Fort Myers, Florida, is known for its beautiful sandy beaches, colourful neighbourhoods, and numerous natural areas and wildlife refuges. Fort Myers is a popular holiday destination in the US, with over 4 million people visiting the area annually to enjoy time on the area’s best beaches, wine and dine, enjoy nature and simply relax and unwind.
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Hurricane Ian Impact
In September 2022, the beautiful Fort Myers area was devastated by Hurricane Ian, a Category 5 storm that made landfall in Cayo Costa, a small island just north of Sanibel Island. Strong winds and a destructive 10–15 ft (3.0–4.6 m) storm surge wreaked havoc on homes, businesses, beaches and landmarks all throughout the Fort Myers area.
Over 50,000 structures were destroyed or damaged during the storm, and many businesses and homes were levelled as a result.
We visited Fort Myers in June 2023 and saw the state of the area firsthand. We won’t sugarcoat it – parts of the landscape still look different right now. But if there is one thing we have noticed, it is that the resilience and optimism of the local community is unmatched.
Rebuilding efforts are well underway, with construction and repairs taking place on every corner. The community is working hard to rebuild and reopen hotels, restaurants, facilities and businesses to bring Fort Myers back to its former glory.
Remarkably, much progress has been made. Many beaches, restaurants and other attractions have reopened since the hurricane and are welcoming visitors with open arms. And more and more businesses are reopening daily.
Should You Visit Fort Myers in 2023?
Before we get any further, let’s make one thing clear. Yes, you should definitely plan a trip to Fort Myers in 2023. While the region is still recovering from the Hurricane, the repairs and closures do not have to impact your visit.
Fort Myers is still the same relaxing and beautiful destination! The spirit of the people and the place continues to shine through.
So continue reading below to understand how to plan your trip, avoid disappointment and ensure you can still have the best time in Fort Myers in 2023.
Fort Myers Area Recovery
Having seen the damages and the recovery firsthand, we wanted to share some more detailed info about the recovery status in every part of the Fort Myers area to help you decide where to stay and how to avoid having your trip interrupted by recovery efforts.
Downtown Fort Myers
Historic downtown Fort Myers is a popular area with galleries, shops, and highly-rated restaurants and cafes. This area didn’t see as much damage as the islands and the coast of the mainland. Most restaurants, bars and shops along First Street in downtown Fort Myers are open and operating as usual.
Some damage can still be seen by the marina. Also, some businesses by the water may be closed due to damages. There was flooding in downtown Fort Myers, and much of the Lee County electric grid was damaged. So, you may see temporary outages and repairs at stoplights.
Fort Myers Beach
Known for its beautiful beachfront resorts, white sandy beaches, and colourful buildings, Fort Myers Beach is one of the most damaged regions in the area, and it’s definitely one that still has a lot of rebuilding ahead. Many hotels and restaurants along the beach are still being repaired.
But don’t shy away from visiting this area. Many beaches are already open (and more are opening daily), watersports centres are operating, and restaurants, particularly around the downtown area, are bouncing back. Some facilities at the beaches are still under repair. But, the city has worked on securing at least basic facilities like portable toilets and push wash stations at many access points.
The beautiful Fort Myers beach can be accessed but do check online for updates on available amenities. Sadly, the iconic Fort Myers Beach Pier was severely damaged in the storm and has yet to be rebuilt. Nonetheless, we found the white sand beaches are as beautiful as they ever were.
With about 30 miles of shoreline, Sanibel Island has plenty to attract visitors to the Fort Myers area. Famous for its beautiful coastline and the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, it offers lots of outdoor activities, as well as beautiful beaches to relax and take it all in.
Like Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel Island was hit hard by the hurricane. Many businesses, beach cottages, and beach facilities were washed away by the storm surge. The hurricane also damaged the Sanibel Causeway, making the island inaccessible for the first three weeks following the Hurricane.
But repairs have been ongoing. The Sanibel Causeway is open and operating as usual, although some construction is still taking place at the Causeway Islands Park.
Beaches on Sanibel Island, like the popular Bowman’s Beach, are open and operating and access to the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge has also been restored (although note that the refuge is closed on Friday for ongoing repairs).
A welcoming beach community about 30 minutes south of downtown Fort Myers, Bonita Springs is home to pristine beach preserves, wildlife areas, and a laid-back beach community.
Visible Hurricane recovery has taken place in Bonita Beach, and the county has reopened the beach park, as well as all other beach access points. Sand has already been added to the north end of the island in an effort to rebuild the beach, and utilities are under repair.
Farther inland, along Bonita Springs’s main drag, businesses have mostly reopened. You’ll find many hotels, shops, and restaurants operating as usual in this area.
Just 20 minutes outside of Fort Myers, Cape Coral is a quieter residential area of Lee County, known as a family-friendly destination. It is home to Sun Splash Water Park, Rotary Park Environmental Center, and the annual Cape Coral Art Festival & Market Place, which is held in the month of January.
We did not visit Cape Coral firsthand but know that Sun Splash Water Park and Rotary Park are both open for business, as well as all city parks in Cape Coral. Dolphin watching and manatee tours are also underway (in season).
Visiting Fort Myers in 2023: Things to Consider
1. Be Prepared: Hurricane Recovery is Still Underway
Repair and rebuilding efforts are ongoing all throughout the Fort Myers area. The waterfront, Fort Myers Beach, and Sanibel Island saw the worst of the damage. You’ll see many businesses and amenities here in various stages of recovery. The further inland you go, the less damage you’ll see.
Before setting out, check for updates on places you want to visit. The Lee County website is a great resource, with recovery progress reports and plenty of information about the area.
