From dive-bar casual to Margaritaville wannabes to simply sophisticated, the dining options on Central Florida's waterways include a myriad of choices.
We set out in search of eats along the St. Johns River from Astor to Sanford, the scenic Intracoastal Waterway from Daytona Beach to Oak Hill, and the Harris Chain of Lakes in Lake County. Landlubbers can enjoy these restaurants, too: All are reachable by car.
My husband and I are veteran travelers of these nautical passages. Whether it's just the two of us or we're with a group of friends, there's nothing like the ambience of reaching your dining destination by boat.
The food varies from burgers to behemoth steaks, and the prices range from cheap to expensive. But all of our ports of call offer dining areas filled with natural light and backdrops that unfurl Florida's natural beauty, with occasional glimpses into the state's present and past.
All aboard? Sit back and enjoy the ride.
St. Johns River
Lake, Volusia and Seminole counties
The St. Johns River begins its 310-mile journey from marshlands in South Florida to reach the Atlantic Ocean near Jacksonville. Named one of 14 American Heritage Rivers in 1998, the section that Central Florida calls its own runs from Lake George near Astor to Lake Jesup near Sanford and Oviedo. For most of the journey the passage has a neighborly width that ties tree line to tree line in easy sight. Our route here is north to south.
Castaways Restaurant, Astor Bridge Marina, 1575 W. State Road 40, Astor; 386-749-0187; astorbridgemarina.com. Best bites: Burgers and broiled seafood.
Blackwater Inn & William's Landing, 55716 Front St. (at the S.R. 40 bridge), Astor; 352-759-2802; blackwaterinn.com. Best bites: Prime rib and soups at the inn; fingerling catfish, wings and burgers at William's Landing.
Fresh off the Hook, 2997 State Road 44 (next to Ed Stone Park.), DeLand; 386-738-4113; freshoffthehook.biz. Best bites: Fried pickles and lemon-pepper catfish.
Shady Oak Fish Camp, 2984 W. New York Ave. (eastern shore at S.R. 44 bridge), DeLand; 386-734-9715. Best bites: Fried fish.
Swamp House Grill & Happy Snapper Tiki Bar, 488 W. Highbanks Road (at the Highbanks Marina & Camp Resort), DeBary; 386-668-8891; swamphousegrill.com. Best bites: Herb-crusted grouper salad and onion rings.
Docktails Bar & Grill, 4380 Carraway Place (The Boat Tree Marina at the Port of Sanford); 407-323-3991. Best bites: Fried pickles, tacos, fried shrimp.
Nemo's Bar and Grill, 520 N. Palmetto Ave., Sanford; 407-322-2150; nemosbarandgrill.com. Best bites: Fish and chips, burgers.
Riverwalk Pizzeria, 350 E. Seminole Blvd., Sanford; 407-328-0018; riverwalkpizzeria.com. Best bites: Subs, calzones and strombolis.
Gators Riverside Grille, 4255 Peninsula Point, Sanford; 407-688-9700; gatorsriversidegrille.com. Best bites: Smoked fish dip, reuben poppers and cheesesteak sandwich.
Black Hammock Fish Camp, 2356 Black Hammock Fish Camp Road (on Lake Jesup), Oviedo; 407-365-1244; theblackhammock.com. Best bites: Fried gator tail, catfish and desserts
Daytona Beach to Oak Hill
The Intracoastal Waterway extends 1,200 miles from Norfolk, Va., to Key West. Some lengths consist of natural inlets, saltwater rivers, bays and man-made canals. In Central Florida the liquid labyrinth takes boaters from Ormond Beach and connects with the Mosquito Lagoon to Oak Hill and beyond as it continues its trek south.
Chart House, 1100 Marina Point Drive, Daytona Beach, 386-255-9022; chart-house.com. Best bites: Steaks and grilled fresh catch.
Aunt Catfish's on the River, 4009 Halifax Drive (at the Dunlawton Avenue bridge), Port Orange, 386-767-4768; auntcatfishontheriver.com. Best bites: Beer-battered fried-fish plate.
Caribbean Jack's Restaurant & Bar, 721 Ballough Road (at Loggerhead Marina), Daytona Beach; 386-523-3000; caribbeanjacks.com. Best bites: Low-country boil on weekends.
Boondocks Restaurant, 3948 S. Peninsula Drive, Wilbur-By-The-Sea; 386-760-9001; boondocks-restaurant.com. Best bites: Clams in marinara, crab bisque and paella.
Inlet Harbor Restaurant & Marina, 133 Inlet Harbor Road, Ponce Inlet; 386-767-5590; inletharbor.com: Best bites: Island grilled pork, lump crab cakes and fish tacos.
Down the Hatch Seafood Co., 4894 Front St., Ponce Inlet; 386-761-4831; down-the-hatch-seafood.com. Best bites: Mahi sandwich, smoked fish dip and prime rib.
Hidden Treasure Rum Bar & Grill, 4940 S. Peninsula Drive, Ponce Inlet; 386-761-9271; hiddentreasureonponceinlet.com. Best bites: Steamed shellfish bucket, sweet corn pops, grilled pork chop.
