Pirates Breakdown’s mini-tips for exploring the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Spring Training home of Bradenton, Florida for baseball fans (and people who love them).
Right now, all eyes are on Bradenton, Florida as the Pittsburgh Pirates ramp their season up to the full-throttle 162-game regular MLB season schedule. If you’re craving live baseball, there’s still plenty of time to catch the real thing in a setting you just can’t get in the Steel City.
Bradenton, with its relaxed attitude, beach accessibility and abundance of restaurants and breweries provides the perfect backdrop for baseball in these late days of winter. And, if you happen to be crazy – er – I mean, not a baseball fan, perhaps traveling with someone who is, there’s plenty to do before, during and after games, too.
For Baseball Fans
The Pittsburgh Pirates’ Spring Training games are underway and they are a special sort of magic. Everyone says that Spring Training games don’t
matter – but don’t tell that to the crowd inside LECOM Park. The atmosphere inside the ballpark, which is consistently rated among fan favorites, is a reflection of Spring Training itself – chill and fun.
If you’re going to LECOM Park, take heed that parking is tough. There are lots available on a first come, first served basis, but they fill up quickly. Many of the businesses around the Park open their lots up for parking for a price. My recommendation is to head two blocks over from LECOM Park to the Village of the Arts. The artist’s community where the residents live and work in beautifully restored and sometimes colorfully painted bungalows turned galleries. They also offer parking for a fee. By parking there, you can support the artists living there and if you happen to be with a non-baseball person, they can hang in the Village while you go off and enjoy yourself. Win-win.
A few blocks up Ninth Street from LECOM Park is Motorworks Brewing Company. It’s a brewery first and foremost with a large, well-kept bar attached. They boast a vast selection of beers: the Midnight Espresso porter is bold but not overwhelming and the Grapefruit IPA is not nearly as bitter as typical IPAs, perhaps balanced out by the refreshing citrus notes. They also have some really interesting pepper-infused beers that are worth a sample. There’s a Florida law that prevents them from having a kitchen on the same site as a brewery (at least that’s what the bartender told me), so they host a number of food trucks on a rotating basis that serve up a variety of tasty, if not a touch expensive, fare.
Minor League camp is underway at Pirate City, the team’s training and rehabilitation facility, a few miles from LECOM Park. This offers you an opportunity to watch Pirates prospects train.
First off, driving to Pirate City you will think you’re lost. Who would imagine that a world-class baseball facility would be located along a non-descript street off of a Florida state route lined with modest ranch houses with chain-link fenced in yards? But there it is. Parking at Pirate City is reserved for those with business there, so head all the way around the complex and park in the grass along the road leading into the Municipal Golf course. The folks minding the gravel paths that lead into the complex are warm, friendly and full of great information. Be sure to chat them up on the way in and out.
The One Stop You Must Make…
After taking in some farm-style baseball, take a left out of the Muni Course access road and head straight to Mixon’s Farm. It is the quintessential Florida orange grove/farm stand complete with tractor train tours and store that sells everything. Skip all of that and head to the window towards the back of the store that sells the Orange Swirl. This created-by-the-angels cool creamy-tart concoction is the perfect combination of vanilla ice cream and fresh orange juice sherbet-like ice cream and is the perfect complement to the balmy Florida sunshine. Get the cone and – this is very important – do not decide it’s time to watch your intake of sweets. Skip lunch if you have to and order the large.
However, if you are interested in lunch, 3 Keys Brewing and Eatery is just a few miles from Mixon’s on Manatee. Their Sam Adams Nitro Coffee Stout is bitter in all of the best ways and tastes like a cold brew with a bit of beer added. It clocks in with an ABV of 5.8%. So if you’re alone and tooling around the city in a badass 3-door Hyundai Veloster hatchback like I was, this is a one and done beer. If you’re not and are looking to take advantage of the Florida/citrus connection, try the Tis the Saison with its sweet orange peel notes or the Main Squeeze Hefe with a ton of lemon and lime flavor.
3 Keys also serves food. Order at the bar. The salad with shredded chicken was fine – I ordered it with optional black beans on it which did seem to freak the staff out just a touch. Obviously there are so many more options for food in Bradenton, and I can’t wait to expand my experiences when I go back again.
For Non-Baseball Fans
Bradenton is home to many well-known medical facilities where you can have your head examined for not liking baseball…KIDDING, of course.
Since my visit to Bradenton was pretty much one big baseball and beer festival (with a little wine in my Air BNB, for health purposes), I spoke with the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau as well as the amazing Johnette Isham at Realize Bradenton, to get the low-down on some non-baseball alternatives in The Friendly City.
First off, Bradenton is home to some of the greatest beaches in the state of Florida. 16 miles of “sugar white beaches” according to the CVB, which boast an impressive variety of options for activities including snorkeling, shelling, paddle boarding, horseback riding (Horse surfing) and beach volleyball. Conde Nast Traveler readers recently rated Coquina Beach on Anna Maria Island as one of the world’s top beaches for perfect sand.
A Surprising Hub for Arts
Along with the Village of the Arts, Bradenton is alive with arts and culture. Mainly Art supports arts-related activities and hosts artists selling their wares at their Fourth St. location. Public art is on display along the city’s Riverwalk, a 1.5 mile ADA-accessible path along the river with worldwide acclaim. Nearby Sarasota hosts a huge number of galleries, including the renowned John and Mabel Ringling Museum of Art and the equally close St. Petersburg hosts the Dali Museum, with a large collection of works by Salvador Dali.
Shopping is abundant in Bradenton. From small family owned local shops and boutiques on Anna Maria Island’s Pine Avenue to Main Street in Lakewood Ranch to the designer and department stores of the Ellenton Premium Outlets, this city has it all. And if you venture into Sarasota, you find even more, like the well-known and must-see St. Armand’s Circle shops.
Bradenton, Florida, is a moderately-sized city thumbing its nose at the stereotype of beachside Florida retirement community. From its thriving arts culture to booming shopping and restaurant scene, Bradenton is morphing into a warm weather destination that doesn’t need the siren song of baseball to lure visitors from far and wide. That ii has baseball doesn’t hurt, though.