Outdoor Dining in Sunny Southwest Florida

Couple dining on patio at restaurant

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 in 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 the top spots for dining al fresco on The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel.

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. If you are on Sanibel or Captiva islands, there are locations there with outdoor seating as well. 

A more upscale dining experience is available at Bayfront Bistro, which serves creative American fare on the second story of Snook Bight Yacht Club and 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. The name pretty much says it all. The grouper sandwich is the signature dish.

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.  

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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