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My Magical Florida: Pine Island Sound and Captiva (Part III)

It is Pine Island Sound, not resort living, that draws Jay Coyle to this area. Part III of Coyle's "Little Loop" from our October 2011 issue.

October 11, 2011
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Useppa Island

A beetle cat awaits some fun off Useppa Island.

The run down the Caloosahatchee River and up Pine Island Sound is straightforward and pleasant. The South Seas Island Resort consumes the northern tip of Captiva Island. Formerly South Seas Plantation, it was nearly wiped off the map by Hurricane Charley in 2004. We last visited shortly after it reopened in 2006 and it was still a work in progress. Although the mangrove forests will take years to recover, a major beach re-nourishment project has paid off — the resort looks great. Veteran visitors should note that the channel into the marina has been moved and is no longer the straight shot I was tempted to try.

Armed with credit cards, my crew walked to the beach while I changed a hose — a poor choice! Bird-watching and shelling are best in the early morning since overstuffed guests are lounging under umbrellas by noon, taking advantage of the small beachside restaurant and bar. For those who feel compelled to whack a little white ball, the resort’s petite course is said to be one of the “top five short courses in the world.” I have no taste for the sport, but my crew coerced me into action. I will admit that playing barefoot at the edge of the Gulf is not so bad.

However, it is Pine Island Sound, not resort living, that draws us to this area. Boarding the Hewes skiff, we headed for the unspoiled beaches of Cayo Costa State Park. Here you may see a 150-pound tarpon patrolling the shallows or a wild hog routing on the beach for a seafood dinner. It’s yet another pleasant reminder of what Florida was once like. A stop at Cabbage Key for lunch is something of a tradition for us. The pint-size island is just a few miles away, and the former estate turned boating bar and restaurant is perched atop an ancient Indian shell mound. Rustic cottages and rooms are available.

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The nearby Useppa Island Club is old Florida at its best. Abandoned by the Indians, pirates and confederates, Useppa Island became a haunt for anglers in the 1880s. Barron Collier purchased the island in 1911 and updated the inn to suit a more refined clientele. Vanderbilts, Rockefellers and Rothschilds all visited the island, and the CIA arrived in 1960 to prepare for the Bay of Pigs invasion. The island is private; however, nonmembers may visit for lunch from South Seas Island Resort aboard a Captiva Cruises vessel.

Navigate to Coyle’s next stop in Key West on our map below, or click here.

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