gallery spreadThe Lee Country CVB

Think South Florida and you think Miami, of course. Red-hot nightlife, world-class performing arts, superb shopping – the city is hot, hot, hot.

But there is much more to discover. Like the Fort Myers Film festival, or Bradenton’s Village of the Arts. How about Naples Swamp Buggy Parade or the Gay Key West Trolley Tour? Cruisers know all about the charms of Fort Lauderdale, anglers in the know talk about Port Charlotte and old time visitors know all about the special sunsets in the Keys. Check it out.

extra s floridaThe Beachs Of Fort Myers And Sanibel

The Beaches Of Fort Myers And Sanibel

The Florida of days long past, with unspoiled white sand beaches, exotic wildlife and lush subtropical foliage, can still be found on The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel.

Known as Florida’s unspoiled island sanctuary – and consisting of Sanibel Island, Captiva Island, Fort Myers Beach, Fort Myers, Bonita Springs, Estero, Cape Coral, Pine Island, Boca Grande and Outer Islands, North Fort Myers and Lehigh Acres – this paradise is a favourite vacation spot for Canadians because of its old-style Florida feel.

Sanibel is known worldwide for its shelling and the associated posture referred to as the ‘Sanibel Stoop’. More than 400 varieties of shells litter the beaches. For most visitors, however, shelling is merely a delightful excuse to enjoy hours of sun worshipping along some of the finest shoreline in North America.

On the way to Captiva Island, located towards Sanibel’s northern tip, the J.N. ‘Ding’ Darling National Wildlife Refuge is home to many exotic species of birds and plants. In fact, USA Today has ranked the refuge one of the top bird-watching destinations in North America. The refuge occupies nearly two-thirds of the island, and a six-kilometre drive with access to walking and canoe and kayak trails offers outstanding wildlife viewing opportunities.

The main attraction on Captiva, however, is that there are none. Many people while away the hours simply enjoying the great outdoors. Travelling off the coast of Sanibel and Captiva islands, boaters discover more than 100 outer coastal islands, many of which are gloriously uninhabited and free from manmade attractions.

Both North Captiva and Cayo Costa Island Preserve are known for their virtually deserted yet alluring coastlines. Local shelling guides offer excursions to these islands, where the competition for prize specimens is less fierce than on the more accessible islands.

Cabbage Key was built atop an ancient Calusa Indian shell mound. Mystery writer Mary Roberts Rinehart helped her son build his home here in 1938. The house has been converted into a cosy inn that has a dining room that’s papered in thousands of autographed dollar bills. The tradition, which has generated at least $70,000 worth of George Washington wallpaper, began when a thirsty fisherman left his bill taped to the wall, ensuring a cold drink the next time he stopped by. Now almost all visitors leave their mark, if they can find a space.

A short boat ride north from Captiva or Pine Island, Boca Grande is a charming turn-of-the-century harbour town on Gasparilla Island, and a safe port for the rich and famous. Founded by the wealthy DuPont family in the late 1800s, this sleepy little southern town comes complete with small shops, cosy restaurants, waterside accommodations and beautiful beaches. Local third- and fourth-generation fishing captains provide anglers all they need for a successful day on the water.

Further south you’ll find Estero Island, home of Fort Myers Beach, which has long been recognized as one of the world’s safest beaches because of its gently sloping shoreline. The sand there is particularly soft and white – just like powdered sugar. Especially suited for family vacations, Estero offers every imaginable water sport, and the marinas operate boating and fishing charters.

Continuing south, but still on the peninsula, Bonita Beach occupies the southern boundary of Lee County. There traces of old and new Florida peacefully coexist along with gently winding beaches that are deemed to be some of the best in the region.

Anyone suffering from island fever can find instant relief by stopping off at the ‘City of Palms’, Fort Myers, with its charming downtown historic district. Inventor Thomas Edison and his friend, automobile manufacturer Henry Ford, made their winter homes in Fort Myers. Today travellers tour their neighbouring estates, as well as Edison’s botanical gardens, laboratory and museum.

During Edison’s 46 winters in Fort Myers, he and his wife Mina hosted well-known house guests like industrialist Harvey Firestone, naturalist John Burroughs, President Herbert Hoover, the Philadelphia A’s baseball team and cereal king John Harvey Kellogg.

Henry Ford purchased his quaint home, ‘Mangoes’, in 1916 so that he could spend the winter months visiting Edison. The two properties are separated by a fence that the two families named ‘The Friendship Gate’.

