Visiting Historic Matlacha, Florida

If you want to experience the colorful charm and laid-back lifestyle of turn-of-the-century Florida, the old fishing village of Matlacha is the place to visit. With a population of under 800, this waterfront community of artisans and fishermen is located on a tiny island in Matlacha Pass on the road between Cape Coral and Pine Island.

Matlacha, pronounced Mat-la-SHAY, means “Big Warrior” in Seminole, and the history and heritage of this community extend over many centuries. Sign up for a walking tour of the island’s unique and eccentric homes, bars, galleries and gift shops or just park beside the road and make your own discoveries. It’s like nowhere else!

Matlacha, Florida's colorfully decorated buildings, art galleries, and Old Florida homes with their fishing boats moored just outside the door may remind you of the Florida Keys without the crowds. | Must Do Visitor Guides

Photo credit Nita Ettinger

Shocking pink palm trees, polka dot dolphins and one-of-a-kind homes are painted in a palette of lurid colors.

Even the bridge over Matlacha Pass is famous. Nicknamed the “World’s Fishing-est Bridge” it was originally a wooden swing bridge back in the 1950s. | Must Do Visitor Guides

Photo credit Nita Ettinger

World’s Fishing-est Bridge at Matlacha Pass

Another way to spot locals on Matlacha is to check out footwear. Matlacha residents are said to wear knee-high white rubber boots, jokingly referred to as “Matlacha Reeboks”. They are ideal for wading through the shallow waters as part of the boating, fishing, shrimping, canoeing and crabbing lifestyle practiced here.

Even the bridge over Matlacha Pass is famous. Nicknamed the “World’s Fishing-est Bridge” it was originally a wooden swing bridge back in the 1950s. The tidal current that runs beneath the bridge sweeps in shoals of snook, red fish, and even tarpon in season. Consequently, the bridge is always lined with anglers casting a line and reeling in a sizeable catch.

Matlacha Art Galleries and Shops

The colorfully decorated buildings, art galleries, and Old Florida homes with their fishing boats moored just outside the door may remind you of the Florida Keys without the crowds. It’s a refreshing change from the high-rise condos and gated retirement communities that are the norm in much of Southwest Florida.

But don’t be deceived by the laid-back island atmosphere on Matlacha—international artist Leoma Lovegrove’s Lovegrove Gallery and Gardens is filled with her vibrantly colorful paintings.

Don’t be deceived by the laid-back island atmosphere on Matlacha—international artist Leoma Lovegrove’s Lovegrove Gallery and Gardens if filled with her vibrantly colorful paintings. | Must Do Visitor Guides

Photo credit Nita Ettinger

Leoma Lovegrove’s Lovegrove Gallery and Gardens in Matlacha, Florida is filled with her vibrantly colorful paintings. | Must Do Visitor Guides

Photo credit Nita Ettinger

Leoma Lovegrove’s Lovegrove Gallery and Gardens in Matlacha, Florida is filled with her vibrantly colorful paintings. | Must Do Visitor Guides

Photo credit Nita Ettinger

The bright colors of her paintings are carried outside to the whimsical garden behind the gallery. This Impressionist-Expressionist painter colorful works have inspired a line of merchandise at Bealls Florida Department Stores.

The bright colors of Leona Lovegrove's paintings are carried outside to the whimsical garden behind the gallery in Matlacha, Florida. | Must Do Visitor Guides

Photo credit Nita Ettinger

Water view Lovegrove Gallery & Garden Matlacha, Florida. Photo credit Nita Ettinger. |Must Do Visitor Guides

Photo credit Nita Ettinger

More choice artworks are displayed at the Wildchild Art Gallery and Matlacha Menagerie, near the famous Fudge Factory. Along the causeway you’ll also pass well-stocked shops such as Island Décor and Tropical Treasures.

Choice artworks are displayed at the Wildchild Art Gallery and Matlacha Menagerie in Matlacha, Florida. | Must Do Visitor Guides

Photo credit Nita Ettinger

Wildchild Art Gallery Matlacha, Florida. | Must Do Visitor Guides

Photo credit Nita Ettinger

Stop for an ice cream at Great Licks or fresh seafood meal at the Olde Fish House, the Sandy Hook Fish and Rib House, or the Blue Dog Bar and Grill. Blue Dog Bar and Grill is also the perfect spot to try a local Southwest Florida craft beer.

Blue Dog Bar & Grill casual seafood restaurant Matlacha, Florida | Must Do Visitor Guides

Photo credit Nita Ettinger

Olde Fish House restaurant Matlacha, Florida. | Must Do Visitor Guides

Photo credit Nita Ettinger

If you want to experience a colorful slice of small town Florida, be sure to add a trip to Matlacha on your Fort Myers, Sanibel, or Sarasota vacation itinerary.

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Nita Ettinger is the co-publisher for Siesta Publications and the Editor in Chief for Must Do Visitor Guides. Must Do Visitor Guides provides Southwest Florida visitor information through printed publications and the website MustDo.com. Must Do Visitor Guides are published bi-annually and are available at no cost in Sarasota, Lee, and Collier County chambers of commerce, visitor information centers, select Southwest Florida hotels, and wherever free publications are found.

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