Pool underneath palm treesLiving room areaLounge chairs under umbrellas by the pool area at Bungalow Beach Resort

Old Florida Charm

Arriving at the Bungalow Beach Resort on Anna Maria Island changes your mood almost immediately. Just past the parking lot on this quick little bend of a gulf front road, you find yourself passing through the property's gazebo entrance. It's an almost ceremonial right of passage that requires you to leave your worries behind, live in your bathing suit and sandals and relinquish yourself to peace and serenity. To the unsuspecting guest, it's an oasis within an island.

Most guests are surprised to learn the property is actually a former army barracks (rumor passed down from previous owners). Today, each of the 15 charming cedar bungalows has been magically transformed into a romantic little getaway that preserves its 1930s clapboard construction and old Florida island charm. It's a very relaxing place to stay.

This beautiful place has bungalows that range from one room studio to three-bedrooms, and feature white wicker furniture, and the original architectural design of hardwood floors, bead-board walls and wood-beamed cathedral ceilings. Stepping inside one differs from most hotels. The white and beige interiors convince you immediately that the place is impeccably clean and fresh.

A variety of personal touches make you feel at home when staying at Bungalow Beach Resort. From plush linens, to your basket full of embroidered towels, flowers and candy . . . each visitor enjoys simple, upscale niceties that make this place special . . . without crossing the line of big, pretentious resorts. In fact, calling the place a "resort" at all seems out of sorts, since the homey feel and air of privacy leaves you often wondering if you might have the entire place to yourself.

Gayle Luper black and white portrait

When Gayle Luper purchased the resort in the late 90s, she knew beachfront property would be a good investment. More importantly, she was seeking a way to preserve her roots and create a business to support her family moving forward.

At the time, doctors gave her now former husband merely months to live, due to a heart condition. With four children at home, Gayle (a former insurance executive) was eager to find a family business that supported the group financially and kept them all together.

"My goal was to try to keep the family together. Rather than work insurance all day and come home to ask 'what did you do all day?' ... the children were with me," she reminisces.

Today, both properties remain a family-run business, with many of Gayle's sons and daughters, nieces and nephews all making any visit a memorable experience. And Gayle has turned much of her attention to supporting over 35 community organizations, from Meals on Wheels to American Cancer Society, local schools, and even Red Tide research.

She personally completed the landscaping at both locations, creating a tropical, Caribbean environment full of exotic foliage. In fact, more than 60 palm trees canopy just one acre at both properties, surrounding guests in privacy.

Hibiscus bushes and trees, Mammy Crotons, Petit Pink Oleanders, and umpteen exotic palm and seasonal flowers (geraniums, etc.) create an almost rain forest-like oasis on a private, powdery beach. Many of the plants are identified with little landscape signs.

"We wanted to create a special getaway that embraces and preserves the spirit of the island. We wanted to take guests away from their normal surroundings and transport them into a relaxing, enjoyable state of mind through a clean and fresh island feel."

Today, more than 6,000 guests visit both properties each year, for simple weekends away, extended vacations, family reunions, wedding parties, honeymoons and anniversaries.

"My parents moved to Florida 50 years ago. Yet growing up here, we didn't visit the beach as often as we'd like because we were busy. I thought buying a beach resort would help remind my own family of why we live in Florida," she says. "For local Florida guests . . . we want them to remember why they moved here. For out-of-state visitors, we hope to introduce them to the environment and our beautiful beaches, and entice them to visit."