Everglades City Offers Complete Everglades Experience
As you head west down US-41 out into the Everglades and the Big Cypress National Preserve, you go through miles and miles of nothing. After about an hour of trees and swamps and the occasional alligator crossing, you finally come to a sign of civilization. A flashing yellow light next to a Marathon Station at Collier County Road 29. And the sign pointing south says “Everglades City.” How many of us have driven past this on our way to Naples, or some other part of the state, and though “Everglades City? You mean there’s a city in the middle of THIS?! Who would live THERE?! Weird.” I’d guess most. But how many of us have ever bothered to actually drive the 10 minutes to go and find out? A lot fewer.
A SHADY PAST LEADS TO AN INTRIGUING FUTURE
The word “City” is a bit overstating the population of this town, which hovers around 500. Most of the folks here are descended from five families. And if you ask how any of the locals how their families ended up there, you are generally met with either vague answers or a laugh that tells you not to ask again. Everglades City served as a smuggling port for rum runners during prohibition, and as a large entry point for marijuana in the 1970s and 80s. The 10,000 Islands region that borders the city creates a labyrinth that only seasoned natives can navigate, which made it the perfect spot for this sort of activity.
Everglades City’s smuggling history is recounted in rakontur’s upcoming documentary, Square Grouper, which chronicles marijuana smuggling in South Florida in the 70’s and 80’s. I got the lay of the land from one of the film’s producers, Lindsey Snell.
A COMPLETE EVERGLADES EXPERIENCE
For the casual visitor, however, Everglades City’s illicit past is hard to recognize. The city is full of newer-looking construction, and during tourist season the waterfront streets are lined with fishing charters, restaurants, and airboat rides. So if one wants to have a full-on Everglades experience, complete with Everglades locals, this is this place to do it. There is an entrance to Everglades National Park just south of City Hall, but plenty of motels – and even a bed and breakfast- if fighting the mosquitoes in a campsite does not sound like your idea of fun.
The airboat rides on this side of the Everglades get you much deeper into the maze of mangroves that the area is known for. While rides on the Dade County side of the ‘Glades take you through tall grass and may introduce you to an alligator or 2, the rides you get out of Everglades City take you through mangrove canopies and tiny rivers and inlets. If you look hard enough, you can even see the occasional piece of burlap, left over from marijuana bales of days gone by.
A CITY WITH MORE GOOD RESTAURANTS THAN STOPLIGHTS
The Oyster House is generally considered the best restaurant in town, and is open year-round. It also features the best hush puppies I’ve had outside of North Carolina. The Camellia Street Grill is another popular dining spot for visitors to Everglades City, though it is only open during tourist season. The Seafood Depot is a hotspot among locals, and features a screened-in outdoor patio with live music and dancing. It’s also a good bar to start the night in, though by the end of the night the entire city seems to end up at Leebo’s.
Leebo’s Rock Bottom Bar is another screened-in outdoor gem, featuring live music almost every night. The bar, named after its jovial owner Leebo, is your best chance to get to know the Hiaasen-esque characters that make up Everglades City. And as long as you don’t cause any problems, or ask too many questions, the people there are friendly and happy to make you feel at home.
So if you are visiting the area from out of town, and want to get a full overnight Everglades experience, Everglades City is a great place to go. You can not only do all the things that the “River of Grass” has to offer, you can also get perhaps the most authentic feel for what this place – and its people – are really like. Though off the main trail a little bit, Everglades City is definitely worth a visit for tourists and locals alike.
You Deserve More Than an Ordinary Vacation.
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