Idyllic weather, a colourful past, wonderful beaches, famous visitors, outstanding dining, wonderful beaches, easy-to-access outdoor adventure, fascinating attractions, wonderful beaches and the grace and charm of “Old Florida” – this is The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel.
Named for a Civil War-era army colonel, Fort Myers’ history parallels that of Florida itself. Indigenous peoples, the Calusa Indians, inhabited the nearby islands, followed by Spanish explorers, and later, pioneers who settled the pine flatwoods, and cattle ranchers who drove their charges down what is now McGregor Boulevard to ships docked at Punta Rassa. Thomas Edison and Henry Ford put the town on the snowbird map when they chose the City of Palms as their winter getaway.
Today, Fort Myers is a bustling city boasting ecological, historical and cultural attractions, as well as great shopping, a fine menu of dining options and those very special Gulf of Mexico sunsets.
Thrill-seekers can relive the days of those daring young men and their flying machines at Classic Air Ventures. For something a bit more sedate, head downtown and board a lunch or dinner cruise on the Caloosahatchee River. Or satisfy your curiosity at the Imaginarium Hands-On Museum and Aquarium.
Looking for a drink? Sample the wares at the Eden Vineyards Winery, or head to Sun Harvest Citrus and enjoy Indian River citrus fruits and their juices.
Fort Myers Beach
Once a remote stretch of green edged with white, soft sand and accessible only by boat Fort Myers Beach on Estero island really came into its own with the opening of bridge connections to the mainland. Over the years the Island’s attractive features, including miles and miles of white, sandy beaches, have captured the imaginations of visitors from near and far.
Boating, sailing, fishing and spectacular Lovers Key State Park make this island a real recreational playground. Add to that a great number of family-friendly resorts, quaint cottages, Old Florida charm, restaurants serving fresh seafood from the Gulf of Mexico and an annual Shrimp Festival, and it's a beach vacation paradise. Nightlife gleams along the northern tip of the island around shopping-and-dining destination Times Square, and sunset watching is a favourite pastime.
Step up to the tables and try your luck aboard the Big M Casino, a luxury gaming yacht; or set sail for the tropical paradise of Key West, three-and-a-half hours away by high-speed boat.
Still have a need for speed? Check out the action aboard a cigarette-style powerboat that reaches speeds of 70 mph. Afterwards, chill in peaceful Matanzas Pass Preserve. Wildlife includes jumping fish, wading birds and the shy manatee.
Sanibel & Captiva Islands
Think pristine, white sand beaches. Think an amazing collection of seashells washed ashore. Think Sanibel and Captiva, coastal islands created by nature to protect the mainland where the Caloosahatchee River empties into the Gulf of Mexico.
Once devoted to grapefruit and coconut farms, the islands have a charming reluctance to allow too much of the modern world onto their shores. There are no stoplights or street lights on either island. Captiva Island feels (and is) more remote than Sanibel. Quirky, with its one-of-a-kind colourful restaurants and unusual shops, the tiny village dwells in its own state of existence – equal parts waterside playground and pure whimsy.
On Sanibel, there are multi-use paths – 40 kilometres of them – that function as sidewalks, bike paths and recreational trails; buildings are “no taller than the tallest palm tree”, and half the island’s acreage has been preserved against development.
Throughout history, Sanibel and Captiva have attracted visitors. Spanish explorers used them as stopovers and and the rich and famous, including one special cartoonist, Jay Norwood Darling, who helped create the 6,400-acre national wildlife refuge that bears his name have vacationed here. Other notables include Teddy Roosevelt, Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh and Edna St Vincent Millay. From artist Robert Rauschenberg to weatherman Willard Scott, the famous still arrive to soak up the soothing ambiance. Visitors to both islands enjoy not only the natural, ungroomed beaches, but also the languid pace of island life, great restaurants, theatre and museums such as Sanibel Historical Village and the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum. Education centres at Sanibel’s two main eco-attractions introduce the uninitiated to the island’s marine, freshwater and hammock habitats, where river otters, loggerhead sea turtles, dolphins, manatees, bald eagles and hundreds of native and transitory birds live.
Speaking of wildlife, Sanibel Island is known for its art galleries, which specialize in wildlife paintings. Don’t miss the monthly Art Nights during the winter season.
Restaurants on both islands dish up excellent seafood in settings that range from porch cafes to modern elegance on menus ranging from Mediterranean to New American style.
The islands’ marinas offer plenty of opportunity to get out on the water. Offerings include shelling on secluded islands, hitting a beach away from it all, fishing, sailing, snorkeling, learning about marine life or camping on a bridgeless island. Many resorts and outfitters stock kayaks, sailboats, paddleboats and an assortment of water toys for vacationers’ enjoyment.
Between Sanibel and Captiva, visitors can find a resort to precisely match their style of vacationing. Small inns provide an intimate experience, Gulf-front resorts cater to beach buffs, cottages have that delicious barefoot feel and grand destination resorts leave no vacation whim unfulfilled with a full complement of marina, tennis, beach and golf facilities.
From humble beginnings as a loose collection of cattle-ranching, logging and fishing communities, Cape Coral came into its own in the late 1950s, with the development of planned communities that catered to the boating lifestyle.
Head to Cape Coral for a lively strip of restaurants and stores along Cape Coral Parkway, and an array of activities for kids including Sun Splash Family Waterpark, with speed slides, tube rides and Tot Spot kiddie area; Mike Greenwell’s Family Fun Park for batting cages, arcade, paintball, go-carts and mini golf; Eagle Skate Park; and the Cape Coral Historical Museum for look back at Native American history, Second World War History and a fond look at the once-popular Rose Garden.
Nature lovers explore Four Mile Cove Ecological Preserve, where a boardwalk meanders through a mangrove habitat. And don’t miss the creature Cape Coral’s famous for: the burrowing owl, which can be seen day and night throughout the community.