First Pitch: Things to Do in Bradenton During Spring Training

I get asked a few times per week for advice on things to do during Spring Training — whether it’s tips on McKechnie Field and Pirate City, or just places to eat. A few years ago I put together a post, based on my limited time in Bradenton. I’ve been living here for the past year, and now have a much better idea of some of the best places to go in the area. I’m going to assume that if you’re coming down for Spring Training, most of your time will be spent either watching baseball, eating, or going to the beach. Therefore, I won’t include many other things in the list below.

I might update this post as Spring Training gets closer, depending on whether I go to a new place. If you’re coming down for Spring Training, be sure to bookmark this as a reference. If you see me over at Pirate City, feel free to say hello. And if you haven’t purchased a Prospect Guide, I usually have a few of them with me in my media bag. Now, let’s start with the main attractions.

McKechnie Field

To be honest, I’m not the person to ask for advice on things to do at McKechnie Field during Spring Training. Most of the time I’m getting to the field in the 5th inning, and I’m usually conducting interviews during the game, or after the game. When I’m not doing interviews, I’m working in the press box. I’d imagine you’re there to watch the game, so there’s not much advice I can give you beyond that. I will say that a good spot to watch is on the boardwalk in right field. That overlooks the bullpen down below, allowing you to look down and watch the pitchers warm up. On the back of the boardwalk you can get a good view of the batting cages and the practice fields.

In the past there hasn’t been much to do around McKechnie. Apparently that will be changing this year, as they’re opening some new restaurants and breweries in the neighborhood. One of the breweries, Darwin’s, is excellent. I’ve been to the one in Sarasota, and I’m looking forward to them coming to Bradenton. The food in Sarasota is pretty good, but I haven’t heard yet if the place in Bradenton will serve food, or just be a brewery. I’d imagine it will be a restaurant like in Sarasota. If it is, I recommend the oven roasted pork tacos.

Pirate City

If I had to pick one place to be during Spring Training, I’d choose Pirate City. It’s not just because I cover prospects. It’s because I think the action at Pirate City is much better than McKechnie Field in every way. McKechnie has the Major League players, but you’re only seeing them for about 5-6 innings. Outside of that you’re paying for the game, sitting in an assigned seat, and watching just one game.

Pirate City is free, and usually has 2-3 games going on at the same time, with all of the games starting at 1 PM. Plus, the view at Pirate City is like having seats to a Little League game, as there is usually only a fence between you and the field. If you stand in the right spot, you can watch three games at the same time. Or you can stand between the fields and watch two games at once, which is more manageable. The schedule (which I will post when I receive it) either has the Triple-A and Double-A teams at home, or the two A-ball teams at home. The short-season players will sometimes play an intra-squad game, which means you could see four minor league teams at the same time on any given day.

The Pirates don’t have names on the back of their minor league uniforms, so be sure to pick up a roster sheet. You can either get this from the security at the entrance, or in a box on the tower between all of the fields. This will let you know which player is wearing which number. I also recommend buying the 2014 Prospect Guide, and not just for shameless plug reasons. I designed the Prospect Guide specifically for places like Pirate City. You’ve got a ton of minor league players that you’re watching, you want information on them, and the Prospect Guide is a digest-size handbook that has all of that information.

There isn’t much around Pirate City as far as food. I usually eat at Mixon’s, which is right down the road. I typically get the BBQ sliders, mostly because it’s good food, it doesn’t take long to make, and I can eat it quickly and get back to the field before the games start at 1:00. If you’re going to Mixon’s, you have to try the orange juice (they have free samples), and I recommend the orange swirl ice cream, made with their orange juice.


If you’re like me, then Spring Training involves the following things:

1. Find a place to stay

2. Go and watch baseball

3. Find a place to eat

4. Maybe visit a beach if you’d rather sit in the sun and watch water, instead of sit in the sun and watch baseball

I can’t give any recommendations on finding a place to stay. When I didn’t live down here, I just used Priceline for a blind bid and took my chances. Pretty much everything is close to either Pirate City or McKechnie.

