You can still find the Florida of days long past in the Fort Myers and Sanibel Island area in the south west region of the state. Discover unspoiled white sand beaches, exotic wildlife and lush subtropical foliage….
This subtropical paradise is a favourite vacation spot for visitors from around the world. So next time you are planning a trip down South, escape the more congested areas and opt for a feel of old Florida.
The Fort Myers Sanibel region is the perfect sanctuary for families to reconnect with loved ones in a quiet, natural setting. With surroundings conducive to refocusing on what’s really important in life, visitors find a sense of inner peace as they submerge themselves in the natural wilderness.
Few destinations in the world have such an unspoiled sandy coastline. Add the subtropical climate and warm Gulf waters - and it's everyone's fantasy island vacation. A family friendly destination, the beaches have soft, white sand that’s great for little toes. You can collect the abundant beautiful shells – kept intact by the gentle wave action. And there is lots of water based recreation to choose from.
There are islands and cays dotted around the coastline, some reached by bridges and causeways, and some only accessible by boat. Each island has its own character and charm; Island Hopping is one of the delights of the area. In the 1800’s the Spanish pirate Jose Gaspar established his headquarters on Sanibel Island (Santa Isybella Island) due to its central location. He lived on Pine Island and held his captives on Captiva Island (translated from Isle de los Captivas). And legend has it that Jose Gaspar buried his ill-gotten gains on Gasparilla Island!
For divers the Coast Guard Cutter USS Mohawk rests in 90 feet of water, roughly 28 nautical miles off Sanibel Island. The Mohawk is swarming with fish inside and out. Divers report many species of fish, sea turtles and bull sharks - and have even spotted whalesharks, the world’s largest living fish with a maximum size of about 65 feet.
And if shopping and spas are your ideal recreation – there are Outlet Malls, high end retailers, local boutiques, artist’s stores, antique markets and more. Plus multitudes of unique spa treatments waiting to help you escape the stress of everyday life.
There’s no shortage of recreational activities and adventures in The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel. There’s the renowned shell collecting, of course, and fabulous bird watching for nature lovers. The "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge, part of the largest mangrove ecosystem in the United States, is home to wildlife and many migratory birds. The refuge features delightful footpaths, winding canoe/kayak trails and a four-mile scenic drive, all of which are lush with seagrape, wax and salt myrtles, red mangrove, cabbage or sabal palms and other native plant varieties.
Sixteen sites in the Fort Myers and Sanibel area form part of the South Florida Birding Trail. And the Great Calusa Blueway treats paddling enthusiasts to nearly 190 Kms of clearly marked waterways and trails. Kayak or canoe where Calusa Indians once traveled, past pristine islands and waters that are teeming with wildlife.
Southwest Florida is prime country for bike riding and hiking all year round. Sanibel offers more than 32 Kms of easily accessible, family-friendly bike paths, and a safe way to explore. Pine flatwoods and cypress swamps along the Caloosahatchee Regional Park trails offer challenges for seasoned mountain bikers and hikers. And the hard-packed sand of Fort Myers Beach invites gentle rides and walks tracing the water’s edge at sunset.
Discover tropical gardens - or learn about the ocean at the Sanibel Sea School. The Sea School offers half and full day courses and is dedicated to vibrantly teaching children and adults about marine ecosystems – animals, people, plants, land, ocean and weather. Students have the opportunity to touch, feel and interact with natural surroundings.
The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum mounts exhibits to educate the public about mollusks and the hard exoskeletons they leave behind. With ties to the Smithsonian Institution, it is home to shells of southwest Florida as well as huge and rare specimens from around the world.
Without a doubt, the most famous homes in the Fort Myers and Sanibel area are those of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Both of these fascinating historical figures had winter estates in the area.
