In the last 30 years, Fort Myers has seen a radical shift from wild mangrove forests and fishing villages to gated communities, golf courses and high-rise resorts. Despite this transformation, Fort Myers remains a vibrant community with much to see. While still a popular destination for both snowbirds and spring breakers, Fort Myers is also a hidden gem for artists and writers looking for a laid-back vibe. Here are our picks for the top things to do here.
With some of the best beaches in Florida, visitors to Fort Myers have their pick and can choose resort-lined or secluded. For spring break, visit Fort Myers Beach/Estero Island. Here, white sandy beaches are lined with waterfront restaurants great for grabbing a fruity drink and something to eat. Travelers looking for a local vibe and 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, voted one of the best beaches in Florida.
Fort Myers is home to the training complexes of the Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins. In 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.
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.
The Gulfshore Grill on Fort Myers Beach is perfect for a night out. This locale has a beach bar on the sand, feet away from the water, and serves fruity tropical drinks. Have a piña colada before going inside to the Gulfshore Grill dining room. The quiet, air-conditioned seating area with gulf-front windows is well suited for enjoying some local grouper and watching the sun dip over the water. After dinner, the open-air deck of the Cottage bar creates an intimate setting for local bands to play on the waterfront. Live music is offered every night from 9pm until 2am.
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. Along one corner of the island is the JN ‘Ding’ Darling National Wildlife Refuge, a wild mangrove area that is home to 245 species of birds. A day trip to the reserve is bound to offer spectacular birdwatching and frequent glimpses of manatees and alligators. Countless other family-friendly tours can be booked to explore southwest Florida’s ecosystem.
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. Walk along the main drag and stop to look at the shops and galleries; Wild Child Art Gallery is a local favorite, and you’ll find it in a restored old fishing cottage.
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 some of Edison’s small inventions – are highlights. For the ancient history of southwest Florida, visit the Randell Research Center and Calusa Heritage Trail, an archeological site of the Calusa people.
With 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 courthouse, the art centre is easily recognized by its light sculpture that reflects off the old facade 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 building on Fort Myers’s main drag can’t be missed. They carry new releases and offer dinner service as an alternative to popcorn and candy.
For a truly secluded day at the beach, Cayo Costa offers the opportunity to camp on a bridgeless barrier island that is 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 some great 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.
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. 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.
With pretty much everything under the sun for sale, the massive Fleamasters is a shopaholic’s dream. It’s open year-round, and there’s even a stage so you can enjoy live music as you browse. From fresh produce to arts and crafts, antiques to kitchen products, if it exists, it’s here. Clothes and accessories are a specialty, and there are 20 snack bars serving treats to keep hungry shoppers on their feet.
Up and running for 21 years, this theatre is an award-winning playhouse. With a mission of getting south Florida youth involved in theatre, 87,000 people pass through their doors annually and they have been reviewed in national publications. From classics such as Twelfth Night to more niche performances, they have a very wide program, so there’s something for everyone. There really is no other theatre of this caliber in southwest Florida – you’re guaranteed to see something good.
Florida’s ever-warm weather means that there’s no excuse for not being outside and enjoying nature. In the canal next to the Florida Power Light Plant there are hundreds of manatees. The warm water from the plant creates cozy, heated conditions for the animals to hang out. The water is quite murky, so your best bet for is to head to a canoe and spot them from there. They are most likely to be in the area from November through to March.
If you love history and science, you’ll love it here. More than 60 exhibits make up this hands-on interactive centre. You can feed animals and even touch a stingray. Snakes, frogs and turtles romp around in the Living Lab. There’s an aquarium where visitors can view exotic and Florida native fish, a 3D reality experience where guests can virtually visit the original Fort Myers and a special children’s area. You’ll be exhausted when you leave!
You don’t get more old Florida than this. Lush trees, a green and verdant landscape, countless palms and a beautiful, photoshoot-worthy lighthouse make this a place to remember. Mangrove trees create a natural boardwalk to the shore. You can sit on the stunning shoreline and watch the fish and the birds, all in spectacular colors, and fish if that’s your thing. If you head out on the water in a canoe, you can see dolphins, manatees and even sea otters living in their natural habitat.