Fort Myers began life as a place of escape. Northern industrialists including Henry Ford and Thomas Edison had winter homes in this corner of Florida, not only because of its pleasant tropical climate but because it offered a sense of untamed nature. Fort Myers and its surrounding neighbourhoods, set among a maze of waterways and more than 100 barrier islands, have grown since then, with each enjoying a different character. Bar hoppers, culture seekers and bird-watchers are all able to find a spot that suits, and while each area retains a distinct personality, they have one thing in common — they show a different side to the Sunshine State.
1. The Edison Ford Winter Estates
For history and heritage
Thomas Edison first sparked interest in this nature-blessed corner of Florida when he visited in 1885 and decided to build a winter home. That home, along with that of his Fort Myers neighbour Henry Ford, is now a riveting museum complex. Inside, you’ll discover stories of the inventors who changed America intertwined with explanations of what makes the ecosystems around Fort Myers so special. Outside, visitors can stroll through impeccably maintained gardens, both within the estates and nearby in the Berne Davis Botanical Garden.
2. Cabbage Key
For a secluded escape
No roads, no cars, no problem. Cabbage Key is a small, family-owned island laced with nature trails, where dolphins frolic in the surrounding channels. Head to the cottages for a blissed-out retreat, or make a beeline to the island’s character-packed restaurant for one of the area’s best cheeseburgers. Its interior walls are covered in dollar bills — a throwback to when local fishermen would leave a signed dollar on the wall, granting them a bottle of beer when the fishing was slow. Today, any dollars that fall on the floor are donated to a local charity. Cabbage Key is easily reached from more populous areas of Fort Myers with local outfits such as Captiva Cruises, which sails from McCarthy’s Marina in Captiva.
3. Bonita Springs
For high-energy activity
Linking Estero Bay and the Gulf of Mexico to the Everglades, the city of Bonita Springs lends itself to the outdoor lifestyle. For some, this means taking to the water on a kayak or stand-up paddleboard. For others, it’s exploring the miles of easy-going hiking and biking trails, while visitors seeking more high-adrenaline adventure can experience airboat rides through the Everglades, available only a short drive away.
Bonita Springs is also a paradise for golfers, with 23 golf courses within the boundaries and plenty more just outside. One of them is beside the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort and Spa, a lavish property amid 26 acres of tropical gardens that offers a water taxi to its own private beach and a family-friendly water park with a lazy river.
4. Downtown Fort Myers
For creative energy
A hive of activity from morning through to night, downtown Fort Myers’ River District draws locals and visitors alike to its brick-paved, palm-fringed streets. On weekends in particular, its bars and restaurants buzz with contemporary energy and events. The first Friday of every month brings the Art Walk, where regional artists showcase their talents in the streets, galleries and stores. Browse avant-garde artworks, artisan crafts and locally crafted jewellery before quenching your thirst at one of the River District’s many restaurants.
Music lovers should also plan to visit on the third Friday of the month. On these days you’ll find the Music Walk underway, as genre-hopping musicians perform al-fresco sets in lively spots such as the 10 Twenty Five gastropub and The Standard Restaurant.
5. Boca Grande
For relaxed elegance
Boca Grande on Gasparilla Island has a reputation as an illustrious playground, but it’s one with a relaxed feel, where life feels as unhurried as the bicycles that dot the miles of island paths. Expect quiet beaches, historic lighthouses and excellent but unpretentious dining at spots like the Gasparilla Inn & Club, where old Florida grace wins out over flashy modernity. Most visitors to Boca Grande have fish on their minds, though. The waters off Gasparilla Island are one of the best places on earth for tarpon and anglers from all over the world travel here in the hope of catching the much-prized ‘silver king’.
6. Cape Coral
For ecological exploration
With over 400 miles of waterways, Cape Coral has the highest concentration of canals of any city in the world — including Venice — and among them, you’ll find a remarkable concentration of wildlife. The Four Mile Cove Ecological Reserve, a wetland sanctuary, is home to scores of bird species including burrowing owls, plus raccoons and other wildlife. There are countless ways to explore the reserve, whether you’re paddling along its dedicated kayak trail or strolling its mangrove boardwalks.
As a result of Cape Coral’s huge canal system, many holiday rentals also offer the opportunity to add a boat as part of your stay. This way you can easily explore the area and access its many waterfront eateries.
Plan your trip
Fly directly from Heathrow to Tampa International or from various London airports to Miami, both two-and-a-half hour's drive from Fort Myers and its surrounding areas. For more information, go to visitfortmyers.com
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