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Neighborhood Spotlight: Pine Island

Island or neighborhood? Old Florida fishing village or relaxed waterfront retreat? Welcome to Pine Island, Florida’s largest island off the Gulf Coast with a small-town atmosphere, where nothing needs to be defined because life here is simply about enjoying each day to the fullest. As the sign says upon arrival, “Island Time Begins Here.” 

Accessible by car from vibrant Matlacha across “The Fishingest Bridge in the World,” Pine Island is a unique stretch of land formed from coral rock, cut through by canals and surrounded by mangroves. There are no traffic lights, no big brand-name stores. The authentic culture is shaped by its past as a fishing village, and it continues to be a popular spot for anglers from all over the world. It’s also a laid-back community where you can spend leisurely days paddling, kayaking or boating. Visit local markets full of tropical fruits plucked straight from the fruit farms, and dine on the freshest seafood right on the waterfront.

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The Calusa inhabited this island thousands of years ago, and you can still feel the remnants of the past on the Calusa Heritage Trail at the Randall Research Center in Pineland. Just about a mile long, this walkway leads you through the ancient Pineland site where you’ll spot towering shell mounds and meandering canals.

Across from the heritage trail sits one of Pine Island’s most historic properties, Tarpon Lodge & Restaurant, where generations of families have considered this their home away from home. This former fishing lodge, dating back to 1926, boasts one of the best restaurants in the region — a perfect place to sip wine and dine on the catch of the day while the sun sets over Pine Island Sound. Just a stone’s throw (or a shell’s throw) from the lodge is Pineland Marina where you can hop on a boat to Boca Grande or the Outer Islands.

Along the western edge of the island is the pristine Pine Island Sound Aquatic Preserve. Practically untouched for centuries, this birding paradise is best explored by boat as you float along saltwater lagoons and towering mangrove tunnels. The east side of the island brings you to the Matlacha Pass, where shallow waters and wild mangrove islands are idyllic for kayaking.

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Keep traveling north to the tip of the island to Bokeelia, and you’ll uncover yet another side of Pine Island. Here, fresh sea breezes waft over small coastal cottages, while fruit farms are laden with mango trees, lychees, and an array of other tropical fruits. Stop by a fruit market or farm stand to taste fruits plucked from the trees and savor locally produced jams, honeys, breads, salsas, and other fruit-infused treats.

Venture down to the very southern tip of the island to St. James City. Among an array of casual seafood restaurants, diners often pull up on their boats to enjoy delicious fried seafood in the sunshine. Take a visit to Galt Preserve, where you can explore nearly 5 miles of marked hiking trails through pine flatwoods, and even bring your furry friend along for the day. This natural preserve is home to protected gopher tortoises and is a beloved birding destination where it’s possible to spot American bald eagles and red-shoulder hawks perched overhead.

From top to bottom, Pine Island’s charms are endless. Whether you spend a day exploring or plan to stay for a while, you’ll quickly find yourself feeling right at home among the laid-back local culture.