Matlacha and Pine Island all you need to know & 7 Things To Do

Pine Island, Florida Pine Island - accessible only from Cape Coral and by boat - is a charming stretch of waterfront that's some 17 miles long by two miles wide. It’s not a place for lapping up the sun’s rays on a blanket by the water’s edge. Gnarly, twisted mangroves fringe the island instead of the expected sandy white beaches. You also won’t find the high rises, concrete and blacktop typical of more "touristy", beachfront locales. What you'll discover is a quaint, secluded spot dotted by fishing bungalows, old country cottages and hospitality as intense as the bright Florida sun.

Island Time Begins Here
Pine Island

But whatever your plans, be forewarned. As the sign at the Bridgewater Inn advises, “Island Time Begins Here.” 

There are no traffic lights, schools or churches on this tiny isle, and while cheerful and friendly, the 750 or so year-round residents are rarely in a hurry. So kick back, check your worries and cares at the foot of the Matlacha Pass Bridge, and prepare to have a relaxed, slow-paced, old-fashioned good time.

Pine Island History

Pine Island actually consists of 5 separate communities: Matlacha Island  (Mat-la-shay), Pine Island Center, Bokeelia (Bo-keel-ya), Pineland and St. James City. Each treasures its own distinctive history and ambiance.

Although considered part of Pine Island, Matlacha technically occupies a smaller island in Matlacha Pass to the east. Until 20 years ago, Matlacha was an “old Florida” fishing community.

In 1992, a voter referendum led to a ban on net fishing designed to protect the popular recreational fish typically snared along with the mullet being targeted by commercial fishermen. Immediately following passage of the net ban, Matlacha’s fishermen shot holes in their boats and set them on fire. The pyre of burning fishing boats could be seen from Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel Island, and it signaled the end of Matlacha’s existence as a commercial fishery.

Today, there are still a few shrimp boats tied up to the working docks, and while everyone swears you can see the grisled, bearded holdouts from the mullet fishing days about town, Matlacha is now a highly-regarded artists community. Appropriately, the shacks and bungalows that the fishermen once called home are now splashed with bright funky colors and house art galleries, gift and island wear boutiques, seafood restaurants, rental cottages and small motels.

Famous musicians like Jimmy Buffet drop into the local bar to toss back a few brews and play an unannounced set or two, while authors like Robert Macomber spin tales behind laptop monitors in darkened corners. And most of the fishing now takes place on the bridge from Cape Coral to Matlacha which has the strange nickname of “Fishing-est Bridge in the World” due to the volume of people who fish off it, night and day.

Matlacha's Art Galleries

Matlacha - Pine Island
If art is your passion, there’s lots to see and it’s all within easy walking distance. The tiny island has 6 art galleries: Bert’s Pine Bay Gallery, Frills (featuring bead and other craft jewelry), Island Visions (colorful Floridian paintings and prints),Lovegrove Gallery & Gardens (wide array of eccentric pieces, from paintings to painted furniture by artist Leoma Lovegrove), Trader’s Hitching Post (Native American art and jewelry) and WildChild Art Gallery (serious to whimsical, beach scenes to wildlife and sea life motives).

Art lovers and collectors from all over the world trek to Matlacha Island in February for the Pine Island Art Festival held inside the community center in the 20-acre park that opened in 1959, and Spring Breakers and other fun lovers flock to the island each March for the annual Mullet Toss Championship, which will be celebrating its 25th year in 2015.

Kayaking around Pine Island and Matlacha Pass

Matlacha Island is also known for great kayaking. In Calusa, Matlacha means “shallow water,” and there is plenty of it. Mangrove creeks lead into hidden lakes where the Jacks and Snook are waiting. Roseate Spoonbills, flocks of ducks and many heron congregate out of the wind in tidal pools and wetlands at the top of Little Pine Key. The Great Calusa Blueway winds down the east side of Matlacha Pass, through places with names like Big Dead Creek, Mud Hole and Buzzards Bay. Read our article to learn more about kayaking around Pine Island .

Although Boca Grande on Gasparilla Island to the north is popularly recognized as the tarpon capital of the world, the intercoastal waters and the Gulf of Mexico around Pine Island and Cape Coral yield everything from lady fish and amberjacks to redfish, grouper, Spanish mackerel and kings. All of them can be accessed from Matlacha, where Olde Fish House Marina and Viking Marina rent boats and several bait and tackle shops can outfit the both the amateur or more serious fisherman or woman with everything they need for a fun-filled day on the water.

Dining in Matlache on Pine Island 

Although small, Matlacha has a surprising number of excellent choices for those who like to combine fine art with fine dining.

If you are looking for a unique dining experience,Sandy Hook Fish and Rib House offers one of the best views in Matlacha. From their casual, nautical-themed dining room, you can enjoy dolphins playing, fish jumping and birds of a feather sticking together while feasting on locally-caught seafood, lobster shipped in daily from the Florida Keys, babyback ribs and succulent Prime Rib.

The view is equally breathtaking from Bert’s Bar and Grill on the eastern side of the Matlacha Pass Bridge. At Bert’s, guests can choose between canopy-shaded outdoor seating alongside the docks that extend into a bay that spills into Matlacha Pass, or the air-conditioned  indoor dining room with surprisingly sizable tables. While there are lots of shrimp, oysters and other seafood selections on the menu, the fare at Bert’s gravitates toward burgers and deli items, including Reubens and Philly Steaks. Bert’s is a Matlacha staple, dating back to the 1930s, when it was built as a “sweet shoppe,” with the hotel being added in 1941. Bert’s Bar has gone through several transformations, from the original “Mother’s” to Tri Dilly Inn in the ’70s and finally to Bert’s Bar in honor of former owner Bert Clubb, a famous Lee County bar operator.

