The official start of spring is almost here! The days are getting longer, temperatures are rising, and we’re looking forward to that extra hour of sunshine so we can spend even more time on the water.
One of our favorite destinations is Useppa Island, located near Boca Grande, Cayo Costa and Pine Island in Lee County. You can only access it by boat, so to get there, travel along the Intracoastal in one as small as 20 feet—or, if you have a larger vessel, you can head out into the Gulf. The Useppa Entry Channel marker is between Intracoastal Waterway markers 64 and 65.
The 100-acre island has been continuously inhabited for more than 10,000 years, and has a rich history, including as a major stronghold for the Calusa tribe, which utilized the island’s natural resources and proximity to the sea to build a thriving, complex society. In the 1700s, legend has it that Jose Gaspar kidnapped Spanish princess Joseffa de Mayorga and used Useppa Island to imprison her. In 1894, streetcar magnate John M. Roach acquired the island and built a luxury residence on it to escape frigid Chicago winters—a true snowbird story. His friends—including advertising executive and Florida landowner Barron G. Collier—convinced him to build a hotel so they, too, could enjoy the island lifestyle. Collier, who built Tamiami Trail and developed much of Southwest Florida, eventually took over the island himself, in 1906, and it quickly became known for its tranquility, natural beauty and seclusion—a haven for glittery guests including the Vanderbilts, Herbert Hoover, the Rockefellers, the Rothschilds, Gloria Swanson, Shirley Temple and Zane Grey.
However, after Collier’s heyday, the island was abandoned and was later used by the U.S. government as a base for the Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba. It wasn’t until 1976 that Gar Beckstead, Useppa’s most recent owner, purchased the island and began restoring it to its former glory. (Beckstead passed away on Feb. 16, at age 82; island ownership has been transferred to a trust to ensure its long-term protection.)
Useppa is private, and there’s no bridge that connects it to the mainland, which adds to its secluded, special vibe. Stay at the stunning Useppa Island Club or rent a private home or cottage. There’s shopping, a marina, plenty of great fishing, excellent dining and, of course, all of that natural Old Florida beauty.
You can go by yourself, but we think it’s much more rewarding to travel with a group. In fact, our crew will even organize cocktail parties for you and your friends and family—get in touch if you’d like to learn more. While you’re at it, we’re also happy to talk about boat purchases and rentals to aid your travels.
Happy spring—here’s to new adventures!
Lead image by Everett Dennison; second photo by @hoovisyo