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An island adventure to Cabbage Key

By Staff | Oct 27, 2009

Kelli Parker Becton You can climb the old water tower on Cabbage Key for panoramic views of the sound.


Special to Flguide.com

Mary Roberts Rinehart said, “Every crucial experience can be regarded as a setback or the start of a new kind of development.” This, just after her recovery from cancer surgery (which was considered unmentionable during the 1940s) is a prime example of the adventurous nature of the woman who developed her winter estate on a little island here in Southwest Florida.

It is Rinehart whom we have to thank for the infamous expression, “The butler did it,” and it is Rinehart who we have to thank for the adventure of a visit to historical Cabbage Key.

Cabbage Key is truly a unique Florida treasure. The “main house,” which has been turned into a restaurant, was originally the winter residence of Rinehart. Now you can enjoy a cheeseburger in paradise and leave your mark in the famous “Dollar Bar” where the walls are covered in dollar bills signed by people from all around the world.

The old house was built atop an ancient shell midden created and left behind by the Calusa Indians centuries ago. You can clearly imagine Rinehart sitting out on the porch writing one of her mystery novels or plays or taking in the scenery for one of her poems. Everything about the place is reminiscent of times past.

Getting to Cabbage Key is an adventure in and of itself. There are no bridges to the little island, and it is only accessible by boat or seaplane.

Whether you stay for lunch, the day or even for a week, you can take advantage of the nature trails that wind around the lush tropical paradise. The trails have markers along the way that introduce local flora.

There are breathtaking views in every direction. Climb to the top of the old 60-foot water tower, and you will be rewarded with panoramic views of the islands that dot the sound. The water tower was built in the 1930’s and has stood the test of time — and withstood its share of hurricanes.

A visit to the island is an adventure for the senses. From the deep blue waters surrounding Cabbage Key, to the numerous shades of green and bright pinks of the lush untamed landscape, the color of the place is extraordinary. Song birds, gulls, osprey and wading birds are all attracted to the peaceful island, and all of them add to the symphony of nature that has all but disappeared from much of Florida.

During your stay consider booking a fishing trip with an experienced guide and enjoy world class fishing. Kayaking is a favorite pastime for those who stay on the island as it is a terrific way to maneuver through the shallow waters surrounding it. Take a short boat ride over to Cayo Costa Island beach from Cabbage Key. The innkeeper will set you up with a small outboard, pack your lunch, and send you through the mangrove covered tunnel that was once used by the mighty Calusa and has been used by many peoples throughout history in this special area.

The tunnel, known as Murdock Bayou, was once a cut that went all the way through the barrier island and out to the gulf. It has served many interesting purposes over time, including that of European explorers, local fishermen, Cuban schooners and even smugglers. There is a true feeling of adventure for those who explore it and you can almost hear the ghosts whispering the secrets the old tunnel holds as you make your way along the shallow path.

Although the canal no longer goes all the way through to the gulf, the mangrove canopy opens up into a lagoon area that puts you out on the backside of the pristine beach of Cayo Costa.

Even for those who live in the area, it is a world away from everyday life. A trip to Cabbage Key, be it just for lunch or for a weekend getaway, will renew the spirit and can even offer an unforgettable adventure.