Going Places: Riding a Tandem Bike in Anna Maria

The ride adds some spice to savoring the joys of this beach community.

BY April 4, 2017

The historic beach community of Anna Maria sits across the Palma Sola Bay from Bradenton. The island has cute old beach houses, whimsical shops and a pier that juts into the Gulf.

“So why would we drive two hours north when we could just go to Sanibel or Fort Myers Beach?” my friend asked when I told him about our weekend plans.

“Because we can be a tourist on Anna Maria Island,” I said.

I love visiting the beach communities in this area, but they feel too much like home. Sure, it would be fun to spend the day drinking cold beers in the sun, visiting shops, strolling and eating ice cream—but I’m not here on vacation. In order to truly enjoy all that, I’d have to go somewhere else. So I went to Anna Maria Island.

The day was perfectly cloudless, sunny and warm. The little community of Anna Maria is perched on the north end of the island, centered around the main street of Pine Avenue, where many of the beach houses have been turned into boutiques. At the far end of Pine, the city pier points into the water.

My friend and I started at the pier with two cold beers from the outside bar. We found a seat on a wooden bench in the sun where we could watch the fishermen drop lines into the green waters of the Gulf. Nearby, a man on an acoustic guitar strummed a song from the Marshall Tucker Band. It was a fine spot on an even finer day, and for the first time I started to get a feel for what all those tourists on Fort Myers Beach were experiencing.

I could have spent all day right there, but this was our mini-vacation and we needed to make the most of it.

“Shops?” I asked my friend.

“Ice cream?” he replied.

The boutiques along Pine Avenue have just what you’d hope for from a beach town like this: handmade batik wraps, sunglasses in a range of funky styles, antique glass buoys. Some even sell ice cream. By the time my friend hit his third cone, I wondered if he’d had enough.

“We’re on vacation,” he said, shrugging.

In the middle of Pine Avenue, between shops, I stopped and grabbed him by the arm. In front of us was a bicycle rental stand. Out front, the usual mix of bikes and mopeds stood lined up side-by-side. But I had a different idea.

“Do you think they rent tandem bikes?” I asked.

I’d always loved those uber-uncool bicycles built for two. But I’d never had the opportunity—or the nerve—to try one myself. This, I decided, was my moment.

“You guys ever done this before?” the young man setting up our bike asked.

“Sure,” my friend lied. He leaned over and whispered in my ear, “Best worst idea ever.”

We made a few practice laps in the church parking lot across the street, and then we set off for Bean Point at the far end of the island. The ride was, in a word, terrifying. But also a lot of fun. It was the kind of thing you’d never do in your hometown.

My friend and I walked the white sands of Bean Point, remarkably similar to our own barrier island beaches, and then rode the tandem bike back toward the rental shop. On the last leg of our trip, the sun shining down and the light sea breeze blowing my hair, my friend called back over his shoulder, “You realize we look like total nerds on this thing, right?”

Ah. Well. If you’re going to play tourist, you might as well be all in.


If you go

Anna Maria has a range of great eating options. If you value view more than anything else, try the restaurant at the City Pier. The Waterfront offers more elegant fare, and Poppo’s Taqueira has healthy, casual options. 100 Bay Blvd. N., (941) 779-1667; 111 Bay Blvd. N., (941) 778-1515; 212 Pine Ave., (941) 254-7941

All the shops along Pine Avenue offer fun finds. Pineapple Junktion has an excellent selection of antiques, including a 1930s wooden surfboard and a 1963 Jaguar. The Shiny Fish Emporium sells hand-painted silk wraps, scented candles and—most importantly?—mochi ice cream. 425 Pine Ave., (941) 216-4226; 306 Pine Ave., (941) 896-9742

Beach Bum Rentals has a collection of gear for rent: golf carts, surrey bikes, mopeds and standard bicycles. But if you’re feeling adventurous, the tandem bikes are your best choice. Make sure you have a good partner and take a few practice laps. Abandon any hope of looking hip. 427 Pine Ave., (941) 778-3316


Related Images: