Gay Florida Road Trip Guide to Downtown Bradenton

Downtown Bradenton is a short drive south of St Petersburg, Florida, over the picturesque Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Prior to my Big Gay Florida Road Trip, I had spent several afternoons on Bradenton Beach. In fact, my wife proposed to me on the neighboring Ana Marie Island. However, I hadn’t previously explored Downtown Bradenton. In fact, most people drive right through Downtown Bradenton on their way to the beaches. So, I thought I’d do us all a favor and explore the downtown area to report back.

Southbound on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge toward Bradenton. Photo by Rachel Covello

Here’s what I found: If you’re looking for a one or two-night staycation, Downtown Bradenton is the perfect spot to explore and relax. It’s also an ideal stopover destination on the way to or from Venice, Sanibel, or Naples.

History of Downtown Bradenton

Many parts of Florida have rich and interesting histories. The City of Bradenton is no exception. While the town was formally established in the early 1900s, its miles of fresh and salt waterfront property have been attracting people for centuries. Native Americans, Spanish explorers, settlers, and tourists have all played a part in the formation of the area as we now enjoy it.

Sidewalk around Downtown Bradenton, near the Manatee River. Photo by Rachel Covello

Today the historic old downtown district, on the west side of the City, is home to museums, restaurants, shops, and entertainment venues. Just a short walk to the south is the vibrant Arts Village where artists live and showcase their work. This unique and charming town has lots to offer diverse visitors.

How Gay is Downtown Bradenton?

Downtown Bradenton isn’t marketed as a gay destination but it’s welcoming to all. Sandwiched between the St Petersburg and Sarasota regions, and bordering an arts district, the area is naturally LGBTQ-friendly. You won’t find gay bars or LGBTQ organizations within Downtown Bradenton but you’re only a stone’s throw away from the Purple Rhino and Oasis Club in Sarasota and 30 minutes from Lido Beach – Sarasota’s official gay beach.

Where to Stay in Downtown Bradenton

While there are a few Downtown Bradenton hotel options, I suggest staying in the center of town so you can enjoy everything the area has to offer by bike or on foot. I was invited to spend an evening at the Springhill Suites by Marriott in Bradenton along the Manatee River. The newly constructed hotel had everything I needed for a comfortable and welcoming night’s stay.

I’ve provided an overview of the hotel below in addition to listing a few additional accommodation options in the area.

SpringHill Suites by Marriott

102 12th street West, Bradenton

SpringHill Suites by Marriott in Downtown Bradenton. Photo by Rachel Covello

For a restful spot within steps of all that Downtown Bradenton has to offer, SpringHill Suites by Marriot has it all. The hotel is near the marina and riverfront walkway making for great views and strolls. The historic Downtown district, restaurants, and museums are all within a mile.

After you check out the nearby attractions, relax with a drink from the Oak & Stone roof top bar. Enjoy views of the Manatee River and the marina from the hotel’s terrace and pool.

Sunset views from the Rooftop Terrace of the SpringHill Suites by Marriott in Downtown Bradenton. Photo by Rachel Covello

Each suite at this property features a separate seating area with pull out bed or a separate bedroom, so there’s room to spread out even if traveling with others. You can also bring your fur babies (2 dogs per room, up to 50 pounds each)!

King Bedroom. Photo by Rachel Covello

Parking is complimentary in the hotel’s garage, located a half block away. Guests are welcome to unload at the hotel entrance and then move their car.

Breakfast is also complimentary, although the hotel is providing limited to-go options during the pandemic, versus their standard buffet.

Start planning your Bradenton stay here.

Enjoying the beautiful evening poolside. Photo by Rachel Covello

My Tip: Enjoy the rooftop pool! I spent a beautiful evening poolside, with drink in hand, while watching the sunset. I didn’t get in the pool, as it’s fairly small and I was being extra careful to socially distance. But the lack of pool time didn’t ruin my experience one iota. I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed such a peaceful moment. I suggest you do the same. Grab a drink and find a quiet spot to enjoy the sunset views!

Additional Accommodations

Booking.com

Where to Eat in Downtown Bradenton

If you’re staying in Downtown Bradenton, you don’t need to go far for delicious food and the perfect ambience. I enjoyed lunch at Oak & Stone, dinner at Pier 22 and lunch the following day at Caddy’s before heading out of town. I suggest bringing your bike for a beautiful ride down the Riverwalk to Caddy’s from the hotel.

And while I skipped the ice cream shop (I’m watching my girlish lipstick lesbian figure), I hear nothing but great things, so I included it on my recommendations list as well.

