The Fort Myers area has beautiful beaches and phenomenal sunsets creating a desirable backdrop for dining. Just because it can get sandy and sweaty on the islands doesn’t mean diners can’t get a little, shall we say, “fancy” when it comes time to go out.
Some of the most popular establishments serving great grub like the Smokin’ Oyster Brewery, welcomes flip flips and tank tops, offers live acoustic music and the best seafood steamers you’ll find on Fort Myers Beach. While the S.O.B., as locals call it, isn't right on the water, it's just a block inland in the heart of shopping and entertainment section of the beach.
But if you want a place with a higher-end vibe, Bayfront Bistro has you covered with dim lighting, waterfront views and an impeccable wine list. The historic Thistle Lodge on Sanibel is another one of those places, romantic and charming to boot.
While not all of these are not directly on the beach sand, its access is almost always within walking distance, and well worth the find.
Cabanas Beach Bar & Grille
A recent remodeling of Cabana's at Diamond Head Resort and Spa on Fort Myers Beach, added more beachside seating than just under the tiki bar. Don't want to rinse the sand off of your feet? No worries, as beach attire is standard here. The casual dining serves light fare like fresh salads, a large selection of sandwiches such as the Grouper Reuben and typical beach fare the likes of coconut shrimp and wings. Grab a rum drink from the bar or any number of fruity, tropial libations. Cabana's is known for having some kind of special promotion every day of the week: bloody Mary bars, sunset champagne toasts, free wings, ½ price food and drinks and live music to name a fun few. (239-765-7654)
Doc's Beach House
A Bonita Springs legend if ever there was one, Doc's has been an immensely popular place to grab breakfast, lunch and dinner for longer than most locals can recall. The location, certainly helps. After all, when a place sits on water and is right beside the public beach, it's handy for folks who plan to spend their day having fun in the sun. However, Doc's is more than convenient, and the downstairs kitchen just so happens to serve up some of the tastiest breakfast eats around. At lunch, the room upstairs opens and doubles as a sports bar specializing in Chicago-style pizza. If arriving for dinner, get there in time to watch a breathtaking sunset. There's also a free valet parking to help when the beach is booming. (239-992-6444, 239-992-0487)
Smokin Oyster Brewery, SOB
Situated between the Gulf of Mexico and Estero Bay on Fort Myers Beach, the Smokin' Oyster Brewery or S.O.B. has been shucking oysters since 1997. The beach cottage has live entertainment on the recently expanded front porch; the inside is still small and cozy. Besides fresh oysters, the S.O.B. is known for it's variety of seafood steamer pots and it's messy, delicious garlic crab claws. Get a side of potatoes and let them soak in the bottom for a the best flavors. There is paid parking on the street and a few free spots on the east side of the building. Be sure to ask for a signature S.O.B. drink coozie to keep your beer cold. (239-463-3474)
South Beach Grille
Once a grocery store, this space in Santini Marina Plaza (at the south end of Fort Myers Beach) now houses the South Beach Grille, a restaurant that recalls the stylish, neighborhood eateries you'd find on the side streets along Lincoln Avenue in Miami's "South Beach." Pleasantly appointed with Deco-inspired panache, the restaurant takes full advantage of its spacious digs, and the kitchen does more than its part to win over palates with dishes like panko breaded oysters, Caribbean-style shrimp, Florida lobster, kurobuta pork chops and the mouthwatering signature dessert of citrus creme brûlée. The bar is large and accommodating with broad wine list and top shelf spirits. (239-463-7770)
The Gulfshore Grill is one restaurant with two great vibes. The indoor portion provides quiet, the comfort of air conditioning and views of the Gulf of Mexico from every seat. The outside deck, known as The Cottage, serves the same menu, however, shirts are not required here and there is live music almost every night. Whether inside or out, you get front row seating for some of the best parties on the beach. Start with the famous Beach Bread then try the Grouper Platter. The Gulfshore Grill is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Take advantage of the valet service for parking as towing companies are active in this area. (239-765-5440)
