By Janet K. Keeler and Kellilynn Hann
It’s just not enough to get a taste of place at a great restaurant when you’re on a Florida vacation. Yes, the grouper sandwich needs to be fresh and the cocktail ice-cold, but the view should be delicious, too.
Florida restaurants with a view often mean wide windows that look out onto wide, white-sand beaches and rolling waves beyond, be it the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean. Dining al fresco is a Florida ritual and there are plenty of places to feel the breeze while eating a slice of key lime pie.
But the picture out the window or from the deck isn't always about water, wonderful as that is. We’ve found some other Florida restaurants where the view might not be exactly what you expect.
Here are some restaurants in the Sunshine State where you can eat with your eyes in more ways than one...
Marker 88, Islamorada
Ramble south through the Florida Keys on U.S. 1, or the Overseas Highway, and as soon as you pass Plantation Key, you’ll come upon Marker 88. Sure, you can sit inside but even in the summer, the breeze along the water makes the swelter bearable. In the winter? Pure heaven. Grab one of the tables with rocking benches and shade umbrellas, hope for a dramatic storm and then grab your camera. The view and the Key Lime Seafood dish of lobster, shrimp and blue crab will both be ready for their close-up.
Blue Mojito Pool Bar & Grill, Key West
Order a Lime in ’da Coconut rum cocktail or maybe a jalapeno-spiked margarita and declare yourself on island time. That’s the Key West way. The Blue Mojito is in the Hyatt Hotel, not far from Mile Marker Zero. The view in Key West is all about the sunset and while the crowd heads to Mallory Square for the daily ritual you can have a more intimate experience here. The menu is mostly clever cocktails and bar food including peel-and-eat Key West pink shrimp and seafood sliders. Still hungry? SHOR American Seafood Grill has a more comprehensive menu plus its own views of the water.
Your notion of what Miami is all about might just be shattered when you head to the 40th floor of the East Hotel in the Brickell neighborhood. Brickell is the vibrant financial district with high-end shopping and sophisticated dining. While much of Miami bumps to a Latin beat, Sugar is all about Asian flavors. This amazing view of Miami and Biscayne Bay does not go with shorts and flip-flops. There’s a dress code that pairs beautifully with steamed prawns and scallop dumplings and boneless Korean wings. A clever mixologist has dreamed up a slate of steamy cocktails. The view is pure Florida but décor and food just might have you thinking you’re in L.A.
News Café, Miami Beach
As restaurants in Miami Beach go, News Café is an elder statesman. It opened in 1988 in the Art Deco District as a newsstand and small bookshop with a few tables. It has grown up alongside Miami Beach and now includes a separate bar. The view here is less about water and more about people. Get a table on the sidewalk at the News Café and watch the fashionable people parade along Collins Avenue. The cruising cars put on a show, too. The News Café never closes and is a Sunday brunch hot spot. Actually, it’s a hot spot 24/7.
Southport has been serving cold beer and cold raw oysters since the 1970s. On a finger inlet that empties into the Intracoastal Waterway, the restaurant isn’t anything fancy but screams Florida lifestyle. Sit on wooden benches and watch the boats come and go. And if you’re on a boat, you can tie up here for a meal of a dozen oysters, conch salad and a fried shrimp basket.
Ocean2000, Pelican Grand Beach Resort, Fort Lauderdale
A sweeping veranda with white columns, swaying palms, turquoise water… it’s those jaw-dropping views that blow up Instagram accounts. Open from breakfast to dinner, they highlight local produce in tapas-style meals with Latin flavors. Don’t miss the Florida-style fish and chips and the Day Boat Ceviche with mango, jalapeño, cilantro and yuca chips.
Coconuts, Fort Lauderdale
Out on a dock beneath the shade of beach-blue umbrellas you can enjoy a parade of impressive yachts gliding up and down the Intracoastal Waterway. The menu has something for everyone, from seafood favorites to salads, and interesting sides like deviled eggs and pigeon peas with rice. This is a great place to order some cocktails while watching the sunset.
La Mar by Gastón Acurio, Miami
The terrace is the place to be, with sweeping views of beautiful Biscayne Bay. It’s even more picturesque (and romantic) at night when you can see the sparkling lights of downtown Miami. Renowned Chef Acurio treats guests to authentic Peruvian food, both classic and reimagined. For ceviche fans, there are six made-to-order choices on the menu.
