The Fort Myers area is bursting with things to see and do, offering up unmatched natural beauty, sporting events, historical sites and cultural opportunities. No matter what your interests, you will find an array of options to satisfy all of your vacation desires.
Sun and sea lovers will drool over the gorgeous shell-filled beaches of Sanibel Island, while the historic Edison & Ford Winter Estates will fascinate history buffs and inquiring minds. Meanwhile, sports fans will find multiple opportunities to soak up the excitement of Spring Training with both the Boston Red Sox and the Minnesota Twins gearing up in Fort Myers' stadiums for the regular baseball season.
Almost any visitor to Fort Myers will enjoy spotting manatees at the Lee County Manatee Park. Hard to believe that sailors really used to confuse these guys for mermaids! There are few places that offer the opportunity to canoe or kayak alongside these magical giants; thrilling to outdoor enthusiasts and wildlife lovers alike. Nature lover will also swoon over the J. N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, where more than 200 species of birds can be spotted alongside alligators, sea turtles, river otters and more.
Let 10Best guide you to these attractions and more.
Southwest Florida Museum of History
While visiting Fort Myers, don't miss a chance to learn about the area's incredible past at the Southwest Florida Museum of History. Perfect for rainy days, this museum is housed in the former Atlantic Coastline Railroad depot, originally built in 1924. Inside, visitors learn about the people of Southwest Florida, including Paleo-Indians, the Calusa, the Seminoles and Spanish explorers. Other fascinating exhibits include an authentic replica of a 19th century pioneer "cracker" house, an original 1926 France LaPumper, and the Esperanza Rail Car. A perennial favorite among museum-goers, the 83-foot private Pullman rail car is a reminder of luxury transportation in 1929. Visitors can wander through the car's three state rooms, private dining car, lounge, servants' quarters and galley kitchen to get a true taste of early 20th century life on the rails. (239-321-7430)
Sanibel Lighthouse & Fishing Pier
The Sanibel Lighthouse is the most photographed structure on the barrier island. The historic lighthouse, established in 1884, continues to operate even today. The more than 90-foot-tall structure is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and although visitors aren't allowed to tour the facility, they are welcome to explore the lighthouse's grounds and enjoy the beach. Watch for all kinds of birds, dolphins and even kite surfers as this place almost always has a breeze. Enjoy the popular fishing pier where you could hook things like redfish, sea trout, snook, snapper and sheepshead to name a few. The mangroves and drift wood also make this spot desirable for photos. (239-472-1080)
Lee County Manatee Park
You don't need to go to a zoo or an aquarium to get an up-close look at manatees. You can see them for free at Lee County Manatee Park! Between the months of November and March, manatees swim into the canal of this 17-acre park to escape the cooler Gulf of Mexico temperatures. The mammals are drawn to the warm-water discharge from a former, nearby power plant. The shallow water makes viewing the creatures in their entirety perfect. On site there is a visitor center and gift shop and a playground for kids. You can rent a kayak or canoe for a reasonable price and explore the waters on your own. (239-690-5030)
Fort Myers Beach Fishing Pier
Whether you prefer fishing, people-watching, photography, strolling, or relaxing in the sun, the Fort Myers Beach pier is a great destination day or night. Extending far into the Gulf of Mexico and adjacent to the bustling Times Square area of Fort Myers Beach, the pier is a central hub of activity. Gaze down at beachgoers or up at parasailers, watch dolphins play, listen to live music, check out what the anglers are catching and watch the sunset. There's a small bait, snack and gift shop halfway down the pier. On the weekends enjoy a sunset celebration at the foot of the pier with bands, artists and other interesting performers. There is plenty of sand around the pier to spread out your blanket and set up camp for the day. ((239) 765-6794)
J. N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge
This pristine wildlife refuge, named after famous "Des Moines Register" cartoonist and conservationist J. N. "Ding" Darling, offers more than 6,000 acres of South Florida's wildest wetlands, pearly-white beaches and mangrove forests. The refuge has an international reputation for its massive migratory bird population, more than 250 species live here. Among the park's many other permanent residents are alligators, river otters, manatees, snakes and sea turtles. Many endangered and threaten species find solace in the refuge as well. While you have wide access, it's important to remember that this is their turf. Visitors can bike or hike more than 7 miles of trails within the park or take advantage of the guided canoe trips and narrated tram tours. (239-472-1100)
