Enjoying the special qualities

The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. The Columbia Gorge in Portland, Ore. The Statue of Liberty in New York City. Big cities, big iconic gateways.

They help define a city's character and personality. Small towns, too, sport memorable gateways Bradenton being no exception. With water, water everywhere, our gateways span the bays and rivers that once served as the primary routes into our then-pioneer town, back in the days when steamboats, ferries and other ships brought people and goods to our shores. Today, we've bridged those waterways to bring people into our fair burg. The drive from St. Petersburg into Manatee County features one of the most famous gateways in Florida, the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. We may be fudging a bit by laying claim to this as a Bradenton gateway, but it truly leads to our town. The first drive across that soaring span is sure to create memories of a lifetime if not a hint of anxiety as well. And each subsequent crossing only serves to reinforce our appreciation of the panoramic sight of Tampa Bay, St. Petersburg and all the islands. The drive from Palmetto over the wide Manatee River on either the Green or DeSoto bridges offers a scenic gateway of the heart of downtown Bradenton. Rossi Park, the riverfront walkway and Twin Dolphin Marina lend the Friendly City an air of fun in the sun. Our watercentric lifestyle comes into sharper view at our two western gateways, both from Anna Maria Island. The northern entrance, along Manatee Avenue, passes astride municipal neighborhoods on Perico Island to the Palma Sola Causeway, with popular bayside beaches perfect for launching watercraft, enjoying picnics and walking dogs. The causeway is fresh again thanks to a major project that brought in hundreds of Florida-native plants and trees, including Sabal palm trees, gumbo limbo and pauritis palms. Invasive, non-native Brazilian peppers and Australian pines were removed. The corridor also features a new boat launch, and other amenity upgrades are in the works. While the Palma Sola Causeway spotlights our beach fun, Anna Maria's second span into Bradenton revolves around another attractive element Old Florida. The historic fishing village of Cortez with its aging piers, waterfront fish markets and outdoor watering holes allows a peek into our past. The landmark schoolhouse now serves as a museum dedicated to the village's marine roots. Charter vessels abound, too, for either sightseeing or fishing, and parasailing boats and personal watercraft can be rented. The primary eastern gateway also crosses water, the Braden River, as State Road 64 heads west past the city neighborhoods of River Isles and Carlton Arms. The small islands in the river teem with mangroves and all manner of birds, with the river proving popular with kayakers and canoeists as well as boaters heading deep into Manatee County. Our southernmost gateway brings in people from around the world, the small and user-friendly Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport. Airliners flying in over the Gulf of Mexico and our barrier islands give passengers sweeping vistas of our city and region beyond compare quite the awesome welcome to Bradenton. So there you have it. Any which way people pass through one of our colorful gateways, they get a view of what gives the city its appealing personality and character. Upon meeting our friendly folk, they get another.