With some of the best beaches in Florida, visitors have their pick of resort-lined or secluded. For the spring break destination of Fort Myers, visit Fort Myers Beach/Estero Island, a barrier island just outside of Fort Myers. White sandy beaches are lined with waterfront restaurants great for grabbing a fruity drink and some eats. In November, FMB is host to the American Sand Sculpting Championship, a testament to the quality of the sand at this locale. Travelers looking for a local vibe complete with stunning views will want to visit Bowditch Point Park at the north end of the island. For a more secluded beach day, head to Lover’s Key State Park – consistently voted one of the best beaches in Florida – or Bowman’s Beach at nearby Sanibel Island – an underdeveloped stretch good for shelling.
Fort Myers is home to the training complexes of the Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins. During March, both teams conduct spring training, offering a great way to see major-leaguers up close. For a complete day at the ballpark, go early to see famous names and up-and-comers taking batting practice. Boston’s JetBlue Park is a mini-replica of Fenway Park, complete with a ‘Green Monster’ in left field. The outdoor fountain and waterfall at the Twins’ Hammond Stadium make for an incredible entry, and snowbirds can be seen taking in the sites after a long winter. After the hustle-and-bustle of spring training ends, both JetBlue and Hammond play host to minor league baseball teams throughout the summer.
Jet Blue Park, 11500 Fenway South Drive, Fort Myers, FL 33913 +1 239-226-4783
With countless fishing tours operating out of the area, southwest Florida is a top destination for sport fishing. Boca Grande plays host to some of the best tarpon fishing from April through August. Skip the more touristy outlets and book a charter from Whidden’s Marina on Boca Grande. A piece of old Florida, the rustic marina has faded white paint, fishing trinkets and memorabilia, and a host of local characters that linger outside on the dock. Locals buy beer and bait at Whidden’s, and are happy to share fishing tips. In Matlacha – just off the coast – lies the ‘fishingest bridge in the U.S.’ Local anglers are posted there throughout the day, and it is a great spot to try your hand at casting.
Whidden’s Marina, 190 1st St E, Boca Grande, FL 33921 +1 941-964-2878
The Gulfshore Grill on Fort Myers Beach creates a perfect rotation for a night out. This locale has a beach bar on the sand, located feet away from the water and serving fruity, tropical drinks. Have a piña colada before going inside to the Gulfshore Grill dining room. The quiet, air-conditioned seating with gulf-front windows is well-suited for enjoying local grouper and watching the sun dip over the water. After dinner, the open-air deck of The Cottage bar creates an intimate setting on the waterfront for local bands to play. Live music is offered every night from 9:00pm until 2:00am.
Gulfshore Grill, 1250 Estero Blvd, Fort Myers Beach, FL 33931 +1 239-765-5440
A short distance from Fort Myers proper is Sanibel Island, an East-West barrier island with pristine beaches. Sanibel is a drivable alternative to the resort-laden Fort Myers Beach. Situated along one corner of the island is the J.N. ‘Ding’ Darling National Wildlife Refuge, a 6,000 acre wild mangrove area home to 245 species of birds. A day trip to the reserve is bound to offer spectacular bird-watching and frequent glimpses of manatees and alligators. Countless other family-friendly tours can be booked to explore southwest Florida’s ecosystem. Think about an island hopping tour for a curated journey of spectacular Gasparilla, North Captiva, and Cabbage Key Island.
Previously a fishing community, Matlacha is now known for its art galleries and small boutique shops. After commercial fishing was banned in the area to protect local marine populations, the residents took to reinventing the city, painting the buildings with bright colors and murals. Just off the coast, between Cape Coral and Pine Island, a visit to this town now filled with writers, musicians and artists is well worth it. Walk along the main drag and stop along the shops and galleries. Wild Child Art Gallery is a local favorite. Peggy McTeague re-appropriated an old fishing cottage and has filled the gallery with her incredible Florida paintings and sculptures.
Wild Child Art Gallery, 4625 Pine Island Rd, Matlacha, FL 33993 +1 239-283-6006
At the Edison and Ford Winter Estates, visitors can walk through the former grounds of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, who wintered in Fort Myers. The lush botanical gardens, huge estates and Edison Ford Museum – filled with trinkets and small inventions of Edison – are highlights. For the ancient history of southwest Florida, visit the Randell Research Center and Calusa Heritage Trail, an archaeological site of the Calusa Natives. The few remnants of the original inhabitants are preserved, and visitors can learned about the Calusa culture at the interpretive trail.
Randell Research Center, 13810 Waterfront Dr, Bokeelia, FL 33922 +1 239-283-2157
With the hot sun beating down almost all year round, a day inside with air-conditioning is often a welcome refuge. The Sidney and Berne Davis Art Center in Fort Myers provides a pleasant afternoon or evening out of the beating sun. Located in a historic court house, the art center is well recognized for its light sculpture that reflects off the old façade of the building. Inside, visitors can take in art exhibitions, musical series and guest lecturers. For a day at the movies, visit the Beach Theater on Fort Myers Beach. The pink movie-plex can’t be missed on Fort Myers’ main drag. They carry new releases and offer dinner service as an alternative to popcorn and candy.
Beach Theater, 6425 Estero Blvd, Fort Myers Beach, FL 33931 +1 239-765-9000
For a truly secluded day at the beach, Cayo Costa offers the opportunity to camp on a bridge-less barrier island only reachable by boat. Take a shuttle boat and experience the nine mile secluded beach, perfect for shelling, walking and fishing. The island has been preserved as a state park, creating the potential for much wildlife viewing. Stand on the shore of the gulf and watch the sun set before crawling into your tent. $42 will get you to and from the island, and includes the admission fee.
Cayo Costa State Park, FL 33924 +1 941-964-0375 (Ranger’s Station)
The Great Calusa Blueway offers 190 miles of water trails, one of the most extensive networks in the country. Southwest Florida includes many inlets and waterways, as part of the Blueway, making for incredible paddling. Countless outfitters and tours operate out of the area, located throughout desirable spots such as Lover’s Key and the surrounding islands. It is nearly impossible to choose a bad locale to enjoy the water, and kayaks can be rented for as short as an hour or as long as a day, offering a relaxed way to see the water for the inexperienced or a hardcore adventure for the veteran.