Places to Go: Cortez, Matlacha, Everglades City/Chokoloskee and Goodland
Things to See: Before international airports and interstates, coastal Southwest Florida was a loose string of fishing villages, where people set their schedules by the tides. Although now often cheek-by-jowl with communities of beach vacationers and retirees, some still have their barnacles intact, even if a little artistic embellishment has been added.
One of a few remaining active commercial fishing villages in Florida, Cortez has been the landing spot for mullet for more than 150 years. Be sure to stop for refreshments at the rustic Star Fish Company, a commercial fish house and restaurant overlooking Sarasota Bay.
Fishermen still cast their lines all day and night from the “fishingest bridge in Florida” at Matlacha Pass, and Bert’s Bar & Grill, a popular soldiers’ watering hole during World War II, still draws lively crowds. The village is also now home to a colorful arts scene where local artists sell their works at the Lovegrove Gallery and Gardens and WildChild Art Gallery.
Most days, you could sleep in the road in Goodland without fear of being run over. But on weekends, this tiny fishing village just east of Marco Island awakens at Stan’s Idle Hour Seafood Restaurant, host of the Goodland’s annual Mullet Festival.
Deep in the swamp, Everglades City and Chokoloskee Island retain the mystique of Old Florida. The Museum of the Everglades in Everglades City and the Historic Smallwood Store Museum on Chokoloskee Island make you admire the pioneers who forged these wilds, and boating there gives you a sense of why they stayed.
Place to Stay: The historic Matlacha Island Cottages are cozy old Florida fishing cottages where you can drop a line from your backyard.
Do Drop In: The Sea Hagg on Cortez Road overflows with old fishing nets, glass floats, vintage lures, antique navigational tools -- just about everything nautical except smelly dead fish (they do have some stink-free glass ones, however).