Native America in Bradenton Florida a Travel Guide

Welcome to a guide to Native America in Bradenton. This is one in three of my favorite places to visit along Florida’s Native American Heritage Trail. I chose it in part because I live here, have spent countless hours barefoot on its sandy shores, hiking through its mangroves and exploring its history. I also chose it because it’s one of Florida’s most popular destinations, for its turquoise coast and laid-back vibe. It truly is a great place to visit and everything in this article is in close proximity to downtown Bradenton, which is just 15 minutes from the beach.

In this article I will discuss De Soto National Memorial, Portavant Temple at Emerson Point Preserve and the South Florida Museum. I will also mention some additional references. All of these places are great with or without kids.

For a more academic history on Florida’s Native American Heritage Trail you can download this 40 page PDF from the state. It’s a great guide, which I picked up a couple years ago at a local museum. I’m happy to see it’s online as well.

De Soto National Memorial Bradenton Florida

The same view the Native Americans in Bradenton would have had hundreds of years ago at De Soto National Memorial.

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The First Things to Know About Visiting Bradenton

  • It gets very busy from December through May as a second home to our northern part-time residents and seasonal tourists.
  • The weather is almost always warm with a couple “cold snaps” here and there over winter (and by winter I mean from January to the end of March).
  • I highly recommend you stay somewhere off the beach to save on spending (most of these places are weekly rentals).
  • Summer is hot but it’s easy to stay cool when you’re by the beach or the Manatee River. Just remember sunblock, bug spray, sunglasses and light colored clothes.
  • There are lots of budget-friendly things to do in the area to add to your adventure.
Palmetto Riverside Bed and Breakfast

The Palmetto Riverside Bed & Breakfast is a stunning property

Where to Stay

I recommend you stay with Palmetto Riverside Bed & Breakfast. It is an absolutely pristine historic place to stay right in the middle of key points of interest and just 15 minutes from Anna Maria Island. It’s located on the Manatee River with a front seat to where Native Americans would have sailed in their canoes hundreds of years ago. It’s across from the Regatta Pointe Marina where there is a fabulous restaurant, the River House Reef & Grill, where you can enjoy dinner, brunch or just drinks with a water view. Catch a Florida sunset or take a sunset sail; it’s truly amazing.

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A depiction of early Florida residents at the South Florida Museum

Understanding the Native Americans of the Bradenton Area: The Calusa Indians

As I mentioned in Exploring Florida’s Ancient Myths on the Native American Heritage Trail, the footprint of Native America in Bradenton is very blurry. There are few written remnants of tribal culture. What we mainly have are tools, pottery, jewelry and a few archaeological sites. The same applies for Bradenton. Since I’m no scholar of ancient anything, I enlisted the help of Ranger Daniel Stephens at De Soto Memorial National Park to help me understand more about the Calusa and their myths and legends. Here are some things Stephens shared with me:

Calusa Facts

  • They died out in the late 1700’s/early 1800’s from tribal conflicts and European disease.
  • They are known as the “shell Indians” and did not make pottery but used shells for tools, jewelry and mounds even building entire cities on the shells.
  • They were sailors and traveled by dugout canoes along the many waterways in southwest Florida. In Bradenton they plied the Manatee River.
  • They were not a “friendly” tribe; they were fighters believed to be responsible for the death of Ponce de Leon.
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Some of the shells and how they were used at South Florida Museum

Mythology and Beliefs of the Calusa Indians

Supernatural Rulers 

  • They believed three supernatural people ruled the world.
  • The most powerful ruler governed the physical world, the moon, stars, sun and weather.
  • The second-most powerful ruled human governments, chiefdom.
  • The last ruled over wars.

Three Souls of Man

  • The three souls were the pupil of a person’s eye, his shadow and his reflection.
  • The soul in the eye stayed with the body after death to consult with others in the tribe at their grave.
  • The other two souls left the body and went into an animal. (If the Calusa killed this animal, the soul would go to a smaller, less powerful animal until it was nothing).

Ceremonial Beliefs

  • Processions of priests with carved masks and singing women.
  • Very strong beliefs, resisted conversions to Catholicism.
  • Ceremonial tea was was consumed to reach alternate states of consciousness. Known as “the black drink” it was made from the leaves of Yupon Holly. It made whoever drank it vomit, to cleanse, then hallucinate.

