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Native Americans in Bradenton Florida a Travel Guide

Welcome to my guide to Native Americans in Bradenton. This is one of 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!


Native America in Bradenton, Florida


A Guide to Native Americans in Bradenton, Florida


In this article, I discuss the 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 of years ago at a local museum. I’m happy to see it’s online as well.


Things to Know About Visiting Bradenton, Florida



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.


It gets very busy from December through May as a second home to our northern part-time residents and seasonal tourists (affectionately dubbed, “snowbirds”). The weather is almost always warm with a couple of “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, image used with permission


Where to Stay


I recommend the 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 the Native Americans in Bradenton 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.


South Florida museum, bradenton, native america in bradenton
Some of the shells and how they were used by Native Americans in Bradenton at the South Florida Museum


The Calusa Indians


As I mentioned in Exploring Florida’s Ancient Myths on the Native American Heritage Trail, the footprint of Native Americans 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 to Bradenton, Florida.


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 are known as the “Shell People” and died out in the late 1700s/early 1800s from tribal conflicts and European disease. They did not make pottery but used shells for tools, jewelry, and mounds even building entire cities on the shells.


De Soto National Memorial Bradenton Florida, native america in Bradenton
A relic canoe at De Soto


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.


Mythology and Beliefs of the Calusa Indians


Supernatural Rulers 


  • These Native Americans in Bradenton 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 government, chiefdom.
  • The last ruled over wars.


Native Culture in the USA, South Florida museum, bradenton, native america in bradenton
A depiction of the Calusa Indians at the South Florida Museum


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 and thus resisted conversions to Catholicism.
  • Ceremonial tea 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 in order to cleanse, then hallucinate.


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


Places to Explore the Heritage of Native Americans in Bradenton


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.


kid Friendly, De Soto National Memorial Bradenton Florida
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. Be sure to inquire about the Native Americans in Bradenton.


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


De Soto National Memorial, Bradenton, Florida, Native America in Bradenton
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.
De Soto National Memorial Bradenton Florida, native america in florida
Some of the trails at De Soto
Each child receives a book, compass, and pencil to aid them on their own journey of exploration. At the end of the journey, 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
Ranger-led Kayak tours are offered on the weekends at 9:30. 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 and are closed only on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.
Portavant Temple Emerson POint, Palmetto, Native America in Bradenton
Portavant Temple Mound at Emerson Point Preserve Photo by Ebyabe – Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Portavant Temple at Emerson Point Park—Hike


A key point on the trail of Native Americans 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. 


South Florida museum, bradenton, native america in bradenton


The South Florida Museum—Educate


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.


South Florida museum, bradenton, native america in bradenton
A timeline of arrowheads 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.


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 hereabout 30 minutes south into South Sarasota.
  • Indian Mound Park link hereabout 45 minutes south into Englewood.


In Closing


Undoubtedly, if you’re planning a trip to Bradenton then you’re going to have a great time. 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 to explore 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.


If you’ve landed on this page then there’s a good chance you’re ready for an educational and fun adventure and I promise you will be inspired by Native Americans in Bradenton. So get out of the house, if you have kids they will enjoy the trip as well, and learn about the rich culture of these ancient people as you step back in time to walk where they walked, see the tools they used, and be immersed in the history of the area.


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


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

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


Christa Thompson

Christa Thompson is the Founder and Chief Editor of The Fairytale Traveler. She started traveling the world in 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 thoughts on “Native Americans in Bradenton Florida a Travel Guide

  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.

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

  3. 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.

  4. That helmet looks so heavy! Cool experience and love the hands on fun!

      1. 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).

  5. 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!

  6. 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.

  7. 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. 🙂

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

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