Pat's Riverfront Café, 3300 S. Peninsula Drive, Port Orange; 386-756-8070; Facebook. Best bites: Breakfast, burgers and chili.
Brigadoon Fish Camp, 6101 S. Ridgewood Ave., Port Orange; 386-202-2476; Facebook. Best bites: Blue crabs and fish tacos.
Our Deck Down Under, 78 E. Dunlawton Ave., Port Orange; 386-767-1881; ourdeckdu.com. Best bites: Jambalaya, ribs and deck Mex salad.
Hidden Treasure Tiki Bar & Grill, 5993 S. Ridgewood Ave., Port Orange; 386-756-9565; hiddentreasureonrosebay.com. Best bites: Steamed shellfish bucket, sweet corn pops and grilled pork chop.
The Grille at Riverview, 101 Flagler Ave., New Smyrna Beach; 386-428-1865; thegrilleatriverview.com. Best bites: Cheeseburger from the bar menu; chicken Francese from the dining-room menu.
Dolphin View Seafood Restaurant, 107 N. Riverside Drive, New Smyrna Beach; 386-402-8859; dolphinviewseafood.com. Best bites: Fried fish and chips, shrimp and grits.
Outriggers Tiki Bar and Grille, 300 Boatyard St. (at the New Smyrna Marina), New Smyrna Beach; 386-428-6888; newsmyrnamarina.com/outriggers. Best bites: Panko-fried okra, fried green tomato stack, yellowfin ceviche or brussels sprouts with candied bacon.
J.B.'s Fish Camp & Restaurant, 859 Pompano Ave., New Smyrna Beach; 386-427-5747; jbsfishcamp.com. Best bites: Oyster stew, coleslaw and spicy steamed shrimp.
Goodrich's Seafood & Oyster House, 253 River Road, Oak Hill; 386-345-3397; goodrichseafoodandoysterhouse.com. Best bites: Onion rings, country breakfast and fresh-caught flounder.
Harris Chain of Lakes
Part of the Oklawaha River basin, this collection includes Lakes Apopka, Dora, Beauclair, Carlton, Eustis, Griffin, Harris, Little Lake Harris and Yale. For our excursion, we are cruising Lake County.
Restaurants are mostly found on the shores of Tavares, Mount Dora and Eustis, but a few fish camps of note reside where Lake Griffin meets the Ocklawaha River. This list only represents restaurants visible from the shoreline. All three of these small towns have more restaurants and bars within walking distance of city docks.
Pisces Rising, 239 W. Fourth Ave., Mount Dora; 352-385-2669; piscesrisingdining.com. Best bites: Tacos, burgers, 239 salad and spring rolls.
Lakeside Inn, 100 Alexander St., Mount Dora; 352-383-4101; lakeside-inn.com. Best bites: Bar menu, burger, soups and salad.
Buzzard Beach, 2050 W. Burleigh Blvd., Tavares; 352-552-8849; buzzardbeach.com. Best bites: Brat dog and burgers.
Sinbad's Bar & Grill, 1050 W. Burleigh Blvd., Tavares; 352-343-6669; Facebook. Best bites: Wings and smoked pork tenderloin sandwich.
The Crazy Gator, 402 N. Bay St., Eustis; 352-589-5885; thecrazygator.org. Best bites: Burgers and wraps.
Olivia's Coffeehouse, 108 N. Bay St., Eustis; 352-357-1887; oliviascoffeehouse.com. Best bites: Breakfast (fresh scones and quiche), soups, chili and signature salad trio.
Gator Den, 19400 S.E. County Road 42 (Nelson's Outdoor Resort), Umatilla; 352-821-3474; Ext. 1; nelsonsoutdoorresort.com. Best bites: Sandwiches and fried fish.
Palm Gardens Restaurant and Marina, 1661 Palm Garden St., Tavares; 352-343-2024; palmgardensmarina.com. Best bites: Spiral ham or corned-beef sandwiches and wings.
Hurricane Dockside Grill, 3351 W. Burleigh Blvd., Tavares; 352-508-5137; hurricanedocksidegrill.com. Best bites: Wings, shrimp basket and crispy chicken sliders.
Ruby Street Grille, 221 E. Ruby St., Tavares; 352-742-7829; rubystreetgrille.com. Best bites: Fried pickles, fish tacos, fish and chips, and burgers.
O'Keefe's Irish Pub, 115 S. Rockingham Ave., Tavares; 352-343-2157; okeefesirishpub.net. Best bites: Soups, boxty potatoes and steak sandwiches.
Al's Landing, 111 W. Ruby St., Tavares; 352-742-1113; Facebook. Best bites: BLT and burgers.
Al's Sand Bar, 123 S. Joanna St., Tavares; 352-508-5841; Facebook. Best bites: Fish tacos and pulled pork barbecue.
Lake Harris Hideaway, 11912 Lane Park Road, Tavares, 352-343-3585; lakeharrishideaway.net. Best bites: Wings, fried chicken and burgers.
J.B. Boondocks, 704 S. Lakeshore Blvd., Howey-in-the-Hills; 352-324-3600; jbboondocks.com. Best bites: Fried fish, chowder, muffuletta sandwich and burgers.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun