Old Florida can be hard to find these days, but luckily not impossible. And Cortez, Florida is one of those places that lets you travel back in time a bit. Cortez is a true fishing village. A census designated area near Bradenton, Florida, Cortez is on the Sarasota Bay in Manatee County. It’s located on Cortez Road (how fitting!) which connects Bradenton with Bradenton Beach and Anna Maria Island. Its location also makes Cortez an easy day trip from St. Pete or Tampa.
History of the Fishing Village that is Cortez, Florida
In the 1890’s, Cortez was a rural community of fishing families. It was founded by several families from the Beaufort, North Carolina (also a quaint fishing town). Now it is one of the last remaining fishing villages on Florida’s southwest coast. Once you enter Cortez, you feel like you’re stepping back in time. Even the houses are charming as many are small cottages with no two looking quite the same. Cortez is quite charming and dare I say a bit funky, almost reminiscent of Gulfport, Florida in some ways.
Cortez Fishing Village Restaurants
Most of the restaurants in Cortez, Florida, offer fresh seafood and water views. There are many good options to eat so no matter what you choose, you really can’t go wrong. Each restaurant that I’ve listed is laid back and good for an authentic Florida restaurant feel. With these restaurants you can expect classic, no-frill seafood restaurants right on the water. As Cortez is a fishing village, one of its major draws is eating seafood. Cortez ships their seafood around the country, so this is ta great opportunity to get some of the freshest seafood. Those who don’t love seafood will still find plenty of options, though, so fear not if you do not like seafood!
Star Fish Co
Perhaps most popular restaurant in Cortez is Star Fish Company Restaurant. It was founded in the 1920’s as a seafood market and the restaurant was added in 1996. So while Star Fish has changed over the years, it has been a staple in the area for quite some time. Star Fish is still both a seafood market and a restaurant. So you can choose whether you would like to eat at the restaurant or purchase locally caught, fresh seafood and take it with you.
Seating at Star Fish Co is completely outside, though many tables are under cover from the sun. It is located right on the water but it’s a bit more special than your average water view. That’s because its waterfront location is one of the few working waterfronts left in Florida.
Star Fish is takeout style. You can dine in or take it to go but you will not be waited on at your table. You will order at the window (and pay with cash), then pick up your order when they call your name. While you’re waiting, I suggest grabbing a drink from the bar. And chances are you will be waiting because Star Fish Co is very popular! The lines can be over an hour long, especially during busy season. Just know before you go that they only take cash. For me, that only adds to the authenticity.
While Star Fish Co is the most recommended restaurant in Cortez, it’s far from the only option. Just down the road, right before the Cortez Bridge that takes you to Bradenton Beach, you’ll find Tide Tables. Like Star Fish Co, Tide Tables is also waterfront. Waits at Tide Tables can get just as long as Star Fish Co., but at Tide Tables you’ll be sat at at a table and served rather than fighting for the first available table.
Cortez Kitchen is another local jaunt with a great outdoor atmosphere and great vibe. I recommend the grouper sandwich and they also have good hushpuppies. There is live music Friday and Saturday from 5pm-9pm and Sunday from 3pm-7pm. They are closed on Mondays.
Like the other restaurants mentioned, Swordfish Grill is casual and homey feeling. It is also waterfront with incredible views. The restaurant is adorned with fishing nets, fishing articles, portraits, and similar ocean related memorabilia, making it an authentic Florida atmosphere. The food is great and they also have some delicious specialty cocktails.
The Seafood Shack Marina Bar and Grill
Open since 1971, The Seafood Shack is located north of the Cortez Drawbridge so you’ll get views of the intracoastal. You can visit by boat if you are having a day on the water as there are plenty of boat slips.
Things to do in Cortez, Florida Fishing Village
Though it covers a small area, there are still fun things to do in Cortez, Florida. Cortez truly is a wonderful day trip because you can squeeze in each of these activities in just one day while still taking your time to enjoy each activity.
Shopping at The Sea Hagg
The Sea Hagg is a nautical and antique store in Cortez, Florida. It’s full of eclectic finds and has everything from fishing nets to helms from old ships. We enjoy walking around here and just taking it all in. We find it kind of pricy, so we haven’t purchased anything yet during any of our visits but you never know what you’ll find since it’s always changing.
Cortez is also home to the Maritime Museum. We were surprised to find that this museum is free, though I highly recommend leaving a donation. The location itself is historic as the museum is located in a restored 1912 school house. It was full of fun information about the fishing town’s history and the staff were so sweet and helpful. This little museum made me fall in love with Cortez even more. I always feel more connected when I hear a town’s history, and this museum made it easy to fall in love with it’s story.
Annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival
First held in 1981, this popular festival is still a fun annual event. The first fishing festival brought 500 people. Since then, the average attendance is 20,000 over the course of two days! Held in February every year, the festival brings live music, nautical arts and crafts, seafood, beer, children activities, and more. Admission is $5 and children under 5 are free.
Where Should I Stay in Cortez?
Cortez is a small town and therefore does not have much for accommodations. Visiting Cortez is really best for a day trip. Located close to Bradenton Beach and Anna Maria Island, both of these Florida vacation destinations are great options to stay if you want to visit Cortez. It is also an easy day trip, around an hour, from Tampa.