Southernmost Beach Café, Southernmost Beach Resort, Key West
Steps from your table is the golden sand and clear turquoise water that makes the Keys so a magnet for travelers. It’s located at the southernmost point in the United States– only 90 miles from Cuba. It should be no surprise, then, that they serve Caribbean-inspired meals using “boat-to-table” seafood. They also have fun, fruity cocktails.
Tiki Bar, Clewiston
Gator is popular at this local hot spot on Lake Okeechobee and diners can eat it tucked into tacos or fried and served with hushpuppies. Boaters tie off at Roland Martin Marina and then grab a spot with a view of the lake, the largest in Florida and the 10th largest in the U.S. Anglers, bikers and tourists exploring the lake region are also frequent customers. There’s always a lot of action on the docks and lake, and an occasional bass fishing tournament, too. Stay into the evening and belt out a few songs during karaoke.
Thistle Lodge, Sanibel Island.
Located in the lovely Casa Ybel Resort, Thistle Lodge is non-traditional Florida beachfront dining. There is no outside seating and diners might just think they are up north with the wood and open-beam design of the restaurant. The palm trees and seagrapes outside tell another story. Ask for a table near the window and you’ll see the Gulf of Mexico and the white sand of the island beach clearly. The restaurant is open all day but an evening reservation around sunset is the way to go. The cuisine includes Florida flavors and Asian accents with a heavy side of Americana. Consider this your special-night splurge while on Sanibel and dress accordingly.
Snook Inn, Marco Island
Get here by boat or car and then snag a table under a wide umbrella or the thatched-roof bar. If you’re lucky, you might see some dolphins jumping along the north end of the island. The ferry to Key West passes this way, as do lots and lots of boaters headed out to the Gulf of Mexico through Big Marco Pass. Marco Island gets quiet in the summer but the population swells in the winter months. Still, the Snook Inn is open year-round with a seafood-centric menu served late into the night. A bonus for anglers, the chef will cook your cleaned catch. The rest of us can settle for grouper or local shrimp served many ways.
The Boathouse on Naples Bay, Naples
If sipping wine and dining on fresh seafood while watching boats cruise by is your idea of paradise, you’ll love The Boathouse. This award-winning restaurant has an outdoor deck and indoor dining room that look out over Naples Bay. The vibe is resort casual, and the menu has so many delicious meal options it will be very hard to choose.
Sailfish Restaurant, Sailfish Marina Resort, Palm Beach Shores
Settle into a high-backed chair on the outside patio, let go of your stress, and refuel while watching the boats enter and exit the marina. No matter what time of day you visit, you’ll be treated to tasty American favorites: a popular breakfast buffet, sandwiches and salads, and lots of fresh seafood. There’s also a waterfront Tiki bar on site.
Kyle G’s Prime Seafood and Steaks, Hutchinson Island
Whether you choose to dine inside or on the open-air deck, you’ll be treated to the sand-and-sea views that make Hutchinson Island such a popular vacation spot. Kyle G’s menu is so varied and interesting, you’ll have trouble deciding. The oceanside menu has a raw bar, fresh oysters, creative salads, sandwiches, and other seafood. Save room — they also have a tempting dessert menu.
Pappagallo’s, Satellite Beach
Pappagallo’s promises great Italian-American food served in a laid-back atmosphere. Watch the pizza guy spin dough and the bartenders create handcrafted cocktails while you enjoy the big screen HDTVs and the view of the Atlantic Ocean.
California Grill, Disney World, Kissimmee
The view from the California Grill on the 15th floor of Disney’s Contemporary Hotel is nothing short of magic. Magic Kingdom, that is. The picture windows face the theme park with Cinderella’s Castle front and center. Time your visit to the nightly fireworks and book early to get a reservation (a must) to coincide with the show. Even if you don’t get a window table, there are plenty of spots in the restaurant with a clear view of the pyrotechnics. People leave their tables and head to the windows when it’s time. Brunch is popular as is the cocktail lounge. The menu features seasonal selections prepared with a modern flair including Meyer Lemon-Poached Shrimp and Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli. Save room for the Chocolate-Cherry Pistachio Sundae.
Grills Riverside, Melbourne
Just because Melbourne is on Florida’s East Coast doesn’t mean there aren’t some cool great spots to watch the sunset. Grills Riverside is one of them. Located on the Indian River, the restaurant draws diners by boat and car. It’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner with water views at every meal. This is a perfectly casual place where you can toast the laid-back life with cocktails and an order of fish spread, followed by Bahamian fish chowder and Florida lobster. Still have room? The fried cheesecake will put an end to that.
