Matlacha, Florida: The Cutest Artsiest Fishingest Town in Florida
When commercial fishing took a turn for the worse in the 1990s, the residents of Matlacha Island decided on their own unique destiny. With brushes and buckets of paint in hand they literally painted the town with bright topical colors.
It could have been a disaster, but the residents’ initiative to reinvent their town has led to Matlacha’s reputation as a funky arts community that still does a whole lot of fishing.
You won’t find upscale accommodations, high-rise condos, or fast food restaurants. Even laid-back Sanibel and Captiva aren’t nearly as funky. In Matlacha it’s bright colors rather than soft pastel shades, and it’s where someone else’s junk becomes sculpture and art.
It seems like each time we visit, there’s a new gallery and the place is cooler than before. Where else do telephone poles become works of art!
Where Is Matlacha, Florida?
Just off the coast of Cape Coral, Matlacha Island is a small spit of land located offshore between north Cape Coral and just about the center of Pine Island. It’s a perfect small town in Florida where you can chill for the day in a truly unique atmosphere. Think 'Florida Fish Camp meets Andy Warhol in Key West' and you’ll get the idea.
GETTING TO MATLACHA
As the crow flies Matlacha is a stone’s throw from the beaches of Sanibel and Captiva. If you have a boat getting to Matlacha from Sanibel is easy. However, if you’re driving there are several ways to get there, some of which will bog you down in residential areas.
We recommend using I-75 or Rt.41. Both roads intersect with Rt. 78 which will take you directly to Matlacha.
When staying in Naples plan on a little over an hour’s drive. If you’re staying farther south on Marco Island, it will take you about an hour and a half. It’s an easy day trip, and if you time it right, you’ll make it for lunch.
Things To Do In Matlacha, FL
Like most of the waters around the islands of southwest Florida, Matlacha Pass is a saltwater angler’s dream come true. Redfish, cobia, mangrove snapper, trout, sheepshead, cobia, sharks, and one of southwest Florida’s most prized fish, snook. Fishing in Matlacha isn’t just an activity. It’s a way of life.
Find a spot on or under the Matlacha Bridge, aka “The Fishingest Bridge in the World”. You don’t need much just a rod, bait, and a small cooler for cold drinks, and the bait. You can also rent a fishing kayak on the island to get farther out on the water and try your luck in the inlets and bays.
Ask your fellow anglers or a local tackle shop what baits are working and what’s being caught. Pick a spot, get baited up and start wetting your line, but be advised, cobia, sharks, and big snook are really strong fighters and will tear-up light tackle.
Another great way to get on the water is to book with a local charter or go fishing with a guide. They’ll maximize your time and put you on fish.
Get tackle and bait, or book an inshore or offshore charter:
D&D Matlacha Bait & Tackle 3922 Pine Island Rd NW, Matlacha
Seven Seas Bait & Tackle 4270 Pine Island Rd NW, Matlacha
Matlacha Fishing Charters 2528 Bayshore Dr, Matlacha
Explore the waters around Matlacha in a kayak or on a stand-up paddle board. Wading and shore birds along with ospreys dot the tree line of the mangrove’s while pelicans glide overhead. Dolphins regularly appear to greet you while feeding. Watch schools of baitfish churn the surface as big fish zero in on them.
In these calm backwaters it doesn’t get any better. It’s like being in a nature preserve. You could spend days just relaxing and paddling to your own tempo. Being on the water is slow travel at its best!
To rent a kayak, paddle board, or take a guided kayak tour (recommended):
Gulf Coast Kayak Rentals & Tours 4120 Pine Island Rd, Matlacha
Kayak Charters 4630 Pine Island Rd, Matlacha
SHOP THE MATLACHA ART GALLERIES & SHOPS
Matlacha will lure you in with its laid-back vibe. It’s easy to relax here while strolling from shop to shop. But there are more than just artisan galleries and quaint shops. There are antique and clothing shops as well as funky craft shops that will keep you interested for hours. The colorful storefronts help to create the funky vibe that goes hand-in-glove with the quaintness of the small town.
Maybe the funkiest of the funky is the gallery of Leoma Lovegrove. Painted in a pink and lime combo, the outside of her gallery contrasts with the bright colors of everything that she creates. Be sure to step out back into the garden. You’ll be surprised at some of the art especially the tribute to the Beatles painted on a small camper.
She also holds classes in the garden if you’d like to try your hand at painting. If you see posing quirky mannequins on the roof and her signature white-glove sunglasses, you’re there.
Next door to the Lovegrove gallery is another one of our favorites, Wild Child Art Gallery. Featuring jewelry, paintings, sculpture, wood carvings, and textiles created by over 120 artists from all over Florida. In addition, the gallery features the beautiful work of Peggy McTeague.
Viewing the brightly lit displays is alone worth a visit and a little time browsing. In either of these two fabulous galleries you just might find something that’s perfect to take home.
You can’t be on “island time” with out a cold beer or tropical cocktail in your hand. We love local joints with a happy crowd and live music, and killer rum drinks — and there are several Matlacha restaurants that have that and more!
Bert’s has two different areas to enjoy — stay in the bar/poolroom in the front of the house or relax in the dining room with its water views. On the other side of the road is the Old Fish House Marina, a popular hang-out for bikers and boaters with good live music and an always fun crowd.
As with all of southwest Florida, the seafood in Matlacha is always fresh, sometimes right off the boat.
If you just want great fresh seafood without the music and games, the popular Blue Dog Bar & Grill is where to go. It’s a favorite with locals and visitors alike. We’ve never been disappointed here. The popular Blue Dog is first come, first served, and depending on the size of your party, you’ll no doubt have to take a place in line (it’s inside). It moves pretty quickly, and you can enjoy something from the bar while you wait.
We think the best casual shorefront restaurant in the area for a bit more upscale experience is the Tarpon Lodge on Pine Island. From the center of Matlacha it’s only about a 15 minute drive and so worth it. Arrive at the right time and you can watch the sunset that southwest Florida is famous for. You’ll need a reservation so be sure to call.
Tarpon Lodge 13771 Waterfront Dr, Bokeelia, FL
Berts 4271 Pine Island Rd, Matlacha, FL
Old Fish House Marina Restaurant 4530 Pine Island Rd NW, Matlacha, FL
Blue Dog Bar & Grill 4597 Pine Island Rd, Matlacha, FL
Where To Stay In Matlacha
Matlacha offers limited Old Florida style accommodations. You’ll not find any chain hotels or much luxury, but what you will find is incredible views over the water.
MATLACHA TINY VILLAGE
4661 Pine Island Rd, Matlacha
If your tropical dreams include an adorable tiny house of your own in the cutest tiny town in Florida, these gumdrop-colored tiny houses have your name on them. As you might imagine they fill up quickly, so make reservations now!
4760 Pine Island Rd, Matlacha
These casual waterfront cottages are very popular and great for families. The cottages fill-up quickly during season and for good reason! Make your reservation well in advance.
THE BRIDGEWATER INN
4331 Pine Island Rd, Cape Coral
The address may say Cape Coral but the Bridgewater Inn is located on a small spit right at the Matlacha Bridge. It’s on the main drag and only minutes from the village. It may be quaint and a bit dated but it’s fine for an overnight and amazing sunset views.
This adorable motel on the water offers Kayaks free to use while exploring the water ways. See manatee's, dolphins and abundance of bird life in the area. Matlacha is known for its little shops so go spend the day exploring each unique store.
Fishing guides can pick you up at your back door or bring your own boat and tie off to your own portion of dock space. Or go hit a nature trail after visiting the local museum or library on Pine Island.