Spend the day— or longer— in this colorful island community
Some come wearing walking shoes. Others arrive by boat, while still others travel by car. But come they do, from distances both near and far. Unless they are one of the nearly seven hundred folks who happen to live in colorful and charming Matlacha.
This historic Lee County town ( pronounced Mat- la- shay) is, for the most part, located on an island that’s nestled between two bridges, although the town stretches beyond the island itself. Matlacha Bridge, a drawbridge that connects the island to the mainland, is also called “The World’s Most Fishingest Bridge.” No doubt this popularity is due to the plethora of snook, redfish, snapper, and other game fish that lies below in Matlacha Pass. Another bridge that connects Matlacha Island to Little Pine Island is also a popular fishing spot.
Although much of the historic downtown area of Matlacha is nestled between those two bridges, the town begins to take shape once you turn onto Pine Island Road and head west. You’ll first see Tropicaya Fruit & Gift Mart, where fresh fruit smoothies are a must. “Mango is my fave,” says local William Paul Brown, who lives in Matlacha Isles.
Shortly after, you’ll note the many colorful businesses, restaurants, motels, and homes for which Matlacha is famous, all lining either side of the road. They’re painted in bright shades of yellow, green, blue, and pink, all reminiscent of Old Key West.
The first pink building on the right is Island Decor & More. This fifty- year- old building used to be a fish and ice house. Nowadays, visitors stop, shop, and enjoy a photo op with the giant shark statue out front.
Just over the first bridge lies the downtown area that’s often bustling with tourists carrying whimsical shopping bags, photographers capturing soaring ospreys in midair, fishermen wearing white boots ( Matlacha Reeboks), and young children fresh
from the playground at Matlacha Community Park. Visitors come for a full day, an entire weekend, a whole week, or more, because there’s enough to see and do to keep anyone’s itinerary full.
You can enjoy some of the newer offerings, such as a relaxing treatment at the family- run Spa 33 or a fresh seafood lunch at Mulletville, or check out some of the established galleries and shops. The town spans about a two- mile stretch, so just about anyone with a good pair of walking shoes can cover the distance.
“Every time I entertain visitors, we make a point of stopping into the unique gift stores and art galleries, as well as enjoying
VISITORS COME FOR A FULL DAY, AN ENTIRE WEEKEND, A WHOLE WEEK, OR MORE, BECAUSE THERE’S ENOUGH TO SEE AND DO TO KEEP ANYONE’S ITINERARY FULL.
the great selection of food and drink at the various restaurants,” says Brown. And for him, a trip to Great Licks for an ice- cream cone is always a must.
While the historic town offers all kinds of attractions, the waters that surround it are equally impressive. Depending on the season, you’ll likely find jacks, mack- erel, sheepshead, and more swimming in them, along with plenty of playful dolphins diving alongside.
Serving up some of the fresh catches are seafood restaurants like Andy’s Island Seafood ( the lime- green building) and the Olde Fish House Marina ( covered with murals of fishermen), both located near
MATLACHA BRIDGE IS ALSO CALLED “THE WORLD’S MOST FISHINGEST BRIDGE.” NO DOUBT THIS
POPULARITY IS DUE TO THE PLETHORA OF SNOOK, REDFISH, SNAPPER, AND OTHER GAME FISH THAT LIES BELOW IN MATLACHA PASS.
the Matlacha Bridge. Many diners tie up their boats at these favorite spots while they enjoy lunch and an ice- cold beer. On the west end of Matlacha sits the Sandy Hook Rib and Fish House, where delicious seafood and a breathtaking view of Matlacha Pass are both served up in a fanciful, nautical setting.
The fish aren’t the only ones who enjoy the area’s warm waters. Boaters, kayakers, and paddleboarders can all be found in the Pass, which is also part of the Great Calusa Blueway Paddling Trail, a 190- mile marked canoe and kayak trail.
Overnight guests often stay in the cozy hotels that line either side of Pine Island Road. Many offer picturesque views where egrets, ospreys, pelicans, and eagles can easily be spotted.
“Our guests enjoy a glorious waterfront view of Matlacha Pass, where they can also reflect on the remnants of the Calusa Indian culture [ once found in these parts],” says Marta Gibbons who, with her husband, Michael, owns and manages the three brightly painted historic units that make up Matlacha Cottages. The camaraderie between the local innkeepers and other businesses, says Gibbons, results in a pleasant experience for all.
What’s offered on land and by sea is certainly special. But what makes Matlacha even more memorable is the warm hospitality and friendliness extended to all who come to visit. Ann Marie O’Phelan is a local writer who has spent many a day in Matlacha.
Matlacha is known for its charming atmosphere, whimsical touches, and buildings done up in bright colors reminiscent of Old Key West.
The newly redone Matlacha Bridge is a popular spot for fishing.
Fresh catches from the waters around Matlacha are served at Andy’s Island Seafood ( above); Matlacha Cottages features three waterfront units offering peaceful views of the area ( top and bottom left).