The Arts & Culture
Manatee County, art, music, and theater have strong community support. An active force in developing that support is the Manatee County Cultural Alliance which promotes the area’s cultural resources and publishes an up-to-date calendar of events.
The Art League of Manatee County is a comprehensive center for the visual arts. With three galleries, several classrooms, and annual programs offering a variety of exhibition and educational opportunities, the League encourages both enjoyment and participation in the arts. Opportunities to exhibit are shared by amateur and professional artists. The League offers classes for artists and aspiring artists of all ages. Art galleries and groups throughout the county and on Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key also fill a year’s calendar with classes, exhibits, and other events.
Among regularly scheduled offerings are performances of the Manatee Players at the Riverfront Theatre. On Anna Maria Island, the Island Playhouse has been the scene of live stage productions for more than 40 years. The Manatee Ballet is also active and music thrives in concerts by church and other choral groups.
The Florida West Coast Symphony Orchestra performs at several locations, most notable Manatee Community College’s Neel Auditorium. The orchestra offers many programs for children. The 90-member Sarasota-Manatee Community Orchestra gives six concerts a year at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota and at other locations.
An active cultural center, the Neel Auditorium is also the site of many concerts and other events produced by music and theater groups at the Community College. Serving more varied needs, the Manatee Convention Center in Palmetto is an all-purpose auditorium. In Bradenton, the Municipal Auditorium hosts an array of trade shows, concerts, conventions, sports, and other events.
Among the more important cultural resources available to Manatee County residents is the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, the state’s official art museum. The 66-acre museum complex, adjacent to the New College Campus of the University of South Florida, forms the state’s most important cultural and educational district. Its galleries house the country’s foremost exhibit of Baroque art, including works by Rubens and other great masters. Ca’d’Zan (“House of John” in Venetian) is a mini-palace, which was the Ringlings’ winter home. The Asolo Theater houses an original Italian Baroque theater room brought from Italy and reassembled at the museum. In honor of John Ringling, the Circus Galleries display a collection of circus art and artifacts.
Manatee County is also pleased to announce the restoration of the Crosley Estate, located on Sarasota Bay. The Spanish revival style mansion features towering walls of cast stone, hand-carved wooden doors, stone portico custom windows, fireplaces and a grand panelled compass room. The mansion, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Homes, was once the home of one of the greatest entrepreneurs the world has ever known - Powel Crosley. By the year 2000, the site will also house the Powel Crosley Museum of the American Entrepreneur.
SCIENCE & NATURE
The best way to discover Manatee County and Florida is by a trip to Bradenton’s South Florida Museum and Bishop Planetarium. History, natural history, and archaeological exhibits depict South Florida from the Stone Age to the Space Age. The museum’s Mary E. Parker Aquarium is the home of “Snooty,” the oldest living manatee born in captivity and the county mascot. Since his arrival at the museum in 1949, the manatee has greeted more than one million visitors. Adjacent to the museum, the Bishop Planetarium features daily star shows, spectacular laser light and sound shows on weekends, and nighttime use of the observatory telescope.
Marine life is the theme at the Mote Marine Laboratory on City Island south of Longboat Key. It features a shark tank and other aquaria occupied by creatures native to Sarasota Bay.
A special treat for nature lovers are the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, which feature native and tropical plants in a peaceful, waterfront setting. The gardens are a world center for the cultivation and study of orchids.
Going back to the area’s very earliest residents, the Madira Bickel Mound State Archaeological Site, north of Palmetto on Bayshore Road, is a flat-topped ceremonial Indian mound. It contains artifacts dating from the beginning of the Christian era to the arrival of the Spanish.
The arrival of Hernando DeSoto is marked by the DeSoto National Memorial in Bradenton. From December to April, park rangers re-enact what life might have been like for DeSoto and his men in their camp on Tampa Bay. Visitors may also follow a nature trail through a mangrove swamp to add to their sense of what the Spaniards’ trek was like. Exhibits emphasize the life of the Southeastern Temple Mound builders whose culture disappeared with the coming of the Europeans.
Heritage is preserved by the County Historical Commission in the Manatee Village Historical Park. On the site are seven authentically restored buildings: the first Court House, a "Cracker Gothic" style rural home, a historic 1889 church, a general store, a one-room school house, a replica of a 19th century barn, and a smokehouse and sugar cane mill.
Manatee County’s oldest building is a mansion built in 1844 by Major Robert Gamble who fought in the Seminole Wars. The Gamble Plantation is one of the largest antebellum sugar plantations in the U.S. and the only one surviving in Florida. Operated by the Florida Parks Service, the mansion is furnished with period pieces and sits in a 16-acre park.
The railroad played a critical role in opening Manatee County to settlement. That story is told at the Florida Gulf Coast Railroad Museum in Parrish. Visitors may take a 1950’s-style train ride or wander among antique cars and more than 1,000 music makers from hurdy-gurdies to calliopes at Belm’s Cars and Music of Yesterday just south of the Sarasota/Bradenton Airport.
The City of Palmetto boasts a beautiful historical park, named Heritage Park, complete with the original old post office, brick pathways, wrought iron fences and gorgeous trees. The Park is adjacent to historical Carnegie Library.
