Retreat to the white sands, lapping waves and sound of seagulls in Bradenton, Florida, where Cathy Winston finds the six most stylish and family-friendly Anna Maria Island rentals that combine modern luxury with old Florida charm.

For a relatively unknown destination Bradenton, Florida has a lot to offer families. This stretch of Florida’s Gulf Coast couldn’t be further away from the bright lights of Miami or the bustling amusement parks of Orlando. Crossing the bridge from mainland Bradenton, the laidback atmosphere – and 25 mph speed limit in many places – means you can’t help but slow right down and relax.

This low-key style extends to the island’s accommodation as well. Forget high-rise hotels or sprawling all-inclusive resorts, by law no buildings are taller than 37ft, so you’ll find brightly coloured houses and clapboard fronts and rocking chairs perfectly placed on the porch to watch the world go by.

Between the traditional cottages, the Anna rentals mix a touch of old Florida charm with plenty of modern luxury thrown in. Private pools, rooftop decks with views of the sea, room to dock your (rented) boat and houses sitting right on the beach, there’s space for the whole family to get together, too.

So whether you’re travelling as a group of four or 40, we’ve picked the very best Anna Maria Island rentals for you and your family.

1/ Serenity Beach, Anna Maria

It’s wonderful spending time with family – and just as wonderful having your own space. So this cleverly designed five-bedroom house in the north of Anna Maria Island is just right. Sleeping up to 13, there’s enough choice of balconies, terraces, dens and living areas that you can escape for some quiet time before getting together in the main living room’s huge squashy sofas or around the BBQ on the patio by the pool.

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There are two pools in fact, with a shaded swim-up table and wide shallow steps for kids to splash around the main pool, plus a smaller spa pool for lounging, all heated. No arguing over what to watch on TV either, with seven in the bedrooms and living areas.

And on top of all the facilities you’d wish for – from washing machine and dryer to huge fridge, cupboard full of pool toys, ping pong table and table football – the quirky décor is hard to beat. Octopus cushions join sun-bleached signs proclaiming ‘life is better at the beach’, the master bedroom’s en-suite is dominated by its own huge standalone bath and rooms feature shells galore and every shade of blue to suit the nautical theme. This is the seaside with style.

If you can drag yourself away, the sea itself and Gulf beaches are only a five-minute walk away, along with the restaurants and shops of Pine Avenue.

Serenity Beach (Sleeps 13)

Beds: 4 king, 3 twins, 1 trundle bed

Holiday highlight: Who needs a car when you’ve got your own dock? The house is set on a canal, just a short distance to open water access if you fancy hiring your own boat during your stay.

Lowdown: Seven nights costs from £1,155 per person based on 13 sharing in the summer, with British Airways flights from London Gatwick to Tampa with americaasyoulikeit.com. Call 0208 742 8299 to book.

2/  Hang 10, Anna Maria

Who needs a hotel when you can check in to your own slice of minimalist monochrome, complete with a few blue ocean-inspired touches, of course. With space for 12 to sleep, including single bunks and a queen-size sofa, plus two king and one queen bedrooms, this four-bed house is ideal for larger families or groups with lots of kids sharing – especially as there are also four separate bathrooms, one with a waterfall shower.

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Outdoors, things get even more relaxed thanks to the heated pool and spa, outdoor flat screen TV by the sofas and loungers, plus a bench swing on one balcony. Or fire up the six-burner grill and watch the sun set from the first-floor terrace overlooking the pool before heading down the spiral staircase to the separate covered outdoor dining area.

With its open plan ‘main room’, you can chat between the bar stools at the kitchen island, on the comfy sofas in the living area or at the more formal dining table as you cook and eat. Along with a washer/dryer and the kitchen equipment you might expect, including dishwasher and supersized fridge, the house has another unexpected bonus – an elevator up to the bedrooms, all with their own TVs and USB outlets.

If that’s just not enough space, you can link up with the five-bedroom Banyan Breeze next door, opening the double gates to spread out between the pools.

Hang 10 (sleeps 12)

Beds: Two king, one queen, four twins and one queen sleeper sofa.

Holiday highlight: Set just a few houses from one of the island’s most beautiful beaches looking onto the Gulf of Mexico, this part of the coast is also one of the top surf spots for locals, with the island’s biggest waves – hence the name.

Lowdown: Seven nights costs from £1,399 per person based on four adults and four children, departing in the summer with flights from London to Sarasota travelplanners.co.uk. Call 020 3542 8888 to book.

3/  Sea La Vie, Holmes Beach

Sometimes, ‘seafront’ is an optimistic description. But this compact cottage quite literally couldn’t be any closer to the beach, with a deck out back that leads directly onto the sands. In the heart of Anna Maria Island, this peaceful retreat is still only a short distance from the island’s busiest area and the restaurants and shops of Holmes Beach.

