A Funky Florida Fishing Town: Things to Do in Matlacha
There's a quaint little fishing village in southwest Florida with a cool vibe and a whole lotta color goin' on.
The tiny and colorful hamlet is so compelling as you drive into town, it’s best to just find a parking space and start walking. But if you’re wondering if there are enough things to do in Matlacha, don’t. Just get here and it’ll come to you.
Mat-la-SHAY… It rolls off the tongue with as much twang as you're willing to give.
Located off the coast of Ft. Myers, the small spit of island between north Cape Coral and Pine Island is a great little town to chill out for the day in an atmosphere that's uniquely its own. Think 'Florida Fish Camp meets Andy Warhol in Key West' and you’ll get the idea. Matlacha stands out among the many quaint seaside towns in southwest Florida as the free spirit in the family.
In the 1990's, coming off some major changes which impacted the town's livelihood of commercial fishing, the sleepy town of Matlacha Island took a new direction and reinvented themselves as something unique and unexpected. Residents literally took a paint brush and palette, and reenergized their town with bright, tropical colors. Today the town enjoys a reputation as a funky arts community that fishes, a lot.
But you won't find a trace of neutral, organic design or South Beach chic, or the whitewashed beach style of neighboring Sanibel and Captiva just a stones throw away. No, Matlacha packs a vibrant punch of raucous, in-your-face color, where neon beats pastel and seashells become sculpture. Each time I visit, it's more jazzy than the last - even the telephone poles are painted!
When I noticed the "Don't Dump the Plan" signs along the road, I asked locals about the proposed changes by developers to the long-held Pine Island Plan seeking to expand and develop parcels around Pine Island. Increased development would almost certainly impact Matlacha Island and the entire area's delicate ecosystem around Pine Island, so residents are naturally concerned about the future preservation of their work over the last 20 years. Only time will tell.
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Things to Do in Matlacha
Matlacha is part of the Everglades ecosystem, and like most of the waters around the islands of southwest Florida, Pine Island and Matlacha Pass are teeming with so many varieties of fish, colorful wading and shore birds. So it's no surprise anglers have long regarded the area as some of the best fishing in the world. Whether from your own boat or rental, or from the bridge - also known as "The World's Fishingest Bridge" - there's always a great place to drop a line.
I can't think of a better place than Matlacha to explore the waters of southwest Florida. Kayakers, SUP boarders and others could easily spend days on the calm inlet backwaters and exploring the natural world teeming with fish and wildlife. While we sat at a local cafe enjoying our lunch of cold beer and fried cod bites (out of this world!), huge schools of fish hit even bigger schools of minnows and smaller bait fish along the surface of the back bay off the restaurant's deck, and I could see my husband practically drooling for his fishing rod to cast a few. Gulf Coast Kayak Rentals & Tours - 4120 Pine Island Rd. NW Matlacha FL
More than a dozen fishing boats and small water craft must have passed by in the course of an hour on the way out to Matlacha Pass. Around here, being on the water is what it's all about.
Shop the Funky Galleries
Something happens to you when you come to Matlacha - the slow pace, the funky vibe - I'm not sure which. You're forced to relax. And spending the afternoon browsing the shops, antique stores, and galleries seems the perfect way to unwind. The whimsical storefronts fit the quaintness of the town and are guaranteed to put some pop in your Instagram - every sleepy fishing village could really use a good dose of color!
One of my favorite galleries belongs to local artist Leoma Lovegrove, the outside of her lime green and pink gallery perfectly offsetting the vibrant, multi-colored canvases she's famous for. Look for the quirky white mannequins on the roof and her signature white-glove sunglasses.
Right next door is Wild Child Art Gallery, a bright contemporary gallery featuring the work of artist and owner Peggy McTeague, along with over 120 artists from around Florida. Textiles, jewelry, paintings, sculpture, and wood carvings. The gallery is jam-packed with beautiful creations perfectly curated and displayed. I especially loved the hanging stained glass sculpture in the window, made from colored glass and metal, with some carved sugar bowl lids and other beautiful objects thrown in.
Where to Stay in Matlacha
Matlacha is a small, local village, with limited accommodations, and what there is is Old-Florida-style. This is not Clearwater, or Sanibel, or Naples. Not much luxury, except for the drop-dead views outside.
To really get into the local vibe of this quiet barrier island, consider a stay at Matlacha Cottages, colorful and casual waterfront cottages that are great for families, but fill up quickly during the season, for good reason!
The Bridgewater Inn
The Bridgewater Inn sits right on the water at the small "Fishingest Bridge in the World" with the best sunset views across to Pine Island. It’s quaint, and somewhat dated. But those views!
Further north on Pine Island is peaceful Tarpon Lodge, a wonderful place to stay for that Old Florida feel and some of the best dining in southwest Florida. It may be the nicest place to stay on Pine Island. While it’s not in the heart of town, it’s just a 5 minute drive away.
For branded or luxury accommodations, stay in Cape Coral or Ft. Myers, just a few miles away. For luxury amenities, awesome swimming pools and a gorgeous view, consider the Westin Cape Coral Resort at Marina Village. Check details and rates.
Restaurants in Matlacha
And since it wouldn't be island-hopping without a cold beer or tropical drink, we always seem to end up at a local joint with a good crowd gathered listening to some live music. Sometimes it's Bert's on one side of the road, which has two different areas To relax in - a bar/poolroom up front and dining room with a water view out back - depending on your mood. Sometimes it's the Old Fish House Marina on the other side of the road, a hangout popular with bikers, plenty of parking for your rides, and good live music. Matlacha — and all of southwest Florida — is known for fresh seafood. It’s really one of the most unique food destinations in the US because of that. So if you like seafood, try it here!
Tarpon Lodge - 13771 Waterfront Dr, Bokeelia, FL
Berts - 4271 Pine Island Rd, Matlacha, FL
Old Fish House Marina Restaurant - 4530 Pine Island Rd NW, Matlacha, FL
Blue Dog Bar & Grill - 4597 Pine Island Rd NW, Matlacha, FL
If you love southwest Florida, and are making plans to visit Fort Myers, Sanibel, Captiva, Naples or Marco Island anytime soon, slow your pace down to "island time" and explore Matlacha for the day (or more). Because who wants a whitewashed beach vacation without a splash of neon color?
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