If art is your passion, there’s lots to see in Matlacha, and it’s all within easy walking distance. The tiny island has 8 art galleries: Bert’s Pine Bay Gallery, Bonnie’s Art Gallery, Frills(featuring bead and other craft jewelry),Island Visions (colorful Floridian paintings and prints), Julia’s Arts (Florida to modern paintings and prints as well as pottery and metal works), Lovegrove Gallery & Gardens (wide array of eccentric pieces, from paintings to painted furniture), Trader’s Hitching Post (Native American art and jewelry) and WildChild Art Gallery (serious to whimsical, beach scenes to wildlife and sea life motifs).
But the island has a great deal of other activities and landmarks to attract visiotrs. For example, Matlacha is a great kayaking town. Sun and Moon B&B and Bridgewater Inn at the foot of the Matlacha Bridge both have moorings. Gulf Coast Kayaks operates rentals and tours from a phone booth-sized shack on the water west of the bridge, and a new full-service outfitter, Backwater Outfitters of Cape Coral, has opened up a shop on the main drag.
In Calusa, Matlacha means “shallow water,” and there is plenty of it. Mangrove creeks empty into hidden lakes where the Jacks and snook school beneath the placid surface. Roseate Spoonbills, flocks of ducks and hundreds of 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.
Although Boca Grande to the north is popularly recognized as the tarpon capital of the world, the intercoastal waters and Gulf of Mexico 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 both the amateur or more serious fisherman or woman with everything they need for a fun-filled day on the water.
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 you feast 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.
So plan an outing on Matlacha soon. Kayak in the morning, browse the art district’s eight galleries in the afternoon and sample fresh seafood for dinner before heading back to the mainland at night. Exercise, culture and a great meal. It doesn’t get much better than that.