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Sleeping up to five people in two bedrooms, here you get lulled to sleep by the crashing waves outside and woken by the sound of seagulls, rather than an alarm clock.

And while there’s no pool, you’ve got the glorious blue of the Gulf of Mexico just seconds away, tempting enough to spend the whole day on the deck or sand – watch the waves, lounge under an umbrella, fire up the charcoal grill and watch the sun set over the sea. It’s worth packing binoculars to spot dolphins in the waves off shore, too.

When you finally tear yourself away to head indoors, colourful brights in the living room turn to cool blues in the bedroom, while the kitchen is small but with all the vital facilities. There’s also access to a shared washing machine and tumble dryer. Out of peak season, you can choose any day to arrive as well.

Sea La Vie (Sleeps 5)

Beds: One queen, two twin beds and sofa bed 

Holiday highlight: As well as the unbeatable beachfront location, you’re also right in the heart of the island so it’s a great spot to explore both Anna Maria city in the north, Bradenton Beach in the south and you can head back over to the mainland and Bradenton itself.

Lowdown: 7 nights including car hire direct from London Gatwick to Tampa with British Airways from £1299pp. Or 7 nights including car hire from £1099pp with United Airlines from London Heathrow to Tampa via Frankfurt. Book via ocean-florida.co.uk or call 020 7939 7775.

4/  Anna Maria Island Club 45, Bradenton Beach

If you’re travelling as a smaller group, there’s no need to miss out on the style and facilities of the island’s larger holiday homes. Set in a complex with 40 apartments, shared heated pool, hot tub and sauna, this condo sleeping four looks straight out onto the Gulf of Mexico from its oversized balcony. Only residents have a key to the pool itself, with a path leading straight down onto the beach from the loungers.

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Much bigger than most of the two-bedroom properties on the island, there’s also two bathrooms to go with the two double bedrooms, useful if you’re travelling with a teen. Floaty voile curtains decorate the master bed, one of the many chic touches to set this apartment apart. With its prints of crabs and bright canvases of boats on the walls, and the deep blues and creamy whites of the décor, it’s the perfect way to get into the seaside spirit.

As well as the shared facilities, the condo has its own well-equipped kitchen and dining room with a driftwood-inspired table plus sofas in the separate living area.

Right in the heart of the island, it’s also very close to the bars and restaurants of historic Bridge Street, one of the oldest spots on Anna Maria Island, with mini golf, boutiques and boat trips from the pier.

Anna Maria Island Club 45 (Sleeps 4)

Beds: One king and one queen

Holiday highlight: It has one of the biggest pools on the island, plus the beach is just a few feet further away.

Lowdown: Seven days costs from £1,370 based on two adults and two children under 10 sharing, with British Airways flights from London Gatwick to Sarasota, departing in the summer with vacationstoamerica.com. Call 01582 469 777 to book.

5/  Mandalay Bay

Who needs a hotel when you can check into a house with this much to offer? Sleeping up to 20, you even get a view of both the Bay and the Gulf from the rooftop deck, not to mention your own private heated pool with waterfall fountains, a hot tub seating 12 and private dock. In fact, there’s enough space to get lost in, so you’ll easily find your own quiet spot even when it’s full – perfect for several families sharing.

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From the table on the rooftop looking down to the boats moored on the water, each floor has its own living and dining area with two bedrooms and an office on the upper level, and the remaining five bedrooms on the main level – all with their own TVs, and seven bathrooms to share. Throw in two gourmet kitchens, one on each floor, along with a separate ‘summer’ kitchen outdoors, which has its own BBQ grill.

It’s hardly surprising that there’s also a lift to take you between floors, and a whole series of luxury touches such as a steam shower, remote controlled blinds in the master bedroom and a huge 65in TV in the upstairs living room. Even the pool has its own extra touches with rotating colour LED lights, plus loungers sitting directly in the water. There’s also a classic arcade machine with more than 200 different games.

Once you’re finished admiring the views from your own stretch of deck, it’s only a 30-second walk to the Gulf coast beaches, too.

Mandalay Bay, Bradenton Beach (Sleeps 16)

Beds:  Six kings and two sets of bunks

Holiday highlight: You can hire your own boat or jet ski to dock by the house, as well as fishing off your own mini pier.

Lowdown: Seven nights costs from £1,530 per person based on 16 sharing in the summer, with British Airways flights from London Gatwick to Tampa with americaasyoulikeit.com. Call 0208 742 8299 to book.

