Finding Old Florida at the Tarpon Lodge
Talk to anyone who has lived in Southwest Florida for more than 20 years and they will tell you tales of the day when Tamiami Trail was unpaved, two lanes, and surrounded by brush, not buildings. It’s a hard scene to imagine.
To get a feel for what life was like “back in the day”, take a drive to the Tarpon Lodge on the northwest tip of Pine Island. After passing through a pocket of restaurants and galleries in Matlacha, you’ll meander through lanes of tropical foliage and native scrubs before arriving at the historic lodge.
In 1926, it was the personal residence of an adventurous couple, passionate about fishing. Decades later and over the years, it became an inn and restaurant. When the property came up for sale, Tarpon Lodge General Manager Rob Wells, III says, “My dad had been watching the place sit there and saw a lot of potential in the building and property.”
Rob Wells, Jr. and wife Phyllis purchased the property in 1999, naming it after the beloved fish that people come from all over the world to find here — Tarpon
The Wells family helped to pioneer the Pine Island Sound area. In the mid 70’s, they purchased Cabbage Key. They relied solely on a water tower, generators and a ship-to-shore phone to live while overseeing the island’s rustic restaurant and inn; Rob III was only three at the time. He and his brother, Ken, took boats to school rather buses. He adds, “My friends used to think we were in the military. We were building tree houses, living in the woods and hiking around.”
There was a time when Rob says, “I felt like I had the worst luck ever. All of these kids were doing fun stuff in town.” But as often happens, when you leave home, you see things in a different light. While studying finance at the University of Florida, he says, “My buddies were like, ‘wait a minute, you’ve got this island, that you can only get to by boat, that serves beer and cheeseburgers?’ They thought it was the coolest thing and all wanted to come down.”
Rob still thinks it’s pretty cool.
Today, Ken is General Manager of Cabbage Key, while Rob holds that title at Tarpon Lodge. However, the brothers constantly work together to keep the family businesses running. Their staff is also like family, many of whom have been with the Wells’ for decades.
Tarpon Lodge is a white beacon in the middle of lush green grass, swaying palms, blue skies and the lapping water of the Pine Island Sound. With a bed and breakfast vibe, the lodge has eight bedrooms, original wood floors, a fireplace and a cozy bar.
The neighboring Island House has twelve rooms of various sizes, six of which have waterfront balconies. For guests who want larger accommodations and more privacy, the property offers a two-bedroom boathouse and a private cottage, both of which come equipped with a kitchenette.
A place to unplug and enjoy nature, guests can also learn of the islands history and Calusa culture across the street at the Randell Research Center. However, a stay at Tarpon Lodge is not complete without getting on the water. Charter boats are available, be it for sight-seeing or world class sports fishing. And the sunsets — they’re magical.
Dining at Tarpon Lodge is worth the trip, even if you’re not staying overnight. Their new summer cocktail, lunch and dinner menus are full of fresh, local flavors. Throughout the year, the restaurant also hosts vintners from all over the world for intimate wine dinners. Check the website for a schedule as well as information on live music.
When designing the lodge, Rob drew on childhood memories of simple family vacations in the Keys. He wanted a place where people could come together without so many modern-day distractions.
It worked. People travel to Tarpon Lodge to recharge, unplug, fish and get off of the grid. Rob says, “We are only 45 minutes from Fort Myers and have some of the best boating, fishing and sightseeing around.” He continues, “It’s about slowing down, enjoying some breathing room or time with friends and family, and savoring the natural beauty of our area.”
13771 waterfront dr, Bokeelia