Ahead of the Curve: Looking for Surprise?
Explore these six places for some of the area’s lesser-known—and fully delightful—pleasures.
There’s something about living in a place that inevitably makes you take it for granted. I’ll do that next time we have guests, you think as you drive by the museum you’ve always meant to check out.
But why wait until you have tourists in tow to explore your backyard? Season may be winding down, but that doesn’t mean you have to settle in for a humdrum summer. If anything, this is the time to do the things that make South Florida wild and wonderful. The lines are short, the days are long and the list of adventures is never-ending.
Typical must-dos like shelling and catching a sunset are always worth making time for, but make sure you hit some of our area’s lesser-known highlights, too. Here are six items to add to your summer bucket list.
See Off-Limits Sites
Everglades National Park is known for its tremendous natural beauty, but it has several culturally significant sites within its borders, too. One of those is HM69, a well-preserved Nike Hercules Missile Site. The spot was one of four missile sites in South Florida, integral to the U.S.’ efforts in the Cold War. Because this one was inside the national park’s boundaries, it’s been cared for in a way the others haven’t.
The National Park Service offers daily ranger-led programs of the site, although in summer months you’ll need to call ahead to make sure the tour is happening. The silo is locked and accessible only with a park employee. An official for the National Park Service said that visiting the Nike Hercules Missile Site has become one of the park’s most popular ranger programs, and that for those who lived in South Florida during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the site brings back lots of anxious memories.
Visit nps.gov/ever or call (305) 242-7700 for a tour schedule.
Cruise the Rarest Cars
Residents of Southwest Florida have a lot to thank the Collier Family for—including the Tamiami Trail. Now, add the Revs Institute to that list. Miles and Samuel Collier, sons of Barron G. Collier, were avid car enthusiasts and racers, eventually helping to start the Sports Car Club of America. Over the years, the family amassed a huge and unique collection of cars—many with one-of-a-kind historical value. In 2009, the Revs Institute was founded as a way to showcase the collection—but only to those in the know. For the first few years it was open to researchers or members of private car clubs only. Last year, the institute opened its doors to the public for the first time.
In a nondescript building off Horseshoe Drive, visitors can see everything from the built-like-a-soapbox-
derby-racer 1927 Packard Speedster to a sleek 1930 Bugatti Type 3k and a 1958 Vanwall Formula 1, among many, many others. There are no velvet ropes keeping you at arm’s length from the cars, either.
You can’t just walk in, though. Reservations must be made in advance, and the museum does close from August through October.
The Revs Institute is open Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., November through July. Tickets ($17 for adults; $12 for active military, students and faculty members; and $20 for docent-led tours) must be purchased in advance through revsinstitute.org. The museum is located at 2500 S. Horseshoe Drive in Naples. For more info, call 687-7387.
Taste the Best Mango You’ve Ever Had
That mango you just bought at the supermarket? It’s garbage. At least that’s what Robert Moehling of the Robert Is Here fruit stand over in Homestead thinks. Moehling brings in 16 different kinds of locally grown mangoes each summer, but he says, “I don’t carry the Tommy Atkins mango. That’s the one you find in the store. It’s the worst mango—it’s stringy. But customers like it because it’s really beautiful.” To Moehling, Atkins mangoes are the embodiment of beauty being only skin-deep.
For the next few months, a crop of less traditionally pretty—but much more delicious—mangoes will be arriving at Moehling’s stand. He recommends you come in for the Carrie mangoes, “which are ugly as sin—round and small; people don’t want to buy them.” But their flavor is life-changing. Most of the mangoes sold at Robert Is Here are grown on his land, on groves to the south and west of his fruit stand. And local farmers provide whatever else he doesn’t grow.
Robert Is Here is worth a visit any time of the year. However, it’s an especially great spot in summer, when the mangoes are ripe (June and July is traditionally the peak) and the weather warrants guilt-free enjoyment of one of Moehling’s homemade milkshakes, made with the same tropical fruit he sells at the stand.
Robert Is Here is open daily from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. The stand is located at 19200 SW 344 St. in Homestead. For more info, call (305) 246-1592.
Find Fantastic Art
Look, Southwest Florida’s polish is one of the reasons we love it. Who wouldn’t adore a place with perfectly manicured medians and mile after mile of opulent Tuscan architecture? But sometimes you just need a little more funk. For that, head north to Matlacha.
Located across the Matlacha pass from Pine Island, this tiny artist enclave feels like the last strip-mall-free place in Florida. Whimsy runs high here—if you need an example, just stop into Leoma Lovegrove’s explosively colorful studio and gardens. Other must-hit stops are the Wild Child Gallery and the Island Visions Gallery.
Matlacha (pro tip: It’s pronounced MAT-la-shay) is located just east of Pine Island. Lovegrove Gallery is open daily from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Wild Child Gallery is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday; Island Visions is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Meet Our Leading Ladies
As Gina Taylor, owner of Fort Myers-based historical walking tour company True Tours, was reviewing her programing, she noticed one glaring problem: “The men were written in the history books, but it dawned on us that women weren’t represented at all,” she says. So she started a “Legends and Legacy” tour that focuses on Fort Myers’ early women leaders.
The tour runs every Friday, so long as there are reservations made for it. It makes its way through both the historic Langford Kingston Home and the Burroughs Home, both of which housed several generations of strong women. “We really had to dig out all kinds of books and magazines to do the research for this tour,” Taylor says, but she adds that it was worth it. Women played an important role in growing Fort Myers from a frontier town to the playground of the rich and famous—and finally their stories are being represented.
Tours must be booked in advance by calling (800) 979-3370 or by visiting truetours.net. The tour is $20, or $35 including lunch.
Get Back to the Land
The farm-to-table movement has been huge everywhere—except, oddly enough, here. Despite the fact that we live a winter’s-tomato-throw away from some of America’s best growing lands, Community Supported Agriculture and farmshare programs are relatively hard to come by. Rose O’Dell King is changing that. The French Culinary Institute-trained chef and former sheep farmer started Rosy Tomorrows Heritage Farm in North Fort Myers two years ago. The farm raises grass-fed heritage-breed beef and pork, chickens and gorgeous heirloom vegetables.
Last winter, King decided to open the farm up once a week for a market day. “The first day, we were nervous no one would show up,” she says. “We went to open the gate at 10 a.m. and there was a line; people really want this.” The weekly event—which includes locally produced items for sale plus a freshly prepared lunch offer—quickly outgrew her barn. She stopped the event last winter while she expanded the space, and finally she’s ready to open again. “I joke we had a bumper crop of red tape,” she says about the long process.
While much of the day centers on Rosy Tomorrows’ products, it’s not a one-woman show. King has invited in
a baker, a beekeeper and a cheese importer to sell their wares. The whole market is set to a soundtrack of a pianist who jams while customers mingle with the farm’s critters and their friendly local farmer.
Market Days were set to return Wednesdays in early March, but check rosy-tomorrows.com for the exact date. Market Days run from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. The farm is located at 8250 Nalle Grade Road in North Fort Myers.
677: The number of residents living on the .2 square miles of Matlacha, according to Census data