Some people think they know Southwest Florida, but you don’t really know Southwest Florida until you’ve visited. There is so much more to Fort Myers and Sanibel Island than you think. It is more than the boardwalk and the college Spring Break spot. There is history, delicious food and some of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen. So let’s leave the boardwalk, 65+ community and spring breakers behind.
Take a cruise
What is a trip to Florida without getting out on the open ocean? Not any trip I want to be on! Captiva Cruises, leaves from South Seas Island Resort and McCarthy’s Marina (on Sanibel). The company offers a variety of cruise types, from scheduled cruises to group outings and even private charters! Around for over 30 years, no wonder they’re the leader in the ecotourism industry in Florida.
I took a cruise which departed from McCarthy’s Marina, about a half hour from my hotel, the Pink Shell Resort and Marina. Fun fact: the water is only 5 feet deep in the marina area so before getting out to the open ocean it’s a slow start. Take that time to acquaint yourself with the vessel and get comfortable. Relax! You’re on the ocean.
Depending on your vessels destination, you’ll cruise by Captiva Island and North Captiva Island, in this case we were going to Cayo Costa. Along the way we were greeted by Flipper. Yep, actual, real life, dolphins. I had never been so excited to see a wild animal in my life. Perhaps because I wasn’t expecting it. That’s the best I think, when you least expect something. Sure, I knew dolphins swam in the waters of Florida just like I knew kangaroos lived in Australia when I visited. Did I see a single kangaroo during the month I was there? Sure DIDN’T! Learned my lesson. Anyways…
The water is so blue you’ll think you’re in the Caribbean. Better yet, when you get to Cayo Costa, a Florida state park, you will feel like you are in paradise. That’s because you are. This island is completely deserted, not a soul lives on it. You can camp on it but have to make reservations 11 months in advance! If you’re on a day trip like I was spend the day walking the beach, swimming, snorkeling, sun bathing and shelling! Word to the wise, don’t forget bug spray.
Edison & Ford Winter Estates
The tenth most visited estate home in the US! I let my inner history nerd out here. My eyes were first drawn to the lush grounds and all of the flowers that surrounded me. The floral aromas, sounds of the birds chirping, and the sounds of the waves… ahhh relaxation with a side of history. The grounds are home to Edison’s Botanic Research Laboratory which is replicated perfectly so that IF Edison was to come back he would be able to pick right up and continue his research. A few of Fords original cars are also here.
The Edison Ford Museum is home to a collection of inventions – by both Edison and Ford. I think my favorite part was listening to the music play out of the phonographs. I am a huge music lover- never not listening to music actually- so I thought it was really cool to see how recorded music was originally played back. Again, I know, I’m a nerd!
A classic Southwest Florida stop. Cabbage Key is a 100-acre aquatic preserve filled with lush vegetation and a historic inn, Cabbage Key Inn. This secluded island offers a laid back vibe with total relaxation. Did I mention it is only accessible by boat?
There are cottages and rooms to rent on the island. Whether it’s a romantic getaway you’re seeking or a fishing trip, Cabbage Key Inn is the spot to be. If you don’t have the chance to spend time on the island, at least make time to eat at Cabbage Key Restaurant. You might know it better as, “the bar with all the money on the walls.” It’s rumored that this is the restaurant that Jimmy Buffet wrote “Cheeseburger in Paradise” about. You’ll see why when you get there.
Take Flight (with brews!)
Fort Myers Brewing Company is the perfect spot to escape the summer sun in Southwest Florida. This was the first local brewery in the area, 5 years strong now! Not sure which beer to start with? Go with the High Five, voted Best IPA in Florida! They also have unique brews like Chocolate Stout, Sister Hazelnut, and Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter. Expect: live music, food trucks and good company. What else could you need? You can find them in 250 spots locally and know when you’re buying them from a store the brews are no more than 10 days old- that’s fresh.
Sanibel Island Light
About 20 minutes from Pink Shell Resort. This isn’t your typical lighthouse, meaning it doesn’t look like the New England lighthouses I know so well.
Make a day out of it. Grab breakfast a bit further down the road at Island Cow and then head to Sanibel Island Light. Things you’ll need: sunscreen, water and a beach towel! Oh, and a swimsuit of course. You can lounge on the beach, watch people fish on the small pier and check out the history of the lighthouse.
Note: It’s about $2-$4/hr to park and it is strictly enforced.
This is a MUST. From Fort Myers to Sanibel the shells are endless. Shell capital of the world status. Literally. Every morning I would walk down to the beach and discover freshly washed up shells, untouched by anyone else. Begging for my (and my cameras) attention. Whether you are on Cayo Costa or just wandering the beach in front of your hotel, don’t forget to look down! I’ve never seen such beautiful shells before- ever. Thailand has nothing on you Fort Myers and Sanibel!
This post is written in partnership with The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel however, as always, all opinions are my own.