Fort Myers is also renowned for its impressive arts and culture scene, with several large-scale arts exhibitions artists and their fans from all over the country. Its live music venues attract big-name stars but also middleweight performers with unique and experimental sensibilities.

The Fort Myers Film Festival is a growing attraction now in its fourth year of operation that is attracting progressively larger and more sophisticated crowds each year and is quickly becoming one of the South’s most sought-after venues for filmmakers of all levels. Those attracted to Sanibel by the festival find no shortage of other pastimes, however; in particular be sure to check out Theatre Conspiracy, a renowned theatre troupe that stages plays both modern and classic.

Fort Myers is also renowned for its impressive arts and culture scene, with several large-scale arts exhibitions artists and their fans from all over the country. Its live music venues attract big-name stars but also middleweight performers with unique and experimental sensibilities.

The Fort Myers Film Festival is a growing attraction now in its fourth year of operation that is attracting progressively larger and more sophisticated crowds each year and is quickly becoming one of the South’s most sought-after venues for filmmakers of all levels. Those attracted to Sanibel by the festival find no shortage of other pastimes, however; in particular be sure to check out Theatre Conspiracy, a renowned theatre troupe that stages plays both modern and classic.

To the west, Cape Coral, which is literally surrounded by water, boasts more miles of canals than Venice, Italy. Many of the Cape’s deepwater canals lead to the Gulf of Mexico. This fast-growing community boasts many marinas, a water park, challenging championship golf courses, tennis courts and plenty of opportunities for freshwater fishing.

village of artsBradenton Area CVB

Bradenton

With only a bit of coastline and a relatively large population, most people expect Bradenton to be a business centre or a residential hub – and it is both of these things. With a population greater than the city of Tampa, it has created for itself a cultural legacy and reputation as distinct as anywhere else in Florida.

Most notably, the Village of the Arts stands out as Florida’s largest art colony and the centre of the arts community in Bradenton county. With more than 200 of its specially zoned homes, which also double as designated studio space, the Village of the Arts is a stimulating stop for arts-loving visitors. The artist in residence system has been taken to an extreme, with literally hundreds of artists and their families closely cohabitating in an open and artistically expressive way. Shows, shops and street performances are just the beginning of what you’ll find lining the streets of Bradenton’s Village of the Arts. Some of the houses in this area are over 100 years old, and many of the city’s best examples of architecture can be found within its borders.

Bradenton is bordered by the Manatee River, which has influenced much of the city’s development. With abundant riverfront property, the estuary has inspired such cultural features as the Manatee Players, a national award-winning theatrical group. With stagings of everything from Legally Blonde to A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum, the Players have a reputation for delivering high-quality productions that delight the whole family.

That’s just the beginning of Bradenton’s thriving arts scene, however. In fact, there are so many small venues and easily overlooked gems that the city has started a series of guided art walks. With various themes focusing on areas of the city or types of art, these walks give locals and visitors alike a look at one of the most renowned and productive arts scenes in the state. Bookending the clusters of independent arts experiences are the city’s many larger museums and galleries.

Naples

Naples is a charming resort city on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico along southwest Florida’s Paradise Coast. The area is famous for its beautiful white sand beaches, excellent golf courses, endless fishing, boating opportunities, thriving arts and culture scene and spectacular sunsets.

Long known as a hideaway for retirees, the area has evolved to appeal to a wider, more diverse and younger audience with its vibrant downtown cafe scene and exhilarating outdoor adventure activities. Travellers luxuriate in the area’s stylish atmosphere, which includes beautiful pedestrian walkways with shops, art galleries and restaurants, along with palatial homes surrounded by tropical landscaping. And in the slower season – between May and December – it’s possible to scoop some significant savings on hotel room rates, while enjoying the elegant ambience and charm of this beautiful coastal city.

The splendour of Naples begins with its powdery, white sand beaches, which extend from the parks and public beaches near downtown Naples all the way up to the more secluded seaside havens to the north.

Naples is perhaps one of the best places in Florida for a scenic stroll. Opportunities for relaxing walks are plentiful in Naples, as beautiful architecture meets window-shopping opportunities and stylish pit-stops in trendy cafes. Secluded courtyards, outdoor sculptures and beautiful fountains highlight the city’s historic buildings.