6/  Summer House, Holmes Beach

Can’t decide if you want sea views, a great pool, nearby beaches or a great location to explore? No need to agonise. From its rooftop deck, Summer House has views to the Gulf and the bay plus a hot tub to relax in as you choose which one to look at first, while down at the heated pool there’s a waterslide, spa pool and poolside bar, dining area and BBQ.

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Right in the centre of the island at Holmes Beach, the sand itself is a whole two minutes away – plus you’ve got two wagons to transport your beach chairs, umbrellas and toys with you. If you want to explore further, there are six bikes to take out as well, before you relax in front of the 65in flat-screen TV, fire up the two Xbox 360s or check out your Pac-Man skills on the classic arcade machine.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, there are five separate balconies to retreat to and consider your options, or head to one of the eight bedrooms, all with bright pink, coral, yellow and lime shades or to the nautical blues of the living area.

On a more practical note, there’s also two sets of washing machines and dryers, one on each floor, to keep it as family-friendly as it is lavish, while the dining table seats 12 with space for six more at the kitchen island. The final bonus for animal lovers? You can even bring your dog.

Summer House, Holmes Beach (Sleeps 19)

Beds: Six kings, four twins (bunk beds) and one single over full bunk bed

Holiday highlight: If you need even more space, Surf View next door is almost identical, giving you 16 bedrooms and space for 38 people to sleep.

Lowdown: Seven nights costs from £1,095 per person based on 19 sharing in the summer, with British Airways flights from London Gatwick to Tampa with americaasyoulikeit.com. Call 0208 742 8299 to book.

7/  Reel Life, Holmes Beach

Have you ever wanted to escape the entirety of the UK summer holidays? Well now you can, as this beautiful canal side property offers families the opportunity for a long stay vacation. Reel Life boasts a canal side location, that all guests will love, as they get to bask in these great island views.

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This three bedroom property backs onto a canal that leads onto Bimini Bay and the Intracoastal waterway - a perfect day trip! If you like to keep your feet firmly on solid ground, why not take advantage of the canal dock, and get stuck into island life with some fishing.

You'll feel right at home in this rental home, as it'll feel like a home away from home, boasting all of the necessary amenities. From the boring, but important, details; there is plenty of counter space, a dishwasher, and a bistro table ideal for snacking. Bring a whole new dimension to your family's downtime with a propane BBQ grill, fire pit and even a heated pool and spa.

From flat screen televisions and WiFi there will be no chance of the little ones getting bored, if you decide to take a slightly slower day by staying at home. Are you up for the challenge? There's even a game area where you can play a spot of darts.

Sharing a property with up to eight people can seem like a holiday nightmare, but with the spacious rooms and high ceilings, you can rest assured that this will be a holiday dream.

Reel Life, Holmes Beach (Sleeps 8)

Beds: Two kings, double/twin bunk bed  and a queen size sleeper sofa

Holiday highlight: Due to the canal side location, Reel Life makes the perfect spot for island fishing.

Lowdown: America As You Like It has a long-stay, 30 night summer package to Anna Maria Island from £2090 per person and including return flights with Virgin / Delta from London Heathrow to Sarasota Bradenton International Airport, via Atlanta. Package based on 8 people staying in the gorgeous three bedroom canal-front home Reel Life. To book call 0208 742 8299 or visit americaasyoulikeit.com

8/  619 Rose Dream Maker, Anna Maria

The whole family will feel right at home with this airy property, boasting glass panelled window walkways, rooftop skylights and cathedral style ceilings - you'll be able to take advantage of the beautiful weather in Florida with the natural light that will pour in.

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Personalised with modern twists, you can be sure that adults and kids alike, will be content. With WiFi and a Smart TV that shows Netflix, you can be sure that downtime in the evening will be hassle free. The rental home also showcases some of the more luxurious features, such as a heating and cooling system that features ultra violet; improving the air quality of the house. Plus the salt water conditioning system in the pool - definitely less harsh on the little ones' eyes.

The house comprises of modern furnishings, with a homely feel, with the communal areas being designed to unite all of the guests - such as the breakfast sitting area, perfect way to start the day off together. There will definitely be no fighting over the bathrooms, as each room has it's own ensuite - of course the master bedroom shines ahead with it's walk in spa.

Live like the locals do, and enjoy the island lifestyle, by relaxing in the house's surrounding lush tropical landscape. Have dinner alfresco in the evening, as there is a table and chairs outside and a BBQ - perfect family holiday meal!

619 Rose Dream Maker, Anna Maria (Sleeps 6)

Beds: Two queens and two twins.

Holiday highlight: The breathtaking cathedral style living room is definitely a must-see!

Lowdown: This property is no longer available. For alternative options visit ocean-florida.co.uk. Call 020 7939 7775 to book.