Pine Island, Florida has no beaches. It is surrounded by thick mangroves and shallow mucky bay waters. There is a fear of development on Pine Island. Most people who live here don't want their sleepy little island turned into another island covered with condos, hotels, and golf courses. Nevertheless, some development is happening slowly.
Because there are no beaches on Pine Island, real estate prices have not been nearly as high as prices on Sanibel. But that is changing now. The development of the mainland area just west of Pine Island along Burnt Store Road is well underway and prices are going up up up. More and more realtors are specializing in helping people find properties on Pine Island. Right now, Matlacha, Pine Island Center, Bokeelia, Pineland, and St. James City are the centers of population, but that will slowly change as development gradually spreads out.
If you've ever thought to yourself "I wish I'd bought property there 20 years ago" about a particular booming place, Pine Island is probably a good chance to redeem yourself. Not everybody wants a beach.
The few residents of Pine Island are very protective of their island, which is quite large--nearly 20 miles in length. Much of the island is covered with pine forest. Wild hogs abound. The two enterprises most encouraged here seem to be fishing and tropical fruit agriculture.
Pine Island is very much a small town island, a family island. People here look out for each other. There are no resorts or attractions or big shopping centers...and there won't be any. Compared to most everywhere else, life moves slowly here on this out-of-the-way island with a colorful and fascinating history. If you come here, be sure to stop by the Museum of the Islands for a visit. It is very small and cozy. You will get personal attention from the staff. It only costs a buck to enter, but be generous and make an additional donation. The museum has some GREAT books on Florida and has some wonderful crafts for sale.
Directions to Pine Island, Florida
To get to Pine Island from I-75, take exit #161, Jones Loop Road (in the Fort Myers / Cape Coral area). It will take you across US 41 and will become Burnt Store Road. Burnt Store road is a fairly narrow, mostly straight, two-lane road through a somewhat rural area. Many of the locals don't take kindly to people driving the speed limit. Follow Burnt Store Road about 20 miles to Pine Island Road (SR 78). Turn right on Pine Island Road and keep going several miles to the four-way stop at Stringfellow Road. On Pine Island Road, before you actually get to Pine Island, you will cross a small bridge and find yourself on the small island village of Matlacha (say it Mat-la-shay). Don't blink or you'll miss a true gem of Florida history. When you finally get to Stringfellow Road and the four-way stop (there are no traffic lights on Pine Island), turn north (right) to get to the places I visited as shown in the photos below.
What to Expect on Pine Island
Don't come to Pine Island if you are looking for Disney. They shoot mice here. If your idea of a great day is to do some fishin', go kayaking, buy some mangoes, have shrimp and beer for lunch, or visit the museum or an art gallery, then maybe you will like it on Pine Island. Don't forget your mosquito repellent during the rainy summer months, and watch out for the alligators and salt-water crocodiles.
My top recommendation of where to stay on Pine Island: The Beachouse Lodge
I discovered this 3-level wood frame Bokeelia, Pine Island getaway back in about 1993. It was at that time called the Beachouse Motel. Also at that time, the owners, the Johnsons, lived on the top level. They weren't home that weekend, but a caretaker was there and we rented a second-floor apartment for several days. I'll never forget the peaceful walks out onto the 300 foot dock, watching the dolphins catch fish, listening to the quiet, and just feeling like we were a million miles away. The Beachhouse Lodge has new owners now and the top level is available to rent. What a view of Charlotte Harbor!The Beachouse has two bedroom, one bedroom and efficiency units. And, the price is right! Visit their website for the best place to stay on Pine Island, Florida. Their website has all the info and photos you need, as well as contact information and a reservations form.
Pine Island Mangoes and Tropical Fruit
Each year, in July, Pine Island hosts Mango Mania, a festival in celebration of the mango. See the official Mango Mania website at http://www.mangomaniafl.com. Pine Island has some outstanding mangoes. The Tommy Atkins variety is the most common (I don't care for it), but if you are persistent you can find Julie, Kent, Keitt, Glenn, Carrie, Valencia and many of the Asian varieties of mangoes like Nam Doc Mai. Mango season on Pine Island is usually July and August. Lots of people drive a long way for Pine Island mangoes. We met a guy who makes the drive from St. Pete every Friday for mangoes during the season (late June through late August).
You don't even have to wait till you get home to start enjoying the mangoes. For a few dollars the folks at the Pine Island Fruit Market will make you a fresh mango smoothie.
In late June the lychee fruit is ready to eat. The Pine Island Fruit Market has many varieties of lychee for you to sample and buy. I often buy 5 or 10 pounds. They will keep in the fridge for several weeks. Longan fruit is also grown at the Pine Island Fruit Market. They are similar to the lychee but ripen later in the season.
There are a few sapodilla trees at the Pine Island Fruit Market. You have to keep coming back often and get there early in the morning if you want any. The only way I can describe their taste is to tell you to imagine peeling a ripe Bartlett pear, rolling it in light brown sugar, then eating it. That's about what a Sapodilla tastes like. When you pick them they are rock hard, so you have to put them in a paper bag and wait for them to get very soft before you can eat them.
What to do on Pine Island
- Take a drive on the back roads.
- Visit the Pine Island museum to learn a little history of the island. It's a cool place, I promise.
- Drive to Pineland and see their little post office. Drive down by the waterfront and check out the homes built on ancient Indian shell mounds.
- Take a walk at the Randell Research Center.
- Take the Tropic Star Ferry to Cabbage Key and Cayo Costa State Park (a full-day trip).
- Drive to Bokeelia and go for a stroll along the beautiful tropical waterfront on Charlotte Harbor.
- Visit the Crossed Palms Gallery.
- Buy some fruit at the Pine Island Fruit market if you are there during June/July/August.
- Book a fishing charter. Charlotte Harbor and Pine Island Sound are very productive fishing areas.
- Go kayaking.
- Go shopping for funky and unique Florida art and kitsch in Matlacha.
What NOT to do on Pine Island
- Drive too slowly
- Trespass on private property
- Drive around looking for the beaches (there aren't any)
Where to eat on Pine Island
Cap'n Con's Fish House - At the end of the road in Bokeelia by the pier. An old Florida style island house with a plain family-style restaurant. The best thing this restaurant has going for it is its location, right on Charlotte Harbor and its small-town service. Lots of repeat customers eat here. The food choices are basic. Not gourmet. It's a nice little out-of-the-way place to stop and eat, then take a walk out on the pier.
Lazy Flamingo - Great food, great service, open late, can get crowded. Lots of locals eat here and bring their families. They really know how to cook fish and what they offer is fresh.
Sandy Hook Fish & Rib House (in nearby Matlacha) - Great service and food, great location on the water right in Matlacha. Click the link to read about my experience here.