Famous for its beautiful white sandy beaches and vibrant atmosphere, Fort Myers is one of the most popular holiday destinations in Florida.
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The beaches in the Fort Myers area are definitely the main attraction. But there are also plenty of other outdoor activities, parks and wildlife preserves, and a great foodie scene waiting to be discovered. And if that isn’t enough – downtown Fort Myers is a hub for culture seekers with theatre productions, art galleries, shops and more!
After spending 5 days in Fort Myers, we are convinced – it’s a great destination for a short beach holiday. It’s the perfect place to kick your feet, relax and unwind!
As sustainable travelers, we chose to spend most of our time outdoors and Fort Myers did not disappoint! Even in the middle of June (yes, as it turns out, it is possible to enjoy Florida in the summertime), Fort Myers proved to be a fun destination to get out into nature, spend time on the beaches and experience a few unique and awesome activities in towns.
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Read on to discover what we got up to while in Fort Myers, our top recommended things to do in Fort Myers, Florida and why you should visit this region now, post-Hurricane Ian!
Hurricane Ian Impact
It would be careless for us to talk about the Fort Myers area without bringing up the elephant in the room – Hurricane Ian.
For those who might not know, Hurricane Ian was a Category 5 hurricane that made landfall in Lee County in September 2022. It was one of the deadliest hurricanes to strike Florida since 1935 and the 3rd most costly Atlantic hurricane in the US. Strong winds and a destructive 10–15 ft (3.0–4.6 m) storm surge wreaked havoc on the Fort Myers area, particularly Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel Island, and Bonita Springs. Over 50,000 structures were destroyed or damaged during the storm, many businesses were destroyed, and homes – levelled.
During our visit, some 8 months after the hurricane, it is clear that 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. They are working hard to rebuild and repair the damages. Their work is ongoing, with lots left to do. But their spirits are high and full of hope, and their excitement toward visitors is unlike anything we have seen on our travels.
Tourism has an opportunity to revive the Fort Myers area, with every visitor making a positive economic impact on this beautiful destination. For some, this alone is enough to plan a visit to Fort Myers. For others, it will be just one of many deciding factors.
So let’s talk about the rest!
About Fort Myers Area
Fort Myers is the main hub within Lee County, located on the southwest Florida coast, on the Gulf of Mexico. Visitors often refer to the area as simply “Fort Myers,” but aside from the city of Fort Myers, the region also encompasses popular destinations like Cape Coral, Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel and Captiva Islands, and the area around Bonita Springs.
Getting There and Around
Whether you are coming to Fort Myers from the US, Canada, or elsewhere in the world, the area can be easily reached by plane or car.
Driving to Fort Myers
For visitors driving to the region, I-75 offers easy access to the Fort Myers area, connecting it with big transportation hubs like Miami and Atlanta.
Flying to Fort Myers
Those flying in can arrive straight into Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW), the closest major airfield, just a 30-minute drive from downtown Fort Myers.
Car Rental in Fort Myers
Several car rental agencies are available at the airport, making it easy to grab a car upon arrival to explore at your own pace. As sustainable travel advocates, we always recommend renting an electric vehicle that reduces your carbon footprint.
During our time in Fort Myers, we cruised around in a Tesla Model 3 that we rented from Hertz for under $100/day. We found Tesla to be the perfect EV for Florida, given that Fort Myers has a Tesla Supercharger station in town and several Destination Chargers at popular attractions, including Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel Island, Punta Rassa, and Cape Coral. We only had to charge up once during our visit (and we drove around plenty during our stay), which saved us a ton on fuel costs!
Public Transport in Fort Myers
Public transportation offers another low-carbon way to get around the Fort Myers area.
LeeTrans, the public transportation system in Fort Myers, has routes to popular destinations, and hitching a ride on their beach park-and-ride trolley is much cheaper and less stressful than dealing with crowded parking situations at the more popular beaches. Check the LeeTrans schedule and route map for more info on lines and schedules.
And last but not least, getting around by bike. There are bike rental shops all around Fort Myers. Pedego Electric Bikes is a local, family-run business that provides electric bike rentals and guided tours through historic downtown Fort Myers.
Ok, Now that we’ve covered ways to get around the area, let’s talk about things to do in Fort Myers, Florida!
