Cabbage Key Is The Popular Florida Restaurant That's Only Accessible By Boat

Cabbage Key may well be one of Florida's best known "secret" islands. It's a little bit of Robinson Crusoe, blended with a pinch of Fantasy Island, and a generous dash of Jimmy Buffett. Make no mistake: The tiny island may be isolated, but there's not even a whisper of "Castaway" or "Survivor" in the mix. In fact, the island's seclusion may be its greatest asset; it's what draws visitors to travel an hour by boat — each way — to chow down on a burger some people say inspired the late Buffett's "Cheeseburger in Paradise." True or false? No one knows for sure (loads of burger joints from Montana to the Caribbean make the same claim), but it's a good story that's at least rooted in the fact that the son of a son of a sailor was a frequent visitor to the island.

Whether it inspired Buffett to sing its praises, the island restaurant's signature Cabbage Key Hamburger is a menu mainstay that visitors crown as being among the best. The lunch menu also features a wide array of seafood, salads, and sandwiches including stone crab claws in season. Early birds can cruise over for breakfast in the open-air restaurant and overnight guests (yes, that's an option) can pre-order lunch and drinks to go. And while the famed burger is also on the dinner menu, service and offerings crank up a notch at night with a full roster of steak and seafood.

Quiet, but quirky

Before 1944, Cabbage Key Inn & Restaurant was a private island retreat. Alan Rinehart, a Paramount Pictures producer, purchased it in 1936 and built a vacation home. Today, the inn and restaurant occupy what was once the Rinehart family's island home. The property passed through a few hands until the inn's current owners, Robert and Phyllis Wells, bought the business in 1976. Their sons, Keith and Rob, manage day-to-day operations for Cabbage Key and its sister property, Tarpon Lodge, on Pine Island.

In addition to its famous cheeseburger, the restaurant at Cabbage Key boasts another quirky attraction. Sometime before the Wells era, patrons began writing their names on dollar bills and pinning them to the walls of the bar. Legend has it that cash-strapped sailors started the tradition as a way to ensure they had beer money for their next visit. By some accounts, there can be as many as 70,000 dollar bills on the wall at any time.

Located about 20 miles west of Fort Myers, Cabbage Key is accessible only by boat. The closest public departure point is Pineland Marina, about four miles east of Cabbage Key on Pine Island. A ferry connects Pineland Marina and Cabbage Key. The average cost is $35 per person each way, but if you're planning a day trip — or on a quest to try the on-island restaurant's famous cheeseburger — it's worth looking into excursion fares. Lunch isn't usually included, but the round-trip fare drops significantly from the single-ticket rate.