There are swarms of tourists strolling up and down Matlacha‘s main drag this time of year. They check out the shops and eat at places like Great Licks. They also do something that surprises many locals. They walk past the Matlacha Park entrance adjacent to the Blue Dog restaurant. The park is not a destination by itself, but as a part of Matlacha, it definitely is. There’s a lot there.
Matlacha Island is a small piece of land located just off the coast of Cape Coral, between north Cape Coral and the center of Pine Island. It’s the ideal small town in Florida for a day of relaxation in a truly unique setting. Consider ‘Florida Fish Camp meets Andy Warhol in Key West.’
There are no upscale hotels, high-rise condos, or fast food restaurants in Matlacha. Even the laid-back islands of Sanibel and Captiva aren’t nearly as funky. It’s bright colors rather than soft pastels in Matlacha, and it’s where someone else’s trash becomes sculpture and art.
Matlacha Park is an island with a little bridge connecting it to the island of Matlacha. It has both a kayak launch and a power boat launch ramp. There’s no fee for the paddle craft but there is a $10 a day parking fee for the boat launch. Sixty dollars will get you an annual pass.
There are two places to fish from, both free. From the pier you can cast into Matlacha Pass. From a small dock by the kayak launch you can fish in a canal. The fishing is better off the two bigger bridges in Matlacha, but in the park, you’re not fishing next to cars whizzing by.
Matlacha Pass, like most of the waterways in the islands of southwest Florida, is a saltwater angler’s paradise. Redfish, trout, cobia, sheepshead, mangrove snapper, cobia, sharks, and snook, one of the most prized fish in southwest Florida. Fishing is more than just a pastime in Matlacha. It’s a way of life for them.
Land Based Recreation.
Matlacha Park has a basketball court, exercise area, picnic tables and some short trails to explore. It also has a great playground for kids. There are buildings which host art shows, lectures and other gatherings, such as the mullet toss.
Matlacha Park has two active osprey nests now. It also has a string of power poles which are often used by the birds as feeding stations. This time of year will often have pelicans resting in the mangroves along the west side of the park. In summer fiddler crabs are sometimes scurrying around the perimeter. They are caught by fishermen and used as bait, especially for sheepshead. Any time of the year you’ll see bold squirrels.
Osprey of Matlacha Park
There are three working osprey nests in the park now. No chicks have been observed yet. It’s still early.
The entrance to Matlacha Park is next to the Blue Dog restaurant. All the nests are in the front of the park. Two are on artificial nest platforms. The other is in a palm tree. When you drive into the park you’ll be forced to make a right. The palm tree nest is a little more than half way to the corner. It looks precarious, but there has been a lot of wind and it’s still up there. A pair of ospreys are maintaining it. You’ll see it on your right.
You may have already spotted the western artificial nest. It’s at the corner on the outside of the circling road. The third nest is near the kayak launch. It’s not doing as well as the other two. It’s often empty, but I’ve seen a pair of osprey in it.
A line of power poles run along the front of Matlacha Park. Osprey will stand on these sturdy platforms when feeding, even sometimes when their nest is near by. This could be because they don’t want to share with their partner or be bothered by their chicks.
It’s surprising how many decent places to eat there are in Matlacha. Yucatan Waterfront Bar & Grill on the water is large, crowded, and festive, serving moist, flaky fresh fish; Moretti’s Seafood Restaurant tends to feel most island-like, all white, and on the water, serving seafood with excellent beer on tap. Weekends at Bert’s Bar & Grill are filled with live music. In St. James City, there is usually something alive as well.
You may not want to visit Matlacha just for the park, but when in town, the park is worth a visit.