Things to do in Fort Myers, Florida
Spend Time in Downtown Fort Myers
The historic downtown Fort Myers is the cultural centre for the area. All attractions here are within walking distance. This includes the popular Thomas Edison & Henry Ford Winter Estates and the amazing botanical garden. There is a lot to do in downtown Fort Myers. So, we recommend dedicating an afternoon to explore this area.
- Take in a theatre production at the historic Arcade Theatre, now home to the Florida Repertory Theatre.
- Check out an innovative play at the Laboratory Theater, located in the River District.
- Take a stroll along the waterfront, and visit Centennial Park, which also hosts the Fort Myers River District Farmers Market on Thursday mornings.
- Join the Haunted History Tour to learn about the local myths and legends.
- Visit the gallery and rooftop sculpture garden at the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center, which is housed in a gorgeous Neoclassical Revival building in downtown Fort Myers.
- or simply stroll around the streets, popping into art galleries and shops.
Downtown Fort Myers is home to a variety of restaurants, cafes, and brewpubs. It’s a perfect spot to grab a meal and/or a drink during your visit.
- For fresh seafood, check out Izzy’s Fish & Oyster, a spot that specializes in New England and Cajun-style seafood dishes
- Oxbow Bar & Grill offers dockside dining with panoramic views of the Caloosahatchee River. They serve brunch, lunch, and dinner, local beers, and craft cocktails.
- For drinks, amazing views, and live entertainment, Beacon Social Drinkery is a sophisticated rooftop bar in the Luminary Hotel that overlooks the Caloosahatchee River and downtown Fort Myers. This is a great spot for craft beer, specialty cocktails, and fine wines.
- The Firestone Skybar & Martini Bar is a 4-story bar and grill popular with the late-night crowd. The Martini Bar offers creative martinis served in a hip atmosphere, and the Skybar is a rooftop lounge with awesome views of the Caloosahatchee River. Keep in mind that they do host DJ’s, and don’t be surprised if it turns into a party later at night.
- The 86 Room is a speakeasy-themed bar that serves classic cocktails in historic settings. On some nights, you’ll get to enjoy some live jazz music.
Have Dinner at the Veranda – the Oldest Restaurant in Fort Myers
While there are lots of great restaurants in the Fort Myers River District, there is one that you can’t miss! Set in a historic home in downtown Fort Myers, The Veranda is the oldest restaurant in Fort Myers, operating in this exact same spot since 1978.
The Veranda is the place to go in Fort Myers to celebrate an occasion. Note that the restaurant is open for dinner service only, and a reservation is recommended.
The elegant setting is perfect for a romantic dinner or a special night out. There are a few unique seating areas within the restaurant. We really loved the piano bar area with its dimly lit tables (particularly the wine bar table) and refined atmosphere, as well as the fireside dining room that overlooked the courtyard.
The Veranda specializes in upmarket southern cuisine and features a great variety of dishes, including fresh seafood dishes and fine meats. Don’t miss a chance to have their delicious Caesar salad made right at your table.
Indulge in Afternoon Tea at Wisteria Tea Room
The afternoon tea experience at Wisteria Tea Room was one of our favourite things to do in Fort Myers, Florida. Located in downtown Fort Myers in a beautifully converted bungalow, this charming tearoom is as dreamy as they come. Cute decor, a charming setup and a wide selection of loose-leaf teas.
But that’s not it. The highlight of our visit to the Wisteria Tea Room was their English-style afternoon tea experience. The service included endless tea and a 3-tiered tray of treats, including savoury bites like quiche and cucumber sandwiches, fresh scones, and delicious mini desserts. Tea choices were plentiful, ranging from a variety of black tea, green tea, white tea, rooibos tea, and herbal infusions. Our favourites were the Snowflake, Creme au Caramel, and Lady London.
Visit Fort Myers Beach
Located about half an hour from downtown Fort Myers, Fort Myers Beach is another must-visit spot in the area. Take San Carlos Blvd directly to the island to spend the day at the beach or enjoy a meal at one of the restaurants in the area.
Keep in mind that rebuilding efforts are still underway in Fort Myers Beach. So, be sure to check what’s open before you go.
