Florida’s Paradise Coast runs along the Gulf of Mexico from Naples to Marco Island to just south of Everglades City. While Naples and Marco Island have more of the expansive beaches and glitzy resort feel to them, Everglades City has a rustic beachy vibe of an undiscovered small town. It’s what the Keys must have been like years ago. It’s an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise with the Everglades Wilderness Waterway and the Ten Thousand Islands coastal mangrove estuary. It’s also known as the “Stone Crab Capital of the World” with crab season October 15th to May 15th. I had one night in Everglades City. You don’t go here for chic luxury and high rise hotels. You go for wilderness experiences, water adventures, and a salty air stay in more modest accomodations. Within my first hour there, I knew one night wasn’t enough in this charming seaside village.
From the Miami Airport, I drove 1.5 hours to Everglades City passing Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve for my one night at Ivey House Everglades Adventures Hotel. While checking into this property with a coastal motel motif, the gals gave me a map of the area with restaurants, cafes, and sites to see with drive times included. I asked a couple of questions about best place for sunset, what’s open for dinner on a Sunday night, and is there a cute coffee shop open early in the mornings before heading to my King Room. The rooms are around the screen-in courtyard and pool with lots of lush plants. The glass roof gives it a tropical aura. Each room has a small bisto table and chairs lining the atrium. The motel style rooms are done in a colorful coastal decor. My room was really spacious for 1-2 people. When road tripping and/or adventuring I appreciate space in a room in case you need to bring inside gear you don’t want to leave overnight in the car. My room had a small sitting area along with a small refrigerator and coffee set up. It was comfortable stay for a night, or even for a few nights, at a good price point ($119 but varies based on season). They also offer adventure packages and excursions. If I could have stayed longer I would have definitely gone on one of the guided experiences.
Based on the Ivey House gals’ recommendation, I dropped my luggage and drove a few minutes south to the next island of Chokoloskee Island. They told me there’s a small beach area across from parking area for small fishing piers. I had a few minutes so I watched a couple of pelicans swirl and swoop into the water for fish before crossing the road to enjoy a breezy and beautiful sunset. One of the restaurant recommendations was Havana’s Cafe on Chokoloskee Island, but it was closed.
As the sun continued to set, I drove back to Everglades City and stumbled upon Camellia Street Grill. When I saw the colorful 1970s VW Bug out front I had a feeling I would enjoy the eatery. You order from the board at the counter, then enjoy table service. You can sit inside the screened in dining room, but after ordering shrimp and grits, I headed out to the porch so I could watch the last glimpses of the sun going down. The shrimp and grits with herb salad and toasted bread was a delicious dinner. I did wish I had room for one of their homemade desserts, but I didn’t. I bet their key lime pie and peanut butter pie are scrumptious!
The next morning I was up early and headed to Nely’s Corner. I didn’t have time for a full breakfast but I did salivate over the scratch kitchen menu. Nely’s is inside Everglades Fishing Company. It’s an elite tackle shop with a grab-n-go market and Nely’s inside. While checking out with my coffee and provisions for the day, I chatted with the lady behind the counter. She’s Nely and her son owns the retail store. I drove a few miles back down Highway 41 for an adventurous morning in Big Cypress National Preserve. I left Everglades City wishing I had a few more nights to slow down and enjoy its rustic beachy vibe a little longer.
From Everglades City, author Jennifer Broome traveled to four National Park Service sites during a 6 days road trip in South Florida.
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