Manatee County attractions keep tourists coming back for more.
If Manatee County can attract first-time visitors, it can usually lure them back.
Surveys show 94% of visitors to the Bradenton area say they will return, said Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Elliott Falcione during a presentation March 30 at the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance luncheon at the Polo Grill and Bar.
Falcione touted Manatee County attractions, such as Cortez Village, Art Center Manatee and Realize Bradenton’s interactive walk along the Manatee River and agribusinesses, like Mixon Fruit Farms and Dakin Dairy, both in east Manatee County, as great tourist destinations.
Manatee County’s sports centers, including McKechnie Field (spring training home of Pittsburgh Pirates), IMG Academy and Lakewood Ranch-based Premier Sports Campus, are what he calls an “economic stimulus familiarization tour.” The phrase means they attract first-time visitors for one-time special events and expose them to the area and its attractions. Exposure results in future vacations and, potentially, relocation.
“Who do we target? First-time visitors,” he said.
Sports tourism has an annual estimated economic impact of $100 million. But Manatee’s bread-and-butter is leisure tourism, which generates an estimated $900 million, Falcione said.
Falcione said the sport tourism industry is a nice fit within Manatee and Sarasota’s existing amenities because it fill gaps within the regular tourism season. The various venues also have different clientele, so they complement one another well.
EAST COUNTY ATTRACTIONS
1 Fish Hole Adventure Golf
10725 Lakewood Main St., Lakewood Ranch
An 18-hole miniature golf course.
21805 State Road 70 E., Bradenton
The Adventure Course is a treetop obstacle course for ages 7 and up. If you make it all the way, you will be climbing 60 feet in the air. The final plunge is on a 650-foot zipline.
3 Dakin Dairy Farm
30771 Betts Road, Bradenton
The farm entertains and educates the public from cow to bottle on its 1,000-acre sustainable farm with farm tours, a fall corn maze and other festivities. Its farm market gift shop and cafe is open year-round. Farm tours are available October through June.
4 O’Brien Family Farms
16505 State Road 64, Bradenton
This hydroponic farm offers u-pick produce as well as a farm stand and educational center.
5 Mixon Fruit Farm
2525 27th St. E.,
A locally-owned orange grove, Mixon Fruit Farm offers festivals throughout the year, in addition to its tram tours through the grove, gift shop and famous orange-swirl ice cream.
6 Jiggs Landing
6106 63rd St. E.,
This Manatee County preserve offers a public boat launch, picnic area and fishing cabins for rent, among other offerings.
7 Hunsader Farms
5500 County Road 675, Bradenton
Hunsader Farms is best known for its annual Pumpkin Festival, with more than 100 craft booths, hayrides, performances and other activities. But, it also offers u-pick vegetables during growing season, as well as a petting zoo and playground.
8 Premier Sports Campus
5895 Post Blvd., Lakewood Ranch
This 140-acre sports campus has 22 fields on used for amateur and professional soccer, lacrosse, field hockey, rugby and other sports on local, state, regional and national levels.
9 Ancient Oak Gun Club
16800 State Road 64 E., Bradenton
This sporting clays shooting facility includes 28 covered shooting stations, three of which are elevated.