Experience Cortez: Old Florida at it’s Finest!!
Within the large town of Bradenton and the sunny beaches of Anna Maria Island lies the old fishing village of Cortez. Cortez sits on the north edge of Sarasota Bay, directly across from Anna Maria Island, with about 5,000 people calling it home. But even though it’s small, Cortez features large estates, small vacation rentals, and everything in between. It also offers a vibrant restaurant scene and plenty of things to see and do.
South of Cortez Village, on the intercoastal waterway, is the Tidy Island Condominium Association, an exclusive gated community. Tidy Island is a 240-acre island, though 85% of that is protected nature reserve. On the 15% of the island that is inhabited sits 96 residences, nearly all of which face the intercoastal. This allows the Tidy Island community to be secluded while only being minutes away from Cortez, Bradenton, and Anna Maria Island.
Further down the intercoastal is the El Conquistador neighborhood of Bradenton. El Conquistador features a diverse real estate stock, from grand houses on the north end of Sarasota Bay to modest single-family homes. Near El Conquistador also is the home of IMG Academy, the country’s most elite college prep high school focused on athletics. Graduates of IMG have gone on to play in the NFL, NBA, PGA Tour, and men’s and women’s professional tennis tours.
Now that we’ve explored the geography, here’s a closer look at what the Cortez Village and the east bank of the intercoastal have to offer.
Restaurants, Bars, and Live Music
Whether you’re in Cortez or any of the other communities along the intercoastal, you’re never far from the great restaurants on Anna Maria Island or in Bradenton. But Cortez has plenty of its own to offer as well, many of which feature live music multiple nights of the week. Here are a few of the Cortez area’s best restaurants and watering holes.
- Cortez Kitchen. A classic Old Florida family restaurant, and one of the best around. Located within the historic fishing village Cortez Kitchen features some of the freshest seafood around. Try out their peel-and-eat shrimp, grouper sandwiches, or their famous royal reds with an ice-cold drink and watch the boats go by. This popular spot also features some of the best live music every weekend.
- Annie’s Bait and Tackle. Get some fresh seafood, or get what you need to catch your own. A good place to tie up your boat for a break after some time on the water.
- Pig Out BBQ & Smoke House. A newly-opened Cortez outpost of the popular Bradenton barbecue restaurant. They mostly feature smoked meat, like chicken, brisket, and ribs, but no restaurant in Cortez can keep seafood off the menu. Try out their Cortez Deviled Crab Rolls.
- Cortez Clam Factory. East of Cortez Village, on the way to Tidy Island and El Conquistador, can be found the Cortez Clam Factory. Locals flock here for the raw bar, steamed clams, shrimp scampi, and much more. “The Clam” also features a full bar and live music every night, another great spot featuring some of the best acts from around Bradenton.
- Bunny & Pirates Pub. Grab a cold beer and relax inside this cozy pub, or take your drink and sit outside in their beer garden. The beer garden also features live music on some nights. When it’s time to leave, hit the small shop inside and take some snacks or drinks to go.
- Tyler’s Homemade Ice Cream. If you’re looking for dessert after eating all of Cortez’s fresh seafood, try Tyler’s. Tyler’s is a family-owned ice cream shop that makes all of its ice cream fresh in the store and is loved by locals and visitors alike.
Shops and Attractions
As an old fishing village, many of the shops and attractions that can be found in Cortez honor or continue that heritage. Check out the Florida Maritime Museum, housed in a schoolhouse built in 1912 and surrounded by the Cortez nature preserve. The museum features historic photographs, model boats, old boat tools and instruments, and other historical materials relevant to Florida’s maritime culture.
Fresh Seafood and Charter Fishing
To experience Cortez as a fishing village today, head to A.P. Bell. Fish Co. to buy some fish caught on a local boat earlier that day. Cooking your own delicious seafood is easy when it’s this fresh. Don’t want to cook? Head next door to Star Fish Company to eat some of the catch of the day.
Also located within the fishing village is Killer Bait, a popular area for fishermen to cash in on their catch. If it weighs, it pays! Be sure to stop by their seafood market as well at Cortez Bait & Seafood Market for some of the best selection of fresh fish around. No catch, no problem! Cortez Kitchen and Swordfish Grill are right next door.
Looking to charter with some of the best captains around? Cortez features plenty of captains ready to take you out for the day on the water both inshore and offshore. While fishing charters can be found nearly all over this area, highly-rated ones include Double Trouble Charters, and the Florida Fishing Fleet, both located in the Cortez Village on 119th.
While Cortez itself does not feature any beaches, the miles of white-sand beaches that Anna Maria Island has to offer are less than a mile away, just across the Cortez Bridge. Residents of El Conquistador also favor AMI for a day at the beach, as it is a short drive away.
A popular interest of residents among the El Conquistador area is IMG Academy. IMG is a boarding and day school for students in the 6th to 12th grades and specializes in preparing those students to play sports in college and beyond. Sitting on over 600 acres of real estate, IMG features some of the premier training facilities in the country, making it an ideal living environment for the athletes and their families. IMG started as a tennis academy, but now offers instruction and coaching in many sports, including football, basketball, golf, and baseball/softball. For families that don’t want to commit to year-round training, IMG also offers summer camps in all of those sports and more. If your child has the potential to be the next Tom Brady or Tiger Woods, IMG can help them achieve that goal.
Cortez is a vibrant community with plenty to do year-round, but a few special events are particularly noteworthy.
Festivals are popular among the bay area however the best are often held in Cortez Village. Every November, the Cortez Stone Crab and Music Festival celebrates stone crab season with multiple arts and crafts vendors, live music, and lots of stone. Last year’s festival featured a live music stage with great performances all day, a kid’s area, an art fair, and (of course) lots of cold beer!
A few months later, in February, F.I.S.H, The Florida Institute of Saltwater Heritage puts on the annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival brings over 25,000 people to Cortez for the weekend. The Fishing Festival celebrates Cortez’s history as one of the last Old Florida fishing villages still around. The two-day festival features live music both days, nautical-themed arts and crafts, children’s activities, and plenty of seafood and beer.
If you want waterfront views without the million-dollar price tag, Cortez and the surrounding communities might be right for you. Whether you’re looking for an impressive estate, modest vacation rentals, a historic cottage, or an empty piece of real estate that you can use your vision to build on, Cortez is worth the visit.
For more information on the Cortez area, or to start looking for your next home, call Chelsea Oelker, Realtor at Michael Saunders and Company Anna Maria Island. She has the experience and local knowledge to find a home that’s perfect for you.