About a two hour drive from Orlando and away from the constant hum of the theme parks is Anna Maria Island, FL. Catering to those that want to experience the casual beach bum vibe, it’s the best place to escape to and pretend that the rest of the world doesn’t exist.

This eight mile stretch of island is missing the towering condominiums and fast paced lifestyle you’d expect on the majority of coastal towns in Florida. What you do see are cottages by the handful and a true slice of what “Old Florida” has to offer.

At the very tip of this island is a beach the locals refer to as Bean Point, where an obscured sign leads you down the path of paradise. In a very unassuming way, it walks you straight between two beach houses and almost makes you feel like you’re intruding on someone’s private oasis.

However, once there you understand why the locals try and keep this hidden gem so closely guarded. In the middle of July and around 11:00am, you’d expect to find a large number of beach goers swarming the sand for the perfect spot, but that isn’t the case here. That relaxed atmosphere carries over into powdery white sand squishing between your toes and the cool blue water’s almost begging you to go for a swim.

After you’ve reached your destination of pure bliss, you can eat some fresh, locally caught, seafood at The Sand Bar, an award winning restaurant literally right on the beach. And for those that have had too much of the Florida sun, there’s also indoor seating complete with air conditioning.

On Pine Ave you’ll find a small historical village which showcases the island’s old jail, an ice-house and a cottage that once fell into Tampa Bay that was later recovered and restored.

If shopping is more your thing, there are plenty of establishments available near the pier (also off Pine Ave) and a sweet treats ice cream shop called Two Scoops, where you can top off your day with a delicious cone or cup of your favorite ice cream.

Across the bridge and as you leave the island you can stop off at Palma Sola Botanical Park, a free garden that is overflowing with flora, fauna and an occasional visit from their resident ducks.

The beaches are postcard worthy, the food is divine and the atmosphere is something out of a Hemingway novel.  Anna Maria Island proves that the tropical oasis of yesteryear is alive and well and resting softly on this island’s powdery white sand.

So, next time you find yourself with a bit of extra time on your Orlando vacation, give some thought to exploring the real Florida, and relax a while!