Captiva Island (near Ft Myers, FL), is an unbelievably beautiful piece of real estate on the Gulf Coast. Just north of Sanibel, the five-mile long island has basically one road going through it, with gorgeous vacation homes, mansions, resorts, and ocean views flanking each side of the road. It is peppered with small touristy restaurants, shops, and a few public beaches to explore. Retirees putter around on golf carts. But by far the quirkiest thing in the popular vacation-destination beach town is a place called The Bubble Room.The name doesn’t at all describe what it is. Is it a store? A restaurant? A bar? A bizarre collection of vintage toys, decorations, antiques, fish tanks, clowns, signs, and other oddities? Is it a place where you can get slices of cake as big as your head, fruity island cocktails, and delicious food served by waitresses wearing Girl Scout uniforms? Yes to all of those. It’s Captiva’s oldest operating restaurant, built inside an old house, dating back to 1979. (The building itself dates back five more decades). Movie stars who used to vacation there spread the word and its popularity just grew. Now it’s a must-do on any visit to the island. The Bubble Room is bright and colorful and painted in pastel colors on the outside. A gorilla cage (sans gorilla) stands outside near garden gnomes and a rainbow awning. The interior is a three-level visual smattering of kitsch. You’ll see walls plastered with framed, black-and-white pictures of random people. Shelves lined with vintage toys cover other walls. One room is lined with fish-tanks built into the walls next to the booths. A full deep-sea diver costume stands next to a trolley car repurposed into a booth. The dining rooms are small and compartmental, but each turn opens to another room with more stuff. One opening in a wall looks down into a room full of Christmas decor and another ledge features an Alice in Wonderland tea party. A toy train makes its way around a track throughout, and thousands of “bubble lights” illuminate the joint, giving the famed eatery its namesake. Music from the 1920’s and 30’s plays softly in the background. The tables are shadowboxes filled with trinkets and photos. One hallway features an old “Tunnel of Love” boat.
The menu here is a bit atypical. You’ll find traditional island fare such as shrimp, rice, and salmon, but everything has a Bubble Room twist to it. Lots of sandwiches with names like “Turk Douglas” (turkey) and “Bing ‘Crab’sby” (crab cakes), as well as soups, salads, and burgers. The bar has classic island cocktails like mojitos and margaritas, as well as signature cocktails like the “Pink Flamingo” and “Captiva Cooler.” But the Bubble Room is most widely known for their desserts. After your meal, the server presents a dessert tray, with massive slices of cakes, made daily. Popular flavors include the Orange Crunch Cake, the Jamaican Rum Cake, and the Red Velvet Cake. We opted for a piece of Key Lime Pie.
Across the street is the Bubble Room Emporium, their gift shop selling exactly what you’d expect. Stock up on shirts, hats, shotglasses, koozies, and even a pack of the ubiquitous bubble lights you’ve seen inside. The Bubble Room is an enduring part of the Captiva experience. It was right up our alley.
While in the area: Sanibel Island has a killer antique store called the Islander Trading Post, and the many white-sand beaches on Sanibel and Captiva are popular for shelling and dolphin-spotting. Or take a drive through the J.N. Darling Wildlife Refuge’s 4-mile loop to spot different birds, plants, and other wildlife.