Last time, I recommended staying by the water to beat the summer heat. Since I live in Bradenton, I tend to gravitate toward Manatee County options, but those aren’t limited to a sandy Anna Maria stroll. Here are two ways to ride in style along our northern shorelines:
I could claim that this is timely journalism, but the truth is, I contacted Beach Horses after seeing their ad in the July SEE Sarasota visitor’s guide I just edited. Only then, not one day after reaching out to them, did I see the article in the Bradenton Herald about city commissioners voting to ban horses along the Palma Sola Causeway.
Walking down the beach, one of the guides takes a moment to collect a piece of trash half-buried in the sand.
Last Tuesday, I drove down Manatee Avenue to Palma Sola Causeway, the stretch of bayfront park on both sides of the road right before the bridge to Anna Maria. I hopped aboard a thoroughbred named Acky—bareback but for a saddle pad. All levels of riding experience are welcome: They offered a helmet and even a saddle if I preferred; the horses are well behaved and the guides can keep them on a lead if necessary. I’m a moderately experienced rider, so I got to try a quicker clip. Check “cantering bareback along the shoreline” off my bucket list. That was awesome.
The horses use halter bridles—no bits—and Acky, despite being obviously headstrong, still responded beautifully even to subtle directions. Still, the horses are kept on lead as the guides take you into the bay, which is arguably the biggest draw of the experience. We spent more than half an hour riding and interacting with the horses in chest-deep water. The most exhilarating point came at the end, when we rode the horses as they raced back toward the shore. It was like riding a half-submerged powerboat, and the whole experience left me grinning uncontrollably.
Out in the deep.
To travel the shoreline under your own power, head across the Manatee River to Palmetto, turn left on 10th Street (which becomes 13th), right on Tarpon Road, left on 17th Street, which will lead you into Emerson Point Park—no charge. Park the car and unload your bikes.
There are several oak-shaded trails that wind around ponds and through great natural landscape. Though it’s technically off-road and great for mountain bikes, unless it’s particularly muddy, you can navigate most of the shell-paved trails on a beach cruiser. There are also foot-traffic only trails, including wooden bridges that carry you over the marshes and a historic path with pioneer artifacts like chimney remnants and a old, concrete cistern (that’ll send chills down your spine if you read Duma Key).
A self-portrat while riding the the road in Emerson Point Park.
Plus, you can ride a mile or so down the quiet, paved road—it’s got an ample, barricaded bike lane—to Emerson Point itself, a sandy beach where people gather to picnic, fish and walk the scenic mangrove trails. The view alone is worth it: On a clear day, you look out directly at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.
My pals take a break at Emerson Point.
And that’s not even the best view in the park: When you find the trail with a turnoff that heads a bit vertically, hop off your bike (you can try riding up, but it’s a bit challenging) and walk it up the steps until you get to the observation tower. From the top, it’s a 360-degree view of treetops, water and the Skyway beyond, all backed by blue skies and dotted with birds. You won’t want to leave.
The view from the observation tower.