Hugging the southern banks of the Manatee River within view of where the mile-wide tributary joins the Gulf of Mexico, Bradenton smartly embraces its waterfront location and its offical sobriquet as The Friendly City.
5516 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton; 794-1100; dereks-sarasota.com
Recent Manatee County transplant chef Derek Barnes (from Sarasota’s Rosemary District, where he was a semifinalist for the prestigious James Beard Best Chef South award) bills his fare as “rustic, coastal cuisine,” but that belies the quality. Derek’s cornerstone plate of Shrimp and Grits includes big gulf shrimp on a bed of Anson Mills cheddar grits with an andouille gravy that leaves you craving a second helping. Other signature dishes: Voodoo Crawfish, Smoked Pulled Pork Flatbread, Lindy Lou’s Fish Tacos, and always a unique catch of the day. – Matt Sauer
DRINK: The Lost Kangaroo
406 Old Main St., Bradenton; 747-8114; lostkangaroo.com
Downtown Bradenton’s most popular bar basically since it opened in 1989, The ’Roo,as us locals call it, is a beer geek’s paradise that also appeals to party people. The bar features a vast selection of craft beers (many with local ties), spirits and a fun-loving staff that knows how to make women feel welcome. – Wade Tatangelo
SHOP: Rose-Giles Studio
923 13th St. W., 746-4469, herbierose.com, gracielagiles.com.
Jamaica-born Herbie Rose – the honorary mayor of The Village of the Arts and one of the Bradenton artist colony's earliest and most important artists and proponents – is internationally known for his vibrant watercolors. Rose’s paintings and prints are part of collections throughout the United States, Canada and Europe, and were used to promote Jamaica during the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona. Graciela Giles, a native of Argentina, displays her powerful and evocative watercolors alongside her husband’s. – Wade Tatangelo
PLAY: South Florida Museum
201 10th St. W., Bradenton; 746-4131; southfloridamuseum.org
A short stroll from the western entrance to Bradenton Riverwalk, South Florida Museum features exhibits highlighting Florida’s history, The Bishop Planetarium where you can watch Hollywood classics on most Friday nights and the Parker Aquarium, where you will find the always affable man of the house, Snooty, the oldest known manatee in the world. – Wade Tatangelo
STAY: Hampton Inn & Suites-Bradenton Downtown Historic District
309 10th St. W., Bradenton; 746-9400; hamptoninn3.hilton.com
The Hampton Inn and Suites, which opened in November, is yet another part of the renaissance in downtown Bradenton. The original hotel — known for decades as the “Pink Palace” — opened in 1926 and was once among the crown jewels of the west coast of Florida, and people such as President Hoover, Greta Garbo, Babe Ruth and Al Capone were said to have stayed there. The rooms are modern and new, but the past has obviously been preserved. – Chris Anderson