Florida's Florida. The gorgeous stretch of sand across San Carlos and Estero Bays that is Fort Myers Beach calls to folks looking to take a load off and stay awhile. Unlike the gridlocked hustle of sister cities Tampa and Miami, Fort Myers Beach is the gem on the Gulf that still has the magic of a Florida long forgotten elsewhere. It's the kind of view you're convinced you need a passport to see until the windows of the car roll down crossing over the Matanzas Pass Bridge onto Estero Blvd. In the mid-morning sun, the salted fresh scent wakes you up to the kind of American island you really can still find.
Here on Fort Myers Beach on Estero Island in Southwest Florida, there are as many families in the seven-mile surf as there are couples, newlyweds to retirees. We spent a long weekend at the Pink Shell Beach Resort in September 2019, and planned your perfect day in Fort Myers at the best beaches and locations we could fit into a long weekend.
There are always things to do here for day trips on the surrounding islands of Sanibel Island and Captiva Island, this is how we'd spend it!
Start your morning on the water
Island hopping, shelling, and eco-tours
You're here in Florida, grab that lovely continental Pink Shell Resort breakfast and get outside. If you love deep sea fishing, book one of the local fishing charters in town to catch your own dinner. Not in the mood to fish? Book a trip with EcoVenture Florida where Captain Matt Hetrick and First Mate Laura Dimmer will guide you through a true island hopping adventure.
We coasted around the famous Sanibel Lighthouse and anchored at our own private little beach for shelling on the gorgeous Costa Cayo, a barrier island state park. The seashells are shades of reds and pinks, and some are bigger than two hands.
If you thought you needed to leave America to find white sand beaches and clear crystal water year-round, it's all right here in the United States' coastline on the Gulf of Mexico. We saw dolphins, manatees, fevers of rays, and one incredible sea turtle in our time with Captain Matt, but he asked me to say that seeing all those in one day is incredibly lucky. Ol' Captain Matt is a modest guy.
Book an additional stop with him to Cabbage Key Inn and Restaurant where you can sink your teeth into the cheeseburger that's rumored to have inspired Jimmy Buffett's "Cheeseburger in Paradise." On the way home, you'll pass old fishing shacks nearly decimated by hurricanes over the last decade and those rebuilt ones are still used today.
Water sports, parasailing, and paddle boarding
If you're not in the mood for a boat ride, head out to the Pink Shell's beach resort zone where you can start your morning ocean kayaking or paddle boarding in the gentle surf. The serene view from the room each morning is all the convincing you need to feel the mild saltwater on your toes. Take a short waverunner course and grab the jet ski views of the boardwalk from the ocean. Bike around Lovers Key State Park, the one place every guest at the resort raved about. We didn't get to make it here, but learned it's a popular spot for lovers of all ages to take sweet photos.
Or skip the coffee and start your morning off on a bold foot with parasailing. It was truly the jolt of natural caffeine I needed on my final morning in town! I can hear you now, "I'd never...," and to that I say, if your body can handle it, just try it!
Stop in town for the afternoon
Downtown Fort Myers
Once you've had your morning dose of sun, head into town to visit downtown Fort Myers. Lee County has everything from art walks to music festivals on these streets full of unique shops that combine vintage charm with the Gulf Coast. Take in the farmers markets for luscious Florida citrus. The Edison & Ford Winter Estates are a must-see for any kind of traveler, particularly those botanical garden lovers!
These vacation homes of first Thomas Edison's family, followed by Henry Ford's family later, are preserved with the original knickknacks and science center, including the working laboratory.
Mina Edison is responsible for the exotic and blossoming flora on the estates and she is the true patron saint of Fort Myers. The history of the city, once a popular cattlemen stop, begins with the Edisons arriving and rebuilding the dock. The Royal Palms lining the Edison's estate roads are just one of the legacies left behind.
You'll need lunch, so stop into Ford's Garage for over 180 craft beer selections, a gorgeous penny backdrop to all those taps, and the Jiffy Burger. This beauty is loaded with applewood smoked bacon and peanut butter on a bun so buttery, you'll want to make brioche buns at home. Seriously.
Oh, and you'll get a kick out of the bathrooms.
Whether you love craft beer or not, Point Ybel Brewing Company is a necessary stop on your drive back to the beach. The rotating tap list is clean and refreshing, with flavors that make sense.
You won't drink a fancy brew here for the hell of it, head brewer Jordan Weisberg prides himself on quality. A serious guy when it comes to beer, his personality comes through with plays on the new hard seltzer trend (we tried the Hard Pumpkin variety) and his list of sours boasts fruit like blackberries and guava.
When the sun goes down in Ft. Myers Beach
Come to Fort Myers Beach during late September (September 18-27, 2020, to be exact!) and you'll rub elbows with them in town at the local watering holes, upscale and down home all the same. Your favorite Nashville radio hits aren't always what they seem and by that we mean, the songwriters themselves aren't performing your most-loved radio tunes. That's not to say they aren't great. What I mean is that here, for essentially free, you'll meet the folks who wrote those songs. And if you're wondering if you can tell the difference when they sing 'em, the answer is yes. Like most everything here in Fort Myers Beach, the nightlife and the live music feel different.
The 7th annual Island Hopper Songwriter Fest takes place on Captiva Island from September 18-20, 2020. Catch the action in downtown Fort Myers from September 21-24, 2019. Finally, the festival will close with headliners to be announced in Fort Myers Beach from September 25-27, 2020. The unfussy, come-one-come-all attitude of Fort Myers Beach is showcased best for 10 days every year with over 80 artists playing more than 100 shows.
The festival culminates every year at the Pink Shell Resort for a private pool party with two major country headliners. This year, we saw Jerrod Niemann and Rodney Atkins blow the crowd away with iconic hits like, "Farmer's Daughter." The 2020 headliners are still under wraps, but be on the look out for that announcement in August.
Oceanside dinners and backyard bayside views
If you're in the mood for a rowdy night on the boardwalk, stop into Nervous Nellie's for fishbowl drinks bigger than your face.
There's no shortage of family-friendly restaurants in Fort Myers Beach and if you love seafood as much as I do, you'll find yourself ordering new fish cooked six ways to Sunday all over the island. Cabañas Beach Bar & Grille, Matanzas on the Bay, Pinchers, and PierSide Grill are venues for Island Hopper, but also great restaurants in their own right.
If fine dining is your fancy, DiamondHead Beach Resort's revamped Cōste Island Cuisine has the romantic sunset view lovers will enjoy.
Fort Myers & Sanibel Island
If you're looking to escape somewhere gorgeously serene with more activities than you could possibly fit into one week, Fort Myers Beach is the spot for you. This barrier island gem is budget-friendly, pet-friendly, and impossibly clean, a nod to the high eco-standards Lee County holds itself to.
The next time you want to escape somewhere south, just remember that you don't need to go as far as Key West to find white sand perfection. Fort Myers Beach is Florida's Florida, the kind you're looking for.