Grab your credit card, because Naples offers some of the best shopping in Florida. Third Street South and the Avenues offer endless choices for premier shopping and dining. This trendy area has more than 100 distinctive shops, art galleries, cafes and restaurants – all within walking distance to the beach. This includes Gallery Row, a collection of distinctive art galleries located near the intersection of Broad Street and Third Street South. The district even has its own Street Concierge booth staffed daily with friendly helpers eager to offer advice and directions.

Just a few blocks away, Fifth Avenue South has undergone something of a renaissance. Art galleries, clothing, gift and design boutiques, cafes, bars and restaurants line Naples’ official downtown Main Street. There’s free live entertainment to enjoy every second Thursday, too.

Marco Island

Marco Island, the largest of the Ten Thousand Islands, is located at the southern tip of the Paradise Coast. Just 25 kilometres south of Naples, this beachfront paradise is surrounded by the Gulf of Mexico on one side and pristine mangrove estuaries on the other.

Marco Island is flanked by nearly 160 kilometres of islands, bays and estuaries that will never be developed. Access to this wilderness is possible through the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge, Collier-Seminole State Park, Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, Big Cypress Preserve National Park and Everglades National Park. Together these parks provide a paradise for nature photographers, anglers and outdoor adventurers.

The natural environment in and around Marco Island provides the perfect backdrop for both relaxing and adventurous activities. A stroll will reward the shell-seeker with an enormous selection of treasures, including whelks, olive shells and scallops. A number of island tour operators provide short trips by boat to deserted sand bars and beach islands that are covered in shells and free from crowds.s florida 3Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau

The Everglades

Visiting Everglades City is like stepping into the Florida of days gone by. Surrounded by Everglades National Park, the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge, Big Cypress National Preserve, the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, Picayune Strand State Forest, Collier-Seminole State Park and the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, this is a small town on the edge of the Florida wilderness.

Overflowing with small town charm, Everglades City provides a glimpse into Florida’s past. At the turn of the century, it was a boomtown during the construction of the Tamiami Trail Highway. Today it is known as the ‘Stone Crab Capital of the World’.

Everglades National Park is part of the largest wetlands ecosystem in the U.S. It contains both temperate and tropical plant communities, including sawgrass prairies, mangrove and cypress swamps, rare orchids, pinelands and hardwood hammocks, as well as marine and estuarine environments.

The park is known for its rich bird life, particularly wading birds like the roseate spoonbill, wood stork, great blue heron and egrets. It is also the only place in the world where alligators and crocodiles exist in the same habitat. Everglades National Park has been designated a World Heritage Site, an International Biosphere Reserve and a Wetland of International Importance.

Key West/Florida Keys

First-time visitors to the Florida Keys comment almost immediately on the island chain’s unique laid-back atmosphere that seems to be a world away from big cities and theme parks.

It’s the kind of ambiance that lured novelist Ernest Hemingway to reside in Key West throughout the 1930s, when he drew creative inspiration from the subtropical island’s lush environment and colourful residents. There he penned some of his most famous works including For Whom the Bell Tolls, To Have and Have Not and The Snows of Kilimanjaro.

A necklace of islands that begins just south of Miami, the Florida Keys are connected by the Overseas Highway’s 42 bridges – one of which is more than 11 kilometres long – over the Atlantic Ocean, Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. In 2009, the famed highway was designated an ‘All-American Road’, the highest recognition possible under the National Scenic Byways program.

The Florida Keys are divided into five regions: Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine and the Lower Keys, and Key West.

The longest island of the Keys chain, Key Largo shares its name with the famous movie starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall – portions of which were filmed there. Bogart's Key Largo connection is still evident today, as visitors can take a ride on the African Queen, the actual boat he skippered in the movie of the same name.

s florida 10Stephen Frink/Florida Keys News Bureau

But Key Largo’s star attraction is John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, the first underwater preserve in the U.S., which is incorporated within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. These protected areas feature more than 50 varieties of delicate corals and more than 600 species of fish.

Islamorada is the centrepiece of a group of islands called the ‘purple isles’. Legend states that Spanish explorers named the area from ‘morado’, the Spanish word for purple – either for the janthina janthina, a violet sea snail found in the subtropical waters, or for the purple bougainvillea flowers in the area.

Known as the ‘Sport-Fishing Capital of the World’, Islamorada is heralded for the diversity of its angling opportunities. It also features the Keys’ largest fleet of offshore charter and shallow-water boats.