To access the beach, head to Lynn Hall Memorial Park, a popular beach park next to Times Square and the Fort Myers Beach Pier. This area has been reopened and offers easy beach access with some facilities, like picnic areas, restrooms, and public parking. Unfortunately, Times Square and Fort Myers Beach Pier were both destroyed during the storm.
Stay at the Pink Shell Beach Resort
Alternatively, you can avoid the crowds and enjoy your own slice of beach paradise by staying at the Pink Shell Beach Resort, one of the few hotels that have reopened in the area. (More on our stay in the “Where to Stay section” later in the article). The hotel is set right on the beach and offers free beach chairs and beach towels.
Enjoy a Meal
While several waterfront restaurants and shops continue to rebuild in Fort Myers Beach, many have already reopened and are welcoming visitors with open arms. Here are just a few of our recommended spots to visit for lunch or dinner.
- Yucatan Beach Stand is a casual seafood restaurant and bar set in a fun tiki hut-inspired setting just a quick walk from the beach. They serve up some killer tacos and delicious Gulf shrimp and have a few great craft beers on the menu from the likes of Fort Myers Brewing Company. The restaurant is open from 11-8 pm, with live music from 2-5 pm.
- Petey’s Upper Deck Bar is another casual open-air restaurant and bar overlooking the Bay. Rebuilding efforts continue in the restaurant’s main dining room, but the upstairs bar is open for business, offering great pizzas served on a waterfront patio.
- Snug Harbor Waterfront Restaurant is a great dinner spot overlooking the marina. The restaurant has its own fishing boat and features plenty of fresh, locally caught seafood options on the menu. Try their grouper dinner and their flash-fried scallops.
- Flippers overlooking the back bay waters of Estero Bay, Flipper’s was once named the “best waterfront restaurant” on the island and we tend to agree. The restaurant is located near Lovers Key State Park Beach, which, unfortunately, was still closed during our visit and is one of the only restaurants on the island serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Their lobster eggs benedict was to die for!
READ NEXT: Best Fort Myers Beaches to visit in 2023
Take a Day trip to Sanibel Island
The perfect destination for a day trip, Sanibel Island is home to beautiful beaches and a wildlife refuge that is known as a birdwatcher’s paradise. There is a lot to do here, so plan to dedicate at least a day to this beautiful spot.
Visit J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge
Part of the largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystem in the United States, the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge is world-famous for extensive migratory bird populations. This ecosystem is home to 51 types of reptiles and amphibians, 32 mammal species, and over 245 bird species.
Note: The refuge is closed on Fridays, so plan your visit accordingly!
- You can walk, bike, or drive the 6 km (4 mile) Wildlife Drive, which leads to three walking trails and two canoe launches. Don’t miss a stop at the observation tower – the best vantage point in the refuge.
- Rent a kayak, canoe, or SUP to kayak down Commodore Creek and into Tarpon Bay to take in views of the birds and sea life. Since Tarpon Bay is enclosed, the water tends to be calm, making it easier to paddle around and enjoy the scenery.
- Enjoy almost 13 km (8 miles) of trails and boardwalks of varying lengths and difficulties.
- Check out the lookouts offering great views of the bay – they are a hit with birdwatchers visiting the refuge.
Stop by CROW (Clinic for Rehabilitation of Wildlife)
Located right next to the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, CROW is an education centre and wildlife hospital, caring for sick, injured, and orphaned wildlife from all around the Fort Myers area. They intake a whopping 5,000 patients a year!
Pop by the clinic to see some of their exhibits and educational presentations. There are fun interactive areas for kids and a shop on site. It’s a great spot to stock up on some souvenirs, with proceeds going to a great cause. Admission is $12 for adults, and you can support the important work done here by donating on-site or online.
Visit Bowman’s Beach
Bowman’s Beach is another great spot to visit on Sanibel Island. This beach is not as crowded as the other beaches in the area and offers a particular draw for shell lovers. While there are basic amenities like toilets, picnic areas, and showers, this area remains free from intense development.
There is a kayak launch area and calm waterways for beginner paddlers. The bridge offers a nice viewpoint over the waterways and is a great spot to search for manatees during the winter months. Rehabilitation from hurricane damage is ongoing. Entrance is free but parking is $5/hour.