Florida Repertory Theatre
This award-winning theater puts on world-class productions. Located in the heart of beautiful downtown Fort Myers, "The Rep" (as locals call it) offers patrons a wide variety of productions, from dramatic to comedic. Shows occur in the historic Arcade Theatre, built in 1908. It was originally a Vaudeville house, and celebrated figures like Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone watched films in this very building. The history of this cozy theater seems to make the productions even more appealing. Recognized nationally as "One of America's Top Repertory Companies," This group truly sets the bar for community theaters. In 2012, the repertory opened a second venue, the ArtStage Studio Theatre. (239-332-4488)
Captiva Cruises offers one the best ways to explore the Southwest Florida coast, from Cabbage Key and Useppa to Boca Grande and Cayo Costa. The waters are beautiful and full of history. An exciting variety of cruises depart mostly from both Jensen's Marina and South Seas Resort on Captiva Island. New on the roster are boating lecture series from experts on wildlife, sharks, history and much more. There are wildlife-spotting tours, seashell-hunting tours, dolphin and sunset cruises and day long trips to unspoiled barrier islands. The staff is welcoming and a wealth of knowledge when it comes to both the land and sea of the area. This is one activity that the entire family will embrace and enjoy. (239-472-5300)
Edison & Ford Winter Estates
It's no wonder why the Edison & Ford Winter Estates are some of Fort Myers' most popular attractions. Covering more than 20 acres, this historic complex on the Caloosahatchee River offers an intriguing glimpse into the lives of two of America's greatest inventors, Thomas A. Edison and Henry Ford. Tour the impressive botanical gardens and nine historic buildings, including Edison's Botanic Research Laboratory and the Estates Museum, which is filled with inventions, artifacts and special exhibit galleries. Catch a fascinating glimpse of the Edison and Ford motoring through the Everglades or learn about some of the lesser-known of Edison's more than 1,000 patents. Some of his first light bulbs still burn in the lab. The stately banyan tree in the gardens was just four-feet tall when it was planted in 1925, and now it sprawls across an acre of the property. (239-334-3614, 239-334-7419)
Baseball Spring Training
Florida is home to Spring Training for fifteen major league baseball teams and Fort Myers is the only city to host two. Every February the boys of summer descend on the city to hone their skills and rosters for the regular season. It's a rare opportunity to get up close and personal with the players who are more relaxed and accessible. The Red Sox train at JetBlue Park, also known as Fenway South. This stadium replaced the quant City of Palms Park for Spring Training in 2012. It holds 11,000 fans, including seats in the replica, Green Monster. Hammond Stadium, at the recently remodeled CenturyLink Sports Complex, is where the Twins play. One of the best features of this park is the bullpen picnic pavilion, where fans can get great photos and autographs of their favorite sluggers. (1-855-896-3079, 239-768-4210)
Sanibel Island Beaches
Sanibel Island is filled with magnificent beaches that are great for a lot more than just relaxing. The barrier island is renowned for its shell-filled shores and is often cited as one of the best places for shelling in the world. Locals and tourists alike are known for doing the so-called "Sanibel Stoop". It's a move in which you're bent over to the point that the only thing visible is your butt, the rest of you is close to the sand searching for and collecting shells. It is illegal to take live shells, so if you find a creature is still inhabiting something you find, put it back in the water. Speaking of the water, it is clear, refreshing and lovely. (239-472-6397)
About Gina Birch
Gina carries the rare title of "Native Floridian". Living in Southwest Florida for 22 years, she is a well known, award winning radio and TV personality.
Besides brandishing a microphone, Gina is good with a camera and computer, publishing a restaurant guide for Lee County called FLAVOR.
Gina is a self-proclaimed Oenophile, traveling to wine regions all over the world to sip what she calls "the nectar of the Gods." When not in the vineyards she loves to explore beautiful beaches and new restaurants.
You can find more of her musings in her blog "The Birch Beat" (www.thebirchbeat.blogspot.com)
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