From charming streets perfect for an inspiring stroll to photo-worthy beaches made for an afternoon of sunbathing, Fort Myers’ islands, beaches and neighborhoods are a no-brainer for travelers looking to plan a relaxing getaway. But those seeking a little adventure won’t have to look far, here. With everything from miles of pristine waterways for open water kayaking, to tucking into a palate-dazzling meal by a James Beard Award nominated chef, there’s always exhilaration just around the corner.
Read on to discover everything the Fort Myers area has to offer and get inspired to experience a trip where ‘fun in the sun’ is guaranteed—whichever activities you choose.
The historic downtown of this Florida city dates to the mid-1800s, when it served as a remote military outpost. Notably, it’s home to the largest concentration of historic structures anywhere in Southwest Florida, many of which have associations with famous figures—like Thomas Edison, whose affection for Fort Myers helped put it on the map.
Downtown Fort Myers—also known as the River District—is filled with must-visit sites, like the Edison and Ford Winter Estates, a historic site that encompasses the winter estates of both the famous inventor and automobile magnate, including a 21-acre botanical garden filled with lush, bright blooms. For art lovers, the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center, Alliance for the Arts, and the Franklin Hall Murals offer everything from classical painting and sculpture to exciting, of-the-moment street art.
Nature is within arm’s reach in Fort Myers, with spots like Manatee Park, where, in winter months, visitors can catch a glimpse of the ocean’s gentle giants. Lakes Park, a short distance from downtown, has nearly 30 acres of protected open space, and is an ideal spot for birdwatching on foot, on a bicycle, or via kayak.
Fun in Fort Myers doesn’t stop when the sun goes down, of course. Enjoy a leisurely dinner of iconic and inventive Southern cuisine in the courtyard of The Verdana, a 40-year-old restaurant located in a historic home. After dinner, travel back to a bygone era for a nightcap at The 86 Room, a speakeasy softly lit by glamorous chandeliers.
Fort Myers Beach
When picturing the quintessential beach town—think candy-colored beach bikes, ice cream shops, and plenty of sandy spots to stretch out on—there’s a good chance that what comes to mind is the exact image of Fort Myers Beach. A great day here starts in Times Square, the downtown area lined with sidewalk cafes and charming pizza parlors. Head down to the marina to rent a jet-ski, set sail on a fishing trip with Fish Tale Marina or Salty Sam’s Marina (grouper, mangrove snapper, and king mackerel are some of the fish to catch), or take a sunset ride on a catamaran.
Lovers Key State Park has a deserted island-feel: once upon a time, visitors could only get to shore by boat, and today it’s still a perfect spot for the ultimate oceanfront relaxation. Go for a swim in the warm Gulf waters, then book a sunset kayak tour, watching the water and the sky change colors as the sun sets.
Also in the area is Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve, Florida’s first aquatic preserve and part of the Great Calusa Blueway. Experienced and first-time kayakers will have plenty to do here—paddle through a full mangrove habitat or do a bite-sized portion. Either way, end the day by paddling up to the Pink Shell Beach Resort for a fruity drink.
Sanibel & Captiva Islands
These islands have been well-protected, and today it’s possible to tour positively pre-historic landscapes—think quiet, shell-covered beaches, pristine wildlife refuges, and parks where you can observe the local flora and fauna. For an afternoon of adventure, try parasailing with YOLO Watersports, or rent a powerboat at Port Sanibel Marina. J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is 7,600 acres of land crisscrossed with biking, hiking, and paddling trails, plus a four-mile scenic drive also accessible by car.
Spend a full day unwinding at Bowman’s Beach or Turner Beach, and then enjoy a delicious dinner at Sweet Melissa’s Cafe, which features a James Beard Award nominated chef, or the Bubble Room, a kitschy joint with colorful slabs of the tastiest cake around. Lighthouse Beach, on the east tip of Sanibel Island, is a sunset lover’s dream and the ideal spot to wrap up an island day.
Cape Coral/North Fort Myers
Cape Coral is often called a hidden treasure by people who visit for the first time, in no small part because it keeps fans coming back again and again. Known for a comfortable, small-town vibe, the community has over 400 miles of canals that surround the Matlacha Pass Aquatic Preserve and the Caloosahatchee River, making it a natural destination for boating. Families will appreciate a day at Sun Splash Family Water Park or Gator Mike’s Family Fun Park, both designed to thrill kids and grownups alike. If shopping local gets your heart rate going, a trip to Walker Farms is a great opportunity to pick up locally made soap, honey, and beeswax treats.
The restaurant scene here is a major draw, with waterside dining at Tarpon Point Marina coming with a side of mangrove views, and independent restaurants like Nevermind Awesome Bar & Eatery serving up postcard-worthy meals and snacks.
Boca Grande & Outer Islands
“Barefoot elegance” is the most apt descriptor for this quaint coastal community, known for its Old Florida charm and restaurants beloved by locals and visitors alike. Boca Grande is a good jumping off point for a day of island-hopping, via private boat or ferry. North Captiva, which you can only get to by boat or seaplane, is home to Mainstay North Captiva, a restaurant serving up world-famous fish tacos. Useppa Island’s Collier Inn and Cabbage Key Inn, with their views of Pine Island sound, are both options for an unforgettable lunch.
Looking for an even more off-the-grid spot? Cayo Costa, with its abundant wildlife and one-of-a-kind seashells, has nine miles of secluded beaches.
Matlacha & Pine Island
To cross the Matlacha Bridge is to cross over into “island time,” a state of mind influenced by the island’s bohemian vibes and art galleries offering wares by local artists, many of whom take inspiration from the rainbow of colors in the area’s landscape.
Fishing has been central to the economy here for centuries, and today visitors can cruise out to fish or collect shells via Tropic Star of Pine Island, with even more fishing opportunities available at Bokeelia Fishing Pier.
No trip to the coast would be complete without a fried seafood feast, which can be done with a sunset view from Yucatan Waterfront Bar & Grill—the perfect end to an idyllic island day.