Built in 1886, both the main home and guesthouse on Edison’s 14-acre estate are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Even the road fronting the estates is historically significant. For 24 kms the boulevard is lined with towering royal palm trees, the first 200 of which were imported from Cuba and planted by Edison himself. Visitors tour the inventor’s two-story home, office, laboratory and experimental gardens, all of which have been meticulously preserved and maintained as they were when Edison was alive. While the estate’s museum features rare antique automobiles, photographs and exhibits of some of his nearly 1,100 patents, the gardens remain lush with rare, tropical vegetation, including a banyan tree that measures 400 feet around. It’s reputed to be the largest of its kind in the U.S. His friend, industrialist Harvey Firestone, gave the banyan tree to Edison.
Automobile magnate Henry Ford purchased the three-acre estate next door to Edison’s in 1916. Named "Mangoes," the home has undergone extensive renovation to restore it to the days when Ford and his wife Clara lived there. In addition to tours of the home, visitors also may view a 1914 Model T, a 1917 Ford truck and a 1929 Model A.
Sports enthusiasts will find that the area’s reputation for excellent golfing is well deserved - it is known for its rich golf history, championship courses designed by legends and an endless selection of choices available year-round. Local courses provide opportunities for golfers of all levels - from golf resorts to public municipal courses to exclusive clubs that allow public play. There is also incredible fishing year round - this is "The Tarpon Capital of the World". Whether you are offshore, on the flats or surf fishing - when you find the right spot you'll know it, because the fish will be biting...
There are festivals galore in the Fort Myers and Sanibel area.
National Seashell Day June 20, 2016
June 20 has been proclaimed National Seashell Day by The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel. Many hotels throughout the destination are offering special deals and packages just for the occasion. Special events, lectures, shelling tours, workshops with area shell artists and more will take place to celebrate the day.
The Island Hopper Songwriter Fest Sept. 23 - Oct. 2, 2016
The free festival will take place over 10 days on Southwest Florida’s most beautiful barrier islands and offers a range of star-studded performances. The festival kicks off on Captiva Island, Sept. 23-25 and wraps up Sept. 30-Oct. 2 on Fort Myers Beach. Historic downtown Fort Myers will also feature mid-week performances.
Last year’s festival offered more than 70 artists who gave 136 performances at 23 venues. This year attendees will hear some of their favorite songs while getting a taste of the destination at live music venues including:
The Crow’s Nest at ‘Tween Waters Inn, Key Lime Bistro and Doc Ford’s at South Seas Island Resort on Captiva Island; The Twisted Vine and The French Connection in downtown Fort Myers; as well as Matanzas on the Bay and Cabanas Beach Bar at DiamondHead Beach Resort and Pink Shell Beach Resort & Marina on Fort Myers Beach.
27th Annual J.N. "Ding" Darling Days, Sanibel Island Oct. 16-22, 2016
The event honors National Wildlife Refuge Week and celebrates the 140th birthday of the refuge’s namesake. Family Fun Day kicks off the weeklong birding and ecofestival with free activities, including narrated refuge tram tours, live wildlife presentations, kids nature crafts, a touch tank, a butterfly house, and archery lessons.
The Duck Stamp Artist presentation headlines Conservation Art Day and also includes cartooning, a photography tram tour, nature art activities, and free art supplies. Throughout the week, festival-goers can join free biking and birding tours; take advantage of discounted tram, kayaking, and nature boat excursions; and sit in on free talks at the refuge and Tarpon Bay Explorers. A special exhibit of this year’s Federal Duck Stamps will be on display in the Education Center auditorium throughout the week. Check the schedule for all activities
31st Annual Oktoberfest, Oct. 21-23 and Oct 28-30, 2016
Hosted by the German-American Club, this huge celebration includes German culture, food, music and dancing. Highlights include authentic live entertainment with large musical groups from Germany, along with enough German food and beer to make anyone do the “Chicken Dance.” Kids will enjoy the carnival area. Call or check website for schedule and ticket information.