I can give recommendations on where to eat. I will say that these probably aren’t the recommendations that you’ll hear from people who have visited Bradenton in the past. I tend to avoid the touristy places, and most places on the beach, since the food at these places isn’t as good. If you want a good view on the beach, go for a sunset after eating dinner at a place that has good food, rather than eating on the beach at a place with over-priced and lower quality food.

The list of places below not only have my approval, but have the approval of my friends, who happen to get a weekly “Places to Go in Bradenton” update from me. I will say that none of these places have paid me for these reviews. Not that I wouldn’t accept payment in the form of free food. I’d totally take that from any of these places.


Before I moved here, the most popular places I heard about were places that were on the water. A lot of people go to The Beach House, which is located on Bradenton Beach. I’ll admit that I usually take guests to The Beach House the first time they come down, just for the novelty of eating on the beach. They have a deck behind the restaurant, with a great view overlooking the water, and a beach on either side. However, the food isn’t that good, and you’re paying extra for the view.

My favorite seafood place down here would be Starfish Co. (located at 123rd St Court West off Cortez). The food is much better, more reasonably priced, and you even get a view of the water. Starfish is located just before you cross over to the island, and is located on the water on the inlet. It’s cash only, so if you’re like me and never carry cash, you might want to stop by an ATM before you go. After you order your food at the counter, you can find a spot at one of the picnic tables on the dock overlooking the water. The place is pretty busy, so you’re probably going to be sharing a table with another group (unless you are the group).

As far as the price comparison, here is an example. An order of crab cakes at The Beach House will cost you $25.99. A “hearty” order of crab cakes at Starfish Co. will cost you $13.99. And if you need more than my recommendation for the quality of the food, consider that Starfish was named one of the best seafood restaurants in the US by Travel and Leisure.

Cuban Food

I had never really eaten much Cuban food before moving to Florida. Now? Anytime I return from up north, my first meal back is at a place that has fried plantains. There are two really good Cuban restaurants that I frequent.

The best Cuban food in the area belongs to Jose’s Real Cuban (located on Cortez, on the left just past 86th Street W). Jose’s has been featured on “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives”, and for good reason. Their pork is outstanding, and if you’ve never tried it, they will make sure you have. The first time you go in, they ask if you’ve ever been there before. If you’re new, they will give you a sample of the pork. It’s kind of like how drug dealers give a free sample just to get future customers hooked. Before you know it, you’re placing an order for Pan con Lechon (roasted pork shoulder on Cuban bread), and a few minutes later you receive a sandwich piled with pork, which if we continued this drug metaphor, would only be described as a “Scarface-sized pile of pork”. Their Cuban sandwich is also the only Cuban sandwich I’ll eat in the area, even though every restaurant has a Cuban sandwich on the menu. I also recommend the plantains.

Jose’s has the best Cuban food. It’s also very reasonably priced and extremely fast. I usually place a to-go order in the restaurant, and my food is ready before my debit card has been swiped. That said, there’s another favorite of mine, for different reasons. That favorite is Columbia Restaurant, located in St. Armand’s Circle.

Don’t get me wrong when I say that Jose’s has the best food — the food at Columbia is great. What sets Columbia apart is the atmosphere and the drinks. This isn’t really in a “Beach House vs Starfish” kind of way either. I go to Jose’s if I want good Cuban food. I go to Columbia if I want Cuban food, along with a fresh mojito, all while eating outdoors. Or, in picture form, I go for this:

Columbia Restaurant Mojito

The unique thing about Columbia is how they prepare most of the food. If you’re getting a Cuban sandwich, they’ll just bring it to the table already made. But if you’re getting their signature 1905 salad, they will make the salad table side. They do the same if you order a pitcher of Sangria or a mojito pitcher — they’ll bring all of the ingredients out and prepare the pitcher at your table. If you order the creme brulee, they will bring it out to the table, add the sugar on top, and caramelize it with a blow torch at the table. You get the idea. They also give you a free portion of their Cuban bread, which is amazing. It’s served hot out of the oven, and comes with butter that is almost as cold as ice cream.