Home to the Seven Mile Bridge, Marathon is a renowned boating destination centrally located at the heart of the Florida Keys between Key Largo and Key West. It is also home to Crane Point, a 25-hectare land tract that is one of the most important historical and archaeological sites in the Keys. This ecological and cultural treasure contains evidence of pre-Columbian and prehistoric Bahamian artifacts.

Big Pine Key features a national refuge for miniature Key deer. Popular nature tours, many by kayak, offer unforgettable opportunities to view migratory and wading birds and the unique flora and fauna of this tranquil natural area of the Keys.

The Lower Keys are noted for Looe Key Reef, rated by many as one of the most spectacular shallow-water dive sites in the U.S. To the west of Looe Key, the 64-metre island freighter Adolphus Busch Sr. rests on the ocean floor as an artificial reef, providing additional habitat for marine species and an intriguing site for divers.

Key West is the final stop on the Overseas Highway. Continental America’s southernmost city, situated closer to Cuba than to Miami, is characterized by its quaint palm-studded streets, century-old gingerbread mansions and a relaxed citizenry of self-styled ‘conchs’ (pronounced ‘konks’).

It has been said that the idiosyncratic architecture and laid-back atmosphere of this small island probably have nurtured the talents of more writers per capita than any other city in the country. Literally scores of published authors reside in Key West and the island’s flourishing artistic community is evidenced by the many galleries exhibiting artwork in varying styles and media.

At day’s end in Key West, crowds gather at Mallory Square to experience the nightly ‘sunset celebration’, a tradition that locals share with visitors. While musicians, jugglers and acrobats provide the entertainment, the sun sinks slowly below the horizon as sunset cruise boats sail by in Key West Harbor.

Sarasota County

Nestled along southwest Florida’s Gulf coast, Sarasota and its string of idyllic islands offer travellers an atmosphere of cultural indulgence, creative abundance and casual elegance.

Known as Florida’s ‘Cultural Coast’, the region is home to a dynamic arts scene that can easily rival that of a major city. Culture vultures can indulge themselves at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, the Florida West Coast Symphony, the Sarasota Ballet of Florida and the Sarasota Opera, to name but a few.

And although the majority of travellers go to Sarasota for the sugar-white sands of Siesta Key, there is plenty to enjoy beyond the beach – from kayaking at Myakka River State Park to exploring the history of the circus at the Ringling Campus.

Sarasota’s unique circus heritage began with circus magnate John Ringling, who established a circus there back in 1927. Among his more eccentric contributions, he built the first bridge from St. Armands Key to the mainland – using his elephants. Just blocks from Towles Court artist colony, you can stroll by the houses that Ringling custom-made for the “little people” who performed in his circus.

You can then wind down your day with some fabulous local fare. The region boasts one of the highest concentrations of Zagat-rated restaurants in Florida, and each June, Sarasota hosts its ‘Savour Sarasota’ Restaurant Week, during which participating restaurants offer prix-fixe lunch menus at only $15 and dinner menus at just $25.

Miami

Made legendary during the whimsical Art Deco era, and again when Crockett and Tubbs of Miami Vice thrilled us as they raced through the city streets, Miami has evolved into one of the world’s premier playgrounds.

The destination offers a fascinating blend of urban chic and old world Florida, boasting great year-round weather, top-ranked beaches, the sparkling waters of Biscayne Bay and a cosmopolitan metropolis that’s pulsing with the rhythms of its diverse population.

Geographically and culturally at the crossroads of Latin America, the city lies just a few degrees above the Tropic of Cancer and consists of a network of barrier islands, coral rock and mangrove swamps. Biscayne National Park is teeming with sea life and plants, and features living coral reefs, as well as the longest stretch of mangrove forest left on Florida’s east coast.

With an unparalleled mix of ethnic and cultural groups spread throughout the sprawling city – more than 100 languages are spoken there – Miami offers a refreshing live-and-let-live philosophy. Travellers can’t help but instantly pick up the local laid-back mood.

At South Beach, the Art Deco District pulls you in with its imaginative collection of more than 800 protected buildings from the 1930s and 1940s. This is the largest concentration of Art Deco architecture in the world. Called the ‘American Riviera’, South Beach is crowned by Ocean Drive, a worldwide catwalk of see-and-be-seen boutique hotels, alfresco cafes, bikini-clad in-line skaters and beaches packed with beautiful young sun seekers.shoppingVibran Image Studio

Miami’s design district is an increasingly popular shopping destination. This neighbourhood, which promotes itself as “dedicated to innovative fashion, design, architecture and dining experiences” has recently expanded its retail operation to let shoppers consume some of what the district creates.