Charlie’s Fish House, Crystal River
This is a favorite restaurant for locals and travelers along U.S. 19, which runs north and south inland along the West Coast of the state. Crystal River is the spot to spy manatees and ground zero for fishing enthusiasts. You can see the river goings on through the windows from inside the restaurant but snag a table on the deck to get closer to the action. This is a big place so you likely won’t have trouble getting a table for lunch or dinner. Start with a cup of oyster stew and then tuck into a plate of fried mullet with side of okra and grits. There’s a Southern thing going on here and you can wash it all down with sweet tea while watching the busy Crystal River.
The Old House on Cabbage Key
Visitors can only get here by boat, their own or water taxi services that bring them from Pine Island to tiny Cabbage Key in Pine Island Sound. You can get your view two ways from the restaurant. Sit in the front-screened porch and gaze on Pine Island Sound, one of the best fishing areas in the entire state. The waterway buzzes with boats. Find a table in the back of the elevated restaurant and you’ll look out on a tangle of trees including Cuban laurels dripping with moss. (Look up and you’ll see hundreds of dollar bills pinned to the ceiling.) Either way, order a Cabbage Creeper, which is something like a pina colada on ice with a coffee liqueur floater, and whatever seafood dish the chef has on special.
Grills Seafood Deck & Tiki Bar, Port Canaveral, Melbourne, Orlando
There are three locations, each on the water. In Port Canaveral, the deck sits along the Port Canaveral Waterway where you can watch cruise ships and other interesting boats (kids love it). The Melbourne location is on the bank of the Indian River, where you’re likely to spot dolphins and pelicans. In Orlando, enjoy relaxing views of Fairview Lake from the open-air deck. They all have a casual vibe, are open from breakfast to dinner, and have live music.
High and Dry Grill, Dunedin
Shrimp tacos, white slaw, and fabulous sunsets: this tiki hut on the causeway promises them all. Enjoy simple food and amazing scenery in this friendly local hangout. The drinks are generous and the view is endless.
Caretta’s on the Gulf, Clearwater Beach
Caretta’s is a fine dining restaurant in the sophisticated Sandpearl Resort. With lovely views of one of Florida’s most beautiful beaches, this is the place to spend a special evening. Or breakfast. Or lunch. Or Sunday brunch. There are also special menus for holidays. The balcony deck overlooks the Gulf of Mexico, providing diners with the best vantage point to watch the sun go down. The dinner menu matches the splendor with exquisite lobster and beef dishes. Or maybe the Seafood Plateau of Blue Point oysters, wild American shrimp, poached Maine lobster tail, Dutch Harbor king crab legs and green-lipped mussels is all a hungry traveler needs.
The Hangar Restaurant and Flight Lounge, St. Petersburg
Aviation is the theme here because of the restaurant’s prime location on the second floor of the terminal at the city-owned Albert Whitted Airport. Order the Flying Fish Tacos and a draft beer and watch the Pipers and Cessnas take off from an inside or outside table. Kids of all ages love this place. Beyond the runway is Tampa Bay and it’s fun to watch the small planes head out over the water. Bonus: The world-renowned Dali Museum is across the street.
Tide Tables, Cortez
Oodles of Florida restaurants have fish spread on their menus. In fact, you could make a career of taste testing them all but the fish spread at Tide Tables on the Intracoastal Waterway in Cortez should rise to the top of the list. Unlike most smoked fish spreads, it’s made with grouper. Big chunks of grouper. It’s unusual for that reason and also stupendous for the same reason. Tide Tables is in the tiny fishing village of Cortez, west of Bradenton and across a bridge from the beach. Grab an outside table and enjoy the Florida life as seen from a wooden picnic table. This is a popular restaurant for boaters. And it will hardly be overkill if you order the grouper sandwich to go with the fish spread.
Rod & Reel Pier, Anna Maria Island.
Consider it good luck if you’re inside the Rod & Reel Pier when a thunderstorm opens up over Tampa Bay. You’ll be safe inside but the view will be something you’ll never forget as you watch the rumble over the Skyway Bridge, which spans the bay. Anna Maria has kept its charm by strict zoning limiting high-rise buildings. The pier is evidence of that. Park your car and head for the restaurant over the wooden walkway, passing anglers of all ages as you go. It will likely be tight quarters in the small restaurant but that adds to the charm. A cup of gumbo and an oyster po’boy will make it all better. That and the view.
Citrus Grillhouse, Vero Beach
Swaying palms? Check. Ocean view? Check. Great food? Also, check. Landing somewhere between causal and upscale, Citrus uses locally sourced ingredients whenever possible. From your table on the covered deck, you can savor pasta, seafood, and other classics with an Italian and Mediterranean flair.
