ANNA MARIA ISLAND -- People from all over the country come to Florida for the Fourth of July, and people from all over Florida come to Anna Maria Island.
Jeff and Stephanie Zoller have both lived in Bradenton for most of their 52 respective years, and 19 years ago they met Kathy and Jim Olsen, of Tampa, and Bruce and Darlene Harris. of Land of Lakes. Now, all six of them have a tradition of spending the Fourth of July relaxing on Anna Maria Island.
"There's a lot more people, and you have to be ready for the traffic," Kathy Olsen, 60, said. "But we enjoy seeing the American flags, the fireworks, and enjoying it."
"It's so much more appealing here than to watch fireworks over buildings and stuff," Darlene Harris, 56, added. "They reflect off the water, and you can just look up and down and see them all over."
The three couples weren't alone. Jeff Kent, a manager at the Cedar Cove resort on the island, said the major
ity of their clientele were from around Florida.
"We've been booked up since the first week of June," Kent said. "A lot of people are locals that are an hour or two away who want to come to the coast, and stay here so they don't have to fight the traffic. We have one group from Miami right now."
Some people on the island said they would miss the annual July 3 fireworks at the BeachHouse restaurant, which were canceled because of nearby nesting birds that would be frightened by the fireworks. But most understood the need for the cancellation and said they looked forward to fireworks at the Sandbar restaurant on the Fourth.
Lisa Beshures, manager at BeaachHouse, said they usually get crowds of up to 20,000 people out to watch the fireworks.
"We're happy with our decision (to cancel); we've had an outpouring of support from the community," Beshure said. "We're sad for our customers but at the same time we're happy that we could take this step to protect nature and the environment."
Beachgoers were understanding of the decision but unhappy with the lack of organized fireworks shows on Friday.
"I was shocked and disappointed, because we used to go there all the time and now we have to find another spot," said Lexi Ramos, 17, of Bradenton.
"But I'm really glad they did that to protect animals," added her cousin, Amber Davis, 17, of St. Louis.
Beshure said they would "absolutely" be planning to have their usual fireworks in the coming years, as long as birds weren't nesting so close.
Other businesses on Anna Maria Island also looked forward to an influx of visitors. Calen Crowder, a bar manager at the Anna Maria Island Beach Cafe, said Friday had been pretty slow so far, but July 4 was always busy for them.
"It's a very popular day. It's always hot on the 4th and it's a holiday, so people are going to be off work," Crowder said. "So where are you going to go? You're going to come to the beach, at Manatee and Gulf, and you wind up right here."
People on the beach found ways to stay cool while still spending the day in the hot sun, with plenty of umbrellas and canopies dotting the sand. One group made a personal mister for themselves under their umbrella.
"We've been doing this for years," said Patricia Malatino, 44. "We know how it gets, and we're planning to be here all weekend."
It was a common theme among beachgoers on Friday. Everyone was planning to spend the weekend celebrating Independence Day lounging on the sand, watching fireworks explode over the skies and fall over the Gulf.
"You can catch us here until Monday," Stephanie Zoller said with a laugh from under a large canopy on Friday.
Kate Irby, Herald online/political reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7055 or at email@example.com. You can follow her on Twitter @KateIrby.