A Taste of Old Florida on Pine Island
By Kai Rambow
While time travel doesn’t exist – yet, you can experience Florida as it was decades ago. Staying at the 1926 historic and charming Tarpon Lodge you can get the feel of old Florida – but with air conditioning and other creature comforts.
This is a different, enchanting Florida, perfect for a quiet getaway, foodies, tropical fruit lovers and art lovers. Pine Island is the largest island on the gulf coast, but relatively unknown. Boating, fishing and agriculture are the traditional activities here, which means fewer tourists.
Several readers raved about this lodge and the praise is well deserved. Beautiful rooms set on a peaceful waterfront location make this a relaxing destination. The menu in the restaurant is creative and the dining experience is upscale with being overly formal.
Martha Stewart, Mangos and More
Martha Stewart Living magazine loves the choices here. Pine Island Tropicals was featured in the June 2016 issue as the winner of the annual Food & Agriculture award.
Donna and Gary Schneider have run their farm since 1993. Hurricane Charley and a big fire have not damped their enthusiasm for growing tropical plants. In addition to growing over 100 types of mangoes, Donna Schneider has created jams (mango, mango pineapple, peach strawberry, mango ginger), chutneys, barbeque sauces and fruit breads. You can walk around, see the variety of plants and then try to figure out what you’d like to take home with you.
Mangos are normally in season from mid-June to mid-September, with the peak being July. Everything is a month later this year, so mango lovers can have a great experience over the next two months.
Nearby is The Mango Factory. They only sell fresh fruit, so no jams or other creations.
Calusa Heritage Trail
The Calusa Indians were tall, powerful, economically successful and artistic. They controlled Southwest Florida for centuries. Pine Island has been inhabited for 2,000 years.
A significant explanation of their lives and history is on this trail. Well marked paths, explanatory markers make this a worthwhile excursion. Sometimes it’s difficult for us to imagine what it must have looked like. Beautiful illustrations help us see the ancient village and man-made canals of the Calusas.
The trail is right across from Tarpon Lodge. If you’re staying here, do this walk early in the morning before the heat and humidity rises. Be sure to use bug repellant. Even with a very leisurely pace and stopping for several wildlife photographs, this only took 45 minutes.
You will pass this fishing village turned artist colony on the way in and out. Matlacha (pronounced Mat-la-SHAY) is a fun destination for the fresh seafood and art.
Leoma Lovegrove and her gallery is the most famous here. Her artwork has been incorporated into a wide variety of products at Bealls. Right next door is the WildChild Art Gallery. The wide variety of art is a visual treat. Check out the outdoor display in the back.
Two doors down is the Blue Dog restaurant. The fish tacos have a mango salsa and are very filling. There are 11 local micro-brewery beers on tap with surprisingly wide variety of taste.
Cabbage Key Plus
If you’d like to get out on the water or to the beach, there are trips to Cabbage Key and Cayo Costa State Park. Cabbage Key is four miles across the water and even quieter than Pine Island.
Boaters and daytrippers significantly boost activity here visiting the very popular restaurant. The rice and black beans with mahi mahi is a delicious meal choice. Tarpon Lodge can guide guests through several excursion options.
Special thanks to Rob Wells, Tarpon Lodge and several readers who recommended I cover Pine Island.
Tips for a Great Trip
Suggested Trip Planner: For a mini getaway, aim for a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday night stays. Leave about 2 p.m. Arrive at Tarpon Lodge, check in and have a wonderful dinner at the lodge.
Next morning walk to the Calusa exhibits and trail. Afterwards take a short drive to Pine Island Tropicals. Return to the hotel for lunch and spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing and out of the heat.
Last morning, check out and stop in Matlacha on way out. Visit a few galleries and have an early lunch. Take easy drive back home.
For a one day trip, leave home around 10 a.m. Visit Tarpon Lodge for lunch. Stop at Pine Island Tropicals, then head to Matlacha to visit a few galleries.
Getting There: Pine Island is a mostly highway, two hour drive. Be sure to use GPS. Once on the island you can easily miss a road or location.
For those opting to stay a night or two, there is a Winn Dixie and a CVS near the center of the island, if needed.
When to Go: Now through October is a great time. Mangos are in full season, crowds are smaller and rates are lower.
What to Wear: Sunscreen and bug spray are important. The breeze keeps away most of the bugs, most of the time. Should guests forgot repellant, Tarpon Lodge has thoughtfully provided repellants for guests.
Tarpon Lodge & Restaurant
13771 Waterfront Drive
Bokeelia, FL 33922
Pine Island Tropicals
12870 Stringfellow Rd.
Bokeelia, FL 33922
Blue Dog Restaurant
(WildChild and Lovegrove Galleries close by)
4597 Pine Island Road
Matlacha, FL 33993