Florida’s Manatee River: A Gift to the Gulf

by Monica Mattioli
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manatee river

Some days idle and lazy, other times roiling and rugged, Florida’s mighty Manatee River divides Bradenton and Palmetto and flows gloriously into the Gulf. Situated in the lower Tampa Bay Estuary, the Manatee supports a verdant ecosystem of flora, fauna, and wildlife. Yes, there are manatees in the Manatee River. And, yes, there are alligators there too. It is a peaceable kingdom. Manatees are not a food source to ‘gators, and they do not interact. Humans take note: swimming in the river is unsafe.

Manatee river florida riverwalk

(Photo by Monica Mattioli)

The Riverwalk

While the gentle giants are wondrous creatures, the stuff of legends really, there’s more to the river than just the manatees. Bradenton, with a population of around 60,000 residents, is genuinely a metropolitan magnet for visitors. As a lover of nature living riverside year-round, my relationship with the Manatee River was gloriously intimate.

River Walk, Bradenton’s signature park, offers easy access to the river, with 1.5 walkable miles of restaurants, hotels, a marina, and fishing. And there’s handy parking for visitors to access the Manatee’s smells, sights, and sounds.  Eclectic Bradenton is home to a vibrant arts community, walkable from the river’s edge. Village of the Arts is a bespoke destination for browsing, shopping, dining, and special events.

Florida's Manattee River

(Photo by Monica Mattioli)

The Riverwalk is where manatees abound, dolphin play, anglers fish, children frolic, and vacationers lounge. The Manatee River is a gift for all ages. Take in the sights and sounds of the marina, enjoy the luscious fare of fan-favorite Pier 22 Restaurant, and stroll along the river’s edge. You’ll discover a skate park and playground along the way. Steps away, the Bishop Museum of Science and Nature and Historic Old Downtown Bradenton offer great entertainment. Peppered among small shops, pubs, and coffee counters is a grocer who’ll help you with sundries. The seasonal Farmer’s Market is a treasure trove and the liveliest downtown action. Perfect!

manattee in Florida's Manatee River

(Photo by Iyan Darmawan from Pexels)

Are you wondering where those bridges lead? Venture across to Palmetto, home to about 12,000. You’ll love the Old Florida vibe. Try their pubs and restaurants. A feast for your eyes and taste buds will be found at the Riverside Waterfront Restaurant, along with entertainment courtesy of playful dolphins and spectacular sunsets. It’s hot in the summer – 90 degrees at times. Seasonal visitors enjoy temps between 55 and 75 from December through March. The climate is an asset to the health of the river and the sensibilities of visitors.

Manatee River Bridge

The Manatee River Bridge (Photo by Monica Mattioli)

Historic Point Pleasant

Only the locals know: Living near the river is a joy and a blessing. Tucked away near Riverwalk in Historic Point Pleasant and replete with beautiful vintage homes, notice the neighborhood’s 1920’s origins. Fancy a stately mansion? Grand homes dot the enclave. Rather a cozy bungalow? The community has those too. Though many had fallen into disrepair, a more recent neighborhood renaissance has polished them up. And, there’s a popular B&B in the neighborhood.

Point Pleasant was home to Bradenton’s elite: city fathers and millionaires. The neighborhood is easily accessible for a self-guided walking tour, so stop by the Historical Society for directions and fun facts about its colorful history. Imagine my luck landing a historic condo in the neighborhood! I stumbled upon it through an online listing. I’ll take you there.

florida's Manatee River

Point Pleasant condo (Photo by Monica Mattioli)

Point Pleasant Condo

I lived in the “penthouse” of a former grand hotel with a checkered past for a year. My unit was the gem of the lot, a notorious past speakeasy, frequented by the aforementioned hoi polloi. Learning this, I grabbed it and grew to love its quirks.

On the third floor with a slivered view of the river, my little haven measured about 700 square feet. Yet, it did not feel small. As a 1920’s relic, of course the penthouse is a walk-up. That’s a hot climb during summer and well worth it. One enters and climbs stairs to the second floor. The stairway seems to stop right there. Scan the hallway and, aha! Notice a well-hidden door with a peephole. Intrigued?

(Photo by Monica Mattioli)

(Photos by Monica Mattioli)

Open the door and ascend the perfectly preserved tiled staircase, with its ornate wrought iron railing, and head up to the expansive living room. Notice the impeccably maintained hardwood floors, the original pecky cypress ceiling, and stunning leaded glass windows opening out to the building’s riverside grounds.




The former barroom is now the unit’s bedroom with a stained glass window shelf adding to its historical vibe. Within, find a hidden door – a speedy exit to the roof and down the fire escape put there for speakeasy patrons to enter or exit secretly swiftly. Such was the era!

Cheers! Thankfully, Prohibition is behind us, and we can fully enjoy the splendid beauty and all the amenities along the Manatee River and the Gulf Islands.

Bradenton Beaches

Take a quick drive along Manatee Avenue to the Gulf Beaches. You’ll find sandy beaches at Anna Maria Island, Bradenton and Coquina Beaches. Drop by Cortez Fishing Village. It’s is a lively and exciting commercial fishing village dating back to the 1880s. Cortez fishers provide their daily catch to village restaurants, beachside eateries and bars, and Sarasota restaurants. The Cortez Fishing Festival happens in February with great food, live entertainment, libations, and Old Florida culture. Be sure to make time to visit Mote Marine. Learn about Gulf ecology from their resident experts and enjoy their tour of the Bay.

Be sure to take lots of pictures and come back next year!

Manatee river

Monica and friend at Coquina Beach

Places to Stay, Eat and Play

For More:

-All photos as credited. Cover photo of the Manatee River by Monica Mattioli.

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