The Greater Fort Myers area has many Attraktionen, ranging from sunbathing on the beach to historical sites. As anchor of Southwest Florida"s Strände of Fort Myers & Sanibel, Fort Myers serves as a hub for assorted areas of distinct appeal, all adding up to a Tropical Island Getaway. Fabled Sanibel and Captiva islands, with pristine white sand Strände on their gulf sides and dense mangrove forests to the east, showcase surprisingly diverse ecosystems along with North America’s best shelling, great biking / hiking trails, and acre upon acre of wildlife sanctuary. In fact, Sanibel and Captiva are so eco-minded that laws prevent buildings being constructed higher than the tallest palm tree. On Estero Island, Fort Myers Beach (recognized among the "world"s safest family Strände" because of its gentle slope into the gulf) is home to back bays, estuaries and lush mangrove forests for kayaking and bird-watching. Bonita Springs has freshwater fishing and shopping, and Cape Coral has a multitude of marinas, golf courses, and tennis. Crossing the bridge to Pine Island recalls days when fishing was the area"s top industry. This quaint little isle, known for the "Fishingest Bridge in the U.S.A.,” continues as an angler’s paradise. Inland, Lehigh Acres offers miles of freshwater canals, 16 well stocked lakes with great fishing, tennis, horseback riding, hiking, biking trails, and three golf courses. On the banks of the Caloosahatchee Intracoastal Waterway, Fort Myers’ status as the "City of Palms" is evident with a glance down McGregor Boulevard, lined with 1,800 majestic royal palms. Rich in Old South ambiance, Fort Myers yields year-round water sports, museums, historic tours, festivals, golf, theater and nature walks. Winter resident Thomas Edison, who enticed his friend Henry Ford to settle in next door along the riverbank, once declared “there is only one Fort Myers, and 90 million people are going to find out.”
Below is a list of some suggested things to do in the Fort Myers Metropolitan Area, with links to more details when available.
Babcock Wilderness Adventures, operated on the 90,000-acre Crescent B Ranch in Lee and Charlotte counties, offers 90-minute tours including face-to-face thrills with Florida cracker cattle, panthers, birds, and dozens of wild alligators lazing about in the sun near their favorite bridge. Sometimes there’s also a glimpse of a white tailed deer or wild turkey. Swamp buggies cover the massive terrain, cutting through unspoiled pinewoods, fresh water marsh, and sections of Telegraph Cypress Swamp. Professional tour guides provide commentaries on raising cattle and horses and other ranch activity along with area history. Visitors are welcome to bring picnics or enjoy gator bites and other lunch fare in the Gator Shack Restaurant.
From the south, take Interstate 75 new exit 143 (old exit 26) east on Route 78 to State Road 31. Go north 9 miles. (800) 500-5583
Within the Great Hall of Shells are some 30 exhibits including Gifts from the Seas of Sanibel & Captiva (displaying the most familiar seashells washed ashore on Strände and backwaters); Worldwide Shells (where a six-foot globe serves as a centerpiece for specimens from far-flung locations); and Children’s Learning Lab (a play area of discovery with hands-on displays and a live creature-filled tank.)
3075 Sanibel-Captiva Road. (239) 395-6706
Where and How to Shell
The Southwest Florida"s Strände of Fort Myers & Sanibel area with more than 100 barrier islands, and more than 50 miles of fine sand white Strände, shelter some of the world’s best shelling. Nearly 400 species of multi-colored seashells found in the region range from the common scallop to the rare brown speckled junonia. Peak season for shelling is May through September. Sanibel Island is most renowned for its shelling potential, but the activity is successfully pursued all along the Strände of Fort Myers & Sanibel. Captiva and Cayo Costa islands are noted for starfish, conchs and sand dollars. Seashells are often hidden just beneath the surface of sand where the surf breaks, and can be collected by wading or snorkeling along the surf line. A wide plateau of shallow water adjoins Sanibel on the south side, and the gradual slope of the gulf acts like a ramp to encourage shells to roll onto the beach – especially when driven in by northwestern stormfronts. Such storms are common in December and January when cold fronts pass through. While there’s never a bad time to shell, optimum collecting occurs in early morning, low tide, and after storms.
