My husband and I enjoyed so many aspects of our adults-only getaway to Southwest Florida last month, which included two nights on Sanibel Island and two nights in Cape Coral. But perhaps one of my greatest pleasures on this trip was eating out without the kids! My children have become savvy eaters, but still, when we travel as a family, we do try to find dinner spots that will please everyone. On this trip, we only had to please our two grown-up palates, and that was simply delightful!
Turns out, all of the restaurants we went to would welcome children readily, so whether you’re on a romantic getaway or traveling with kids in tow, consider these dining options:
Nervous Nellie’s Crazy Waterfront Eatery
This casual marina restaurant in Fort Myers Beach is all about having a good time — and one of the biggest and most varied menus I’ve ever seen. Here, the resident mascot/logo is a wacky-looking pelican (Nellie) who’s “neurotic about good food and drink!” Indeed, everything we sampled at lunch — namely the Ale Battered Haddock Sandwich and the Fabulous Portabello Panini — was excellent. Sandwiches are prepared with homemade bread that is out of this world, and served with seasoned savory “plank fries.”
Besides sandwiches, diners can choose from a whopping 22 appetizers (not including nine different quesadillas), 14 salads (not including 11 different Caesar varieties), plus burgers, seafood baskets, steaks, pasta, and entrees like meatloaf, baby back ribs, and lobster platters. The kids’ menu offers 14 different options for just $6.99 each, from a tuna salad melt to twice-baked macaroni and cheese to flatbread pizza. I think you could eat at this restaurant twice a day for two months and never order the same thing twice.
Beyond its plentiful, yummy food options, Nervous Nellie’s enjoys a great location right on the water a few blocks from the sandy shore of Fort Myers Beach. Keep your eyes peeled for manatees in the marina as you sit outdoors on the restaurant deck (plenty of umbrellas to shield you from the Florida sun).
Ask the Nervous Nellie’s staff about live music on the deck; the restaurant often hosts bands for late-afternoon or evening entertainment. And for even more late-night fun without the kids, check out the upstairs Ugly’s Waterside Bar, which serves about a million-and-one different frozen drinks, martinis, and shooters.
You likely guessed it from its name, this is another casual restaurant on the water in the Fort Myers area, specifically on the southern tip of Pine Island. The Waterfront Restaurant is in an unassuming, nearly ramshackle building that faces the backyard canals in a residential neighborhood. (This concept of “parking a boat in your backyard” was so foreign and fascinating to me; I love how the typical mode of travel is by water on and around Pine Island and Cape Coral.)
Seafood is central to the menu here at The Waterfront: fresh local fish-of-the-day sandwiches, oyster po’boys, fish tacos, seafood Philly sandwiches… but we were “seafood-ed out” by the time we reached The Waterfront on our fourth day in Florida, so we opted for a delicious special offered that day, sharing a pulled pork on a garlic toasted Kaiser roll and a crisp green salad, all washed down with a couple of “Waterfront Red” beers. Perfect on a hot day!
The kids’ menu here includes favorites like chicken fingers, fish fingers, burgers, and pasta, and while they wait, children can draw on white paper atop the tables inside the restaurant, which is air-conditioned. But I recommend the bench seating outside, where you can watch locals dock their boats.
This restaurant at the new Resort at MarinaVillage in Cape Coral is appropriate for families — in fact, when my husband and I dined here, we were seated next to a rather boisterous group with young children, which was unfortunate, since we were seeking a romantic meal. Alas, we didn’t quite get the quiet dining experience we wanted, but enjoyed eating outside on the patio in the sultry sea air, nonetheless.
While we relaxed over our meal and a bottle of Shiraz outside on the Marker 92 patio, we listened to live music in adjacent, upbeat Nauti Mermaid outdoor bar and watched the singles scene from afar — all the while, I was so thankful my children were being well taken care of at home and I could enjoy a romantic Florida getaway with my husband!