On Pine Island, authentic Florida is everywhere. It’s pretty hard to miss.
Just 30 minutes from Ft. Myers, Pine Island is one of the largest islands off Florida’s west coast. But it’s not your typical beach island destination. Surrounded by mangroves, this Florida island has surprisingly avoided major commercial development. “Real” Florida abounds. “Fishy” Florida rules.
Matlacha (Mat-la-shay) is the gateway town to Pine Island. It’s an historic fishing village, home to assorted motels and cottages, gift shops, bait and seafood shops, restaurants and unique, offbeat art galleries. As you pass through Matlacha, you’ll drive over the renowned “Fishinest Bridge” packed with anglers vying for their fresh daily catch.
If you are pressed for time and heading elsewhere on Pine Island, I have two Matlacha recommendations. Stop at the Lovegrove Gallery & Gardens and have a meal at the Olde Fish House Marina Restaurant. (Both are within walking distance of each other and easy to find off the main Pine Island Road.) I promise you’ll love me forever.
This is my favorite art gallery on the planet. Every inch of the Matlacha Lovegrove Gallery & Gardens is painted with bright, tropical, psychedelic colors – indoors and out. I felt like I was in a 60’s Love Fest & Peace-In. Lawlessness, disobedience and fun reign. This place is a “must-see” for any Beatles fan smitten with the “Fab Four.” You’ll also love the irresistible “fishy” fish paintings.
Bottom line, if you love fun, zany, irreverent art, owner and artist Leoma Lovegrove is your gal. If not in the market for art, the Gallery has trinkets, cards, wall signs, painted shells, and ridiculous stuff no one could possibly resist.
Olde Fish House Marina Restaurant
While working up an appetite at the Lovegrove Gallery, we inquired about an authentic lunch stop, and chose the Olde Fish House Marina Restaurant. Charmed by the restaurant, menu, food and the owners, I would venture to say this is one of the freshest and most reasonable seafood eateries in Florida. Customers order at the outside window counter. The fish is fresh-caught blackened, broiled, grilled or fried. Fish tacos are a specialty. We had tasty mullet and fritters with homemade hush puppies, coleslaw and key lime pie. All the desserts are freshly made. The back patio dining area sits adjacent to a boat dock. The ambiance of the restaurant was refreshingly authentic with funky Florida memorabilia everywhere. Home sweet home. The wall signs read: EAT MORE MULLET and EAT FISH – LOVE LONGER.
The Olde Fish House Marina & Restaurant, 4530 Pine Island Road, Matlacha
239-282-9588 (Restaurant); 239-282-9577 (Market)
Pine Island has five communities: Matlacha, Pine Island Center (central island with shopping, community services), St. James City (south end of the island, more than ½ the island residents live there), Bokeelia (north end community, tropical fruit and palm tree farms, marinas), Pineland (Randell Research Center & marinas).
Where there is fish, there is nature. Especially birds. You are bound to see osprey, herons, roseate spoonbills, wood storks, egrets, white pelicans, hawks, owls and more. There are three aquatic preserves and designated areas for birding and hiking. You can’t miss here.
Regarding accommodations, we stayed at the Tarpon Lodge in Pineland. It was comfortable, fairly reasonable with lovely waterfront views and in proximity to neighboring islands off Pine Island Sound. Across the street, we enjoyed the Randall Research Center, dedicated to the archeology and history of the area, particularly the Calusa Indian culture, which inhabited the area by building significant shell mounds and intricate canal systems while fishing in the rich estuaries.
My husband claims our retirement plan is to get a double-wide trailer and place it on Pine Island canal. He just wants to dock the boat and fish until we die.
I’m off to measure the double-wide for new furniture….