Set in an unpretentious, colorful beach cottage with low ceilings and uneven floors, this darling café dishes up mouthwatering fare that is both affordable and delectable. "Charming" may be the operative word, applicable to every aspect of the Heavenly Biscuit, from the venue itself to the service, the plating and the ambrosial eats, making it the perfect spot to savor a lovely breakfast or lunch before heading across the street to the beach. There is almost always a line, order at the counter, pay when you leave, cash only; an ATM is conveniently located on-site. The seating is limited to a few tables inside and a few on the front porch, where bees love to congregate around the trash can, hoping to get a taste of the delicious glaze from the famous cinnamon rolls. (239-463-7600)
Serving Florida cuisine with a littler touch of Asian here and some European there, the Thistle Lodge is a mix of elegance and 'Old Florida' charm. Found at the popular Casa Ybel Resort, the elevated restaurant gives diners a great view of the palm tree lined beach, just beyond the well-manicured lawn and garden. You'll notice seasonal changes on the menu but the seafood tower is a picture worthy standard; loaded with a variety of shellfish including lobster, crab claws, clams and mussels. The Lodge puts it's own spin on chowder, a tomato fennel base, spiked with smoked clam gnocchi. The Thistle Lodge offers a beautiful setting for any occasion. (239-472-9200, 239-472-3145)
If you're looking for a waterfrong dining experience that truly has it all, put Bayfront Bistro on your list. Facing the so-called back bay of Fort Myers Beach, this award winning local spot has dock space for boaters and plenty of parking for land lubbers. Bayfront has an expansive terrace with a nice breeze for outdoor dining and every seat in the house has a view of the water. The bar is open and welcoming but the restaurant is best known for its great service and expertly plated food. Bayfront also takes great pride in its extensive wine list; it spans the globe and covers all price ranges. (239-463-3663)
Flippers on the Bay
Part of Lovers Key Resort, Flippers On The Bay is a hidden gem between Fort Myers Beach and Bonita Springs. The dining is alfresco and more upscale than one might imagine after taking a gander at restaurant on stilts. Sitting on the Estero Bay, you still get a view of the Gulf of Mexico and it's one of the best spots to see a dolphin show, presented by Mother Nature. Open for breakfast lunch and dinner, you'll enjoy the large selection of expertly prepared seafood and more. Try the campechana, a spicy Spanish-style shrimp cocktail. During the day, the beach and dock often fill with boaters and at sunset the usually calm waters become a playground for dolphins. It's one of the few places you can see both sunrise and sunset while dining. (239-765-1040)
This beach side dining spot has been an island favorite for the perfect combination of food and ambiance, for three decades. With only about a dozen tables, each one has a spectacular view of the sunset over the Gulf of Mexico. The vibe is cozy, with dim lighting and the staff pays exquisite attention to detail. The menu changes frequently with lots of fish offerings, always a hit, and the bouillabaisse consistently gets rave reviews. Start with a glass of bubbly or another selection from the high-end wine list and perhaps order the foie gras. Sunset seating's fill up fast so by all means make a reservation. This is a true, waterside gem where shirts and shoes are definitely required. (239-472-0033)
About Gina Birch
Gina carries the rare title of "Native Floridian". Living in Southwest Florida for 22 years, she is a well known, award winning radio and TV personality.
Besides brandishing a microphone, Gina is good with a camera and computer, publishing a restaurant guide for Lee County called FLAVOR.
Gina is a self-proclaimed Oenophile, traveling to wine regions all over the world to sip what she calls "the nectar of the Gods." When not in the vineyards she loves to explore beautiful beaches and new restaurants.
You can find more of her musings in her blog "The Birch Beat" (www.thebirchbeat.blogspot.com)
Read more about Gina Birch here.
Connect with Gina via: Blog | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Google+ | Pinterest