Cabbage Key, Florida, has attracted famous guests like Ernest Hemingway and Jimmy Buffett.

Aerial view of Cabbage Key ,Florida


Set off the coast of Fort Myers lies a 100-acre island that feels like it has been preserved in amber. It’s the type of “Swiss Family Robinson”-style retreat that represents a bygone Florida and has attracted famous writers and heiresses — not to mention presidents Carter and Kennedy.

The 112-acre island on the Pine Island Sound was first inhabited by the Calusa people and Cuban fishermen. And in 1875, it appeared on maps with the name Palmetto Key.

Driftwood on the beach at Cabbage Key, Florida


The first homesteader, Charles Gill, arrived on Cabbage Key in 1896 and later acquired the rights. Mystery novel writer and war correspondent Mary Roberts Rinehart spent the 1920s vacationing on neighboring Useppa Islandand her son, Alan, and his wife (and Corning Glass heiress), Gratia, purchased the property in 1936 for their winter estate. The pair divorced two years later and Gratia received the property, where, for the following years, the U.S. Department of Fisheries used the island to study tarpon.

Larry and Jan Stults purchased it in 1944 and opened it as an inn, which it has remained ever since. The residence became a restaurant and six-room accommodation, while the caretakers’ cottages transformed into eight rental cabins, some with private docks and names like “The Cabbage Patch” and “The Dollhouse.” The latter is called the honeymoon suite, with shells from visitors lining the walls.

The rooms themselves are simple yet charming. They lack televisions, but you won’t need them here anyway. In fact, the island only got electricity in 1981, and its residents took boats to school during the early days.

Aerial view of homes on Cabbage Key, Florida


Because of its relative remoteness, Cabbage Key is ideal for disconnecting and enjoying activities like hiking the island’s trails, going on a fishing charter, climbing the water tower for views of the area, and spotting birds like ospreys. Kayaks are also available for rent, and the island has resident gopher tortoises to greet you. Plus, you don’t have to worry about traffic, as cars aren’t found on the island.

One of the most famous landmarks is the Dollar Bill Bar, which opened in 1971 under the ownership of Bob and Jo Ann Beck. Like so many of its ilk, it has become a way for travelers to share where they’ve come from. In fact, around $20,000 worth of the “fallen bills” are donated to charity annually, and when they didn’t have visitors during the pandemic, the bar donated 6,000 of the notes to the Southwest Florida Emergency Relief Fund.

The Dollar Bill Bar on Cabbage Key, Florida


Over the years, the watering hole in the former library attracted the likes of Katharine Hepburn, Ted Koppel, Ed McMahon, Rob Lowe, Julia Roberts, Ernest Hemingway, and the late Jimmy Buffett, who is rumored to have written his hit song “Cheeseburger in Paradise” for the menu item at Cabbage Key. You might even find his signed dollar bill among the hundreds of others.

A burger from the Dollar Bill Bar on Cabbage Key, Florida


Other menu favorites include stone crab claws, frozen Key lime pie, and the signature Cabbage Creeper rum cocktail. The restaurant is open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and it’s not uncommon to see regulars many days of the week.

Like so much of southwest Florida, Cabbage Key did sustain some damage in September 2022 from Hurricane Ian. But it opened less than six months later, back to its former glory, once again welcoming guests for the day or a week.

It’s still only accessible by boat, which can be done via water taxi or a charter from Pineland, Captiva Island, or Punta Gorda. Day tours shuttle visitors to nearby islands like Cayo Costa for shelling and a taste of the famous Cabbage Key burger. You can also travel with your own boat, passing the historic fishing shacks found along the water on the way.

The easiest way to get there is by flying into Southwest Florida International Airport and renting a car, making the drive to Captiva, which will take around an hour. But once you’re on Cabbage Key, you’ll leave your worries on the mainland.

This post by Caroline Eubanks originally appeared on