The Shell Factory is known for offering quite the mix of shopping and fun outdoor activities. So one might find it curious to be mentioned in a museum list. We say why not? It certainly has everything else. There are actually four small 'museums' within the Shell Factory and they are all free. In the middle of the shops you'll find the Military Museum, exhibits here change often. There is a Natural History Museum, a Shell Museum and the most recent addition is the Fossil Museum. Collectors from across the state and nation have their amazing finds on display here. It's education in small doses that seems to appeal to many families with young ones. And when they've had enough of the history, you can take them outside to the Nature Park to discover some pretty amazing animals!
Recommended for Museums because: This shopping mecca and entertainment center also hosts several unique museum rooms in its menagerie.
Gina's expert tip: Dogs are welcomed.
The Mound House is Estero Island's (Fort Myers Beach) oldest standing structure and it sits on an ancient Calusa Indian Mound. Guided tours are offered Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturdays, where you'll learn about 2,000 years of history as well as experience native wildlife and eco-tours. Restoration of the house itself is expected to be completed by spring of 2015 but visitors will still be able to tour the grounds and a unique underground archaeological exhibit. Your history lesson is not limited to the land the Mound House sits on, as guided kayak tours allow you to explore the same hidden backwaters many Native Americans called home. You can reach this unique historical site by boat as well as car.
Recommended for Museums because: The oldest standing structure on Fort Myers Beach, sits atop an ancient Calusa Indian Mound. Tours here occur by both land and water.
Gina's expert tip: The grounds are pet friendly
This is a museum of seashells, conchology, and malacology. Since shelling is one of the most popular activities on Sanibel Island, it makes the perfect location to house such a comprehensive museum. Exhibits are dedicated exclusively to mollusks, not just from the Gulf Coast of Southwest Florida but also from around the world. You will see rare specimens, fossil shells and lots more. There is a learning lab with a hands-on feature for kids and adults, videos and a gift store full of shell art and memorabilia. The exploration is not limited to indoors. Reserve a spot for beach walks, where experts will help you find and identify native shells. The museum is not just for tourists as scientists and students come here from around the world to continue their marine education.
Recommended for Museums because: Shell enthusiasts, students and scientists alike, come to this museum for its extensive resources and huge collection of mollusks.
Gina's expert tip: Find a cool shell on the beach after your museum visit? Check out the online ID guide.
This space doubles as a nature center and museum, spanning more than 100 acres. Visitors to the museum will mostly discover information about Southwest Florida's natural history, including exhibits on indigenous snakes, alligators and crocodiles, birds of prey and more. There are also interpretive displays that address concerns to the area such as water quality and the plight of the animals found in and around the water such as the endangered manatee. The museum offers daily programs were visitors can get up close and personal to many resident animals. You can then look for them in the wild while you stroll the boardwalks. In Addition, the Nature Center's planetarium offers visitors a chance to check out the most visible stellar phenomena each month.
Recommended for Museums because: This museum is focused on Southwest Florida's natural history, from alligators and birds to the importance of water. Be sure to check out the boardwalks.
Gina's expert tip: Bring bug spray if you plan to explore the grounds.
This is a two in one stop for history lovers. Guided tours are available or you can guide yourself around the 125-acre island, formerly housing two unique cultures. Among the exhibits at Mound Key are information panels outlining the history of the Calusa Indians and the scenic Estero Bay. Historians believe that this mound, accessible only by boat or canoe, was the one-time stronghold and ceremonial center of the Calusas. Then in the late 19th century the Koreshan Unity utopians formed a settlement here, complete with a publishing house, general store, art hall and the first power plant in the area. Today you can hike, picnic and find your own utopia on the lovely grounds full of native vegetation. Boat access is still be found at Koreshan.
Recommended for Museums because: The intriguing history of this lush, waterside site includes Calusa Indian ceremonial grounds and a Koreshan Unity utopian settlement.
