Looking down the long dock towards the quaint dollhouse cottage at Cabbage Key.

A cottage for rent on Cabbage Key, a Southwest Florida tourist destination named for the many cabbage palm trees on the island.

CABBAGE KEY, Florida – There’s no beach here, no pool, no high-rise condos.

What you’ll find on tiny Cabbage Key: an historic lodge, nature trails, a terrific restaurant that (perhaps) inspired Jimmy Buffett, and most strikingly, an old-time Florida vibe that’s fading fast elsewhere around the state.

Cabbage Key is a small island – just 112 acres – located in Pine Island Sound, west of Fort Myers. Its first inhabitants were the Calusa Indians, who left behind a large shell mound that has served to protect the land for centuries.

The island developed as a tourist destination in the 1930s, accessible only by boat, an off-the-beaten path spot where you could get away from it all (except from the mosquitoes, which also seem to have great fondness for the place).

It’s still that spot.

“You feel like you’re really away here,” said co-owner Rob Wells, who should know. He was 3 when his parents bought the island in the mid-1970s, and for years traveled by boat to the mainland for school.

A view from the water of the Cabbage Patch cottage

View from the water: Cottages for rent include a dock and chairs. Tiny Cabbage Key in Southwest Florida is also accessible by boat.

Dollar Bill Bar at Cabbage Key

The famous Dollar Bill Bar at Cabbage Key, Florida.

Looking westward at the cabbage key sunset

Sunset view looking west, from the top of the water tower on Cabbage Key.

Hurricane recovery

In part because of its relative height, Cabbage Key didn’t sustain significant damage from Hurricane Ian, which roared through the region in September 2022 and had a devastating impact on the nearby communities of Captiva, Sanibel and Matlacha.

The island reopened to the public just 17 days after the storm, operating on generator power.

Despite the limited damage, Wells reports that business has been slow in recent months, as the rest of the region continues its long recovery.

“Fortunately, I think enough people have a positive memory of the area and they want to come back,” he said.

Count me among them. I had been to Cabbage Key once before, a decade ago, with my parents and two kids. It left such an impression that I decided to make a return trip on my recent tour through Southwest Florida.

The island’s main business is its restaurant, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner 365 days a year.

The food is terrific, though what you’ll likely remember most about this place is all the money that’s taped to the walls.

The practice started decades ago when fishermen would write their names on dollar bills and tape the currency to the wall – just in case they needed the extra cash the next time they stopped in. The tradition caught on.

Bartender Andrew Vermeersch estimates there’s as much as $90,000 affixed to nearly every available surface in the restaurant – on the walls, the ceiling, the support beams. The only off-limits spots: Windows, picture frames and trophy fish.

The money that falls down – an estimated $10,000 to $15,000 every year – is donated to a local children’s charity.

Despite its remote location, the restaurant has been visited by numerous celebrities – from Ernest Hemingway to Jimmy Carter to John F. Kennedy, Jr. Singer Jimmy Buffett was a frequent guest in the 1980s and 1990s. “[Owner] Phyllis Wells used to tell him to put his shoes on,” said Vermeersch.

According to Vermeersch, Buffett dedicated his first public performance of “Cheeseburger in Paradise” to Cabbage Key – which is how the rumor got started that he wrote the song about the island and its restaurant.

The cheeseburger, by the way, is delicious – but the grouper and the shrimp are even better.

snook cottage at dusk

Dusk on Cabbage Key, home to a six-bedroom inn and six cottages to rent.

wantering trails at cabbage key

Wandering the trails on Cabbage Key, a 112-acre island in Southwest Florida.

kayaking around cabbage key

Kayaking around Cabbage Key in Southwest Florida.

Spending the night

Most guests come to Cabbage Key for just a few hours – arriving by private boat or via one of several companies that offer regular service to the island (among them: Island Girl Charters, departing from Pine Island, King Fisher Fleet from Punta Gorda and Captiva Cruises from Captiva).

But if you really want the true Cabbage Key experience, pack a bag and stay overnight.

The inn features six rooms in the lodge, built in 1937, plus six cottages, spread across the island.

There’s not a lot to do here, and that’s exactly the point.

There are a couple of trails that meander through the mangroves and cabbage palms, the native tree that gives the island its name.

An historic water tower, also built in 1937, provides terrific views of the surrounding area, including Useppa, the posh, private island immediately to the east; and Cayo Costa, the 9-mile-long barrier island immediately to the west.

During my visit a decade ago, my kids and I rented a small skiff boat and motored over to Cayo Costa State Park, a gorgeous expanse of state-owned undeveloped beach. We wandered for at least an hour and didn’t see a single other human, filling our pockets with shells.

It was windy this trip, which kept us closer to shore. My husband and I rented a two-person kayak this time, which we used to paddle around the island – maneuvering in and out of mangrove coves, on the lookout for birds, and making a quick stop on the beach of what locals call Gilligan’s Island, a tiny speck of land surrounded by the sound.

I would have explored all day, but our boat to the mainland was meeting us on the dock at 1 p.m. Ready or not, I was headed back to reality.

room at historic cabbage key lodge

Overnight room in the historic Cabbage Key lodge.

egret on grounds at cabbage key

An egret surveys the grounds on Cabbage Key, Florida.

If you go: Cabbage Key, Florida

old florida vibe at cabbage key

Tiny Cabbage Key offers an old-Florida vibe in the middle of Pine Island Sound.

What: The small island getaway is in Lee County, Florida, off the southwest coast of Florida. Closest airport is Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers.

Dining: The restaurant at Cabbage Key is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, 365 days a year. Specialties include fresh seafood, cheeseburgers and frozen key lime pie.

Overnight: Room rates start at $205 per night; cottages start at $280. There is a two-night minimum stay required.

Getting there: Transportation to the small island is available from Captiva Island, via Captiva Cruises (captivacruises.com); Pine Island, via Island Girl Charters (islandgirlcharters.com); and Punta Gorda via King Fisher Fleet (kingfisherfleet.com).

More information: cabbagekey.com, visitfortmyers.com

Nearby: Tarpon Lodge, Cabbage Key’s sister property, is also owned by the Wells family and is another throwback old-Florida property on nearby Pine Island. See tarponlodge.com

This article by Susan Glaser originally appeared on cleveland.com