Boca Grande, a turn-of-the-century outpost on Gasparilla Island, and a short boat ride from Captiva or Pine Island, is also known as the Tarpon Capital of the World. According to lore, infamous pirate Jose Gaspar lived on this 7-mile-long barrier island first inhabited by Calusa Indians. By the late 1870s, the Charlotte Harbor area had several fish ranches, one later in the village of Gasparilla. Fishermen, many Spanish or Cuban, salted down huge catches of mullet for shipment to Havana and other markets. In the 20s, the Du Ponts, Astors, Morgans, Vanderbilts, and other moneyed folk arrived, seeking places in the sun for their winter social season. Apart from parties, another attraction was world-class tarpon fishing. Prominent anglers still visit, including the presidential Bush families. Among historical highlights are the Gasparilla Inn, run down by 1930 when it was purchased by Barron G. Collier, for whom neighboring Collier County is named. The Inn, with its 18-hole golf course and beach club, is again a hub of seasonal social activity and one of the island’s largest employers. The rail depot, restored in the 1970s, is occupied by shops and the Loose Caboose Restaurant, and the rail bed has been transformed into a popular bike path.
Boston Red Sox spring training and Red Sox Grapefruit League action unfolds at City of Palms Park in Fort Myers.
2201 Edison Avenue. (239) 334-4700
Built in 1901, along the banks of the Caloosahatchee River in historic downtown Fort Myers, the Burroughs Home is a Georgian Revival structure on two acres of oak-shaded lawn. Its architectural significance rests on location as well as on design excellence and workmanship. Use of this formal architecture style is significant because the Burroughs project set standards and made a statement of wealth and social position. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, its nomination form noted that the house also constitutes one of the first and few remaining large stately winter residences built during the early 20th century, so instrumental in transforming Fort Myers from a "rugged frontier cow town to a fashionable winter resort."
2505 First Street. (239) 332-5955
Accessible only by boat, helicopter or seaplane is Cabbage Key, touted as the inspiration for Jimmy Buffett’s “Cheeseburger in Paradise.” There are no cars here, not even a paved road. The main house, now the Cabbage Key Inn and Restaurant, was built in the 1930"s by the family of playwright/novelist Mary Roberts Rinehart. The building sits atop an Indian shell mound and the view is captivating. Regularly scheduled boats run daily from Pine Island, Captiva and Punta Gorda. Remote and self-reliant, Cabbage Key nightlife is usually defined by pleasantry in the Dollar Bill Bar, where thousands upon thousands are taped on walls by appreciative patrons – John F. Kennedy Jr. once added his – and later given to charity. The restaurant, with no microwave on premises, will cook fresh catch for patrons who do their own gutting and cleaning. One way to get there for burgers with or without cheese is to head for the north end of Pine Island to board the Tropic Star for a full-day, narrated nature cruise. Lunch on Cabbage Key is followed by shelling and swimming afterward on Cayo Costa.
Mile Marker 60. (239) 283-2278
and Southwest Florida history comes to life at the 105-acre Calusa Nature Center and planetarium, which has a museum, nature trails, planetarium, aviary, gift shop and a place for picnics. Daily programs allow close-up views of resident creatures, including snakes, alligators, and crocodiles. Various amphibians and arthropods also wait. Interpretive displays address issues from water resources to plight of the manatee.
3450 Ortiz Avenue. (239) 275-3435
About 10 miles east of Fort Myers near Alva is Florida’s oldest winery and vineyard. The 20-year-old Eden Vineyards & Winery began as a sort of science project, developing over the decades through persistence from three generations of the Kiser family. In 1986, Eden Vineyards became the southernmost federally licensed, bonded winery and vineyards in the U.S. Among six wines, sold on site and at Florida retail stores and restaurants, are Lake Emerald (extremely dry with a ripe fruit underbody), Alva Rouge (Mildred Kiser’s spaghetti wine), Alva White (crisp, yet fruity for sipping), Coral Bell (Florida’s version of a California Blush), Eden Stars (made from carambola, sometimes called starfruit) and Eden Spice (brimming with exotic flavors). Tastings are conducted in the winery reception room, open daily from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