Jackson’s Bistro, Tampa
Take in the beauty of downtown Tampa and its waterways from the deck of Jackson’s Bistro. Located on Harbour Island, you get across-the-water views of the Tampa Riverwalk and Tampa Convention Center (which is especially stunning at night). They’re open for brunch, and are known for excellent sushi, steak, seafood, and award-winning wines.
Maggie Mae’s Waterfront, Sand Key
Maggie Mae’s sits right on the water – if you drop your fork it could land in Clearwater Bay. The uninterrupted bay view isn’t the only thing this little diner has going for it: it serves up classic American comfort food for breakfast and lunch. The patio is pet-friendly, too.
Beach Walk Cafe, Destin
A restaurant with a view is a sure-fire way to kindle romance, especially when the view is of a pristine beach on the Gulf of Mexico. While Destin is a family destination in general, Beach Walk is meant for adults. How adult? Can you say “White Cheddar Infused Lobster Mac and Cheese?” The elevated deck is dotted with tables for two for a reason. The restaurant is located in the Henderson Park Inn near Henderson Beach State Park, a long stretch of undeveloped and protected Florida coast. Not surprisingly, the menu celebrates seafood from Florida but also has plenty for meat-eaters, too.
Vue on 30a, Santa Rosa Beach
The numerical reference in the name of the Vue pays homage to the road it is on. There are several segments of State Road 30A and they all hug the Gulf of Mexico shoreline making them attractive for travelers who like road trips. Vue on 30a offers panoramic views of the water to accompany its coastal cuisine menu, including a seafood ceviche of local shrimp, grouper and snapper. Get a table on the elevated deck and order a glass of bubbly from the extensive sparkling wine list. You’ll need that to toast Mother Nature.
River and Post, Jacksonville
Enjoy a bird’s-eye view of St. Johns River and downtown Jacksonville from River & Post’s incredible rooftop lounge. The lounge serves appetizers and smaller bites; they also have an impressive selection of wines, beer and cocktails you can enjoy along with the sights. The first-floor dining room serves steak and seafood as well as weekend brunch.
Kingfish Grill, St. Augustine
The Kingfish Grill is the kind of restaurant you crave on vacation: casual seating, good views, and fresh food. Picnic tables and Adirondack chairs let you gaze out at the Camachee Cove Marina, or you can dine indoors and admire the boats through big picture windows. They serve seafood and American classics with a bit of fine-dining flair.
Hurricane Patty’s, St. Augustine
With a laid-back sports bar vibe, live music, and award-winning signature cocktails (including the Category 5 Hurricane), Hurricane Patty’s has something fun for everyone in the family. The pretty views of San Sebastian River and River’s Edge Marina from the open-air deck make these good things even better.
Water Pig BBQ, Pensacola Beach
Seaside usually means seafood, but not here. It’s all about low-and-slow, melt-in-your-mouth barbeque. Choose the open deck or a picnic table right on the sand and take in the waters of English Navy Cove. Water Pig BBQ is listed as the #1 restaurant in Pensacola Beach, so you can’t go wrong with a anything on the menu, but it seems the brisket is the talk of the town. When it’s time to party, they have a full bar with a wide selection of beer, whiskey, and fun cocktails.
Blue Parrot Oceanfront Café, St. George Island
A causal hangout with direct access to the beach, Blue Parrot serves American comfort food with an emphasis on seafood (which they source locally when possible). Both the covered upper deck and lower open deck are pet friendly, so you can enjoy the white sands and waves with your whole family, furry ones included. Ice cold drink, sandy feet, and delicious food… epic Florida vacation moment.
Roy’s Restaurant, Steinhatchee
Located on the banks of the Steinhatchee River, Roy’s is a popular spot to watch the incredible Florida sunsets. The food is also a big draw, thanks to the down-home, southern-style offerings of seafood, steak, sandwiches, and interesting appetizers like gator bites and crab chowder with brandy.
The Blue Heron Beachfront Bistro, Flagler Beach
This little joint across the road from the roaring Atlantic may not look like much from the outside but the food served inside is worth the stop. The elevated view only adds to the experience. For travelers heading north or south along Florida’s oceanfront A1A on the weekends this would be a sweet place to spot for dinner. The Blue Heron has limited hours and days so plan accordingly: 5 to 9 p.m. for dinner Thursday through Sunday and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. breakfast on Sundays. Shrimp & Grits is a breakfast specialty.
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