Great news! We made it to our first wedding anniversary! I know, that shouldn’t be such a big deal, but these days it seems like maybe it is. I tend to agree with a former co-worker that the first year of any long-term endeavor is a bit special, and marriage is certainly no exception. Having loved the solitude we found on the water in the Keys, Michelle and I decided that we wanted to go somewhere a bit off the beaten path and a bit less expensive to celebrate our first anniversary in hopes of finding a similar yet unique experience.
While we considered several locations, including going back to the same home where we were married in Tavernier, Florida in the Florida Keys, we eventually settled on St. James City on Pine Island in southwest Florida. We enjoy getting in the boat and finding places where it is just us and Mother Nature. Pine Island appeared to offer just that kind of experience. It is of course tough to completely escape the sights and sounds of our city lives, but we sure like to try!
Pine Island is just north of Sanibel Island on Florida’s southwest coast, with access to the same fishing and boating areas but fewer people to compete with in town. If seeing Sanibel itself is your goal, then Pine Island may not be the ideal place for you. You can get to Sanibel by boat if you like, but the trip by road would be pretty long. We took my 16 ft. bass boat across the bay to the where the Sanibel Bridge meets the island one day just to do it, and the trip only took a few minutes. Unfortunately, it was getting too windy that day to make a run around the island to see the famous Sanibel beaches, so we went back to the mangroves near the house and spent the rest of our day there. With less wind it would have been easy to make the run.
The length of Pine Island can be driven in about a half hour or so. There are a few boat ramps on the island that are available for public use. Each has its own hours of operation so be sure to check those out in advance if you visit the island. We stayed in St. James City at the southern end of the island. The one public boat ramp in St. James offers 24 hour a day launching and loading. There is a fee for use of the boat ramp that can be paid at a fee box. The boat ramp is monitored by camera to help encourage those who don’t do well with the honor system, so be warned if that is you!
We rented a recently upgraded double-wide mobile home on a canal which also had a new boat lift. Many of the neighborhoods are composed mostly of mobile homes, so unless you are willing to spend top dollar, be prepared for that. Ours was very comfortable, and for $99 per night I have zero complaints!
The scenery on the water around Pine Island was amazing. We were able to motor out about 100 yards or so from our dock before turning north into the preserve and trolling the beautiful mangroves. We did take some longer trips, but it was windy for much of our week there so most of the time we kept close to home base in the calm water of the mangroves. One of the great things about the island is that you can pretty much always find a spot on the downwind side of some cover to fish. Just getting inside the mangroves helps immensely.
We managed to catch a variety of nice fish, and even cooked a few up at the house. Some of the best fishing we found was within eyesight of our own dock! Save yourself some searching and pick up a nautical map that shows depths and local fishing spots. The maps aren’t exactly cheap but can be helpful when visiting new water. We had dolphins and manatees swim directly under our boat while cruising in and out of the canal. The water was so clear in the canal that we saw one of the dolphins rolling over under the boat and looking up at us as it passed below. It was a new experience for me, and I see dolphins all the time at home. The sunsets were second to none! One of the few things we took pictures of that week.
Low Key Tiki
3135 Stringfellow Rd, Saint James City, FL 33956
Menu – http://www.lowkeytiki.com/
We really enjoyed our time at Low Key Tiki (LKT). The atmosphere was laid back as one might expect given its name. The food was fresh and tasty, and the service was friendly. Michelle and I tried the Po-boy and fries. They came with a sauce on them which was ok, but both of us ordered with sauce on the side when we went back. The sauce was good, but we wanted to maintain some of the shrimp’s crispiness. Obviously, they were good enough that we had them twice!
Woody’s Waterside Island Rum & Grille • 3051 Stringfellow Road • St. James City, FL 33956 • 239-283-5555
Menu – http://woodyswaterside.com/waterside-menu.html
A.K.A. The Drunkenmost Point – Being at the southern end of Pine Island, this is one of their claims to fame.
Here we tried the most amazing Blue Crab balls we’ve ever tasted. Don’t blame me for the name of the dish and get those dirty jokes out of your mind! Think of crab cakes about the size of a healthy hush puppy. They were exactly as we fans of crab cakes like them to be… more crab than bread crumbs! We also had the Coconut Fried Shrimp and they were crisp and delicious. The Mandarin Orange Sauce was a great accompaniment. The second time around we ordered the appetizers once more, but I also ordered the pulled pork sandwich, which was fantastic. Woody’s was the closest place to our home away from home, at only about 3 blocks. We loved the place! We recommend you stop by and say hi to the staff at Woody’s when you visit Pine Island. We think you’ll be glad you did!
Menu – http://nebula.wsimg.com/ab421adf330ddeba807f9c480c608dfb?AccessKeyId=DF7F2D2E2BCA45BA76B8&disposition=0&alloworigin=1
This place will offer you much more than the appearance would suggest. The building is a small blue building with a dusty parking lot on the side of the main road running North/South across the island. You might not stop if somebody didn’t give you the heads-up. Heads-up!
Surprise, we ordered Coconut Shrimp again as we so often do, and they did not disappoint. The BBQ was good, as were the sides of slaw and fries. I ordered a brisket sandwich plate and we really don’t remember what Michelle had there because the real star of the meal turned out to be the dessert! Although there are no desserts printed on the menu, they were offering a special of Apple Pie topped with vanilla ice cream, which was topped with candied bacon. Sound crazy to you? It was amazing!!!! We regretted only getting one to split between us. Do over?
Pine Island Getaway Cafe
5281 Doug Taylor Circle, St James City, FL 33956
Menu – https://www.facebook.com/Pine-Island-Getaway-Cafe-1021500157986400/
If you are looking for a great breakfast stop, this is your place! It is off the beaten path and it is small, but the line that forms soon after opening tells you that it is known and loved by the locals. We stopped by twice.
Michelle is a pastry lover, so she was on cloud nine! She tried the chocolate croissants one day, and we both had a breakfast sandwich on a fresh roll on our second trip. The bread was so fresh and crusty I just wanted more! Most of the items are limited availability, so get there early for the best selection. Once they are gone for the day, that’s that!
No doubt there are quite a few other great places to try on Pine island, and if we get to go back to stay in Matlacha on the north end of the island, we’ll try to let you know!