For art lovers who prefer Italian, Matlacha offers Miceli’s. The Miceli family originated in Palermo, Sicily. The family immigrated to the United States in the early 70’s and opened a successful bakery in Connecticut. They shifted to the restaurant business after nearly 15 years, first in East Hartford, Connecticut, and 12 successful years later in West Virginia, where their children took control of the business. Six years ago, they brought Miceli’s to Matlacha, where it’s been a love affair ever since.

Things To Do in Pine Island

Only a short twenty-minute drive from Cape Coral is Pine Island. Whether you want relaxation, art galleries, or fresh seafood there is something for everyone. While there are no beaches, there is a plethora of fishing opportunities, parks, galleries and just a laid-back Island feeling. In fact, Pine Island is known as a fisherman’s dream. The Island has about 2,000 residents but sees a lot more traffic in the winter months due to the snowbirds. It is a great destination for families or couples where they can experience true island time.

Fishing Pine Island

The biggest business in Pine Island is Fishing! You can find snook, redfish, sea trout, tarpon, and more in the waters surrounding Pine Island. Whether you fish with guides, from kayaks, or from the two-lane drawbridge that marks the entry to the island you will hear locals say, “Fish on!”

The Island boasts of having the “World’s Fishiest Bridge” which is the drawbridge on Route 78 into the island’s first town, Matlacha. The bridge stays busy through the day and night.
The fishing season is active all year round, but especially from October to May. In June, the world’s richest tarpon fishing tournament takes place in the nearby Boca Grande channel and has a prize of over $100,000.

Dining Pine Island

The gateway to Pine Island is the town of Matlacha, which lines both sides of the two-lane road leading onto the island. Many of the island’s best eateries line the street of Matlacha.

Notable restaurants Pine Island:

  • The Yucatan Waterfront Restaurant for seafood and great burgers.
  • Miceli’s for amazing Italian food and live music.
  • Bert’s Bar and Grill offers a little of everything.
  • Ragged Ass Saloon and Restaurant in St. James City is a biker’s favorite and features live music outdoors.
  • Capt’n Con’s for the Catch of the Day. They’ll even prepare your own catch from the fishing pier right across the street. It doesn’t get any fresher than that.
  • Offshore is Cabbage Key, a small island with a popular restaurant and a few lodge rooms. It’s (only accessible by boat). Cabbage Key was said to be the inspiration for Jimmy Buffett’s “Cheeseburger in Paradise.”
  • For fine dining: the four-star restaurant at the Tarpon Lodge. They have fresh seafood, and an extensive wine list, and some of the best Key Lime Pie.

Lodging Pine Island

There is a wide selection of lodging on Pine Island. Airbnb and VRBO list homes and condos on the island for seasonal rentals. There are small Mom-and-Pop Hotels in Matlacha including the Angler’s Inn and Matlacha Cottages for short-term stays. The Beachouse Inn in Bokeelia you can go across the street to the fishing pier and take advantage of the Harbor. The Tarpon Lodge has upscale rooms and cottages, and a lot of history. It is owned by the Wells family who also owns Cabbage Key. For RVers, there is the Pine Island Resort KOA in St. James City.

Kayak Pine Island

If you are looking to explore the waters via kayak, then look no further! We recommend Gulf Coast Kayak in Matlacha for renting kayaks. They offer guided kayak fishing trips, mangrove tours, and sunset paddles. For the experienced adventure kayakers, the six-mile paddle from Pineland Marina to the Barrier Island at Cayo Costa State Park via the open waters of Pine Island Sound is highly encouraged. People tend to make a short stay out of the experience, camping at the park for a night or two before heading back.

In addition to kayaking, you can explore the waters via boat. A couple boat tours are:
Captain Jack’s Pontoon Tiki Boat Tours. They offer happy hour, sunset, and fishing tours.
Tropic Star Cruises provides ferry service to Cabbage Key, the State Park at Cayo Costa Island, and Boca Grande at the entrance to Charlotte Harbor. Cruises operate out of Pineland Marina and reservations are required.

Art Scene Pine Island

Pine Island has a large and active arts community. Art galleries are found around the island, with several along the main street in Matlacha. Pop into a few shops and you will certainly find local talent displayed. A few to be sure to visit are: Matlacha Menagerie, Bokeelia Art Gallery, and Pine Island Art Association (where you can take a painting class!).

Nature Trails Pine Island

There are nine nature trails around the island perfect for the hikers or walkers in your group. Most trails are short and often soggy during the rainy season. You’ll be sure to see lots of plants and animals local to the area. We recommend bringing binoculars to make sure you don’t miss a special bird! You can also bike or walk the 17-mile length of the island from Bokeelia on the north end to St. James City on the southern tip.

The Calusa Heritage Trail, across the road from Tarpon Lodge, offers visitors a tour of the 2,000-year history of the Calusa Indians, the original occupants of the island. There is a museum and a short trail (<1 mile). featuring historical markers that tell the story of the Calusa.

Many Vesteva vacation homes are located near Matlacha and Pine Island. Book now for great deals for the Summer Season!