Along the Southwest Florida coast, you’ll come across far more than you likely bargained for. There are picture-perfect, white-sand beaches—that’s to be expected—but this is more than just a beach destination. Throughout the islands, beaches and neighborhoods of Fort Myers, you’ll find world-renowned nature preserves, more than 200 miles of paddling trails and bucket list-worthy wildlife watching. Here are just some of the adventures you can seek within easy striking distance of the greater Fort Myers area.
On the Water
Book a wildlife-spotting cruise with Adventures in Paradise on Fort Myers Beach (they also operate from Port Sanibel Marina in Fort Myers), to watch for manatees, dolphins, and sea birds. If you’re looking for something more adventurous, like a multi-night island-hopping trip or a fishing expedition from the world’s best tarpon fishing sites, you’re in luck—there are a wide variety of captains in the area who offer fishing excursions for all levels. Take a half- or full-day trip to reel in tarpon, grouper, trout, redfish, and even sharks. Many charters are also happy to book private trips, so don’t hesitate to ask about custom options when booking.
For a special evening, book a leisurely sunset jaunt with Captiva Cruises. Keep an eye out for dolphins and other wildlife on your sail—you’re quite likely to see some. Captiva Cruises also runs day trips to Cayo Costa State Park and lunch cruises to Cabbage Key, where you can feast at the Cabbage Key Inn. Its restaurant is something of a legend, with the walls and ceiling covered in dollar bills signed by previous patrons. If you’re traveling with kids, head to the famous Bubble Room restaurant, a Captiva institution, for lunch or dinner. The Bubble Room is decked out for Christmas all year long and is decorated with antique toys everyone will enjoy.
On the Sand and the Shore
Sanibel Island is known as the “seashell capital of the world,” and is well-connected to Fort Myers by bridge. When you’re not partaking in the “Sanibel Stoop,” which is what locals call the practice of crouching on the beach in search of more than 400 known varieties of shells, go off in search of wildlife by foot, paddle, or boat. We recommend getting an early start one morning to birdwatch during low tide at the island’s J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, home to 245 species of birds, from pelicans to roseate spoonbills with bright pink wings. You might also be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of some non-avian locals, such as alligators, otters, bobcats and manatees. Tarpon Bay Explorers offers bike rentals, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and canoes inside the refuge.
In Alva, about 30 minutes northeast of Fort Myers along the Caloosahatchee River, Caloosahatchee Regional Park is a can’t-miss for mountain bikers. There you can ride through scrub oak and pine flatwoods habitat for as long as your heart desires. Afterward, wind down your day with a visit to one of the many local breweries or distilleries on the Southwest Florida Brew Trail. For starters, Fort Myers Brewing Co. offers tours of their digs and an event calendar chock-full of running club meetups, trivia, live performances, and pup-friendly pint nights.
Off the Beaten Track
Visit—or set up a tent among towering oak trees—at Koreshan State Park, about 30 minutes south of Fort Myers in Estero. Koreshan was once home to a religious sect who established a settlement on the banks of the Estero River in 1893. Now, you can tour their historic gardens and buildings and hike through bamboo, oak, and cabbage palm forests. Koreshan State Park is also a launch point for the nearly 200-mile Great Calusa Blueway, which winds through mangrove islands and shallow waters where dolphins and manatees love to play.
If you’re in the mood to unplug, escape to Cayo Costa State Park, one of the wildest islands in the Fort Myers area. There, you can rent a primitive cabin or set up camp with a tent under the stars. The calm waters are ideal for swimming and fishing, and you can easily adapt to island time here, with little in the way of man-made distractions. You can only reach the island by boat, so book a spot on a ferry via Tropic Star, which departs from Pine Island, accessible via car. Tropic Star also offers a variety of other cruises, including nature tours and sunset and dinner cruises around nearby islands. Be sure to stop in Matlacha on your way to Cayo Costa to eat at one of its seafood restaurants and wander the art galleries.
The Perfect Long Weekend
The islands, beaches and neighborhoods of Fort Myers all offer unique experiences. Explore a few of them in a long weekend or take your time to soak in everything they have to offer during a week-long vacation. But make sure you leave time to relax, too—you can see more on your next trip back (and there will be a next one).