Basically if you’re looking for a place with a good atmosphere, good food, and great drinks, I recommend Columbia. There are several locations in the Tampa area. The one at St. Armand’s is the closest to Bradenton, and is my favorite due to the proximity of Lido Beach (which I’ll get to in a bit).


For me, nothing beats a good burger, and I have a simple process to test a good burger. If you watch “How I Met Your Mother”, you might remember the episode about the Best Burger in New York. Anytime I watch that episode, I want a burger, but not just any burger. I want the best burger in the area. I want to bring the burger home, turn that episode on, and just spend some alone time getting familiar with the (almost always) bacon topped sandwich.

When I first moved here, I heard that the best burger was between two places on Anna Maria Island — Skinny’s and Duffy’s. Both places are pretty much the same. They’re dives with cheap beer, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The problem is that the burgers remind me of McDonald’s burgers. When I first tried those burgers, after hearing that they were the best in the area, my thought was “I need to move”.

Fortunately, after many months of searching — I’d imagine it was a similar search as the search for the prison between seasons two and three of The Walking Dead — I found two places with an amazing burger. Both places involved unique toppings, although the way they approach these toppings is totally different.

Square1 Burger Bar (two different locations in Sarasota) takes the traditional approach to toppings on a burger, in that they put the toppings on the burger. As for the actual toppings, that’s not traditional at all. As an example, consider my favorite: The Drunken Pig & Bull. It’s a burger topped with wild bourbon pulled pork, pepper jack cheese, three huge onion rings, and the house Sooner sauce, which tastes like the sauce you get with a bloomin’ onion. My philosophy is that the best topping for a burger is a different kind of meat. But they have a ton of options, including a “Rise & Shine”, which is topped with Applewood-smoked bacon, fried egg, caramelized onions and gruyère cheese, all served on a brioche bun. I also recommend the onion rings (you can get a plate for $3 on Wednesdays), the Square1 Red beer (a draft is $2 on Thursdays, or $3 if you go during Happy Hour after 9 PM), and the peanut butter and nutella milk shake.

The Drunken Pig and Bull
The Drunken Pig and Bull

Full Belly Stuffed Burgers (located on State Road 70 going East, just past I-75), as the name indicates, serves burgers that are stuffed. All of their toppings are in the middle of two 6.5 ounce burgers, pinched together. Anyone familiar with a Juicy Lucy knows the concept, although they take it to new extremes. My favorite is The Matty Matt, which is a burger stuffed with peanut butter and bacon. Try it with the spicy maple syrup and a side of sweet potato tots. They also come up with new creations that aren’t on the menu. The last time I was there, they had a dessert that wasn’t on the menu — a peanut butter, jelly, and banana sandwich, deep fried in pancake batter, topped with chocolate sauce, and served with ice cream. I didn’t order this, which is how I’m alive and able to write this article today. I have split an order of The Belly Buster, which is tater tots smothered in Mac and cheese, and topped with bacon, sour creme, and scallions. It was as fantastic as it sounds.

I’ll also throw in an additional option: Gecko’s Grill and Pub. They’ve got your traditional restaurant burger, and while it’s good, I wouldn’t pick them over Square1 or Full Belly. What I do like about Gecko’s are their homemade potato chips. They also have a ton of TVs, all tuned into sports, so it’s a great place to go for March Madness viewing. And they’re one of few places open after 10 PM.


You usually don’t get pizza when you’re out of town on vacation. Or at least I don’t, unless I’m in New York or Chicago. Fortunately, Bradenton has good pizza from both cities.

If you’re into Chicago pizza, Joey D’s is the place to go (located on the corner of Cortez and 14th Street W). They’ve got all of the Chicago favorites — a Chicago dog, Italian beef, Italian sausage, and of course the deep dish pizza. My only advice for their stuffed pizza is that you either have a lot of people with you, or you have fridge space wherever you’re staying. The pizza comes with four toppings, all stuffed inside. Here is a picture, for your craving enjoyment.

