By Lisa Codianne Fowler
Spectacular sunsets in southwest Florida may be a foregone conclusion, but when experienced from the water, they can be downright ethereal. No boat? No worries. Whether you are looking to bring in some big fish, bask in the glow of the sunset, or party hardy, these piers deliver on their promise of a good time.
Rod and Reel Pier
What’s old is new again, and in the case of the Rod and Reel, it’s timeless. Shabby chic was never so entertaining, as the wooden pier epitomizes Old Florida and family fun. Located at the far north end of Anna Maria Island, it stretches modestly over the Gulf of Mexico and presents picture-perfect views of the sunset, beaches and Sunshine Skyway Bridge.
The Rod and Reel Restaurant, perched at the end of the popular structure, dates back to 1947 and has been an island favorite of locals and visitors ever since. Come as you are; it’s super casual and serves fresh, traditional fare. The two-story restaurant was thoughtfully renovated just a few years ago to keep its unassuming charm.
Enjoy beer and wine downstairs at the offbeat little bar, and dine inside or out upstairs. This cozy treasure offers breakfast, lunch, dinner… and fishing. Bring a pole, and for a small fee, you can cast a line right off the dock and walkways surrounding the iconic eatery.
Bridge Street Pier
There are plenty of fish in this sea, and angling here is free – one reason this pier is so popular. Anna Maria’s Island’s historic Bridge Street Pier stretches out over the gulf from Bradenton Beach. Once the only means of access to the island, the bridge was converted to a fishing pier in the late 50’s. Last year, the historic bridge received its most recent facelift, which included the replacement of its restaurant with the newest location of the Anna Maria Oyster Bar (AMOB).
The pier’s landmark clocktower is one of many scenic spots for photos from sunrise to sunset. Take in the salt air from a swing, watch dolphins surface. Between the lively restaurant, convenient bait shop and views of resident pelicans diving for dinner, this pier is one of the hottest attractions in the area.
It is easy to get to via the free island trolley. Since it sits at the end of Bridge Street, it’s a pleasant walk from the pier to the quirky gift shops, bars and cafés that line the road, as well as the farmers market in season.
Venice Fishing Pier
It’s party time! The Venice Fishing Pier is not only a picturesque place to reel in a day’s catch, but also to chat with the fishermen, friendly folks they are. The small bait shop on the pier provides the perfect fodder for fish, and you don’t need a fishing license if angling from the pier.
Located at Brohard Park on the South end of the island of Venice, sharks are big here, in both the literal and figurative sense. The area is famous for the millions of shark teeth that wash up upon its sandy white beaches, earning its moniker as Shark’s Tooth Capital of the World. The city holds a delightful three-day Shark’s Tooth Festival every April.
The restaurant that fronts the pier is aptly named Sharky’s on the Pier and may also well be called Party Central. With live music, dancing on the rooftop, a seafood-themed menu and specialty drinks, you may find yourself lingering long after the sun slips behind the horizon. The good news for night owls is that the pier is always open.
Fort Myers Beach Pier
From people-watching to parasailing, the Fort Myers Beach Pier is where the action is. Perfectly positioned next to the tireless Times Square area of Fort Myers Beach, you can easily spend a day here.
While strolling the pier, you can check out the beach dwellers, see dolphins frolicking in the surf, and fishermen reeling in their catch. There is a small bait shop with snacks and gifts just halfway down the pier. On the weekends enjoy a sunset celebration at the foot of the pier with live bands, an array of artists, fun-to-watch performers and the sky seemingly paint-splattered in brilliant shades of golds and reds.
The popular PierSide Grill and Famous Blowfish Bar is right at the entrance of the pier and offers lunch, dinner and live music. Tucked in the heart of Times Square, it is a festive spot and favorite local watering hole.
Naples Municipal Pier
The most visited of all of Naples’ attractions, the Naples Municipal Pier has been a pillar here for more than 100 years. The old wooden structure is at the west end of 12th Avenue South, and extends out over the gulf’s azure waters.
Originally built in 1988 as a freight and passenger dock, today the pier stands as a community landmark in Old Naples. Fishermen, birdwatchers, and nature lovers in general find the pier a bit magical, with its character, sense of history, legendary sunsets and plentiful wildlife viewing.
Bring a rod and reel to fish off the pier. A license is not required, and avid anglers can fish 24/7 as the pier never closes. Flanked by six miles of beachfront hugging the gentle waves of the gulf, the pier is home to many varieties of birds, including hungry pelicans snapping up scraps of bait and fish.
You can spot dolphin, stingrays and a rainbow of fish. The pier also accommodates a bungalow dedicated to snacks and drinks for when you’re feeling a bit peckish or parched.
If you go:
Rod & Reel Pier: 875 N. Shore Dr., Anna Maria, FL 34216 941-778-1885; rodreelpier.com
Bridge Street Pier: 200 Bridge St, Bradenton Beach, FL 34217
Venice Fishing Pier: 1600 Harbor Dr S, Venice, FL 34285
Fort Myers Beach Pier: 10 Old San Carlos Blvd, Fort Myers Beach, FL 3393
Naples Municipal Pier: 25 12th Ave S, Naples, FL 34102
Reprinted from The Tampa Bay Times annual summer Florida Travel Section