Hidden in Florida’s Gulf Coast, 20 miles from Fort Myers, Pine Island welcomes visitors with its small-town charm, tropical ambiance, friendly locals and quirky shops. Its location is ideal for those looking for a getaway near the water, as outdoor activities including kayaking, biking, sailing and outdoor trails are popular.
With its emphasis on outdoor life, Pine Island is an ideal destination for those looking for a beach getaway that won’t be overly packed. The coastal paradise is home to a variety of wildlife, and the island an artistic and friendly environment. As the largest island in the state of Florida, measuring 18 miles in length, it offers a variety of options for those who reside there as well as visitors looking for a tropical paradise. It is filled with small, family-owned restaurants, bed and breakfasts, and independent shops and boutiques.
Cindy Tolliver owns one of the brightly colored shops on the island’s main road, Pine Island Road. The gallery is visible on the drive along to the bridge that crosses to Pine Island, and is easily identified by the Native American statue sitting on a bench in front of the store.
Traders Hitching Post sells Native American jewelry and art, mostly from Navajo and Zuni tribes from the southwestern parts of the United States. Tolliver bought the gallery in 1994, and since then, has been selling gifts to tourists as well as locals.
“We have a large customer base locally, but do rely on tourists also,” she said.
For tourists, she recommends a visit to the Pineland area, a preserve on the western shore of Pine Island that serves as an estuary for fish and is filled with large trees and shell mounds.
“It’s beautiful and very spiritual there,” she said. “Take a walk through the Calusa Heritage Trail. Also a drive through Bokeelia, it’s very pretty there, too.”
Tolliver enjoys the island’s boating, peaceful waters and artistic scene, made up of the many musicians, artists and writers who live on the island and perform in local restaurants. Her favorite part, however, is the people.
“The best part to me are the people are very caring and look after one another,” she said about the community, which has a population of about 2,000.
When driving around the island, Tolliver’s gallery isn’t the only one to catch your eye. The main road in the island is filled with brightly colored stores and boutiques greets you, each selling something different, from tropical decorations to apparel.
Not far from Trader’s Hitching Post is a brightly colored building, painted with green, red and yellow, and decorated with large ice cream cone decorations leading the way to Great Licks Ice Cream, a stop for those looking for homemade ice cream made with locally grown fruit after a day out in the water.
“This building used to be a service garage with a couple of service bays,” said Terri Stadler, the ice cream shop’s manager.
Stadler was first introduced to Pine Island by a good friend who thought she would like the artistic appeal of the area. What captivated her about the island, she said, were its cultural events and eclectic offerings.
“You will find an array of gallery/gift shops housed in funky painted buildings that use to be fish shacks, homes and a garage,” she said. Being in Pine Island is like “a day trip giving you the feeling you have traveled to a totally remote area in Florida,” she said.
The island has something for everyone, from nature preserves to fishing, boating, biking and kayaking. Year-round sunshine and warm weather make it desirable to stay active with water sports and outdoor activities balanced with shopping in the friendly beach community.
Pine Island Cycles, a bicycle shop, is a stop most visitors don’t miss. Stocked with bicycle rentals of all kinds, it facilitates transportation for those wanting to get around the island without going by car. Beach cruisers, a popular option, allow for relaxed biking throughout the island’s many parks and trails.
David Axler, owner of Pine Island Cycles, always recommends visitors get in touch with nature and enjoy the outdoors life the island offers.
“There are hiking and biking trails, a museum, Indian shell mounds and lots of fishing,” he said.
For Axler, who has called the island home for ten years, says relaxing and enjoying the island is a priority. He also appreciates the farms and rural land that is still left on the island.
“I just love the laid back atmosphere,” he said. “No hustle bustle. Everything is on island time. Pine Island is a very unique place. It is not like most tourist traps. There are a lot of building restrictions so it still has a lot of farm and preserve land.”
He is proud of his home’s diversity, artistic nature and supportive community.
“It is a very creative area with a lot of artists, musicians and writers,” he said. “The thing I love most about Pine Island is the diversity of people that live here and the small town feel. There is always some kind of benefit going on to help fellow islanders in time of need.”
words and photo_emily dabau.