If you like New York pizza, then Danny’s Pizzeria (located at Manatee Avenue and 75th Street W) is the way to go. Danny grew up in New York, and worked in New York pizza places starting at age 14. His passion for good New York pizza really shows in every bite, and after I found out his approach, I realized that his pizza can only be a result of a deep knowledge of what makes New York pizza great. It really comes down to the water, which is why he not only invested in a top of the line water filtration system, but he also uses ice water to make the dough. Why ice water? Because tap water in New York comes out cold, while tap water in Florida comes out warm. The dough and the sauce are made daily, and as an avid New York pizza fan, it’s the best I’ve had outside of New York.

When a busy period like the draft or trade deadline rolls around, this is usually my food for the week.
When a busy period like the draft or trade deadline rolls around, this is usually my food for the week.


Sweetberries – You’ve probably heard me mention Sweetberries about ten million times. It’s a frozen custard place on Manatee Avenue, between 43rd and 51st Street W. They’ve got food as well, but I’ve only had their custard. It is outstanding, to the point where it can ruin your life. During the summer, Florida is insanely hot, to the point where it’s 90+ degrees with 90% humidity, and you always have a gallon of sweat sitting in your underwear. For that reason, I usually have a few quarts of custard from Sweetberries at all times in my freezer. I recommend a concrete, which is candy mixed into the custard. If you’re getting one of their massive sundaes, then I’d recommend the Utterly Reese’s, which is a peanut butter fan’s dream. It’s vanilla custard topped with peanut butter syrup, hot fudge, probably about 4 Reese’s Cups, whipped cream, and probably also diabetes. It actually hurts me to write about Sweetberries right now. I’ve only been there once since early December, in my quest to get in the best shape of my life before Spring Training.

Cigar City Beer – This isn’t a restaurant (unless you want to go up to the brewery in Tampa), but if you like beer, I recommend anything by Cigar City. It’s usually on tap everywhere in Bradenton. If you can find it, I recommend the Imperial Stout. The only place I’ve found it was at “Eat Here” in downtown Sarasota. It was about $11 for a glass, but it might have been one of the best beers I’ve ever had.

The Salty Dog – I’d file this under “Things to only try once”. The Salty Dog is a restaurant on City Island, between Longboat Key and St. Armand’s. It is most famous for a hot dog called “The Salty Dog”. This hot dog is deep fried, and covered with four types of cheese, bacon, fried onions, fried mushrooms, and sauerkraut. You can choose your toppings, or you can get the works. Also, you better have nothing to do the next day.

The Salty Dog. I drank smoothies for my next eight meals after eating this.
The Salty Dog. I drank smoothies for my next eight meals after eating this.

Anna Maria Island Beach Cafe – If you go to the beach on Anna Maria Island (at the end of Manatee Avenue), they have a cafe at the top of the beach. Not that they don’t still have the cafe if you don’t go to that beach. What I like is that every day until noon (1 PM on weekends) they have All You Can Eat pancakes for $5.99. All I can eat is usually the first three they give you, but that’s all you need. I recommend following that up with a nap on the beach, because that’s all you’re going to want to do after that breakfast.


I don’t go to the beach often. Before I lived here, I never went to the beach. My feeling was that I could be in the sun watching the water, and get sand all over myself and inside my car, or I could sit in the sun and watch baseball…and somehow still get sand in my car. I always picked baseball. I’m not much of a beach person, so I still don’t go often, even though I live here now. So I’ve heard Siesta Key is nice, but I have never really been motivated enough to drive down and spend a day there.

My favorite beach would be Lido Beach, which is down from St. Armand’s Circle. The sand is white and the water is clear enough to see your feet at the bottom. I took my brother there when he came down to visit, and we actually saw a flock of sting rays swimming around. We could see them from about 30 feet away, and they got within five feet of us.

