There’s nothing like a pleasure cruise along the Caloosahatchee, the Intracoastal, or the Gulf of Mexico to work up an appetite. Whether it’s a cheeseburger in paradise at Cabbage Key, a grouper sandwich at Bert’s Bar or Ralph’s Killer Shrimp at Rumrunners, it all tastes better when you arrive by boat.
The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel offer a treasure trove of boat-accessible options, ranging from ultracasual to special-occasion chic.
The main thing to keep in mind is that many of these establishments have only a few slips and popular spots fill up quickly – especially on weekends – so call ahead to ensure there’s room and to get precise nautical directions before making the trip.
Big Hickory Seafood Grille and Marina, Channel Marker 60 is the key to finding this reliable old restaurant where there’s four feet of water even at low tide. Once you’ve landed a table, belly up to a plate of fish tacos, a grouper sandwich, burgers or full entrees at this rustic-but-charming spot overlooking Estero Bay. N 26.358598, W 81.857557
Coconut Jack’s Waterfront Grille, dine inside or out at this festive restaurant that offers casual fare such as ceviche, barbecue pork nachos, coconut shrimp, salads, sandwiches and seafood baskets as well as more substantive dishes such as baby back ribs and lobster tails. N 26-19.836 W 081-50.495
The Fish House, on Bonita’s Back Bay. The atmosphere is casual with a menu that includes smoked fish dip, blackened tuna bites, quesadillas, seafood baskets and grouper tacos.
N 27.50967, W 80.32549
Old House Restaurant, just off Marker 60 (accessible by boat only). The food here is Florida casual by day, a bit more ambitious at night. Said to be the inspiration for Jimmy Buffett’s “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” the restaurant serves burgers, peel-and-eat shrimp, crab claws and other Florida fare with an expanded selection for dinner. Should you have been fortunate enough to catch your own fish, the restaurant will cook it for you.
N 26-3924.162, W 82-1320.635
Fathoms at Cape Harbour, from the Caloosahatchee River, look for Marker 92 and stay to the left of red markers 2, 4, 6 and 8; turn left past green marker 9, stay right of markers 11, 13, 15 and 17, at fork stay to left and follow channel to Cape Harbour. Tuck into a selection of small plates — tsunami rolls, stuffed black and blue bread, a cold cuts board, seared beef tips — or order something more substantial such as shrimp scampi pasta, braised kurobuta pork cheeks or lavender marinated chicken breast. And don’t forget the crafted cocktails. Dine indoors or out. N 26-32.73, W 082-00.46
Marker 92 Waterfront Bar & Bistro, and The Nauti Mermaid Dockside Bar & Grill, whether it’s a nosh or a full-fledged meal you have in mind, you can find it along with a hearty portion of waterfront at Marker 92 and its adjoining bar. Flatbread pizzas are a specialty, but there are also burgers, salads, wings and entrees such as shrimp pomodoro from which to choose. N 26.540769, W 81.9993743
Rumrunners, see boating directions above for Fathoms. Full bar. Dine indoors or out from a wide-ranging menu that includes Bahamian cracked-conch fritters, lump crab cakes, Ralph’s killer shrimp, steaks, paella and seafood pot pie. N 26-32.73, W 82-00.46
The Green Flash, Intracoastal Waterway Marker 38. Watch for the green flash said to occur just as the sun sets. Meanwhile, feast on raw oysters, bisque, fresh seafood and surf and turf.
N 26-2723.41, W 81-5715.18
Old Captiva House, Marker 38. The menu at this lovely Gulf-front restaurant includes wild mushroom ragout, curry lobster spring rolls, roasted rack of lamb and Caribbean crusted grouper. N 26.510457, W 82.189039
The Lighthouse Restaurant, Mile Marker 11 in Jonathan Harbour, just past Connie Mack Island. There’s a full bar, indoor and outdoor dining, seafood, crab cakes, pasta, prime rib and more. N 26-29.25, W 81-59.36
Sanibel Harbour Marriott Resort & Spa, Mile Marker 11. Choose from Charley’s Cabana Bar, with light fare served at a casual bar on the water; Tarpon House, with inside and outside seating that overlooks the resort pool and waterfront serving a mix of Florida favorites; or Courtside Steakhouse, with its full bar and menu featuring steaks, seafood and upscale service. N 26.48930, W 82.01080
Fort Myers Beach
Bayfront Bistro, this casually elegant restaurant and bar sits atop Snook Bight Yacht Club, offering a prime view of the back bay, serving flatbreads, salads, seafood, steaks and more.