Pier 22

1200 1st Avenue West

Pier 22 Restaurant

For casual fine dining and amazing views head to Bradenton’s Pier 22 Restaurant. The beautifully restored historic 1920s building overlooks the marina and the Manatee River. Guests can enjoy breakfast, lunch, dinner, happy hour on the outdoor riverside deck.

The menu features tapas, fresh seafood, steaks, and everything in between. Sushi fans will appreciate the extensive list and imaginative rolls. There are also vegetarian and gluten-free options.

Pier 22 even offers a chance to work-off some calories. The restaurant offers yoga in their beautiful water view Grand Ballroom when it’s not being used for a private event! Learn more about this historic eatery and explore their menus here.

My Tip: Sushi!! To my surprise and delight, Pier 22 has a fresh sushi bar with several special rolls (including a Pier 22 roll) and sushi appetizers (like edamame).

Oak & Stone

1201 1st Ave West

After a day on the road, head over to Oak and Stone for some comfort food and libations. Diners of all ages are welcome and will enjoy artisan pizzas, interesting appetizers, sandwiches, and even tacos. Beer lovers will be amazed by the vast self-serve brew wall.

Self-Serve Brew Wall at the Oak & Stone. Photo by Rachel Covello

Take relaxation to the next level. Head up to their 8th floor outdoor bar for amazing views, cold drinks, and ample shaded seating. Insider tip: Guests from the Springhill Suites can access the rooftop bar directly from the hotel’s private entrance! And the far side of the bar servives the hotel’s rooftop pool terrace.

Rooftop of the Oak & Stone in Downtown Bradenton.

On game days, the casual vibe gets a bit more energized as the focus turns to sports on the big screens. Check out their current beer and food offerings here

Events are limited right now, but check their calendar for updates.

Poke Bown at Oak & Stone. Photo by Rachel Covello

My Tip: Try the tune poke bowl and ask for a mix of sesame kale and quinoa pilaf. The mixture is topped with ahi tuna, crushed peanuts, cucumber, sesame slaw, sweet chili aioli, and soy pearls (no idea what these are but they sounded fun). And yes…you’ll see a theme throughout my blogs – I’m obsessed with sushi.

Caddy’s Bradenton

801 Riverside Drive East

Stroll or bike along the Riverfront for a casual lunch at Caddy’s. This waterfront spot offers a laid back vibe, beautiful views, and a classic bar food menu. Sandwiches, seafood baskets, and chicken wings are among the favorites here.  

This is also a great spot for a sunset beverage and bite at one of the bars, or under the tiki hut.There are multiple Caddy’s locations in the Tampa Bay area. Each known for their friendly hospitality, live music, and casual vibe. Weekend nights bustle with the party crowd who come to dance, and drink, to the music.

Tune into Caddy’s menu and entertainment schedule here.     

Chicken Wings at Caddy’s Bradenton. Photo by Rachel Covello

My Tip: I’m a big fan of the chicken wings and coconut shrimp. Even the grouper tacos are pretty good, and I’m a seafood snob. After all, I’m married to The Fishmonger.

Corwin’s Ice Cream and Smoothies

1001 1st Avenue West

Twin Dolphin Marina with Corwin’s Ice Cream. Photo by Rachel Covello

Satisfy your sweet tooth at this Bradenton institution. Named for one of the town’s founding fathers, this old-fashioned Ice Cream shop features everyone’s favorite treat. In addition to the classic sundaes, floats, and splits, Crowin’s Ice Cream also serves cappuccino and coffee. If you’re trying to stay on the healthy side enjoy in one of their fresh fruit smoothies.  

Located along the Riverwalk in front of the Twin Dolphin Marina you can’t pass up a stop here! The ice cream shop even has open air seating to enjoy the view. Find out which specials and flavors are being scooped-up here.

Other Places to Eat

Although I didn’t go anywhere beyond the marina area for meals, here are a few places recommend by the hotel, closer to the Arts Village:

Fav’s Italian Cucina – Local stop favored for stromboli, homemade pastas & other Italian standards in cozy quarters.

Mattison’s Riverwalk Grille – Sprawling gastropub with large menu of bar classics & draft beer in casual, warm digs.

O’Brick’s Irish Pub & Martini Bar – This ain’t your typical Irish pub! They’ve stepped it up a notch.