Gina's expert tip: Check the calendar of events for concerts on the grounds
Take a trip from the 1890s to the present when you visit Sanibel's Historical Village, which preserves the area's 100-plus year history. The village's museum is found in the home of the late Mr. Rutland, known to natives as "Uncle Clarence Rutland." The so-called "Cracker house" was built in 1913 and is furnished with pieces that are reflective of the period. It represents the farming pioneers of this island, which is now full of tourism. Exhibits include a Model-T Ford, the old post office and Burnap Cottage, the island's oldest residence. The village also features a 1924 Sears kit home, which arrived in 30,000 pieces! A charming place to visit, full of history, fantastic guides and a gift store for souvenirs.
Recommended for Museums because: This well laid out village and museum offers an intriguing look at the challenging history of this now famous vacation island.
Gina's expert tip: The museum typically closes early August through mid October
This 34,000 square foot museum, housed in an old grocery store, is bursting at the seams with fascinating military memorabilia and exhibits. You'll find many one of a kind items in this free museum, from the Revolutionary War through modern conflicts. Check out a 1945 WWII jeep that still runs, a C47 airplane engine and lots of flags, including one with 37 stars as well as a Nazi flag complete with bullet holes. There is an intriguing baseball exhibit recognizing the hundreds of major leaguers who left the diamond to serve the country. But the biggest draw is the personal uniforms, medals, photos and stories of dozens of war hero's and ordinary citizens who served in all branches of the US military. Their stories are told with passion and pride by the curators and tour guides here.
Recommended for Museums because: This museum of history, housed in an old grocery store, has more than 1500 original items from wars dating back to the American Revolution.
Gina's expert tip: Veterans from all wars and military branches gather here on Tuesdays for free lunch
Ideal for the whole family, this Fort Myers museum boasts more than 60 interactive exhibits that are both fun and educational. The IMAG History & Science Center is the type of place where you can touch a cloud, become a weatherman (and get a souvenir video tape), brave a Florida thunderstorm, or even help excavate dinosaur remains. No visit is complete without taking part in the "Hurricane Experience," the 45-mile-per-hour winds will truly blow you away. Live animal encounter shows take place each day where kids and adults can actually touch intriguing sea creatures such as stingrays. This is one exhibit you'll need to reserve a seat for. Enjoy interactive sports and physics exhibits as well as a popular 3-D movie.
Recommended for Museums because: IMAG History & Science Center is a hands-on museum-meets-aquarium, making for a wonderfully scientific educational experience,
Gina's expert tip: From the road, for the landmark Pipeosaurous to find the museum entrance.
Located in what was once the Fort Myers depot of the Atlantic Coastline Railroad, this museum is dedicated to preserving not only the history of Fort Myers, but the whole of Southwest Florida as well. Exhibits date back to prehistoric times and times when the peninsula was covered in shallow water. This is where fossils from giant sea creatures and dinosaurs come from. Spanish explorers and Native Americans had quite a presence in the area, as you will discover here. You'll see a Calusa Indian village, an old fort and the old riverfront wharf. Other points of interest include the re-creation of 19th century Fort Myers, the Cracker House and an old Pullman railcar. Renovations are currently underway so be sure to check the website for opening and closing updates.
Recommended for Museums because: This is perhaps the best spot to get an historical overview of the area, from dinosaurs to the Calusa Indians and railroads to fishing.
Gina's expert tip: The museum also sponsors downtown Fort Myers walking tours
The Edison & Ford Winter Estates cover more than 20 acres along the Caloosahatchee River, offering a glimpse into the lives of two of America's greatest inventors, Thomas A. Edison and Henry Ford. The estate museum is 15-thousand square feet of fascinating exhibits from the nations most influential inventor. You'll get to see some of Edison's most famous finds such as the light bulb, telegraph, telephone, phonography, x-ray machine and more. You may also be surprised to discover more than 1000 of Edison's lesser-known patents as well as personal photographs and other items. Henry Ford's original Model T is also there, a gift to Edison from his friend and fellow winter resident.
Recommended for Museums because: A fascinating look at the life of and the most important inventions of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.
Gina's expert tip: The self-guided audio tour is a good value, allowing you to explore the estates at your own pace.