When it comes to enjoying the outdoors in Florida, luxuriant beaches and lush golf courses are likely the first scenes that come to mind. But along the Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel, dining outdoors is every bit as popular a pastime as sunbathing and hitting the links.
Clad in little more than sunscreen, shorts and sleeveless shirts or swimsuits, customers take full advantage of Southwest Florida’s sunny disposition and breezy evenings while enjoying craft beers, artisanal food as well as the subtropical splendor of the region. While a waterfront view may be considered the most desirable location, there are also plenty of restaurants with outdoor seating that offer views of cozy gardens or city sidewalks or attractive shopping centers.
So here’s a primer on 15 top spots for dining al fresco, the Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel style.
There are, naturally, quite a few establishments that offer waterfront view along with balmy breezes. For open-air dining and Florida food with a California twist at Fort Myers Beach try Flippers on the Bay. Chef Juan Cruz, from El Salvador, has worked with top chefs like Thomas Keller and Wolfgang Puck and his menus reflect the influence of the various regions in which he has lived and worked. Flippers is an open-air restaurant (there’s a roof but no walls) offering a prime view of Estero Bay.
For more casual fare, try Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille at Fort Myers Beach with another choice view of the bay. Doc Ford’s, named for the hero of best-selling author Randy Wayne White’s series of thrillers, boasts an assortment of Caribbean-influenced seafood along with hearty bar fare. Top choices here include the grouper sandwich and the banana leaf snapper. If you are on Sanibel or Captiva, there are locations there with outdoor seating but neither has the scenic vista afforded at the Fort Myers Beach restaurant.
A more upscale dining experience is available at Bayfront Bistro, which serves creative American fare on the second story of Snook Bight Marina, providing diners a prime view of the bay and the dolphins that often frolic nearby.
A bit south in Bonita Springs, The Fish House looks kind of plain from the front but has a great view of the water from the screened porch, is super casual and serves fresh seafood in baskets, salads and sandwiches, along with some options for carnivores and vegetarians. On the other side of Bonita Beach Road is Coconut Jack’s, which has outdoor dining in its palm-thatched chickee hut and a slightly more upscale menu.
If you’re on Captiva Island and want to bury your toes in the sand while dining, head to the Mucky Duck, a casual British-style pub right on the beach where it’s been serving sandwiches, full entrees and a bounty of seafood along with a full array of libations since the 1970s.
Hidden away at Sanibel Marina is cozy little Gramma Dot’s Seaside Saloon. The name pretty much says it all. The grouper sandwich is the signature dish.
On the mainland, just before you get to the causeway look to your right and you’ll see a sprawling structure called Summerlin Jake’s Seafood and Steaks. You’ll find lots of local seafood, plus pulled pork, charcuterie, jambalaya and other Southern-inspired items on the menu along with a superb view of the Intracoastal Waterway, the Sanibel Causeway and the islands beyond.
Just about every restaurant in downtown Fort Myers offers outdoor options, many along the sidewalk on First Street. The most elegant choice is the Veranda, a bastion of Southern hospitality, which has a lush subtropical garden in the middle of the restaurant that is a tranquil oasis attended by a polished service staff. Twisted Vine Bistro also has an expansive patio area where customers can dine and sample a variety of boutique wines.
For breakfast or lunch downtown, try The Gathering Place at the Butterfly Estates, where you can feast on Central American dishes like stewed chicken with a side of black beans, a recipe shared by one of the owners’ mothers, as well as creative sandwiches, omelets and more. This is one place where dessert is mandatory.
How about open-air dining on the farm? Buckingham Farms offers breakfast and lunch featuring produce and eggs raised there as well as its own honey and jams.
So come on down. The weather is great. And there’s an outdoor table waiting for you.
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