What to Do In Downtown Bradenton

Downtown Bradenton is the perfect place to stay if you want to be in the center of everything! There are several things to do within walking distance of the pier. And if you run out of things to do, Bradenton is also just a hop, skip and a jump (meaning 20-30 minutes) away from St Petersburg, Sarasota, and the beautiful Bradenton and Ana Maria beaches. If you’ve decided to enjoy a few nights away in Downtown Bradenton, then plan a couple of day trips for more fun.

The Bishop Museum

201 10th Street West

The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature. Photo by Rachel Covello

The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature provides a glimpse into the fascinating story of Florida’s Gulf Coast. There is something to engage visitors of all ages and interests. With a planetarium, manatee rehabilitation center, and archaeology exhibit, it’s almost as if the Bishop is three museums in one! The shows, presentations, and displays are all captivating. As a result, you’ll be transported back in time without ever leaving Downtown!

Visit here to learn more, including planetarium show and manatee presentation times.

The Riverwalk

451 3rd Avenue West

Riverwalk is a 1.5 mile-long public park along the Manatee Rive and the northern edge of Downtown. The five-acre public space is ADA accessible and has a great combination of features for everyone.

Enjoy live entertainment and other events at the 400-seat amphitheater or the shaded pavilion. Active visitors can try out the skatepark or beach volleyball courts. Families will have a blast at the Fun Zone and Splash Pad playgrounds, fishing from the pier, exploring the tidal discovery zone, or picnicking on the great lawn.

My Tip: Grab your bike, or your sneakers, and enjoy the breathtaking views! This is one of my new favorite places for a day trip, even if not staying overnight.

Learn more about how to make Riverwalk part of your Bradenton experience here.

The Village of the Arts

South of Downtown, between 9th and 14th Streets West

Fun and quirky gallery store front. Photo from Village of the Arts Website

This quant and quirky enclave is where many local artists work, live, and play. You can visit art studios and shops to purchase or admire art. The community produces everything from folk to fine art. You can also create some art of your own in various types of art classes.

First Friday Art Walks (6:00 to 9:30 p.m.) are fun times to explore the galleries, shops, and restaurants of this unique neighborhood. Parking in the Village of the Arts (VOTA) is free. For more about VOTA, including their Day Planner Guide click here.

Bradenton Beach

Various access points along Gulf Drive

Located on the barrier island of Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach is known for its wide, beautiful beaches and calm Gulf Waters. Access is available along Gulf Drive at Bridge Street or further south at Cortez Beach.

Bradenton Beach. Photo by Rachel Covello

The sugary white sand is inviting to walk on. This quiet family-friendly beach is laid back and perfect for relaxing. If you’re eager to get some steps in, take a stroll along the sandy white shore to search for shells and sand dollars. When you’re ready for a break from the sun, grab lunch or a treat from the nearby restaurants, coffee, and ice cream shops that dot Gulf Drive. Start planning your Bradenton Beach adventures here.

Where to Park in Downtown Bradenton

Parking in Downtown Bradenton is an experience. A good one! The City has created a number of parking options throughout the Downtown area. Structures are well-maintained and well lit. Some are even free of charge depending on the day and circumstances.

The City Centre Parking Facility (3rd Avenue West between 10th and 12th streets) has 500 parking spaces. Additional parking is available at the Judicial Center Parking Garage (615 12th Street West) and at the County Building (414 10th Street West). Electric vehicle drivers will find eight charging stations throughout Downtown.

For parking and re-charging details, including a map click here.

COVID-19 Mandates in Downtown Bradenton

As Bradenton, Manatee County, and surrounding areas of the Tampa Bay region reopen Coronavirus information is frequently being updated to best meet the needs of the community and ensure safety for residents and visitors.

During this unusual time please travel safe. Check with your hosts, restaurants, and other venues in advance to learn their current plans and regulations.

These links will take you directly to current resources for updated information:

City of Bradenton

Manatee County

Plan Your Road Trip to Downton Bradenton

Downtown Bradenton is a great and easy road trip destination. Its waterfront location makes the drive scenic from most any direction. Once you arrive, the City’s diverse entertainment, activity, and dining options make it an interesting place to spend a day, or a week.

Start planning your Downtown Bradenton visit today!

Written by Rachel Covello

Rachel Covello is an award-winning speaker, writer, diversity consultant, and LGBT advocate. She is the Founder of LGBT Equality Alliance, a Chester County, PA nonprofit organization, and CEO of OUTCOAST, an online marketing and concierge platform marketing the Gulf Coast as an LGBTQ-inclusive place to VISIT, CELEBRATE, and LIVE.

Rachel is also an avid event photographer and has captured photos for LGBT organizations around the world, including the IGLTA, NGLCC, NLGJA, and Out & Equal.


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