N 26.438815, W 81.918763
Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille, sit inside or out and get a great view of Estero Bay while dining on conch chowder, crab cakes, ceviche and other Caribbean-tinged treats and a wide range of libations. For dessert: Drunken Parrot Carrot Cake, which is liberally spiked with Gossling’s Black Seal Rum. N 26.459243, W 81.952564
Original Shrimp Dock Bar & Grill, recently opened, this waterfront restaurant offers a wealth of shrimp dishes as well as grouper, other seafood dishes and offerings for those who prefer land-based proteins like meatloaf and ribs. N26.457 W81.944
Flippers On the Bay, Lovers Key Beach Club & Resort, just east of Big Carlos Pass near the drawbridge. This open-air bar and grill features sandwiches, salads, crab cakes, exceptional coconut shrimp and local seafood with a more upscale menu for dinner. N26.406.255, N 81.876.262
Matanzas Harborside Restaurant, an institution on the Fort Myers Beach waterfront, Matanzas has earned its reputation on fresh seafood, well-crafted drinks and pizza (served on the Upper Deck Bar). Dockage while dining is free. N 26.455746, W 81.953552
Nervous Nellie’s, a casual waterfront eatery and bar with a mind-bogglingly large menu that includes loads of appetizers, burgers, salads, barbecue, fajitas and more. N 18.104.22.168, W 22.214.171.124
Parrot Key Caribbean Grill, Marker 24 near the Matanzas Pass Bridge. A lively, open-air restaurant and bar that features crab cakes, conch fritters, fish and chips, a raw bar, seafood and festive drinks. N26.457 W81.944
Pink Shell Beach Resort and Marina, Marker 11. Bongo’s Bar & Grill is a poolside restaurant serving wings, calamari, salads, flatbreads, burgers, sandwiches, wraps, steaks, ribs and seafood. N 26-27 40.8132, W 81-57 54.7272
North Fort Myers
Three Fishermen, just northwest of the Caloosahatchee Bridge. This open-air seafood joint may have the best riverfront view in Lee County. The menu is almost exclusively seafood, including crabs, shrimp, mussels, scallops, and fish and chips. N 26-39-29, W 81-53-03
Lazy Flamingo 3, Marker 8, look for the sign for Four Winds Marina; slips for restaurant are near the condos. An ultracasual nautical outpost, it specializes in fresh local seafood as well as wings, conch fritters and burgers. N 26.42.060, W 82.09.378
Bert’s Bar and Grill, just east of the Matlacha Bridge near Marker 55. A casual, popular spot that serves lots of bar fare – wings, peel and eat shrimp, pizza and a great grouper sandwich. N 26.37.977, W 82.03.960
Tarpon Lodge Restaurant, in Wilson (Pineland) Pass north of Marker 13. Choose from the well-appointed restaurant or casual bar for a full meal, sandwich or snack. It’s a great place to watch the sunset. N 26-39.562, W 82-09.180
Woody’s Waterside, Marker 13, take main channel at St. James City and turn into Monroe Canal (second canal). This laid-back sports bar offers comfort fare such as black bean chili, barbecued pulled pork, crab cakes and burgers. N 26-30 262, W 82-04 966
Waterfront Restaurant, cozy and casual, the Waterfront offers a wealth of dining options including black beans and rice, po’boys, baskets (shrimp, grouper, gator, conch and others), Pine Island clams, stone crabs (in season, and homemade desserts like coconut fried cheesecake. N26.29517 W082.04.9024
Gramma Dots, Sanibel Marina, dine on grouper and shrimp while checking out the plethora of yachts and birds as well as the occasional manatee that pass by. N 26 27 0, W 82 1 50