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Check out this interesting trailer on De Soto National Memorial and Bradenton’s Village of the Arts:

Places to Explore Native America in Bradenton

De Soto National Memorial Bradenton Florida, sign, native america in florida

De Soto National Memorial – Hike, Kayak

I love visiting the De Soto National Memorial. It’s pet friendly, breezy and has winding sandy trails for you to explore the shores of the Manatee River. It’s the site of an ancient Calusa village and would have been the scene of a large society of Natives who spent their days going from this shore to the Portavant Temple at what is now Emerson Point Preserve in their intricate canoes.

De Soto National Memorial Bradenton Florida, Christa Thompson, The Fairytale Traveler, Kid Friendly

Having some fun with heavy helmets

De Soto National Memorial Bradenton Florida, kid friendly

Can’t turn this outfit down!

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Always the joker this kid. With a really heavy conquistador helmet on at De Soto

Tip: If you ask a ranger you can get a guided tour and they will point out the archaeological sites to you.

This is a free park open to the publicIt has a living history exhibit, which goes from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. (4 p.m. on busier days). The park itself is open 7 days / week from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

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A relic canoe at De Soto

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Some of the trails at De Soto

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Some of the Living History display at De Soto

Junior Rangers and Kayaking at De Soto National Memorial

The Award winning Junior Ranger program features a kids’ activity book with games and exercises designed to challenge the way they view history and learn about the expedition. Each child receives a book, compass and pencil to aid them on their own journey of exploration. At the end they receive a Junior Ranger badge as a memento of their visit.
During the Summer months the Park runs a one week Junior Ranger Summer Camp which highlights Florida ecology, history, and conservation.
Ranger Kayak Tour De Soto National Memorial

Provided by De Soto National Memorial

The Ranger led Kayak tours are offered on the weekends at 9:30. here Rangers will lead a small group around the local waterways, giving visitors a unique view of the park and a special way to experience Florida. All of our events, programs, and activities are offered free to the public and we are open 7 days a week from 9-5 closed only on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and new Years day.

Portavant Temple at Emerson Point Park – Hike

A key point on the trail of Native America in Bradenton, Emerson Point is a stunning and serene part of Florida’s native landscape. It’s a front seat to the brackish waters of the Manatee River and the Gulf of Mexico, and from its tower on a clear day you can see the massive Skyway Bridge, which connects this region to south St. Petersburg. Its winding boardwalk trail will lead you through sweeping moss and palm trails along inlets, immersing you into the wild side of Florida nature.

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Portavant Temple Mound at Emerson Point Preserve

Photo by Ebyabe – Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

The South Florida Museum – Educate

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Located just a few minutes from De Soto National Memorial, the South Florida Museum is home to a large collection of Native Florida Indian artifacts including shells, pottery, jewelry and depictions of their early life. The museum is also home to the local celebrity manatee “Snooty.” You’ll also find early marine and mammal fossils and archaeological material on archaic and pre-contact cultures.

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A timeline of arrow heads at the South Florida Museum

There’s a planetarium and an aquarium as well, so plan to spend at least 2-3 hours here. For up-to-date info on events and hours go here.

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Additional Points of Interest a Little Further South

These are both very much worth the drive. Plan to spend an entire day to do both, half a day for one. Bring water and good shoes.

  • Historic Spanish Point  link here – about 30 minutes south into South Sarasota.
  • Indian Mound Park link here – about 45 minutes south into Englewood.

Undoubtedly if you’re planning a trip to Bradenton you’re going to have a great time. If you’ve landed on this page then there’s a good chance you’re already inspired by Native America in Bradenton. I can’t stress to you enough that Florida is more than just sun tanning and theme parks. There’s a whole layer of history here, which so few really know about. I’m glad you’re here and I’m glad you’re one more person who cares about our great Florida heritage.

Sources: USF, Native American Heritage Trail feature photo by Jim Mullhaupt under the Creative Commons license 

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Native America in Bradenton, Florida

This article was made possible by Visit Florida. For more information on exploring this state, please go to their website

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Do you have any questions? I have answers! Want to add some additional info? Please do so in the comments below. I love hearing from you!

 

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of VISIT FLORIDA. The opinions and text are all mine.

This guide is presented by American Tourister. Our travel philosophy is to pack more fun into every moment and every bag, like our Star Wars, Disney and Marvel luggage collections. Keep up with us by keeping an eye on #PackMoreFun!

