There are two things I really enjoy doing in Southwest Florida. One is driving down the US 41 past Florida's iconic Florida Gulf Coast beach homes. They're the ones built on stilts to withstand all weather extremes and usually sit isolated on skinny strips of beach by one or two weather-worn palms.

Photo by SandCastle Coastal Homes

When I'm down there, and see them, I'm as happy as a dog on a Sunday drive.

My other favorite thing to do in this part of Florida, after a long day at the beach - bamboo roll-up mat, beach umbrella and iPod safe in the trunk – is to find an inviting waterfront restaurant. You know, where the chef sticks a pan out the kitchen window, a fish splashes down and is served up fresh in the next 10 minutes.

First time I was in Florida, I just wanted a diner that served the catch of the day.  But it gets way better than that.

I have a Baltic heritage. My ancestors lived by the Baltic Sea where fish is still traditionally prepared in many ways. So, you can imagine how happy I was doing a restaurant crawl as part of a press trip to Charlotte Harbor and the Gulf Islands. Especially when all of the restaurants featured fish.

You could have steak and chicken and other selections there, but restaurant house specialties always featured seafood.


                                                      Photo by JCV

It should be noted that this part of Florida, Charlotte Harbor, is famous for fish and fishing. In fact, its original inhabitants, the Calusa Indians, settled here and developed a complex culture based on fishing. In most other areas, cultures developed from agriculture based activities, but not in Charlotte Harbor. Fishing is a highly significant activity here. Later, the first Europeans fished Charlotte Harbor and shipped their catch to a new settlement called Cuba.

The harbor, with its rich water flora, allows different fish to spawn, grow and flourish. Right now, its protected waters produce flounder, pompano, snook, grouper, redfish, mangrove snapper, spotted trout, sheepshead, bluefish, kingfish, mackerel and the most amazing shrimp and crab. Pretty amazing, eh? The area is also the tarpon capital of the world and attracts fishermen from around the world. And Charlotte Harbor hosts a well-known international fishing tournament.

Little wonder it has top-notch seafood restaurants.

Here are some of the establishments I dined at. Each restaurant is notable and many are recipients of certificates of excellence.

Photo by JCV

Farlow’s on the Water
2080 South McCall Rd.
Englewood, Florida

Amazing drink selection and an endless variety of seafood deliciously prepared
Something on the menu for everyone
Trip Adviser Certificate of Excellence 2013 winner 
Great waterfront setting with huge bay windows and outdoor dining
Restaurant almost always full because of popularity

Photo by

The Outlet at the Inlet
1251 12th St, East
Boca Grande, Florida

Delicious generous breakfast - try their omelets!
Outdoor waterfront patio, manatees may swim by
Friendly attentive service
Trip Adviser Certificate of Excellence 2013 winner 
Cuddly resident cat

Photo by

Village Fish Market Restaurant
1200 W. Retta Esplanade
Punta Gorda, Florida

Great variety on the menu
Local and continental fish (New England, Boston, Canadian)
Trip Adviser Certificate of Excellence 2013 winner 
Also gluten free and low calorie options
Very friendly owner/hosts,

Photo by

The Fishery Restaurant
13000 Fishery Rd.
Placida, Florida

It has an unbeatable funky fisherman’s ambiance
Can sometimes see dolphins swimming outside
A fun dining experience
Great prices

Photo by JCV

Peace River Seafood
5337 Duncan Rd.
Punta Gorda, Florida

A not-to-be missed Florida fish shack experience
Amazing seafood, incredible prices
Trip Adviser Certificate of Excellence 2013
Superb blue stone crab
Seafood heaven

Stay tuned for more of our great Charlotte Harbor and the Gulf Island adventures!