Special thanks to Southern Living Magazine for highlighting Tarpon Lodge in its Spring 2022 Issue: South’s Best — Your favorite Scenic Drives, Beach Towns, Barbecue Joints, Family Getaways, State Parks, Bakeries, and Resorts.
This colorful coastal village looks as if someone flew over South Florida and dropped a crayon box.
Photo Credit: Robbie Caponetto
Think of Matlacha (pronounced MATT-luh-SHAY) as Mayberry meets Woodstock. Locals in town—and on the island that shares its name—offer the kind of warm welcome you’d expect from a small Southern town. But Matlacha’s proximity to the Gulf of Mexico and its chill island vibe attract outdoor adventurers, as well as free-spirited artists and entrepreneurs who have set up shop here.
Come in July and you’ll have the run of the place, with many spots open for limited hours; show up between December and April and the joint will be jumpin’. Either way, stop by Bert’s Bar & Grill, snag a table outside on the dock, and get acclimated (bertsbar.com).
We all have those favorite vacation spots that keep bringing us back. It’s that feeling of peace and comfort that draws us again and again. That’s the way it is for me and Pine Island. I’ve been there four times and still want more.
There are any number of reasons to visit laid-back Pine Island off Florida’s Gulf Coast near Fort Myers. There is solitude and relaxation. Art galleries, fresh seafood, peace, and quiet are in abundance. There are no beaches, no hi-rise condos, not much traffic. But the biggest reason people come here is to fish!
Shake off the buzzy East Coast and nuzzle up to some Old Florida charm
If travel isn’t front and center yet on people’s agendas, there is a solution. Try rediscovering your own backyard for a little easy, close-to-home getaway. These small-town destinations will take you just down the road—but into some other worlds entirely.
An artists studio in Matlacha. Photo: Don Johnson.
This impossibly bright little artist colony in Lee County between Pine Island and Little Pine Island off Cape Coral on the mainland is just short of three hours from Boca, but may as well be on another planet. Matlacha was once a fishing village, in the South Florida days people made a living fishing for mullet instead of selling real estate. When a 1992 ban on net fishing was enacted, those days were over. The mullet fishermen burned their boats, and the town reinvented itself as“a funky arts community that likes to fish,”according to one descrip- tion. This is a place to wander through the art galleries and little boutiques, maybe rent a paddle- board, stay overnight if you have a hankering. A popular choice is the modest and comfy Bridgewater Inn with its big porch, or go a few miles north on Pine Island to the Tarpon Lodge in Bokeelia, which is the top pick for both food and lodging. Other people like Sandy Hook Fish & Rib House, Bert’s, Blue Dog Bar & Grill—but there are plenty of places to get your fish on. This is tiny, laid-back and a great day trip.
Plan your escape to these off-the-beaten-beach-path gems, from wild mangrove islets to salty stilt-house hideaways (coordinates included!)
26.5958° N, 82.1115° W
THE GOODS A half hour from Fort Myers and a world away with a dose of Old Florida charm including brightly colored cottages, fruit-tree nurseries, and seafood dives. BEST ESCAPE Long weekend (book a day of fishing) at Tarpon Lodge; tarponlodge.com.
This is an excerpt of an article by Tracey Minkin which originally appeared in Costal Living.