19709 Little Lane, Alva. (239) 728-9463.
Among Fort Myers’ most treasured Attraktionen are the Edison/Ford Winter Estates, all year long offering guided tours through the winter homes of Thomas Edison (1847-1931) and Henry Ford (1863-1947). Because of poor health, Ohio’s Thomas Alva Edison spent winters in Fort Myers. In 1885, he purchased 14 acres on the Caloosahatchee River’s south side and built a home, Seminole Lodge, complete with laboratory and botanical gardens. In 1896, he made friends with auto magnate Henry Ford, who moved into his own place next door. When Edison died at 84 in 1931, he held 1,093 patents, the only person in the U.S. to ever to have a patent granted annually for 65 consecutive years, 1868 to 1933. The museum includes the original Model T Ford that Ford gave Edison, and more than 200 Edison phonographs. The lab, kept just as he left it, is home to where Edison conducted many of his last major experiments. Edison"s tropical botanical garden contains more than 1,000 plant varieties, including African sausage trees and a Banyan tree, a gift from Harvey Firestone in 1925. Also offered is a cruise down the Caloosahatchee River on a replica of the "Reliance," Edison"s electric launch.
2325 McGregor Boulevard, Fort Myers. (239) 334-3614
Among safari possibilities are jungle cruises, airboat rides, nature walks or a 15-minute wildlife drive through four realms of the Everglades. Lunch includes alligator appetizers.
Departs daily from Fort Myers and Sanibel. (239) 472-1559
Fun for the whole family awaits at the Imaginarium Hands-On Museum, where it’s possible to touch a cloud, feel the force of a hurricane, or run through a thunderstorm. The Imaginarium provides hours of fun and entertainment, with more than 60 interactive exhibits plus live fish, sharks, turtles, swans, iguanas and live animal programs.
2001 Cranford Avenue. (239) 337-3332
Assorted cruises are featured on the Caloosahatchee River / Intracoastal Waterway from an adventure on the gulf to a day trip to Lake Okeechobee or a historic glide passing the Edison Home and Ford Estate. Fun and tasty food are on the menu aboard an air-conditioned, heated modern triple-deck paddlewheeler.
All boats depart from Fort Myers Yacht Basin. (239) 334-7474
This public art gallery features local artisans and artists, and also supports recitals, concerts and workshops.
10091 McGregor Boulevard. (239) 939-2787
Barrier Islands known as Lovers Key / Carl E. Johnson State Recreation Area make up the 712-acre park, home to gopher tortoise, osprey, marsh rabbits and raccoons. Trams transport visitors from two parking areas to the 2.5 mile white-sand gulf beach where sunsets are a crowd-pleaser. Picnic tables, rustic trails, bicycle racks, a beach pavilion, a canoe launching area, outdoor showers, public telephones and environmentally friendly restrooms are available. A public boat ramp, on the Estero Bay side of the park, allows access to the Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve and Gulf of Mexico waters. Kayakers and canoers navigate near-shore waters, or through gentle currents of Big Carlos Pass. Fish for trout, snook, and redfish along the Estero Bay shoreline.
8700 Estero Boulevard, Fort Myers Beach. (239) 463-4588
During winter, the Fort Myers area is home to one of Florida’s largest manatee populations, congregating in Orange River currents to feed and keep warm. In 1989, Manatee and Eco-Tours began as a small tour boat company dedicated to educating the public about manatees and the threat of their extinction. In 1998, Manatee and Eco-Tours welcomed a new partner, Prof. Dieter Ruedi, a wildlife veterinarian, and they purchased Coastal Marine Mart, now the Visitor Information Center from where manatee-centered ecological tours depart, and Manatee World was born with manatee exhibits and the world"s largest collection of manatee-related books, videos, and gift items.
5605 Palm Beach Boulevard. (239) 694-4042
An unspoiled sabal palm and live oak hammock await at the 56-acre Matanzas Pass Wilderness Preserve, a pristine, barrier island forest with abundant wildlife and diverse, native, plant species. After crossing two bridges on the entry trail, visitors encounter a boardwalk winding through the mangrove swamp. At the end, a pavilion overlooks the water with a spectacular view of the Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve, with wading birds, jumping fish, and manatee. Parking is free.
