It's not exactly Margaritaville, but there's no doubt that Jimmy Buffett would approve of the laid-back vibe at Wekiva Island.
On the recommendation of a friend with an eye for watering holes with genuine character, I steered the car out to Wekiva Island (wekivaisland.com) this past weekend. Geographically speaking, the riverside spot on the Wekiva in Longwood stakes a tenuous claim to island status: A tiny canal off the river does snake around far enough to technically claim the distinction.
There's no arguing that the island does have charm. That's even more impressive since it's literally right around the corner from the bustling traffic of the Sweetwater Oaks business corridor on Wekiva Springs Road. The island is tucked at the end of Miami Springs Drive, just 3 miles north of the State Road 434-Wekiva Springs Road intersection.
The project is a rebirth for the space, which was the site of the former Wekiva Springs Marina. The old marina had fallen on hard times after a major fire in 1999 burned down the restaurant and put the dock out of commission. Look down and you can still see burn marks on the wood.
Last year, the property was bought by Longwood businessman Bill Weinaug and his wife, Mary Sue, who rehabbed the bathrooms and grounds, adding a sand volleyball court and an inviting covered patio where acoustic musicians play on the weekend. (Bubba Wilson, of Real Radio fame, is booked for Feb. 26.)
Next to the patio, along the riverbank, there are about half a dozen "Riverbana" cabanas available for rent. For $100 a day (including tax), you'll get a Riverbana plus a full-day rental of one of the island's lime-green canoes, reserved parking, 6 bottles of water and a cooler with ice. There are also grills available.
Otherwise, canoes and kayaks are available for $22 for a half-day (up to 4 hours) or $30 for a full-day.
There are easy-going diversions even if you don't venture out on the river. Beer and wine are offered at the Tootin' Otter Bar, where you can order your drink under the tin-awning of a rustic shack with canoes on the roof. A nice spot for a sunset beer.