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Matlacha — Man, You Gotta Love This Artsy Place!
If it’s a bustling, barefoot-on-the-beach kind of Florida vacation you’re looking for, you’ve made a wrong turn! Matlacha (pronounced: MAT-la-shay) is a teeny tiny little town off the southwest coast of Florida, on Pine Island. This awesome artist enclave is on a spit of land only 0.2 sq. miles; (I know, I know, my walk-in shower is almost that size!). The population is a minuscule 735, during high season!
The name Matlacha comes from a Caloosa (Indian) word meaning “water to the chin,” and there are scrapbooks of local history all over the island. In its former life Matlacha was a commercial fishery, but that ended in 1992 with a voter-led ban on net fishing. Hence, the small shacks the fishermen once called home have been refurbished and are now occupied by a highly regarded artists community.
A Pee-wee Sized Place!
Every single day, as many people move into Florida as the entire population of Matlacha.
A Matlacha Mindset: Island Time Begins Here!
I grew up in a tiny town in Central Pennsylvania — Amish country, where there were more farms than families. Truth be told, I always thought my hometown was tiny… until I discovered Matlacha!
Matlacha is one of those rare “Old Florida” style spots — a quiet, secluded, off-the-beaten-path place that you visit on purpose. There’s a sign at the Bridgewater Inn that says, “Island Time Begins Here.” So true! I noticed there were no traffic lights, no schools, nor any churches on this tiny isle. And, the town-folk never seemed to be in a hurry. In Matlacha, time changes more slowly than the Florida I have come to know.
Hubby and I discovered this tiny treasure in November, while staying in Cape Coral about 20 minutes away. The longer I live in Florida, (18 years now), the less desire I have for those popular touristy towns. Oh sure, I still renew my Annual Disney Pass every year. But at times I crave the simple, delightful pleasures of God’s handiwork more than man-made Disney magic.
In Matlacha, I’ve replaced monorails with mangroves, concrete and blacktop with island boutiques and bungalows, and skyscrapers with seawater and sailboats — secluded soul-searching at its best! As a writer, if One can’t find inspiration and motivation here, they may as well give up the proverbial pen! For example: I photographed the “Bicycle on the Beach” (photo above) on the road from Matlacha to Pine Island. It perfectly captured the atmosphere of this tiny sub-tropical island oasis! To me, the essence of Matlacha can be conveyed with just this single still image. If a picture is worth a thousand words, here’s the first few that came to mind… slow, simplistic and sensational! In fact, Matlacha Florida is one of those rare things that hasn’t been over-exposed in the Sunshine State.
A Funky, Colorful Artist Community
Matlacha is a tiny town with HUGE talent! If fun and quirky is embedded in your DNA, and you have a flare for the unusual, this tiny quadrant of land is for you. Most times, if you blink while passing through something this small you will miss it. Not so with Matlacha. This place is so bold and bright you could see it with your eyes tightly closed at night! Southern Living Magazine says: “This colorful coastal village looks as if someone flew over South Florida and dropped a crayon box!”
The town of Matlacha may be tiny, but the creativity on display is humongous. A multitude of authors, musicians, and artists call Matlacha home. It didn’t take long to figure out this is Florida’s quintessential quaint spot for recharging your artistic batteries. It didn’t surprise me then to hear that famous people like Jimmy Buffet are part-time residents. (Yes, this place makes Key West look like a major metropolis.) Remember the Elvis Presley movie, “Follow That Dream?” Well, numerous scenes were shot in Florida, including one around the Matlacha bridge.
Lovegrove Gallery & Gardens — My Favorite Art Gallery on the Planet
The tiny town of Matlacha has six unique art galleries, but my hands-down favorite was Lovegrove Gallery & Gardens. Hubby and I travel a lot, but I seriously have never seen anything like this. The owner and artist is Leoma Lovegrove, and the building is a combination artist studio, island gift shop, and botanical garden in the rear. This location in Matlacha serves as her international headquarters. The exterior polka dotted walls (to me they looked like whimsy bubbles from champagne) and flamingo pink roof are just a small glimpse of what is inside. Totally eccentric and so much to see, this tiny gem is jam-packed with Leoma’s art and crafts that are as colorful as her personality.
Leoma’s favorite rock band is the Beatles, and she devotes the entire front room of her gallery to this theme. It felt like I was translated back to the 60s when bell-bottoms and peace-love tee-shirts were totally cool. Two additional viewing areas are the “Florida Room” and her patriotic “Leoma Loves America Room.” We purchased a unique wall plaque as a Christmas gift for our best friends up north, and of course Leoma was happy to sign it.
I have since learned that Ms. Lovegrove did a portrait of former President Jimmy Carter (which hangs in his presidential library), and former President George W. Bush includes her work in his private collection. She has also done paintings for celebrities like Sharon Stone and Jesse Metcalf, as well as the City of Fort Myers. Additional prominent places displaying her work are the Southwest Florida International Airport, and the Edison Ford Winter Estates Museum. Once, she even painted in Claude Monet’s gardens during a visit to France!
“Your life should be a work of art!”
— Leoma Lovegrove
Eclectic and Psychedelic Creations by Matlacha Diva, Leoma Lovegrove
Leoma Lovegrove Gallery Rated #1 in TripAdvisor
If you’d like to visit Leoma’s technicolor-world of tropical artistic flair, her Gallery & Gardens is rated #1 of 20 Things To Do in Matlacha on TripAdvisor. She has also received TripAdvisor’s Certificate of Excellence award. You can access the reviews here. A fun “island-y” activity is to paint your very own coconut postcard to keep or mail back home. Or, release your own inner artist by painting your own masterpiece in the outdoor garden with the help of Vino’s Picasso (Seasonal Nov-April). Stop by Sunday afternoon’s and you’ll hear live music in the gardens (free). If you’re really serious about making happy memories in Matlacha, Leoma’s waterfront guest cottage is available to rent through Airbnb.
In addition to her artwork, Leoma also designs a women’s and men’s clothing line for Bealls Department Store, colorful accessories, as well as gorgeous tropical-themed housewares.
Matlacha — Authentic Island Style Life
Matlacha is one of Florida’s most popular historic landmarks and destinations. The next time you’re traveling Southwest Florida’s Gulf Coast, do yourself a favor and spend a few hours (or a day or two) in this small town treasure. You won’t see the typical condos, retirement communities, or golf resorts that have come to represent Florida. You’ll get a taste of rural Florida, the way it used to be, long before “the Mouse” came to town. In fact, Matlacha is the perfect antidote for Disney overdose! You can’t book a 5-star hotel here… not even close. But if you crave old pine floors and “pocket doors” that slide into the walls, now you’re talking authentic island style life.
Until 1927, the only way to Matlacha was by water. Lucky for us there are three bridges now, but not a lot else has changed. Experience Old Florida at its finest, and that chill island vibe will cause you to wonder why you ever saw the need for e-mail!
Have you been to Matlacha Island? Or perhaps you’ve found your own little ‘Old Florida’ gem. Please share in the comment box below. Our reader’s would love to know!