Those of us old enough to have vacationed in Florida in the early ’60s recall the paradise we call “Old Florida.” Back then, we stayed in beachside cottages hidden in the scrub, not today’s manicured, high-rise resorts. We dined on fresh local seafood, not “globally inspired cuisine.”
Thankfully, there’s a place off the coast of southwest Florida, Cabbage Key, that recalls the ambience of the good ’ole days. This 10-acre private island is located in Pine Island Sound, an estuary that runs from Charlotte Harbor in the north (off Punta Gorda) to San Carlos Bay in the south (off Fort Meyers). The entire area is a mecca for sport fishermen, nature lovers and beachcombers.
Cabbage key is a mangrove island, protected by the larger island of Cayo Costa, a Florida state park and nature preserve. The only way to get there is by boat—either on a scheduled tour or by private charter. On the island is a restaurant, a six-room inn and eight cottages, three with their own docks.
We arrived at Cabbage Key on a luncheon tour run by Captiva Cruises, which operates out of nearby Captiva Island. From the dock, it’s a short walk up to the one-story restaurant. “Up” because the house was built on the site of a Culusa Indian shell mound. Inside, the atmosphere is casual and beachy. Passing through a convivial dining room, you come to the famous “dollar bar,” where patrons from around the world have signed their names on dollar bills and affixed them to the wall with Scotch tape. The motif carries over to the dining room in back, where bills climb up wooden columns and dangle in long streamers from the ceiling.
The singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffett came here in the late ’70s. It’s said that his visit inspired the hit song “Cheeseburger in Paradise.” The cheeseburger did look wonderful. But I ordered the house-smoked salmon appetizer followed by a generous portion of grilled mahi-mahi. It was served on a bed of black beans and yellow rice. Dessert was the signature frozen key lime pie (a special recipe), especially cooling on a hot summer day!
We hope to come back and do all those things I can never do when I’m on the grid—read a book, fish from the dock, walk the nature trail and motor to Cayo Costa for some lazy beach combing. Everything old is new again!
To book a stay, visit cabbagekey.com or call (239) 283-2278. To get there, call Kingfisher Fleet (kingfisherfleet.com) in Punta Gorda, Island Girl Charters (islandgirlcharters.com) on Pine Island, or Captiva Cruises on Captiva Island (captivacruises.com).