Driving onto Pine Island is like stepping back in time to Old Florida. There’s still just one way on and one way off this largest of Florida’s barrier islands, passing through the tiny fishing hamlet of Matlacha with its funky shops, galleries, and open air bars, then over a draw bridge – affectionately nicknamed “The World’s Fishingest Bridge”.
If you sail in on your yacht, you might never know you’re just a stone’s throw from the bustling coastal city of Ft. Myers, but the rest of us will navigate the bustling traffic over bridges, causeways, and through Cape Coral to get here. That’s OK, the better to appreciate the slower pace.
We were on our way to Tarpon Lodge, Pine Island, one of the last remaining Florida-style sportsmen lodges in this part of southwest Florida. And as we headed north on the island’s one main road, I had the feeling I’d been here before, with fleeting memories and treasured photographs of my grandfather on his annual fishing trips to Florida coming back to me. Pine Island is 18 miles long from Bokeelia at the north end to St. James City at the southern end, and just 2 miles wide, and is close to Sanibel and Captiva Islands as the crow flies. We drove miles of mango orchards and palm tree nurseries before arriving at Tarpon Lodge just after lunch.
We were guests of Tarpon Lodge during our stay, however as always, all opinions are ours alone based on first hand experience.
We’re honored to have been chosen by Coastal Living Magazine as one of their 50 Secret Places. You can read more in the March issue on newsstands now.
Pine Island, Florida The Tarpon Lodge
A salty dose of Old Florida culture, and surprisingly within reach
Old Florida is having a serious moment these days, and this island perched off the Gulf Coast feels a million miles–and years–away from the hurly burly of Fort Myers. To make the escape complete, bed down at the gracious, old-school Tarpon Lodge. Rates start at $115; tarponlodge.com
A Florida Gulf Coast View at Tarpon Lodge on Pine Island
As this review goes live, many people in the USA and Canada are probably wishing they could be staying at a place like Tarpon Lodge on Pine Island, Florida. Far away from wintry gusts, ice storms, and snow, the grounds here are shaded by palm trees and the orange sun sets each night over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
This cozy lodge with the charm of old Florida is north of Fort Myers, on a large island that’s mostly residential. To get here you head west from I-75 toward the Gulf and cross onto the island through the colorful town of Matlacha, where it’s worth stopping for a bite to eat or at least some ice cream. After a meandering drive on roads that are seldom crowded, you get to the two-story collection of buildings making up Tarpon Lodge, next to a marina filled with pleasure fishing boats. You can charter one for some fishing, maybe snagging a big namesake tarpon, or explore the islands nearby that extend north from Sanibel and Captiva. (The lodge here shares ownership with the long-established Cabbage Key Inn and restaurant—the only place to stay on that small island with no roads.)
When I first moved to Florida two years ago, I was amazed at the peace and quiet in the part of the state I lived in. But nothing I’ve experienced to date can compare with the peace and serenity I experienced during my stay at the Tarpon Lodge on beautiful Pine Island.
The Florida of today doesn’t reflect the tenacity of those who first settled the area, and it is difficult to find vestiges of early Southwest Florida. Before the Matlacha Bridge was built, the only access to Pine Island was by boat, and to build without power or easy access showed the commitment to this area by early residents. As time evolved, less and less properties have maintained a true history as that of Tarpon Lodge, 13771 Waterfront Drive, offering a view into the past.
Southwest Florida has an entirely different vibe because tourism is not the center of its culture. Tourism is woven into its fabric, and its environment is authentically native.
My base during my kayak fishing extravaganza was Tarpon Lodge, an early 20th century fishing camp that evokes images of old Florida. Its whitewashed exterior houses and understatedly lavish rooms are scrupulously clean. It is the cleanest place I have ever stayed. It’s comfortable and it is warmly welcoming. Miss Laura and I stayed there last year as well, and its high quality was consistent.
The lightning show from late-night storms was spectacular from my balcony.
The Tarpon Lodge restaurant offers a diverse selection of surf and turf options, including a filet mignon so tender that it practically falls apart at the touch of a fork. You’ll be wobbling at the end of the entree, and the desserts will deliver the knockout blow. The head waiter, Frankie, is a master at his craft.
Pine Island Sound is located just northwest of Fort Myers, Florida. The body of water is fronted on the inland side by Pine Island and to the west by Sanibel, Captiva, North Captiva and Cayo Costa islands that separate its waters from the Gulf of Mexico. The passes connecting the sound to the Gulf are veritable highways for tarpon and other game fish at all times of the year. Also the mangrove-lined islands, creek shores and inland lakes are magnets for snook and redfish.
There are places in Southwest Florida that no matter how long you’ve lived here; you may have never experienced. Tarpon Lodge on Pine Island is one of those gems.
Off the beaten path, it has a rich history and a great reputation as a launching point for all kinds of water adventures. Dating back to the 1920’s, the property has been a private residence, a rehab facility and now a casually elegant fishing lodge.
For decades the location has been popular for sports fishing, Tarpon in particular. That was the inspiration for the name when the Well’s family, residents of SW Florida since the 1970’s, bought the property in 1999.
The bright white lodge is a beacon in the middle of lush green grass, swaying palms, blue skies and lapping water of the Pine Island Sound. With the feel of a bed and breakfast the lodge has wooden floors and a fireplace in the cozy bar for those rare evenings when there’s a chill in the air. Eight rooms spiral off the lounge.
One of the keys to the success of Tarpon Lodge is its name. Evoking Florida’s past as an untamed destination for big-game fishermen, Tarpon Lodge on secluded Pine Island has filled its rooms every weekend from President’s Day to Easter. The average waterfront room rate is $185, equivalent to what some hotels on the better-known island of Sanibel charge.