2. Beaches Recovery is Underway
Safety is of paramount concern for the local government. The county has been working with state and federal agencies to clear out debris so that beaches are safe for visitors and locals.
The process of stabilizing critical erosion areas is well underway. Thousands of tons of sand have already been brought onto the shoreline so that beach access points can be restored.
Not All Beaches are Open
Access to many beautiful Fort Myers beaches has already been restored, but some access points and some beaches remain closed. It’s important to check Fort Myers’ Beaches Status page to get the most up-to-date info on what beaches are open and what facilities are available at each location.
Water Shoes are Highly Recommended
While many beaches have been cleared and reopened, storm fronts and currents will continue to push debris up onto the shore for months to come. So you may still come across debris on the beaches and in the water.
Debris can become obscured by sand, so water shoes are a good idea.
3. Stay by the Beach
If you are visiting Fort Myers to spend time on its beautiful beaches, this next tip can save you lots of time and money. Save on parking fees and reduce the hassle of looking for beach access by staying right on the beach.
Many hotels in Fort Myers Beach are still in the recovery process, and there are a few resorts that are open and welcoming guests.
During our visit, we stayed at the Pink Shell Beach Resort, one of the few hotels on Fort Myers Beach that have reopened since the Hurricane. Pink Shell offers direct beach access with beach chairs, an outdoor pool, and an onsite restaurant. They have great deals on their rooms at the moment and offer a complimentary buffet lunch to all guests staying at the resort. Some amenities are still under repair, and the resort posts regular updates on its website.
Pink Shell Beach Resort also offers resort day passes, which start at $20 for adults, and includes access to the beach, resort pool, and parking for one vehicle.
4. Spend Time Outdoors
Relax on the Beautiful Beaches
There is a reason why Fort Myers beaches are known as some of the most beautiful in the country. The beaches themselves are a bigger drawcard of the area. So, spending a few days just relaxing on the beach and in the water is a must for anyone visiting Fort Myers.
Fort Myers Beach is the most famous beach in the area, with white sand stretching over 11km (7 miles) along the island. Amenities and landmarks are still under repair, but the coastline and warm Gulf waters are just as beautiful.
Bonita Springs is a great option for a day trip, with plenty of spots to explore. Bonita Beach is popular among beachcombers and watersports enthusiasts, and outfitters are back in business, renting SUP and kayaks to beachgoers.
Located on Sanibel Island, Bowman’s Beach has been protected from a lot of the overdevelopment that you see around the popular tourist beaches. This is another perfect spot for a relaxing day at the beach.
READ NEXT: Best Beaches in Fort Myers
5. Visit the Parks and Nature Preserves
The region is home to make green spaces and opportunities to spend time outdoors.
J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is part of the largest undeveloped mangrove system in the United States and is home to hundreds of bird, mammal, and reptile species. You can easily spend half a day exploring the trails or kayaking through the refuge.
Located on the mainland, Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve covers 3,500 acres of wetland habitat. There is a boardwalk trail, and you’re free to explore on your own or join a guided tour. This is a great place to escape the mid-day heat, as the boardwalk in the Preserve is nicely shaded and offers a reprieve from the heat of the day.
Not sure about the water safety in Fort Myers? The solution does not have to be buying plastic water bottles. We recommend this great personal filter straw that can be used as a straw on its own or with the included filter bag. It uses carbon media to filter 99.9% of bacteria and other pathogens in water. It’s a great eco-friendly alternative to buying bottled water and a perfect way to make sure you never have to worry about water safety again!
6. Get Active
There are plenty of opportunities for water sports and other outdoor activities in the Fort Myers area. Many outfitters in the area offer SUP and kayak rentals, along with guided manatee and dolphin tours.
We really enjoyed kayaking in Manatee Park. From Dec-April, you can spot manatees in this area. But even without the manatees, kayaking in the park offered a nice way to get active.
7. Preplan Restaurant Choices
Like so many businesses in the Fort Myers area, restaurants, particularly those on Fort Myers Beach and on Sanibel Island, saw great damage. Some are still in the process of rebuilding and haven’t reopened yet.
A little bit of planning and research ahead of time is essential before heading out for a meal.
Information you find online might not be updated – Google Maps has many restaurants marked as open when they aren’t. Many owners have not updated their websites and listings either. If you do look online, check for recent reviews on Google or Tripadvisor.
And don’t be afraid to chat with the locals and ask for their recommendations. Many of them are local to the area and know exactly what businesses have reopened and which ones have not and can offer some additional insights and recommendations about the area.
Our Fort Myers Travel Guide is another great resource for visiting Fort Myers post-Hurricane Ian, with lots of restaurant recommendations and activity suggestions!
8. Fort Myers Area is Safe and Fun
Generally speaking, Fort Myers is one of the safest places to visit in the US. Remember that the damage and debris from the hurricane are all temporary. The people of Fort Myers are working hard on restoration efforts, all while welcoming visitors.
The area is very safe for visitors, with a lower crime rate than the national average. Overall, there has been a downward trend in crime in Fort Myers, Fl, especially the violent crime rate and property crime rate. According to recent crime data, Fort Myers and nearby cities have seen a 70% decrease in violent crimes over the past 30 years.
Of course, take precautions as you normally would. Keep your valuables out of sight, be careful with credit card information, and observe your surroundings. As you would anywhere else, avoid walking in areas late at night, especially if you’re alone.
We felt very safe and happy to be visiting Fort Myers and would absolutely return again! We hope our recap, tips and advice will help you plan your own holiday to Fort Myers in the near future.
Have any updates to add to this article? Leave them in the comments below!
Disclaimer: We visited Fort Myers as guests of the Lee County VCB, but as always, all opinions expressed in this article are our own.