34th Annual Taste of the Town, November 2016
This annual favorite charity fundraiser, sponsored by the Junior League of Fort Myers, brings together “tastes” from local restaurants, music, children’s entertainment and more at JetBlue Park. Guests will sample delicious food and beverages plus enjoy local bands.
This year marks the 34th Taste of the Town event, which began in the early 1980s as a public picnic called “The French Picnic,” in which Junior League members prepared and served all the food. Since then, Taste of the Town has developed into a locally anticipated event, bringing an average of 10,000 guests from all over southwest Florida.
Cape Coral CoCoNut Festival, Sun Splash Family Water Park, Cape Coral, November, 2016
The Cape Coral CoCoNut Festival celebrates Cape Coral's reputation in the Lee County area for coconuts, multi-cultural food, boating, fishing and wildlife. The event includes bands, entertainment, carnival rides, games, food, contests, fireworks, and much more!
29th Annual American Sand Sculpting Championship, Fort Myers Beach, Nov. 18-27, 2016
Come and join the fun on Fort Myers Beach for the 29th Annual American Sand Sculpting Championship and Beach Festival. Sponsored by the Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce, this fun-filled event will include world-class master sand sculptors, a state championship contest, an amateur contest, sand sculpting demonstrations and lessons, and much more. With more than 1,000 tons of sand, master sand sculptors are returning to Fort Myers Beach forming the largest sand sculpting event in the state, plying their craft and showcasing their artistry in what USA Today and CNN Travel have named a “must-see” and one of the 10 best sand sculpting competitions in the world.
41st Annual Holiday Nights at the Edison & Ford Winter Estates, Fort Myers, End of November 2016 - Jan. 3, 2017
Edison Ford Holiday Nights reflect the many contributions of Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and their families to the local community. It was chosen by the editors of USA Today as one of the 10 Best Historic Homes for the Holidays, which also included The White House, Mount Vernon, Monticello and the Biltmore in North Carolina.
In addition, The American Bus Association (ABA) announced that it has designated the event as one of the Top 100 Events in North America for 2016. Edison Ford Holiday Nights has also been featured in Destinations magazine noting that Edison Ford’s Holiday Nights offers excellent entertainment value to both tour groups and individual travelers from around the world.
A not-to-be-missed holiday tradition, the historic buildings and acres of gardens are decorated with lights and traditional decorations. The holiday estates offer a behind the scenes tour, Children's Holiday Tree Trail, Santa visits on select nights, refreshments and shopping in the Holiday Cottage Shoppe, Museum Store and Garden Shoppe.
Captiva Holiday Village, Captiva Island. End of November-mid-December 2016
Joyful sights and sounds will fill the beaches, bays and lanes of this quaint and cozy village. Packed with holiday activities for everyone in the family, this event includes nightly entertainment, tree lightings, Junkanoo Parade, Santa visits, decorated boat and golf cart parades, musical performances, fireworks, and much more. Check website for details and complete schedule.
79th Edison Festival of Light, Fort Myers, February 2017
Parade begins at 7 p.m. at Edison Stadium and continues to the Fort Myers Downtown River District. During February, Fort Myers celebrates the birthday of its most illustrious historical resident, Thomas A. Edison, in befitting fashion. Edison, who built a home on the banks of the Caloosahatchee River and spent 46 winters there, invented the light bulb and held more than 1,200 patents. So it’s appropriate that the month of activities culminates with a lighted night parade. Invention competitions, parties, craft shows and a 5K run are all part of the festival. Celebrating 79 years, the month of February is filled with special events.
80th Annual Sanibel Shell Fair & Show, Sanibel Island, March 2017
Sanibel Island, named the best shelling beach in the U.S. and one of the best in the world, hosts shelling enthusiasts who gather each year for the shell fair that draws visitors from around the globe. One of the most unique events in the country, it began on a porch with just a few islanders and has evolved into today's fair that includes demonstrations, shell displays, crafts, prizes, food and entertainment.