Visit Lighthouse Beach Park
Home to the famous Sanibel Island Lighthouse built in 1884, and a lovely shell beach, this area is slowly returning to its former glory. The fishing pier and the bayside lot are still closed as essential repairs continue following Hurricane Ian, but the Gulf-side beach is open to visitors. Aside from porta-potties, there are not a lot of facilities on-site. So, be sure to pack snacks and plenty of water for the day. Parking is available at $5/hour.
Try Cajun Cuisine at MudBugs Cajun Kitchen
A few eateries are open on Sanibel Island, including Blue Giraffe Food Truck, Rosalita’s Cantina, Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille, and Bimini Bait Shack, but our favourite spot, was the Mudbugs Cajun Kitchen.
This two-story restaurant specializes in Cajun cuisine – a unique offering for the Fort Myers area. Try their fresh oysters or cajun specialties like boudin balls, po-boys or etouffee. Then, load up on sugar with their delicious sweet beignets. We don’t eat a lot of sweets, but these beignets were out of this world and totally worth it!
Visit Bonita Springs
Bonita Springs is a charming town on the southern end of the Lee County boundary that’s worth a visit. There is enough to do here to make the drive worthwhile. So, plan to spend a morning or an afternoon exploring.
- Shop at The Promenade at Bonita Bay, an open-air shopping centre with unique boutiques, art galleries, and elegant restaurants. On Saturdays, during the months of October through May, the shopping centre also hosts a Farmers’ Market
- Visit Riverside Park, a popular green space in the heart of downtown Bonita Springs. This park hosts community events like concerts, movies in the park, and festivals.
Join the Garden Tea Party at Shangri-La Springs
Shangri-La Springs is a historic hotel and organic spa located in the heart of Bonita Springs. The hotel has a restaurant on-site and a 4-acre organic garden open to the public.
You can tour the garden on your own or join the Garden Tea Party, which takes place every other Wednesday during the summer season or by appointment throughout the year. Tickets must be purchased in advance since the event is limited and fills up quickly.
The Garden Party begins with an educational tour of the garden led by a passionate Shangri-La Springs organic garden manager, Cecelia. She’ll share a ton of information about various herbs and even help you pick a few for your herbal tea. Guests then make their way to the restaurant to enjoy their freshly brewed tea with a selection of pastries and a light meal. We highly recommend trying their quiche – it’s absolutely divine! So airy yet very substantial!
Spend an Afternoon at Bonita Beach
Stretching along the coast of Little Hickory Island between Fort Myers Beach and Bonita Springs, Bonita Beach is a popular white sand beach to visit in the Fort Myers area.
The long stretch of beach can be accessed via multiple entry points along Hickory Blvd. We found the easiest access spot to be via Bonita Beach Park, where you’ll find plenty of free parking and other facilities, like restrooms, grills, and even a sand volleyball court.
If you plan to spend a few hours on the beach, pack an umbrella and plenty of drinks/snacks, as there are no chair/umbrella rentals and few food options nearby.
Get Outdoors in Manatee Park
Located about 15 min drive from Fort Myers Beach, Manatee Park is a great option if you want to get active in the area. The park is a popular spot for manatee viewing in the winter, but even in the warmer months, the park offers a nice outdoor escape.
Manatee viewing months are limited to December-March. This is when the manatees leave the cool Gulf of Mexico and head inland in search of warmer waters. To search for manatees, you can follow the Manatee Trail, a path that runs along the water. You’ll also find a number of signs and information boards here with lots of info about these peculiar creatures.
If you happen to be in Fort Myers during the offseason, you can still escape the heat of the summer months by getting on the Orange River in a kayak. Kayaks are available for rent at the Manatee Park gift shop on a first-come, first-serve basis. You can also reserve a Kayak with Manatee Kayaking Company.
Visit Lakes Regional Park
Lakes Park is another great green space to check out in Fort Myers. The park encompasses 300 acres of wetland, gardens, and several miles of trails and boardwalks. You can rent a boat to cruise around the lake. It’s a low-key spot for casual outings, a place for biking and a destination for locals and visitors on Wednesdays for their weekly Farmers Market.