Bay Road, Fort Myers Beach.
Accessible by boat only and a delightful picnic spot, Mound Key State Archaeological Site is composed of layer upon layer of shells discarded by the Calusa Indians settling on waters of Estero Bay some 2,000 years ago. The 125-acre island, almost entirely an artificial creation, rises more than 30 feet above water, where only a flat mangrove and oyster-bar barely surfaced when Indians arrived circa 100 A.D. Fish and shellfish provided a plentiful source of food in shallows around the island. As centuries of fishing and shellfish collecting past, discarded shells, bone, and pottery piled up. Mound Key residents then reworked accumulating discards, raising platform mounds, ceremonial mounds and ridges, and carving out canals and large, open water courts. As time went on, the island grew larger and higher.
Northeast of the southern tip of Fort Myers Beach. (239) 338-3300
Seminole Gulf Railway owns and operates some 100 miles of Florida track from Arcadia to North Naples. A separate 34-mile line of Seminole Gulf Railway extends between Oneco (Bradenton), Sarasota, and Venice on original Seaboard Air Line and Atlantic Coast Line track. Seminole Gulf, Southwest Florida’s only freight railroad, hauls LP gas, beer, newsprint, pulpwood, and that’s not all. In fall, 1991, the Dinner Train launched Murder on the Seminole Express, an instant hit. Now known as Dinner Train Theater, it has premiered 19 original mystery productions, including Playing For Keeps. Up to 200 passengers are seated in a quartet of vintage railcars (Sanibel, Marco, Gasparilla, and Captiva) for a multi-course repast from fruit and cheese through soup, salad, entrée and dessert, plus a juicy murder to chew over. Food is prepared on board in the Marco kitchen, also with a bar, and 24-passenger dining room. Passengers decide who and why on the slaying. Clue sheets are collected before the final act, with a prize awarded to one super sleuth in each car.
Colonial Station, Fort Myers. (239) 275-8487
Entertainment facilities include 465 slots, 15 table games, and bingo seating for 1,050, along with restaurant.
506 South First Street. (239) 658-1313, (800) 218-0007
An institution on southwest Florida for more than 60 years, the Shell Factory has the “world’s largest collection of rare shells, coral sponges and fossils from seven seas,” with more than 5 million shells and shell-related gifts. Shell Factory also has wildlife exhibits, aquariums and alligators, arcade games, miniature golf and a Bumper Boat lagoon. Capt’n Fishbones Seafood Restaurant serves fresh caught grouper and coconut shrimp and the Fudge Kitchen makes traditional flavors along with pina colada and Elvis’ favorite, peanut butter and banana. The 18-acre attraction’s gift shop stocks items from apparel to shark teeth necklaces.
2787 North Tamiami Trail, North Fort Myers. (239) 995-2141, (800) 282-5805
This 2,000-acre wetland ecosystem is home to assorted plants and animals, many endangered.
Pensanze Crossing and Six Mile Cypress Parkway. (239) 995-2141
The Southwest Florida Museum of History, housed in the former Atlantic Coastline Railroad depot, is dedicated to preservation and interpretation of the history of Southwest Florida with emphasis on Fort Myers. Museum exhibits explore history of the Paleo Indians, Calusa, Seminoles, Spanish explorers, and early settlers. A pioneer "cracker" house, a 1926 La France fire pumper, and a 1929 private Pullman rail car are also popular. The museum’s walking tours (Reservierung required) on Wednesdays at 10 a.m. provide insight on “where was the fort?” and highlight history of downtown buildings.
2300 Peck Street. (239) 332-5955
This 12-acre water park with more than two dozen wet and dry Attraktionen has tube rides, waterslides and a tot spot about 2.5 miles north of Veterans Parkway in Cape Coral. If traveling on Interstate-75, turn west at Exit 22 and cross the Midpoint Memorial Bridge.
400 Santa Barbara Boulevard, Cape Coral. (239) 574-0557