A winter playground just off the Gulf of Mexico, Fort Myers provides easy access to a string of towns and islands, including Sanibel, Captiva, Fort Myers Beach and Lovers Key. Downtown holds tight to its historic roots—it was inventor Thomas Edison’s winter home—but is reinventing itself with a youthful vibe that is attracting millennials and young families. To best explore the region, base yourself on Sanibel Island, which offers easy access to the beachy side of the Fort Myers area.
Start with a visit to J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, known for its more than 230 species of birds and its alligators, river otters and other marine life. Drop into the visitor centre to learn about the refuge from its hands-on exhibits, before going on a self-guided tour along Wildlife Drive or taking the 90-minute narrated tram tour.
Explore one of Sanibel’s legendary shelling beaches. Bowman’s Beach is one of the best for finding seashells. Afterwards, visit the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum to identify your finds, and to learn more about the science and history of shells.
Editor’s note: The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum is currently closed for construction and will re-open with a new aquarium in 2020. Check the website for updates.
Captiva Island lies across a small pass to the north of Sanibel Island. Sail past its splendid homes on a sunset excursion with Captiva Cruises. Then, hit Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille for music and Caribbean-inspired cuisine. Its signature Yucatan Shrimp—steamed shrimp dressed in butter, garlic, chilies, cilantro and lime—gets rave reviews.
Discover the region’s electrifying history by touring the iconic Edison and Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers. Edison came in search of warmer weather to improve his health and ended up spending 26 winters in Fort Myers—he even lured fellow inventor Henry Ford to move into the house next door. You can visit their homes, gardens and the laboratory where Edison and Ford worked together.
Stay on theme with lunch at the original Ford’s Garage restaurant. Opt for one of the gourmet burgers and a craft beer before boarding Pure Florida’s Caloosahatchee River Cruise. On the 90-minute tour, you will learn more local history and might even see manatees, dolphins, bald eagles or other wildlife.
Dine at historic The Veranda, where Southern cuisine stars with dishes such as beef tenderloin with a bourbon and mushroom demi-glace. End the day with a performance by the award-winning Florida Repertory Theatre company at Historic Arcade Theatre. Ken Ludwig’s A Fox On the Fairway is a zany comedy that plays October 29 through November 20, 2019.
The town of Fort Myers Beach, a half-hour drive from Sanibel on Estero Island, exudes a laid-back vibe. Beat the crowds and arrive early at Heavenly Biscuit for cinnamon rolls and egg-biscuit sandwiches. Then, drive to nearby Getaway Marina and head out on a half-day, deepwater fishing expedition for grouper and snapper.
Back on dry land, discover prehistoric and pioneer history at Mound House. Fort Myers Beach’s oldest standing home is built on a 2,000-year-old shell mound created by the Calusa people. Continue your adventure at Lovers Key State Park, where you can kayak, hike and fish.
To discover Fort Myers Beach’s thriving nightlife, start at Times Square pedestrian plaza before catching the sunset from the nearby fishing pier. Dine at Yucatan Beach Stand Bar & Grill, where live musicians entertain and local catches go into the shrimp boil. Then, bar-hop from beachside (try Shucker’s At The Gulfshore and The Cottage Bar) to rooftop patio (at The Whale).
[This story appears in the March 2019 issue of WestJet Magazine and has since been updated]
How to Do a Digital Detox Holiday Near Fort Myers
Leave your devices at the door when you visit Sanibel and Captiva islands, just across the bridge from Fort Myers, Florida. Stay at the beachfront Island Inn, eat at Sweet Melissa's Cafe, go to Cabbage Key Restaurant, visit a wildlife refuge and search for a coveted junonia shell.