s not a big seafood guy). Lori had two appetizers – the Crawdadcargot (little pieces of lobster with garlic and butter) and their crab cakes appetizer. Lori declared the crab cakes (and accompanying mustard sauce) some of the best she has had in awhile. The service was friendly and honestly we were pleasantly surprised by this place!

Waterfront Restaurant - 11 South Bay Boulevard, Anna Maria, FL 941-778-1515
Waterfront Web Site
We had a wonderful dinner at this place a year earlier and were looking forward to returning. As we did often that week, we went early (senior citizen early this time – around 4:30) to get a good table (and because we liked spending the evenings back at the ranch in our hot tub). It was a beautiful day and we took a nice table overlooking the bay (and also the City Pier, where we had been the night before). Keith started out with a draft Chimay (they have a fine beer list) and Lori had a glass of wine, and then we ordered a bottle of sauvignon blanc. Keith had a wonderful appetizer of local buffalo mozzarella with tomatoes, basil, and vinaigrette. Lori went for steamed clams in a delicious, thick garlic sauce (she dipped all bread in sight in the sauce, knowing it was back on the diet once we got home). Keith ordered their pasta special, which was melt-in-your-mouth ravioli stuffed with asparagus, ricotta, and prosciutto in a light rose sauce. Lori went for the local gulf shrimp in panko crumbs. There was a cheese appetizer so we requested that for dessert – they even customized it by substituting an extra slice of cheddar for the bleu cheese. We will return and recommend this restaurant.

Beach House Restaurant - 200 Gulf Drive, Bradenton Beach, FL 941-779-2222
Beach House Web Site
We have been to this place multiple times (sister restaurant to Sandbar) and will keep going back. The setting is just perfect. It is huge, both inside and outside, and is situated on a beautiful stretch of beach, perfect for viewing the sunset. Just like the Sandbar, we’ve learned not to order appetizers and entrees as the same time, or they will come out quickly. We think their menu has more selections than the Sandbar’s. It was a hot, bright day (we went around 5 p.m.) and we sat outside, yet under cover. We started with margaritas. Keith had an appetizer special – a chicken quesadilla that was huge. Lori had the peel-and-eat shrimp. We were feeling casual, so we both went for burgers – although, after a week of eating dinners in restaurants, we chose fresh fruit over French fries as our side. The Beach House is the quintessential Anna Maria Island experience – just sit back and relax with food and drink and gaze at the gorgeous beach and water. Dinner was decent, if unremarkable. But if it’s your first time on the island, this place is a must.

Gulf Drive Café - 900 Gulf Drive, Bradenton Beach, FL 941-778-1919
We had breakfast one morning at Gulf Drive Café – we had been there before. As soon as we walked in we knew they had undertaken some much-needed renovations. A year earlier all the liquor was sitting in boxes, and now it was in coolers with sliding glass doors. It also appeared they got new furniture (also much needed). This place has covered outdoor seating right on the beach, but only a few tables so there is usually a line for that. We actually sat down at what appeared to be an empty table – there was a used coffee cup there and we figured it just had to be cleaned up. It turned out a woman was sitting there by herself (she had been in the restroom) so we retreated to the inside. This place always gives plenty of food at a reasonable price. Keith had an omelet and Lori had scrambled eggs. You don’t leave this place hungry.

Peach’s Restaurant - 3240 East Bay Drive (Anna Maria Shopping Center), Holmes Beach, FL 941-779-0738
Peach’s is actually a chain of local restaurants that serve breakfast and lunch. It’s a cute little place that had very good food at reasonable prices. Keith had eggs benedict and Lori had egg beaters (scrambled), with very good iced tea. This is an early-riser place, and is only open 6-2:30. The food is priced affordably and the service is friendly and efficient. They are always busy because the locals know this place is reliable.

Minnie’s Café - 5360 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, FL 941-778-4140
We passed this place and thought it looked like a good place to try for breakfast, so we went back there. It’s a cute little storefront type place that appears to be run by two friendly women (with a cook in back). This is a breakfast and lunch place. The décor was beach hobo chic (don’t know that there is such a thing, but that’s what we’ll call it). Keith had a spinach and feta omelet. There must have been a cup of feta in there! It was good, but a little feta goes a long way, so he pushed some of it aside. Lori had some egg beaters. They had wonderful hash browns that we couldn’t resist, and fresh iced tea, although not quite as strong as we like it. It’s cute, the people were friendly, and the food was good, and we would recommend it and return.

Nightlife

This is a quiet island, not really the place to go for nightlife. There is entertainment at several places, but it tends to be singer/songwriters and acoustic guitar, not rock bands, which would probably seem out-of-place here anyway. Anna Maria nightlife is watching the sunset over the beach. If that’s not your idea of vacation, then this may not be the place with you. That’s fine with us, as we like it the way it is!

Weather

We’ve learned to avoid this area in late summer/early fall (duh – hurricanes and extreme heat and humidity). A year earlier we went in April and the weather was beautiful. If possible, it was even more beautiful in early May. The humidity was surprisingly low for Florida. There was not one drop of rain the entire time we were there and the skies were crystal blue – we rarely saw clouds. Daytime highs were in the mid-80s and nighttime lows were in the high 60s.

Tips/Suggestions

Sun protection is a must here – apply often and liberally. It is very easy to drive on the island – it’s impossible to get lost. There are only a few lights on the island and the drivers seem courteous. We always rent a car. This isn’t like big crowded shore towns – there is generally parking wherever you want to go. There is also a free trolley – we’ve never tried it so we can’t say how often it runs. The property management company we rented from has a great links page. If you go and fall in love with this island (as we have), try not to tell too many people about this amazing place! We love it the way it is!