That's the reason, on my recent Anna Maria Island road trip, I took advantage of the unlimited mileage on the rental car to venture off the lovely gulf barrier island to the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota.
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The pleasures of the Anna Maria-Mote excursion start with the commute. The picturesque stretch of Gulf Drive (State Road 789) that winds south out of Bradenton Beach is bordered by the deep-blue waters of Sarasota Bay, to the left, and the Gulf of Mexico, to the right.
An assortment of boats dots the surface of the water at the high-end marinas in Longboat Key and when the water gives way to the land on Gulf of Mexico Drive in Sarasota County, there's lush landscaping and lovely, luxury homes and high-rises that contrast with Anna Maria's salty charm.
The Mote is only a few blocks off the main drag, about 20 minutes south of Anna Maria. Compared with the bells and whistles of the Florida Aquarium in Tampa, for instance, this aquarium exudes the low-key vibe of working research institute, which it is.
That's especially true of the Ann & Alfred Goldstein Marine Mammal Research & Rehabilitation Center, which houses the sea turtle, manatee and dolphin exhibits. It's a short walk across the parking lot from the main aquarium, a path marked by manatees and turtles painted on the sidewalk.
A pair of dolphins frolics in the utilitarian outdoor tank, swimming laps and executing the occasional leap. Inside, other tanks offer an underwater view of manatees Hugh and Buffett, and a chance to observe sea turtles from mere inches away.
In the main aquarium is Immersion Cinema, where undersea life unfolds on a 40-foot, high-def screen, and Shark Zone, home to three varieties of sharks. For hours and admission, visit mote.org or call 941-388-4441.