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Times of the Islands Magazine

Getting ‘Lost’ in the Islands: Southwest Florida a Perfect Place for Couple’s 24-hour Getaway

Cayo Costa State Park. Photo by Capt. Brian Holaway.

Southwest Florida has been a traveler’s destination for centuries—its beauty surrounds you. Our journey off the beaten path starts where the road ends on Captiva Island at McCarthy’s Marina, known as the city dock before the Sanibel Causeway was built. The mail boat and island ferry would pull up to the dock with mail, islanders and their supplies. It was a gathering place that filled with excitement when the boats arrived. And it’s where our 24-hour getaway begins. 

Historic fish house in Pine Island Sound. Photo by Capt. Brian Holaway.

It is 4 o’clock on a Friday afternoon when we board a private guided charter boat for the 45-minute trip to Tarpon Lodge at Pineland on Pine Island. Salt air fills our hair as we pass historic fish houses and have the pure pleasure of winding down after the workweek. The fish houses were once used to keep fish on ice before it was shipped to Punta Gorda, then transported north by rail. Now they are privately owned for use as weekend getaways.

We soon see the narrow channel into Tarpon Lodge, with pelicans as our welcoming committee. By 5 o’clock, the boat’s tied up and we’re off to check into our room. It’s above the restaurant and the water view makes us wonder if we ever want to leave. The building has an old Florida feel—with a sense of stepping back in time. We take a short walk downstairs to the bar for a cocktail, followed by a walk on the vast lawn and then sit in the gazebo to “take it all in.” 

Around 6 o’clock we enjoy dinner on the screened lanai, also with a view of the water. The food is simply wonderful and fresh. Staff members make us feel like we’re family staying in their home. After dinner, we head to the dock and watch an amazing sunset—one of the best places to see sunsets in Southwest Florida. Cloud reflections on the water and the long rays of the sun have a way of making us feel like we’re the only ones on the planet.

After the sun dips, we find ourselves back at the quaint bar for a nightcap. Conversations are overheard of local watermen talking about the weather and what tomorrow has in store. We head upstairs to bed in our cozy room for a clear view of the night sky and a peaceful sleep.

We awake to fresh brewed coffee downstairs and prepare for a short boat ride to Cabbage Key. Breakfast at Cabbage Key may not be well known but it’s delightful. The French toast comes highly recommended—and maybe a Bloody Mary to keep a relaxing vibe going. After our fulfilling breakfast, we stroll on the island’s nature trail. A close look into the large oak trees reveals native butterfly orchids. We climb to the top of the Cabbage Key water tower and get a bird’s-eye view of Cayo Costa State Park, our next destination.

Sunset view from the lodge. Photo by Capt. Brian Holaway.

We motor to Cayo Costa by boat and the water is calm as it anchors on the island’s Gulf side. Cayo Costa’s 8 miles of beach is mostly undisturbed—a perfect place to relax for part of our couple’s getaway. The island is full of solitude, shells and a handful of shorebirds.

We walk the beach and with each step seem to be more disconnected from whatever was on our minds, finding ourselves more connected to the sounds of nature—while collecting an assortment of beautiful shells. We enjoy our picnic lunch (which we’d requested from Cabbage Key staff) on the beach and then regretfully start back to Captiva before the day ends. 

When we reach Captiva, things seem a little different as the boat pulls into the dock at McCarthy’s. Things have slowed down, the air smells fresher and sounds of the birds remain in the distance. Memories of the sunset are still fresh in our minds as we set our bags on the dock—and make plans for another couple’s getaway to once again relax and enjoy the islands of Southwest Florida. 

Written by Capt. Brian Holaway, a Florida master naturalist and has been a Southwest Florida shelling and eco-tour guide since 1995. His charters visit the islands of Pine Island Sound, including Cayo Costa State Park, Cabbage Key, Pine Island and North Captiva.