When you're in the mood for ambience as much as food, satisfying restaurants can be hard to come by. After all, you want the whole package. Fortunately, Fort Myers and it's surrounding islands deliver in spades.
The area promises a superb selection of restaurants to satisfy your desire for Waterfront Dining. These places take care of the details, make you feel welcomed, ply you with wonderful dishes and do it with a fantastic natural backdrop. For unspoiled mangroves and playful dolphins, Bayfront Bistro is sure to please as much as Gulfshore Grill will tease, with it's views of sunbathers on Fort Myers Beach.
The Fort Myers area beaches may seem obvious spots for finding a waterfront dining, however, there are bays, rivers and canals here too. Rum Runners and Melograno Italian Gourmet, are two restaurants found at different marina's on inland waterways in Cape Coral. Not only do they have ample dock space for you to arrive by boat, but also parking garages to keep your car cool while you dine. In fact, most of these spots have dock space, although it can get crowded on the weekends.
While there are lots of bars with waterfront views, 10Best will guide you to the best places to enjoy good food to go along with your cold beverage.
There are two locations of 3 Fishermen, but it's the one in North Fort Myers has the view. On the banks of the Caloosahatchee River, you not only have the waterfront scenery but the best view of the skyline of Fort Myers. You can watch the sun go down and the party lights of Fort Myers come up. The outdoor seating here is the best, so hope for good weather. Try a couple of southern classics like the smoked mullet, cheese grits or take a walk on the wild side and try the Gator bites. Happy hour gets started early (3:00) at this casual, no frills waterfront find. (239-599-8568)
Pinchers; The Marina at Edison Ford
This downtown restaurant is among the newer additions to the Pincher's family, a local seafood restaurant that while based in the Fort Myers area, has expanded as far south as Key West. With a wide-open view of the Caloosahatchee River, there's a large terrace for lots of outdoor seating. Even the indoor tables provide diners with lovely waterfront views. The restaurant owns half of a local seafood company to assure that the catch you are served is the freshest possible. Make sure to try the stone crabs here when they are in season. If you happen to be touring the historic Edison & Ford Winter Estates, there is a back gate that gives direct access to Pinchers, a welcomed new partnership. (239-245-7049)
The Lighthouse is an impressive white structure with beautiful landscaping and a relaxing waterfront view. Tucked just off of the main road to Sanibel and Captiva Islands, it's at the entrance of the even more exclusive Connie Mack Island. The large, screened in lanai is comfortable even in the hot summer months. But if air conditioning is your preference, the inside tables still provide a nice view of the water. The Lighthouse serves a plentiful selection of seafood, steak and pastas but the Lobster Bisque is a pre-requisite. Enjoy live music on the weekends (and most weeknights) and a peaceful Sunday Brunch the next morning. (239.489.0770)
The Tarpon Lodge could be considered a hidden gem as it takes some effort to get to, on the northwestern side of Pine Island. Some say it appears frozen in time, reminiscent of "old Florida," before the big developments and fancy high rises. The lodge offers accommodations, history, sports and boating adventures to its sister property on Cabbage Key, among other things. But most people make the trek here to dine and enjoy the laid-back yet classy vibe, cozy bar, outstanding food and tranquil views of the Pine Island Sound. Be sure to try the local clams and the famous blue crab and roasted corn chowder. There's something about this place that makes you want to linger a little longer and forget about the problems of the world, if even for a mere couple of hours. (239-283-3999)
Melograno Italian Gourmet
Melograno is an Italian restaurant that has something for everyone. The flagship establishment can be found in the gourmet capitol of Italy, Emilia-Romagna, home to balsamic vinegar, prosciutto di Parma and more. The ingredients used here are thoughtful, organic, locally sourced and even gluten free. The dishes are not loaded with sauces and cheeses so you can actually taste their quality components. Found at the Tarpon Point Marina, the deep-water harbor is surrounded by nature and offers beautiful sunsets. Melograno is not only open for dinner and lunch, but also one of the few waterfront spots offering breakfast; mouthwatering pastries, rich coffee and healthful juices. Packaged, signature items are available for purchase the market, as you are sure to want more when you get home. (239-214-6444)
The Gulfshore Grill is a local landmark, 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, also called The Cottage, serves the same menu, however, shirts are not required here. You can find live music at the cottage almost every night. No matter if you sit in or out, you'll enjoy 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 free valet parking as the spots are limited and tow trucks often frequent the beach. (239-765-5440)
Rum Runners is just over the Caloosahatchee River, in Cape Coral. Diners can dock their boats and dine on the outside deck, the screened in terrace or inside where the air condition is comfortable. The restaurant sits on a scenic canal with direct access to the river. There is also a rather large marina here so you can bet there is almost always a steady stream of boats passing by. The menu has seafood, pastas, steaks and the chef is constantly cooking up delicious daily specials. The owners and chef have a long history of operating successful restaurants all over Southwest Florida. Once you dine here, you'll understand why. (239-542-0200)
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 exquisite attention to detail. The menu changes frequently with lots of popular fish offerings; 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. Other tempting specials include lamb, duck and decadent homemade desserts. Sunset seatings fill up fast so by all means make a reservation. This is a true, waterside gem. (239-472-0033)
In the middle of Estero Island, Bayfront Bistro has great views of the mangroves in what locals call the "back bay". Get there at dusk for the best chance of seeing dolphins at play. Or dine on the the breezy, outdoor terrace for romantic views of the moon rising, shimmering on the water. Bayfront sits above a marina so you can arrive by car or boat. Wine lovers will be in heaven at the great selections offered here. The food is consistent and fresh and the service spot on. Bayfront is also the proud winner of coveted awards like "Best Dining on the Beach" and "Best Romantic Dining." (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 considering a restaurant on stilts. It's the only spot on the beach giving diners a view of both the sunrise and the sunset, while serving food for both. Try the Lobster Eggs Benedict for breakfast and the Miso Seabass for dinner, it will melt in your mouth. Sitting on the Estero Bay, you still have a clear view of the Gulf of Mexico and it's one of the best spots to see the dolphin show, presented by Mother Nature. Arrive by boat or car to enjoy this cozy space. (239-765-1040)
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)
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