At first glance, downtown Bradenton recalls a sense of midcentury, Norman Rockwellian charm -- accentuated with modern amenities like free WiFi and craft beer. The family-friendly downtown offers walkable access to a unique mix of arts, culture, fitness and family activities, including a pop-up Saturday farmers market, a performing arts center, a marina, a planetarium, aquarium and cultural heritage museum, independently owned restaurants and bars, a skate park, and free films and concerts at Riverwalk Park. Downtown Bradenton is also home to the Bradenton Blues Fest.

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index ranks Bradenton and the surrounding metropolitan area #1 among the 100 most populous communities in the United States. Bradenton's welcoming, close-knit local community earns "The Friendly City" its longstanding nickname, while the region's natural beauty and year-round sunshine, vibrant arts scene and diversity of social offerings play to the city's charmingly casual persona.

Minutes from downtown, the Village of the Arts (VOTA) artist enclave, Florida's largest art community, is defined by colorful and whimsical historic bungalows that serve as live-work studio residences for artists and shop owners. Neighboring VOTA are the award-winning Darwin's Brewing Co. and Motorworks Brewing beer gardens, and LECOM Park -- spring training home for the Pittsburgh Pirates Major League Baseball team and the minor league Bradenton Marauders

West Bradenton's mile-wide Anna Maria Island and Cortez Fishing Village capture laidback Gulf Coast beach vibes and are rich with 'Old Florida' heritage and charm: the area is known for its pristine beaches and breezy 'beach town' culture. Neighboring Robinson Preserve offers over 600 acres of coastal wilderness trails for hikers, cyclists, and paddlers to explore, as well as breathtaking observation deck views extending for miles to St. Petersburg and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.??In east Bradenton, Lakewood Ranch is a hip, award-winning master-planned community with 15 distinct villages and a taste for casual luxury. The town center at Lakewood Ranch Main Street is the center of the action, featuring stylish boutiques, world-class dining, and family-friendly activities and events. 

Bradenton is also home to IMG Sports Academy and the headquarters of Beall's Department Stores, Tropicana and Champs Sports.

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Read more articles by Jessi Smith.

Jessi Smith (she/they) is a freelance writer who is passionate about sustainability, community building, and the power of the arts and transformative storytelling. A fourth-generation Floridian, Jessi received her B.A. in Art History and English from Florida International University and began reporting for 83 Degrees in 2009. When she isn't writing, Jessi enjoys taking her deaf rescue dog on outdoors adventures, unearthing treasures in backroads antiques and thrift shops, D.I.Y. upcycling projects, and Florida-friendly gardening.