Anna Maria can get pretty crowded on the main beach with the pancakes. If you’re looking for a less crowded beach, you should check out the top of the island at the point. It’s not good for swimming, since the rip currents are so strong, but it’s a good place to go and relax without having a ton of people around. Because if you go to a crowded beach, then inevitably someone near you will start feeding the birds, then every bird in Florida will swarm your area, and then you’ll want to murder the person who fed the birds, and that can ruin a vacation. Also, don’t feed the birds. At all.

Got questions about anything else in Bradenton? Leave them in the comments!

Links and Notes

**The 2014 Prospect Guide is now available. You can purchase your copy here, and read about every prospect in the Pirates’ system. The book includes our top 50 prospects, as well as future potential ratings for every player.

**We have been releasing our top 20 prospects for the 2014 season, and this week we conclude the countdown with the top five. Today the countdown resumed with #5 – Alen Hanson.

**Pirates Have Seven in Baseball Prospectus Top 101 Prospects

**Pirates Sign Shortstop Blake Davis

**Pirates Sign Catcher Erick Fernandez

**Winter Leagues: Polanco Reaches Base Five Times In Victory

**Winter Leagues: Mixed Results For Top Pirates Prospects In Winter Ball

**Prospect Videos: More Gregory Polanco Greatness and a New Shortstop

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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I am bringing my 17 year old son for his first visit to McKechnie field for Phillies game on March 22nd. Will it be hard to get tickets for the two of us? Its also the weekend of NCAA basketball tournament. Is there a recommendation on place to go after the Pirate game to eat and watch some games?


Um yeah, hooters- he’ll love it


why would you not buy the tickets ahead of time? If you wait till game time, yes….they may be sold out, clearwater is close by

Wilbur Miller

Single game tickets are on sale now.


I can also agree that Lido is the best of the beaches, love the area for food and for beach, it really captures the atmosphere. Sweetberries, tried last year, awesome, no doubt. I haven’t yet been to Mixon farms though, so i plan on stopping by during one of the camp days this year when i make the drive down from jax


One place which is good for baseball lovers, is a great indoor batting cage i’ve been to for the past two years. Its called strike zone and they have a fun cage where you get to hit mailboxes, an old beetle car, etc….and even have targets to shoot at, or you can actually hit really fast baseballs in the professional cages. there’s also a full size trampoline basketball/dodge ball court for fun if you have kids. me and my friends (early 30’s) LOVE IT!


“I’ve only been there once since early December, in my quest to get in the best shape of my life before Spring Training.”



Google the Red Barn and Anna Maria Oyster Bar. The Red Barn is a big flea market a mile or so from McKechnie. I love getting the chocolate malted milk balls there. You can get deals on beach towels, even socks. The Anna Maria Oyster Bar has all-you-can-eat specials in the afternoon under $10.00. They’ve got great onion shreds, red potato strips and of course, their fish (and tartar sauce) are very good. We’re also staying at a Days Inn for a week at $61 per night. It’s worked well for 12 out of the last 13 spring trainings. Thanks for all of the other tips, too.


I went there by myself last year, very good!


You might be the youngest person eating at the Anna Maria Oyster Bar, too. Although as soon as I typed that I realized the same could be true anywhere you go in Florida. The Orioles minor-league camp is a good place to check out. I went there Manny Machado’s first camp. It’s a bit further walk than Pirates City, however, in case you have a hard time getting around like my father.


Tim have you tried the Coppertail Brewing yet?


New brewery in Ybor City… they are doing a free pop up beer tasting at their brewery on Wednesday in Tampa at the intersection of 26th St. and 2nd Ave from 630 to 830. They aren’t quite open yet, but their beer is going to be insanely good

Scott Skink

This is helpful. Wife & I are going down to ST end of Feb for a few days, see the B&G and Yankees games, spend some time at Pirate City. She last went a decade ago, me never – I hate spending my own money on Florida.

At some point, want to hit a golf course. I know there’s one right near the fields. Anyone know if there are long waits there given the influx of tourists like ourselves?


