Want to find the most beautiful, sun-soaked beaches in North America? One of the best destinations for a relaxing, fun beach vacation is Fort Myers, Florida, located less than a hundred miles south of Tampa. Fort Myers averages 271 days of sunshine per year. Rainy days are usually from June to September when brief thunderstorms pass through. Fort Myers was founded in 1866 as a trading post for nearby Seminole Indians. As the town grew, it drew such American icons as Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, whose winter homes are now open to the public.
Thomas Edison and Henry Ford built their winter homes adjacent to each other in Fort Myers at the turn of the 20th century. For the inventor and the industrialist, the houses were more than a respite from northern winters; they also featured a laboratory and workshop where the two men tinkered endlessly. The Edison Ford Estate is now 21 acres housing a museum and botanical garden, which contains trees and plants from all over the world.
Families of dolphins year-round frequent the shallow bays and protected waters of Fort Myers. Visitors often spot the playful animals from the shore. However, the best dolphin watching opportunities are found on one of several area dolphin tours that take guests to places where the dolphins like to congregate. Island Time Dolphin Cruises and Just Add Water and Sun provide numerous boat tours. The Estero Bay Express schedules sunset cruises daily.
Nothing cools a person off after a day on the beach under the glowing sun than a big scoop of ice cream. The Love Boat has been churning out its homemade ice cream since 1967. They have locations in Fort Myers and on Sanibel Island featuring more than 50 flavors of the creamy cold stuff.
Fort Myers has some of the best fresh seafood restaurants in the state of Florida with names such as the Shrimp Shack, the Clam Bake, and the Twisted Lobster. Check their menus as they change almost daily. Scallop lovers will want to visit from the last Saturday in June until September 24 for scallop season. And the Stonecrabs season starts soon afterward from October 15 to May 15.
The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum on Sanibel Island is the only museum in the country devoted exclusively to seashells and mollusks. The museum has an astounding number of seashell exhibits that can dazzle the eye, but they have live sea creatures on exhibit as well. Check out the ever-changing daily schedule to find out what programs are being offered. Experts hold educational programs at the Live Tank Talk.
The story goes, unofficially, that Jimmy Buffet wrote his famous song “Cheeseburger in Paradise” after eating lunch on this island. Now you can join in the fun eating after spending the morning or afternoon out on a boat. There are luncheon cruises offered by Captiva Cruises that feature a guided cruise around the island with a two-hour layover for lunch and exploring.
Cayo Costa State Park is a short boat ride from Fort Myers where visitors can explore nine miles of pristine beaches and walk through acres of a green pine forest. Guests can spend the time searching for some of the prettiest seashells along the beaches or snorkel through the island's waters teeming with sea life. Camping is allowed on Cayo Costa, but you must make a reservation in advance.
The island community of Captiva is a quick ride from Fort Myers over a bridge that leads to long white beaches and an eccentric restaurant. Captiva offers the outdoor activities that families love: biking, sailing, birding and all kinds of water activities. But here you can dine at a restaurant where Christmas is observed 365 days of the year. Captiva's South Seas Island Resort features 2.5 miles of beaches and an assortment of children’s programs, including pirate and mermaid playtimes.
March brings many Major League Baseball teams traveling to the Sunshine State to get ready for the season. Fort Myers hosts both the Boston Red Sox and the Minnesota Twins during the spring training season in February and March. The Minnesota Twins have played and trained at Hammond Stadium since 1991, the year they won the World Series. The Red Sox plays at JetBlue Park; a modern facility holds up to 11,000 people. Attend spring training games to see major league players up close and at a fraction of the cost of a regular-season ticket.
The folks in Fort Myers believe their beaches are the best place to find seashells on the North American continent, so much so that they founded National Seashell Day. Those who want to find the best place for finding shells should head to Cayo Costa, where the beaches are not as crowded, and the prettiest shells are waiting to be found. But any beach you walk along in Fort Myers is almost certain to hold nice shells. Locals claim the best time to find shells is during low tide, and during the winter months, the winds bring forth good shelling as well.
Spanning 3,500 acres of wetlands, the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve is home to turtles, alligators, and wading birds. Opened year-round, the park provides a winter haven for migrating butterflies and birds that stop by the site to rest and feed before returning to their spring habitats. You can visit the nature site from 10 am to 4 pm daily, except on Mondays. The 1.2-mile boardwalk at the site is open from dawn to dusk.
A family-fun park and recreation site, Lakes Regional Park features a community garden and outdoor activities, such as birdwatching, picnicking, canoeing, biking, and hiking. Kids naturally dash for a splash at the park's water playground and love scaling the park's rock-climbing wall. Train rides are featured from the facility's Miniature Railroad and Train Village on a 1.5-mile track. The park welcomes over 1,000 birds during the region's nesting season, some of which include Florida's vibrant Scarlet Ibis. Park visitors can rent paddle boats and bikes at two rental locations at the 279-acre site.
An ideal place to see manatees, Manatee Park is a 17-acre site that offers manatee viewing and other interesting activities, such as the park's ethnobotany trail and canoe and kayak rental from April to November.
The best time to spot the blubbery and balloon-like manatee is during the winter, or from November to March. To begin your adventure, start at the Visitor Center. The facility highlights everything you need to know about these once-endangered, now threatened, animals. If you visit the park when most of the sightings occur, you won't have to wait long, as the 1000-pound wonders surface every 3 to 5 minutes from the water.
Providing easy access to Sanibel Island and the Captiva Islands, Port Sanibel Marina lies between the Gulf of Mexico and Intracoastal Waterway (ICW). View Florida wildlife and birds along the Marina's mile-long mangrove-lined nature trail or kayak along the Fort Myers Kayak Trail, where you can see dolphins and manatees up-close.
For anyone who seeks to trail-walk, the John Yarbrough Linear Park offers them the chance to do so. The park's 6-mile concrete rail trail supplies a green and peaceful corridor for anyone wishing to see Florida wildlife up-close, Spanning along the Ten Mile Canal, the path features pedestrian bridges that give you a chance to take in the water view. During your adventure, you may see wading birds, such as egrets and herons, or eagles viewing you from high treetops. You may even see an alligator or two. The canal beside the park was built during the 1920s as a flood control measure for the area. Sections of the trail also run over the former route of the Seaboard Air Line Railroad.