This al fresco restaurant on stilts at the base of the Sanibel Causeway has personality for days. The owner has collected some of his favorite foods and drinks from islands in the Caribbean and combined them with local cuisine for a menu that is bursting with flavor. There are giant stacks of onion rings, thick pulled pork sandwiches, Bahamian lobster BLTs, Jamaican jerk chicken, Florida gator tail and more. Dining here is a feast for all of the senses. Taxidermy hangs from the walls and from the ceiling, a real airboat. It's lowered and raised like a curtain in front of an elevated stage featuring live music daily. The wall behind the bar is lined with frozen drink machines The bar itself is an aquarium with real fish that swim under your drinks and swinging chairs on the ends.
Recommended for Waterfront Dining because: One of the last stops before heading over the causeway to Sanibel and Captiva Islands, known for its colorful atmosphere and flavorful cuisine.
Gina's expert tip: Many of the cocktails come in souvenir cups.
Recently rebranded as Shuckers at The Gulfshore, this is a local landmark, one restaurant with three great vibes. The indoor bar and dining room have undergone an impressive facelift. It's laid back and comfortable with superb views of the Gulf of Mexico. 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 views 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.
Recommended for Waterfront Dining because: Recently remodeled, this is an iconic spot to drink and dine on Fort Myers Beach with both indoor and outdoor seating.
Gina's expert tip: Enjoy live music every night of the week.
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 conditioner 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, pasta, steaks and the chef is constantly cooking up delicious daily specials. The Bistro Salad is a signature; mixed baby greens, sundried tomatoes, portobello mushrooms, gorgonzola and more, tossed in pesto balsamic dressing. The owners and chef have a long history of operating successful restaurants all over Southwest Florida. Once you dine here, you'll understand why.
Recommended for Waterfront Dining because: A relaxing place for superb food while watching boats of all sizes navigate from the narrow locks to the wide-open Caloosahatchee River.
Gina's expert tip: Oysters on the half shell are $1.50 each during happy hour, 3-6:30 daily.
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 breezy, outdoor terrace for romantic views of the moon shimmering on the water. The food is consistent and fresh and the service spot on. Asian Calamari is a signature appetizer and Citrus Grouper is an entree favorite. The wine list has a good reputation and bartenders are adept at making classic cocktails. Bayfront sits above a marina so you can arrive by car or boat.
Recommended for Waterfront Dining because: Quiet and romantic with a beautiful view of the Estero Bay and its wildlife. Indoor and outdoor seating with an outstanding wine list.
Gina's expert tip: Brunch served both Saturday and Sunday
Undercover, yet all open-air, this rustic spot has an expansive, circular bar as well as a dining bar facing the water, offering great views of the fishing charters and gambling boats headed out for the day or night. This bar offers a lot more than 'bar food' with things like a low-land seafood boil, raw oysters, shrimp burgers, and a killer B.L.TAE: bacon, fried green tomatoes, fried egg and avocado sandwich. You can get your fresh catch prepared in a variety of seasonings and styles, including whole and fried. Enjoy Southern sides such as collards and red beans and rice. Dixie attracts great musicians and is a hot spot for live music on Sunday afternoons.
Recommended for Waterfront Dining because: Just underneath the "big bridge" to Fort Myers Beach, this alfresco spot is casual and friendly with good food and entertainment.
Gina's expert tip: You can park in the neighboring Doc Fords, they're under the same management.
Gather has a cool vibe no matter what time of day or night you choose to dine here; breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner. With modern lighting and tasteful graffiti, the lounge area takes center stage with couches and throw pillows. The low tables are just right for drinks and appetizers. Creative sketches of the craft cocktails add an element of intrigue to the menu which is full of global plates and creative twists on the classics. Found at the Tarpon Point Marina, the deep-water harbor is surrounded by nature and offers beautiful sunsets. The outdoor seating pits are perfect for facilitating your enjoyment of the view.
Recommended for Waterfront Dining because: Overlooking a nature preserve at Tarpon Point Marina, Gather serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and has an impressive craft cocktail list.
Gina's expert tip: Enjoy wine tastings and wine education programs on the last Wednesday of the month
A favorite spot on Fort Myers Beach to watch the sunset and have a meal, residents and longtime visitors will remember this space as the former Anthony's on the Gulf. Diners have a wide-open view of the beach and beautiful Gulf waters. The comfortable terrace area is ideal for diners who want to watch the sunset as they enjoy their favorite drinks and appetizers. The menu is loaded with seafood specialties in generous portions. For an appetizer, the oyster sashimi is rave-worthy. But it's the 'fresh catch' that people come for over and over; pick your fish, your preparation and your sauce for YOUR perfect entree. Besides fish, you'll find lamb, pork belly and steak on the menu.
Recommended for Waterfront Dining because: One of the more upscale, casual, beach-front dining options on Fort Myers Beach, the menu is heavy on fresh seafood with creative presentations.
Gina's expert tip: Save room for mouthwatering desserts such as the Key Lime Pie and Dark Forest Berry Tart with Chantilly Cream.
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.
Recommended for Waterfront Dining because: Full of Old Florida charm, dining here offers superb food and serene views of the Pine Island Sound.
Gina's expert tip: Managers pride themselves in bringing in vintners for monthly wine dinners that almost always sell out. Check the website for a schedule.
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 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.
Recommended for Waterfront Dining because: Flippers is the best-hidden gem on Fort Myers Beach with an award-winning chef and views of both the sunrise and sunset.
Gina's expert tip: Call ahead seating will save you a lot of time in line on the weekends
This beachside 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.
Recommended for Waterfront Dining because: The best beachside restaurant in the area with a menu that changes daily, a superb wine selection and excellent service.
Gina's expert tip: The owners often close the Month of September.