Search for Wildlife at Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve
The Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve is a bit of a hidden gem in Fort Myers. We learned about it from a few locals’ recommendations who told us that we cannot leave the area without visiting the Slough (pronounced “slew”). This preserve covers 3,500 acres of wetland habitat and is home to otters, alligators, turtles, and migrating birds and butterflies.
The wildlife is easy to spot by following a 2km boardwalk trail that winds around the preserve. You’re free to explore on your own or join a short guided walk. Take your time following the boardwalk, and keep your eyes peeled on the trees and ponds around you.
Mornings and evenings are the best time to visit, that’s when the wildlife is at its most active. But we came in the afternoon and still managed to spot a number of turtles, a beautiful Heron, and a few marsh rabbits.
The Interpretive Centre, housed in the first certified green building in the county, is also worth a visit for some additional information about the preserve and its ecosystems.
Get Involved & Volunteer
We know that volunteering is not something many people do on their holidays. But, we find it a great way to get involved in the local community and do some good. This is especially important in a destination like Fort Myers, where the community has come together to rebuild and repair since Hurricane Ian.
During our visit, we joined a group of local volunteers for a mangrove cleanup with Keep Lee County Beautiful, an organization that has been dedicated to the cleaning, maintenance, and conservation of the area’s ecosystems since 2017. Over the years, the organization’s initiatives have led to native species plantings, the creation of sustainable community gardens, and litter removal in mangroves. The team of volunteers organized several events per year, including cleanup events and community improvement projects throughout South Florida.
It was a fun morning, a great excuse to get out on the water to explore the waterways of Fort Myers and lend a hand to a community that has gone through so much hardship.
Where to Stay in Fort Myers
Pink Shell Beach Resort
During our time in Fort Myers, we based ourselves on Fort Myers Beach at the Pink Shell Beach Resort. It’s one of the few resorts open in the area and a perfect spot to base yourself if you want to spend lots of time on the beach. With direct access to Fort Myers Beach and free beach chairs right at their doorstep, it’s the perfect setup to enjoy the beach without the crowds.
The recovery efforts at Pink Shell are still underway, and although some of their facilities are still not available, it didn’t really have an impact on our stay.
Pink Shell has evolved from a single cottage built in 1950 to an expansive 12-acre beach resort and marina. The resort is split up into 3 buildings, but only the Sanibel View Studios and Captiva Villas are currently available for reservations. We stayed in their 1-bedroom Captiva Villa, a self-catered apartment with a spacious bathroom, kitchen/living room area, a good size bedroom, a screened lanai overlooking the beach and another balcony facing East.
On-site, Jack’s restaurant serves a lunch buffet. There is also a fitness centre, an outdoor pool, and a few other facilities that will reopen as renovations continue.
We loved the decor at the hotel, the pink look made it feel cheerful and fun, exactly what you want when on a holiday. Aside from the great views and beachfront location, we were glad to learn that the Pink Shell Beach Resort & Marina is also dedicated to sustainability and environmental conservation in their operations.
As part of their efforts, they have achieved the highest “4 Palm” designation from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and have implemented various sustainability initiatives, including reducing single-use plastics, using energy-efficient heat pumps for pool heating, installing UV Air Scrubbers in air conditioning units, providing free shared transportation for associates, using furniture made from recycled plastics, and supporting organizations such as Captains for Clean Water, Kind Traveler, CROW Clinic, and Keep Lee County Beautiful. It’s definitely one of the most progressive and sustainably-minded hotels we have found in the region!
It’ll likely be a while before Fort Myers, FL is back to its former glory days, but that hasn’t stopped us from having a great time during our visit. And we hope that doesn’t discourage you from visiting either. Fort Myers has so much to explore and enjoy!
The recovery efforts in Fort Myers are well underway. Beaches are slowly but surely returning to their beautiful, natural state, local ecosystems are recovering, and businesses are bouncing back. The community of Fort Myers is resilient, with a welcoming spirit and gratitude for visitors’ support.
If there is one last thing we hope that you will take away is that the tourism industry is vital to this community. Also, support from visitors like you and us greatly impacts the region’s recovery and the livelihoods of the people that call it home.
Disclaimer: We visited Fort Myers as guests of the Lee County VCB, but as always, all opinions expressed in this article are our own.