TIME STANDS STILL: Cortez offers a glimpse of an historic fishing village.
West of Bradenton, just before Anna Maria Island, the village of Cortez offers a glimpse into the fishing communities that once dotted this coast. Many of the original families who settled the coastal town still live in the brightly painted bungalows that line its streets, and though the commercial net ban of the 1990s threatened the way of life here, the village and its fishing trade have survived. Visitors will find fresh seafood, unassuming beer joints and a delightfully Old Florida feel.
WHERE TO EXPLORE
Cortez is small enough that its streets can be walked in less than an hour. Take the time to admire this small town that’s withstood hurricanes and threats of gentrification alike. Many of the yards are planted with hibiscus bushes and guarded by scruffy cats. It’s postcard-perfect Florida.
The Florida Maritime Museum (4415 119th St. W., Cortez; 941.708.6120; floridamaritimemuseum.org) is set in the former Cortez schoolhouse and offers a comprehensive look at the village’s history. Especially thought-provoking: the exhibit on the commercial gill net ban that dramatically affected the fishing community in the mid-’90s. Don’t miss the museum’s research library with its collection of logs, diaries, letters and periodicals tied to the maritime legacy of the region.
WHERE TO EAT
The working docks offer some of the freshest seafood on the Gulfshore. Stop by the Star Fish Company (12306 46th Ave. W., Cortez; 941.794.1243; starfishcompany.com) for peel-and-eat shrimp, mullet, grouper, stone crab and other favorites in a casual outdoor setting. Almost all the seafood on the menu is harvested by Florida commercial fishermen. The dishes are made to order and can take a while, so settle in with a cold drink. The restaurant has an attached seafood market that sells the same grouper, snapper, mullet and shrimp that appear on the menu.
WHERE TO DRINK A BEER (OR TWO)
The Cortez Kitchen (4528 119th St. W., Cortez; 941.798.9404; thecortezkitchen.com) offers outdoor seating, a full bar and a crowd that gets rowdier as the week goes on. Thursday evenings start the live music, and it carries through the weekend. With views of the water from its dockside deck, the Kitchen has everything a Florida drinker needs.
WHERE TO SHOP
If pirates had a market for their plunder, the Sea Hagg (12304 Cortez Road W., Cortez; 941.795.5756; seahagg.com) would be it. This sprawling indoor-outdoor complex offers a tantalizing blend of marine salvage and beach shack art. Look for anchor chains with enormous links, old ship’s wheels, rolls of nautical charts, glass buoys, spyglasses and shipwreck coins. Mermaids and seashells abound.