TORONTO — You may not have heard of Bradenton, Florida, but with something called ‘horse surfing’ on offer, you’ll wonder why it hasn’t crossed your radar yet.
According to Megan Body, Communications Coordinator at the Bradenton Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, who arrived in Toronto yesterday to meet members of the media, the Bradenton/Anna Maria Island/Longboat Key area on Florida’s west coast is a hidden gem that’s just waiting to be discovered by Canadians. Located between St. Petersburg and Sarasota, slightly off the beaten path for many, the area boasts one of the highest return visiting rates in the state, with nearly 70% of visitors returning after their first visit.
So why do so many keep coming back? For one thing, the area boasts 16 miles of white-sand shoreline, which is a stark contrast to Central Florida’s theme-park offerings. Here, guests will find a fresh take on what Florida ‘used to be’ through purposeful underdevelopment and its quiet, laidback vibe.
The area has also become well known for hosting groups and meetings, from executive retreats to full-sized conventions. The Bradenton Area Convention Center provides more than 43,300 square feet of flexible meeting space, while the historic Powel Crosley Estate, built in 1929, offers another intriguing and charming option for meetings, retreats and weddings.
While the atmosphere in Bradenton may be laidback, it doesn’t mean there isn’t much to do. The area has become a favourite destination in the sports world, from amateur to pro. Premier Sports at Lakewood Ranch offers 22 fields on more than 140 acres for the perfect location for field events of any type. Rowing has also increased in popularity; teams from across the U.S. enjoy facilities like the Ft. Hamer Rowing Facility in Parrish, and the new Nathan Benderson Aquatic Park just south of Bradenton. The latter will serve as host of the 2017 World Rowing Championships.
But what will really pique the interest of leisure travellers is the unique sport of ‘horse surfing’, which was founded in Bradenton and is only available at Palma Sola Bay. A fusion of horseback riding and surfing, this fun activity involves wading out into the water with a horse and then standing on the its back to ‘hang 10.’ Whether participants stand up for two seconds or two minutes, they’ll quickly find the fun is in falling and splashing into the water. (Don’t worry about the horses – getting into the water is therapeutic for them!)
Here are some more fun facts about Bradenton and the surrounding area:
- Major towns include Bradenton, Anna Maria Island, Longboat Key, Palmetto, Holmes Beach, Bradenton Beach, Cortez and Parrish
- Anna Maria Island was named one of the world’s top islands by Condé Nast Traveler Readers in 2014
- It is easily accessible from Sarasota Bradenton International Airport (SRW) via nonstop service on Delta, JetBlue, United, US Airways and Air Canada
- It is home to the world’s oldest living Manatee, 66-year-old Snooty who resides at the South Florida Museum
- The area is home to two family-owned wineries: Bunker Hill Vineyard & Winery and Rosa Fiorelli Winery
- Cortez Historic Fishing Village is the oldest working fishing village in Florida
- Chain restaurants and commercial sky-rise buildings do not exist on Anna Maria, and all accommodations measure just three storeys or less
- Anna Maria Island boasts seven miles of uninterrupted beach
- Tropicana’s juice production facilities are located in Bradenton