Absolutely agree that Pirate City is the best place to be for pure baseball. While I like to take in a Grapefruit game or two when I visit ( which hasn’t happened since 2010 so perhaps next year?) I definitely prefer that atmosphere at Pirate City. And it’s not even close 🙂


My wife and I have been to most of the restaurants you mentioned but we have never hit the Columbian . Got to admit your article got my juices flowing . Someone above mentioned Robinson Preserve , we have had a lot of great walks out there but I personally like Emerson point since it has more shade that Robinson . Let me add for the shoppers and bargain hunters they should stop at least once at the Red Barn Flee Market , they have about anything you need . If you enjoy the theater you should try to go to the newly constructed Manatee Playhouse , the quality of their performances are excellent . We have been going down for the last 6 years and enjoy every moment while we are down there . Looking forward to saying hi , Glassers


Thanks for the info Tim. The wife and I are headed down this year, it will be a first for me. I love the web site.


I’ve been told by a native, that another thing you do is sit at traffic lights?

That same source also told me that this is, indeed a true statement:
“If I had to pick one place to be during Spring Training, I’d choose Pirate City.”

I’m also glad to see you’re a Walking Dead fan.
However, if you keep eating all that food you described, although it may be scrumptious, you’re gonna end up on that show….and not as Rick or Glen. 🙂 🙂

Florida Foo


In my experience the sitting at traffic lights thing is everywhere from Tampa to St. Pete, to Bradenton…there is a very high population density here….and some of the worst drivers you have ever seen. I am to the point where I just laugh at some of the stuff people do. I have been in a couple of jams in Bradenton…but Ithink Tampa is worse.

Wilbur Miller

I live just outside DC. People who complain about traffic in Bradenton don’t have a clue what traffic is.


I am coming from Ohio where if it is 60 miles it takes about 60 mins. Here as a rule of thumb I take the mileage and almost double it and it is generally 80-90%accurate. My drive to work in Tampa is 28 miles and it takes 48 mins.



Heard that you should either stay out toward the beach or close to 75. Any recommendations?


Any tips on fine dining?


Thank you!


Great article Tim. This will help me greatly as I have just moved to Gulfport so I am only 30 mins from Bradenton and will be able to get to games a lot. The new deck at McKechnie is awesome. It made the experience down there so much better when I went last year. There were two Hyde Parks in Columbus where I came from and they are excellent steakhouses. My wife has been to Siesta Key and thinks while it is beautiful it is overrated because it is crowded and there are plenty of other beaches that are beautiful and lest touristy. (Pass-a-grille and St. Pete beaches are awesome and on the same strip.) …and yes…the bird thing…seagulls are flying rats. Thanks for all the great info! Come up to Gulfport…it’s a nice little small town experience with a lot of good restaurants and bars.

Wilbur Miller

If you want something a little fancier, the Waterfront Restaurant on Anna Maria is very good. It’s near City Pier.

The restaurant out on the pier, btw, is not good.

The Masked robshelb


And don’t forget the Robinson Nature Preserve. The # 1 rated (of the top 27) attractions, a/k/a things to do, when visiting Bradenton.


RobS….you and I think alike, which is indeed scary.

Natural Foo

The Masked robshelb



I’ve never gone kayaking in Robinson, or anywhere along the Gulf Coast, but I’d love to do that someday. Kayak in the early morning, baseball in the early afternoon. What a perfect day.

I have kayaked in the Lower Florida Keys. We hired a naturalist/guide to kayak along with us. She came loaded with lots of really neat info about the flora and the fauna, how keys are created and how they grow, interesting facts about the local species of fish and animals. A really superb “tour guide.”

Anyone going to any nature preserve — especially in such a biologically diverse state as Florida — I can highly recommend spending the extra money and hooking up with someone who can explain all the wondrous things that we, The Tourist, are experiencing.




Thanks for info on watching the action in ST as well as some great places to eat and drink. I think it will be of great help for those folks going to Bradenton for ST.

I did link to this article in a post over at OBN to help out some of the guys who have asked for info about ST.

Almost forgot but the link to Square1 Burger Bar in the article does not work.

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