By Katherine O'Neal
Unique Florida vacations have been on my radar lately, so we recently packed up the van and took the boys to Everglades City.
If you’ve never heard of Everglades City or its neighboring town, Chokoloskee, you’re not alone! But if told you it was on the western edge of the Everglades, and Gateway to the 10,000 Islands, you’d know right where it was, right?
Everglades City is the Stone Crab Capital of the World, about 90 minutes west of Miami, and 30-plus miles east of Naples. It’s also an excellent destination for eco-tours, kayaking, canoeing and fishing.
We came to do a little flats fishing, which is perfect for kids. Flats fishing is family friendly because you fish in shallow water right near shore for the most part, along mangrove-lined creeks, near oyster bars and sandy flats. There is always something to look at.
I think my favorite part, however, is that you’re not only surrounded by beautiful scenery, you’re surrounded by wildlife. On the afternoon that we went, a pod of dolphins followed our boat and played in our wake! We also spotted a bald eagle, pelicans flying in formation, ibis, egrets, herons, blue crabs and a manatee. Captain Gary Byrd, our hired guide for the day, said a bobcat was on the shore a few weeks prior. Sorry we missed that! Captain Byrd was very patient in teaching my little one to fish. (And we loved his jammin’ stereo system – kept us dancing on the water all day.) Call Captain Gary at 239-695-9215.
For accommodations, we stayed at Miller’s World, across from Everglades National Park. And I’m talking RIGHT across the street. Miller’s World is where you’ll find Glades Haven Cozy Cabins and Marina. They also have an onsite convenience store with groceries and deli, the Famous Oyster House Restaurant and Bar, a swimming pool and more. We stayed in an air-conditioned cabin with a screened-in porch and we could walk from our door to the boat, to dinner, to Everglades National Park. It's not the Ritz by any means (the word rustic comes to mind), but it is a civilized way to experience the great outdoors. Miller’s World even has stilt homes you can rent, or buy. We really enjoyed it. (We also loved the coconut coated grouper at the restaurant!)
Kayakers will love Everglades City. From Miller’s World, you can go with or without guides; they can even drop you off in a variety of places and you can paddle your happy self back to the resort. One such run is Turner River. It’s five to six hours of you, the river and glorious Old Florida vistas.
Season for Everglades City and Chokoloskee directly coincides with Stone Crab Season, October 15-May 15. There is no shortage of seafood markets in which to find these tasty, thick-shelled morsels either. Bring a cooler and bring some home. Summer equals savings for rooms and rentals.
If you’re into nature and adventure, make your way to Everglades City. Haul your own gear or rent it there. To learn about its fascinating history, visit Ted Smallwood's Store. It's filled with all sorts of memorabilia, great souvenirs and local authors may even be onhand for book-signings.