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 your interests, you will find an array of options to satisfy your every vacation desire.
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 in 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 every traveler to Fort Myers will enjoy spotting manatees -- you won't be able to believe that sailors really used to confuse these guys for mermaids! -- at the Lee County Manatee Park. 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 and river otters.
Let 10Best guide you to these attractions and more.
10 Southwest Florida Museum of History
While visiting Fort Myers, don't miss a chance to learn about the area's incredible history 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)
9 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)
8 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 nearby power plant, and the fact that the water is shallow 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)
7 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. ((239) 765-6794)
6 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)
5 Florida Repertory Theatre
This award-winning theater puts on world-class productions. Located in the heart of beautiful downtown Fort Myers, "The Rep" offers patrons a wide variety of productions, from dramatic to comedic. The Repertory's building is 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. Today, the Rep focuses on improving the community through the arts by putting on first-class, productions. Recognized nationally as "One of America's Top Repertory Companies," The Rep truly sets the bar for community theaters. In 2012, the repertory opened a second venue, the ArtStage Studio Theatre. (239-332-4488)
4 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 Edison's first light bulbs even continue to burn in the home's 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)
3 Hammond Stadium & The Minnesota Twins
Fort Myers is home to two MLB Spring Training teams, a dream come true for fans of the boys of summer. The Minnesota Twins are long time favorites at Hammond Stadium for their player's accessibility and friendliness. The facility was built in 1991 and is in the process of getting a facelift. Current capacity is 7500 but will increase by the end of 2014 thanks to a $48-million renovation project. The park has a popular a Beer Garden, spacious box seats and bullpen picnic pavilion that is a popular place to get the best photos and autographs of your favorite sluggers. The stadium also has a kids zone, lots of shopping and in the off season is home to the Twins single-A team, the Fort Myers Miracle. ((239) 768-4210)
2 Jet Blue Park (Boston Red Sox Spring Training)
In the spring, you can catch your favorite Boston Red Sox players in action during Spring Training at the brand new JetBlue Park. The park replaced the quant, old City of Palms Park when it opened in early 2012. While some fans love the palm tree lined old park, the new one is an impressive, near-replica of Fenway Park; Green Monster and all. The ballpark holds around 11,000 fans, with options including stadium seats, bleachers, the berm, and even seats in the Green Monster. In the summer, you can catch the Gulf Coast League Red Sox, the Rookie Level minor league affiliate of the Red Sox, playing at the ballpark. (239-334-4700)
1 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 beaches and often cited as one of the best places for shelling in the world. Visitors to the island 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. (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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