Matlacha, Florida – pronounced “Mat-La-Shay” – is a tiny fishing village that is wildly colorful, both in its present day shops, restaurants and residents, and in its checkered past. Ghosts, bricks of cocaine arriving at 2 a.m. – a ringing bell announcing the closing of the main road for unloading – child labor, and fishermen shooting holes in their boats and setting them on fire after a referendum passed banning net fishing 20 years ago, are only some of the stories you’ll hear from the locals.
The Bridgewater Inn – all rooms are over the water and you can drop a line in from your front door
I could have cried when I tried to find a place to stay here and everything was booked. DUH, Mb, it’s “peak season.” Maybe by now you know how I feel about “peak season”; every season is peak here in Florida, to me, and so why is there this small window of higher prices, too many spring breakers, and No Room at the Inn for me??? Ugh.
But I was in Bungalow Heaven walking around Matlacha and snapping photos of the eclectic, sometimes delightfully ramshackle cottages, bungalows, squatter shacks (those two words conjure up such delightful images, don’t they?) and weird/funny/bizzarre store fronts. I dragged two of my kids with me on this Triple-B trip, and they were also charmed by this town, but were slightly freaked out by The Doll Lady’s house, below.
This is someone’s residence, she just puts all that stuff out front because she can. The collection of hobby horses took me back to my childhood, but the vast lineup of dolls (you can see a few to the left) was a tiny bit outlandish even for my love of “front-yard-fly-your-freak-flag”!
With a full time population of only about 700 people, Matlacha does have many visitors a day trundling in and out of the funky art galleries and shops, and then plopping down with their packages and their tired feet at the various waterfront restaurants. Which makes it sound low-ish on our list of small-town lesser-known travel destinations, but no, Matlacha has long been a Must Visit for Beaches, Bars and Bungalows.
Matlacha is ushering in and heralding a whole new category for our blog: (drumroll) Introducing BOATING Bars and Bungalows!
Yes, we are beach addicts. But the next best thing, if the closest beach (in this case, Ft. Myers) is so well known and crowded it makes our claustrophobia kick in just thinking about it? Setting sail – or motoring – over some beautiful, open water, (and fishing, for CH anyway) and later pulling up to a great waterfront bar, and still later tucking in at a quirky cozy bungalow.
And here are our picks:
Okay, we didn’t boat or fish this trip, since CH wasn’t with us (he’s the expert in these fields) but the Matlacha Bridge is “The Fishingest Bridge in the World” and here are some boating charter, fishing charter and kayak tour companies:
4271 Pine Island Rd.
VIBE: Old-Florida, honkytonk, bright, fun and casual.
ARRIVE: Parking is almost impossible. There are spots out front if you can snag one, but then you have to back out onto the busy road when leaving. We parked at the Matlacha Community Park for free, several blocks away. You can arrive by boat as well.
SIT: Outside is best of course, with a great view; there is also ample seating inside.
SIP: Happy Hour is Monday thru Friday 2 – 5:00 in the bar. Make note Bert’s just serves beer and wine.
NOSH: Fish, fish and more fish. The fish tacos were great, the shrimp was amazing, fish and chips… yum. Plenty of choices for those who don’t love seafood.
LISTEN: Live music every day!
WE LOVE: The history of this place – read about it on their website (ladies of the night… dancers…. it was once called “Mothers.” Love it.) And just the happy vibe.
IF we’d had the forward-thinking brain to plan ahead, we would have stayed here:
4760 Pine Island Rd.
Seriously, how cute are these? I haven’t been as hyped up with cottage love since this post
VIBE: Old-timey, cute as a button, OMG why didn’t we plan ahead better?? There are only three units so make sure you plan ahead.
WALK: Just about everything in Matlacha is within walking distance. The closest restaurant is Sandy Hook Fish and Rib House, 0.2 miles away.
DECOR: Check out their short videos of the interiors on their site. Looks like a mix of updated and uncluttered, with some old fashioned touches, which we love. Also read the awesome reviews on TripAdvisor, here.
SLEEP: Again, we can’t speak for the comfy-ness of the nights’ sleep, but the reviews say it all.
EXTRAS: “Everything we needed, from shampoo to pots and pans.”
RATES: The least expensive peak season (Oct. 1 – Apr. 30) rate is for the Pink Waterfront (the smallest, but the one I’d want!) at $124 a night. Off season (May 1 – Sept. 30) it is $114.
Here are some restaurants and shops worth a visit:
Island Seafood Market food and grocery, food truck, seafood restaurant
Wild Child Art Gallery, out back, before I saw the ABSOLUTELY NO PHOTOGRAPHY signs, OOPS
Leoma Lovegrove’s Gallery; she’s actually famous and we got to MEET HER!
I was literally tripping over my own feet and running into people (embarrassing the hell out of my kids) as I snapped away, oblivious in my own little picture-taking cottage-loving heaven:
Not sure why that Knight is out there… but this one is for sale as of this publishing, here
Even the Mobile Homes are unique and colorful in Matlacha:
I have much more to show you, but rather than risk cute-town overload, I’ll leave you with a few photos of me and the kids, just to illustrate how happy at least I was, how sweet Mae was, and how Max survived the Triple-B travel blog trip weekend!
Have you been to Matlacha? And if so, were you as tickled pink (ha, that’s such an old person term!) as I was?
Matlacha is 60 miles south of Venice and 25 miles north of Ft. Meyers Beach, on the Gulf Coast of Florida