I’ve been known to go to great lengths for food, so hopping a ferry to go for a cheeseburger wasn’t really out of the ordinary. Urban legend has it that Jimmy Buffett got the inspiration for his song, “Cheeseburger in Paradise” from a restaurant on the tiny Floridian island of Cabbage Key. Any burger that was good enough to inspire a hit song, is worth a ferry ride.
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Where is Cabbage Key?
Cabbage key is located on the Gulf of Mexico about 32 km northwest of Ft. Myers, Florida. Cabbage Key is a private island retreat that is only accessible by water or float plane. Once a totally secluded hideaway, the island has been open to the public since the mid-1940’s when the Cabbage Key Inn and restaurant were opened. Today the island that is known to locals as “Paradise” makes a great lunch or dinner stop for yachters and a nice day trip for those travelling from mainland Florida.
Related: Do you like cool island escapes? Check out our post about Bora Bora Lagoon.
The Cabbage Key Inn and Restaurant is located inside an old white house with an open air porch and is famous for its cheeseburger, which locals claim was the inspiration for Jimmy Buffet’s famous song A Cheeseburger in Paradise. Cabbage Key has been a favorite haunt of Buffet and several other celebrities, but perhaps the most unique feature of the dining experience is the expensive wallpaper. The walls are covered with about 70,000 US one dollar bills. It is tradition for every person who visits the restaurant for the first time to sign a George Washington and tack it to the wall. The restaurant has framed the signed bills of some of its more famous patrons including Mark Kirkland, director of The Simpsons, Former US president Jimmy Carter, John F. Kennedy Jr., and of course, Jimmy Buffet.
Legend has it that this curious tradition of tacking money to the walls of Cabbage Key Inn and Restaurant began when a thirsty sailor stopped for a drink at the restaurant’s bar. When he was ready to leave and couldn’t find his server, he signed a George Washington and tacked the bill to the wall to ensure he would be welcomed back the next time he got thirsty. Today there is so much money on the walls and ceilings that it is falling off. About $10,000 falls off every year and is donated to charity.
Side Trip Suggestion: A short drive will get you to the Florida Everglades. Read our post about an Everglades Kayak Tour.
Cabbage Key Inn and Restaurant
The dining experience at Cabbage Key Inn and Restaurant is casual and laid back. There are a number of locally-inspired island favorites on the menu such as peel-and-eat Gulf shrimp and grilled Mahi Mahi, but I knew before going in that I would be ordering the cheeseburger. Any food that could inspire a pop song, begged to be tried.
Looks Aren’t Everything
To be honest, my cheeseburger didn’t look that special. In this case though, looks aren’t everything, because it tasted pretty good. I didn’t feel like bursting into song after consuming it, but then again – I’m not Jimmy Buffett.
Don’t Miss Dessert!
For dessert, I tried the Cabbage Key Inn & Restaurant’s legendary frozen key lime pie. Our server said that the restaurant had been using the same recipe for their key lime pie for more than half a century. Dessert did make me feel like singing, but I held myself back for the sake of the other diners in earshot of our table.
Did you know? There are a ton of different recipes for key lime pie. Some have whipped cream on top and some have meringue. If you like key lime pie as much as I do, check out this cool key lime pie cookbook.
Exploring Cabbage Key
After dinner, we went for a pleasant stroll on the Cabbage Key nature trail. We even climbed the historic water tower, which is one of the few that has survived. We didn’t feel like leaving when our boat pulled up, but we told ourselves that someday we’d make it back to have another cheeseburger in paradise.
How to Go Out for a Burger in Paradise
The closest airport to Cabbage key is the Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers. From the airport, a taxi can take you to the Pineland Marina on Pine Island. There are three charter companies that can take you to Cabbage Key from the Pineland Marina: Island Girl Charters, Pine Island Charters, and Tropic Star Cruises. You can also get to Cabbage Key from Captiva Island, Punta Gorda or Boca Grande. We travelled from Captiva Island on Captiva Cruises.
-For information on visiting this region of Florida, visit the official tourism information website.
Urban Legend or Fact?
Locals and the Cabbage Key Inn and Restaurant stand by the story that their cheeseburger inspired Buffett to write his famous song, but what is the true story? Buffett visited the restaurant. That much is certain. When asked about the inspiration for the song, he is said to have spoken about a cheeseburger he enjoyed on the island of Tortola when his boat had broken down and he was living on a canned food and peanut butter diet. It’s likely that the Cabbage Key urban legend is just that – an urban legend. That said, the cheeseburger is definitely worth having – as Buffett and many others all discovered.
More Island Adventures: Read our post about Kayaking and Snorkeling in Belize.