For years, Lee County's coastlines and barrier islands have drawn visitors to the southern end of Florida's Gulf Coast. You've probably walked the beautiful beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel Island, the region's most popular destinations. But have you ever dropped your line with Matlacha fishermen off the World's Fishingest Bridge at sunset? Have you ever snoozed beneath the mangroves at Lovers Key State Park, or glimpsed a heron gracefully circling Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary? You may think you know the Lee Island Coast, but do you know its secrets?
Locals call Matlacha (pronounced "MAT-luh-shay") a state of mind. The tiny community on Pine Island sits roughly 15 miles from downtown Fort Myers and easily a generation from the rest of the Sunshine State. No beach here. No condos. No chain restaurants. "Once you go over the bridge, you feel like you're entering another world," says artist and resident Leoma Lovegrove.
A Taste of Old Florida
Originally a shrimping and fishing village, Matlacha experienced an artistic revolution about seven years ago, led largely by Leoma. Today, shops and galleries line the main drag like cups of sherbet, their fluorescent colors revealing the lighthearted spirit that saturates the town's 1 square mile.
Leoma's own Matlacha Art Gallery features a wide array of eccentric pieces, from paintings to painted furniture. "We've got art for everybody," she says, showing items that range in price from $19.95 to $3,500. "What's really fun about being an artist here is that every day is so different," she says. "Matlacha is continually inspiring."