The entire beach is open to the public. If you come to the island over the 'Manatee bridge' you directly approach the stretch of the beach which is a designated public beach with life guards on duty. Also a restaurant and restrooms are available. This is a great place if you have children and want a safe area. This stretch belongs to the city of Holmes Beach.
The Gulf Drive is the street (as the name already suggests), which runs parallel to the beach: nearly the entire way from south to north! And it's an official Florida scenic byway - at least from the south tip of the island up to 2.8 mi north of Bradenton Beach.
Back to our position at the public beach stretch. If you turn south on Gulf Drive you get into Bradenton Beach. Focusing on the beach we're interested in the area to the west. Beach bars, shops and beach volley are waiting to get explored by the traveler. Here's the right place for all who are seeking a little activity combined with people watching.
Further south on the right (west) side of Gulf Drive we reach Coquina Beach, which is the largest beach here on Anna Maria. Picnic tables, restrooms and life guards make it to a fantastic spot of Anna Maria.
Now let's go from our initial position (the public beach area) to the north on Gulf Drive. First we drive through 'downtown' Holmes Beach, city number two on Anna Maria Island (please notice that this city has hardly 5.000 residents, so you know what downtown means...). Holmes Beach is a little more residential than Bradenton Beach and has beautiful motels and smaller hotels, but most accommodations are vacation rentals. When you follow now Gulf Drive in northern direction you have got the Gulf of Mexico and the beach, beach and more beach to your left side. Beach access is possible every few hundred meters.
But the perfect beach is yet to come. Following Gulf Drive further north leads you to the City of Anna Maria, which is mostly residential, just a handful motels, bars, and shops. And it has these dream beaches: white sand and nearly nobody here.
Best secluded beach of the island can be found at the north-western tip of the island. You have to find the small public paths through the residences. No public parking available.
Use the streets, but be very careful to comply with all parking rules.
A couple of centimeters/ inches too far on the street with your tires and you pay your first ticket of the day.
But having this in mind you will find a lot of space to park one or two blocks away from the beach.
Alternative: you park somewhere in Holmes Beach, go to the beach and follow it in northern direction. It gives the best impression of all. You'll pass residences, the Sand Bar (for refreshing purposes) and you continue north to the tip of the island where the gulf meets the bay. Walk further around the tip and you'll find that you cannot proceed on the beach and have to exit. Just walk on the street the same direction and you make it to the Rod & Reel Pier for another snack or drink. Or... just a few hundred yards further you'll reach the Anna Maria Pier for great fish dishes and cold beers. And live music.
If you drive to far you reach already the northern area of the island, which is fantastic in another way. Shortly before you reach the Rod & Reel Pier you get to another public beach area with picnic tables and so on. A great place for a BBQ and watching a sunset. From here it's also not far (only a two or three minutes beach walk to the above mentioned north-west tip of Anna Maria with its beautiful beach).