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About Christa Thompson

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Christa Thompson is the Founder and Senior Editor of The Fairytale Traveler. Christa has been traveling the world since 2003 when she attended a summer abroad study at the University of Cambridge in England. Since then, her wanderlust has been fierce. Her three passions in life are her son, traveling, and being creative. The Fairytale Traveler brand gives Christa the opportunity to do all of these things and to live intentionally every day. "It's never too late to believe in what you love and to pursue your dreams." -Christa Thompson

42 Comments on this post

  1. I am new to this blog. I had a lovely introduction to the Calusa and other Florida tribes last February, by spending an afternoon at Florida Museum of Natural History and the next day, at Mission San Luis, on Tallahassee’s west side. I am sure to go back to the Sunshine State and explore further. One of my sisters-in-law is bullish on the Florida Gulf Coast, and after reading this post, I can see why.

    righteousbruin9 /
  2. I have never been to that part of Florida before. It sounds like a really nice area to visit.

    Robin Rue (@massholemommy) /
  3. I’m ashamed to admit, I did not know this! But what an excellent way to give the kids a day of fun as well as educating them on history! This will be on the bucket list for sure!

    Kelli @ 3 Boys and a Dog /
  4. I’d love to visit Bradenton. I’ve heard it’s a gorgeous place, but I’ve never had the opportunity to take the family.

    Stacie @ Divine Lifestyle /
  5. It looks like it’s a great museum. We have Native American museum’s here too, and I love going to each one of them I learned so much.

    Jeanette /
  6. I love learning about history and this looks like a great family adventure full of learning. It looks like such a beautiful spot too!

    Jessica Beal Harlow /
  7. These look like great places to visit! I used to live in Florida and it sounds like I missed a lot!

    Melissa /
  8. That helmet looks so heavy! Cool experience and love the hands on fun!

  9. I heard so many things about Bradenton and I would love to spend some time there. Thanks for this travel guide.

    Miles Basilio /
  10. This looks great! So many awesome things to see. I love to get some historical and educational experience in when I travel. What a great trip!

    travel blogger /
    • Thank you!

    • Same here! I love historical places as they teach us valuable lessons for us living today.

      • I feel like you get so much more out of an experience when you touch on historical interests. I mean, everyone’s heard the “we went to Disney” story, or the “we went camping” story (to name a few common family trips), but how often can you say, “we went hiking to explore a Native American trail in a National forest” or “we visited a 500 year old medieval city” (St. Augustine).

  11. Interesting article. It is always nice to learn about history and I am really amazed at how civilizations thrived before. Thanks for letting me know about this. It must be a really nice place to visit!

    Eileen Mendoza Loya /
  12. This lo]oks like a great escapade. I love Florida weather, maybe we can do this one when we go back there again.

    Chubskulit Rose /
  13. I didn’t know Bradenton was so rich in Native American history! This is definitely somewhere I need to take my kids

    Christie @ Raising Whasians /
  14. I would love to spend a weekend here. I love to learn all about history and different cultures.

    Ann Bacciaglia /
  15. These look like some pretty awesome places for me to put on my travel list. I love museums and find that I spend more time there than other tourist attractions.

    Chrystal | Nevermore Lane /
  16. This looks like a fantastic trip! I love all of the pictures. It looks beautiful and so much fun!

    lisa /
  17. This looks like a great way to spend your weekend, I love visiting places like these where you can see how people lived before you.

    jessicasimms /
  18. I found the importance of shells in their culture very interesting. I have learned of other cultures that used shells as currency, beads and a symbol of wealth, but this is the first time I’ve heard of them building with shells. I find that very interesting.

    porchet000 /
  19. Beautiful photos. I love to bring the kids in places like this because they can learn a lot.

    Dogvills /
  20. I’ve never heard of this destination before. It looks like a fun and education trips.

    LifeAsAConvert /
  21. Looks really fun and awesome. How I wish I can visit such amazing place too!

    RonRon /
  22. Looks like there is a lot to do there – haven’t been but now it’s on my list, thanks!

    Shobha George /
  23. I have never been to Bradenton, Florida before, but it looks beautiful and exciting! That museum sounds like a museum I’d really enjoy, because I always love to learn more about my Native American ancestors. 🙂

    HilLesha /
  24. Looks like you had a wonderful time. I live in Florida and drove by Bradenton many times. So pretty!

    michele d /
  25. […] you read Native America in Bradenton Florida a Travel Guide, you will see similarities between the Timucua and the Calusa cultures. Like the Calusa and […]

  26. […] Bradenton is one of Florida’s most popular destinations, for its turquoise coast and laid-back vibe. It truly is a great place to visit. Here you can visit the De Soto National Memorial, Portavant Temple at Emerson Point Preserve and the South Florida Museum to explore Native American Heritage in Bradenton. […]

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