A kaleidoscope of festivals celebrate the history and collective heritage of its people, and the unique lifestyle this spot in southwestern Florida offers.
In Manatee County, a kaleidoscope of festivals celebrate the history and collective heritage of its people and the unique lifestyle this spot in southwestern Florida offers.
In early spring the county celebrates Manatee Heritage Days with a parade, boat and walking tours of old Manatee and other historic sites, concerts, and arts and crafts exhibits. Parrish celebrates in March with a parade and a railroad train tour starting from the old depot. Terra Ceia Day at the Madira Bickel Mound features arts, crafts, tours, and lunch. Spring is welcomed with a flower show at historic Gamble Plantation. In April, the annual Florida Heritage Festival, its Grand Parade, and Riverfest bring as many as 200,000 people to Bradenton to celebrate Florida’s cultural diversity, and to commemorate the European discovery of Manatee county. Also at this time of year, Anna Maria Island holds its Springfest at the Holmes Beach City Hall with live entertainment, food, and fun.
Two highlights of summer are the 4th of July celebration in Palmetto and the giant birthday party given for county mascot, Snooty, at the South Florida Museum in Bradenton. The family-oriented party is paired with a Wildlife Awareness Festival.
Autumn brings the Manatee Riverfront Art Festival in Bradenton; a Party in Bradenton’s Waterfront Park with fireworks, boat and water ski shows, and a parade; Bradenton Beach’s Bridge Street Festival; the Manatee Convention Center Craft and Folk Art show; and the annual Tomato Fiesta in Palmetto, center of the tomato packing industry.
Highlighting the winter season are the Anna Maria Island Festival of Fine Arts; an antique and collectibles show in the Bradenton Municipal Auditorium; the Palmetto Winter Craft Fair; the Manatee County Fair; and the annual seafood festival in the fishing village of Cortez.
Manatee County is a treasure trove of recreational pursuits. The climate is ideal for getting out of doors. Here, nature has provided a wonderful playground of beaches and parks.
Anna Maria Bayfront Park on Bay Boulevard North along the calm, shallow waters of Anna Maria Sound. For swimming, shelling, fishing, picnicking and boating.
Cortez Beach on Anna Maria Island. A wide sandy beach with jetties for fishing.
Coquina Beach at the southern end of Anna Maria Island. A 96-acre park with full recreational facilities, shelter and picnic areas.
G.T. Bray Park, county park with gymnasium, swimming pool, tennis complex, athletic fields, picnic sites, jogging and bike paths. Programs for all ages are held at this 140-acre park. The county also operates two 18-hole golf courses and two public Gulf beaches with lifeguards.
Lake Manatee State Recreation Area, on Rte. 64 east of I-75. A remote area of 556 acres around a 2,400-acre lake. Offers camping, picnicking, a swimming beach, boat ramp, and fishing.
Longboat Key. A resort area with few public beaches.
Manatee Public Beach on Gulf Drive in Holmes Beach. An all-around spot for beach lovers. Surfing is even possible at times.
Myakka River State Park, 11 miles east of I-75 on Route 72. Florida’s largest state park, with nature trails, air boat rides, tram tours, biking, camping, and canoeing.
Palma Sola Causeway and Palma Sola Bay on Manatee Avenue West. Popular for swimming, boating, water skiing, and walking dogs.
Easily accessible water makes boating and fishing popular pastimes. The county’s boating public is served by 30 marinas and eight boat ramps. In bays, bayous, and along the shores of the Gulf, fishermen find trout, redfish, pompano, and flounder. Offshore they go for kingfish, mackerel, grouper, and tarpon. Among the public fishing piers are the Anna Maria City Pier at Pine Avenue; the Bradenton beach Fishing Pier at Bridge Street; Manatee Beach Fishing Pier on Gulf Drive in Holmes Beach; and the Rod ‘n’ Reel Pier on Bay boulevard in Anna Maria. The Manatee and Pinellas ends of the old Skyway Bridge have been converted to fishing piers. The 1.59-mile Manatee County section is the longest fishing pier in the world.
A golfer’s paradise, the county boasts over 25 public and private golf courses with another 200 golfing facilities scattered throughout southwest Florida.
Excellent city and county parks offer tennis courts, racquetball courts, softball, basketball, volleyball, and flag football leagues, and a wide variety of other sports opportunities. The Nick Bolletieri Tennis Academy is headquartered in Bradenton and offers training to players of all ages. Among other events, the Parks and Recreation Department sponsors an annual Olympic-style Gulf Coast
With the spring come several major league baseball teams. The Pittsburgh Pirates’ winter home and spring training is held in Bradenton at the beautiful McKechnie Field. Recently renovated, the field has received national awards for its innovative design. Nearby Sarasota is the home to Major League Baseball spring training and summer leagues. Just 25 minutes to the north are the newly acquired Tampa Bay Devil Rays professional baseball team who will call Tropicana Field home. Football fans cheer for the Tampa Buccaneers and the professional Arena Football Team, the Tampa Bay Storm. Hockey fans cheer for the Tampa Bay Lightning, an NHL team in St. Petersburg. Professional soccer fans get their kicks with the Tampa Bay Mutiny and Tampa Bay Terror.