North Beach is a thriving but less crowded beach area just south of expansive North Shore Park. Hotels, restaurants, quaint shops, and an uninterrupted concentration of MiMo (Miami Modern) 50s and 60s-era apartment buildings give the entire neighbourhood a unique character, as does a recent influx of Brazilian and Argentine immigrants who have added character and flavour to the neighbourhood with numerous shops and eateries.

sflorida 1Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau

Fort Lauderdale

From the seagrass to the sawgrass, travellers enjoy 37 kilometres of Blue Wave-certified beaches and almost 500 kilometres of inland waterways that run from the Intracoastal Waterway to the Everglades in the Greater Fort Lauderdale area.

The destination was once famous – or infamous – as the destination of choice for U.S. Spring Breakers. During its peak in the mid-1980s, Spring Break attracted some 400,000 college students over a six-week period, creating a non-stop party where the area’s beautiful golden sand beaches were left littered with beer cans and cigarette butts.

It took a dedicated effort to bid Spring Break adieu, but millions were spent on new hotel developments and upgrades, and new facilities like the Broward Center for the Performing Arts were built. As a result, today Spring Break is an altogether more chic affair.

More than 40 golf courses make the destination a golfer’s paradise. Attractions such as Butterfly World – the largest butterfly aviary in North America – and the natural wonder of the Everglades bring visitors in touch with nature and culture. A three-tiered coral reef system and more than 100 dive sites draw divers, while kayaking, paddleboarding, parasailing, kiteboarding and snorkeling entertain those looking to stay above water.

And if you need any further proof of Greater Fort Lauderdale’s transformation, just head to the Intracoastal Waterway, where some 50,000 registered yachts make Greater Fort Lauderdale the yachting capital of the world!

 

Southern Florida: Dates For Your Diary

• Miami International Boat Show, February 13 – 17 This event features more than 3,000 boats and 2,000 exhibitors from all over the globe.

• Edison Festival Of Light Crafts On The River, Fort Meyers, February 14 – 16 Exhibitors from across the U.S. sell items including jewelry, quilts, handmade crafts, paintings, ceramics and pottery.

• Design Nation Weekend, Fort Lauderdale, February 15 – 17 Take the first steps in creating your own engineering project at the Museum of Discovery and Science.

• Bacardi Miami Sailing Week, March 1 – 8 The event brings the international sailing community together for regattas, awards ceremonies, parties and cultural exhibits.

• Palm Beach International Boat Show, March 20 – 23 One of the top 10 boat shows in the world, this event has an unprecedented number of vessels on display.

• Marco Island Seafood Festival, March 28 & 29 Two days filled with fresh seafood, arts & crafts and lots of fantastic live music.

• Palm Beach International Film Festival, April 3 – 10 This week-long event features a variety of American and international independent films.

• Ladies, Let’s Go Fishing University, Fort Lauderdale, April 11 – 13 Weekend fishing university for women.

• ArtsNaples World Festival, Naples, May 1 – 10 Each year, the ArtsNaples World Festival celebrates the full spectrum of the arts from a specific international culture. This year it’s Italy’s turn.

• Swamp Buggy Races Season Finale, Naples, May 3 Experience the world’s muddiest races as a vast variety of swamp buggy vehicles speed around the track known as the 'Mile O Mud.'

 


Professional Sports

Florida is home to two NHL teams, two major-league baseball teams, spring training camps, two NBA basketball teams and three NFL teams.

• Baseball: Both the Florida Marlins and the Tampa Bay Devils call the state home. The “Grapefruit League” starts in February marking the beginning of spring training when avid fans can get a chance to observe the players in a close-up environment

• Basketball: Florida is home to both The Miami Heat and the Orlando Magic.

• Football: The Miami Dolphins play at Dolphin Stadium in North Miami Beach. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers play at the Raymond James Stadium in north Tampa and the Jacksonville Jaguars are at the ALLTEL  Stadium in downtown Jacksonville.

• Hockey: The Florida Panthers are based in Sunrise, west of Fort Lauderdale and the Tampa Bay Lighting are on the opposite side of the state in Tampa.

• Horse Racing: Among the best locations to see the ponies run are Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach near Fort Lauderdale and Gulfstream Park in Miami.

 

 

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