By Chelle Koster Walton
The trip across the bridge from Bradenton Beach to the village of Cortez takes only minutes. Yet it time-travels decades back to the days when fishing was a livelihood for coastal Florida residents. One of the state’s few remaining working waterfronts, Cortez freezes, under near-tropical sun, a way-of-life that ebbs with time.
Most visitors make the trip for a watersport charter adventure, and to relish the freshest of seafood at its source just offloaded in the harbor. Star Fish Company is one of the oldest and most hailed of the seafood markets and dockside restaurants in Cortez. You must try the fried or blackened mullet, the local catch, as you overlook the boats in port and the photogenic, stilted net camp house used in the filming of Denzel Washington’s movie Out of Time.
Immediately behind Star Fish, the history lessons begin with murals and a sculpture alluding to another Cortez-Hollywood connection. It honors local people lost to the elements, including the disastrous tempest portrayed by the movie A Perfect Storm. Get a walking tour map of the village, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, from the Florida Maritime Museum or the Cortez Village Cultural Center. Vintage homes ranging from humble to grand, net camps, docks, fish houses and restaurants dot the 20-block district with more than 90 points of interest.
Don’t miss the 1912 Cortez Rural Graded Schoolhouse, now home to the Florida Maritime Museum of Cortez. Exhibits include artwork, vignettes of early fishing and Cuban fishing ranchos, models of boats that were once built in Cortez, a 1932 pole skiff, and artifacts and photographs from past to present. The museum hosts Folk School classes to teach skills in canning, net mending and more. The Pillsbury Boat Shop is one of three historic buildings on the museum grounds, hosting boat building and maritime skills classes offered by the museum. The 4-acre complex abuts a 95-acre nature preserve where the Cortez Village Cultural Center displays photos and artifacts in an historic home.
No visit to Cortez is complete without a stop at the Sea Hagg, across Cortez Road from the village. In keeping with Cortez’s salty nature, this enchanting chandlery is filled with fishing and other nautical antiques, memorabilia and maritime treasures that make the perfect souvenir from your trip back in time.
For more information on the area, visit bradentongulfislands.com.
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