Fort Myers and Sanibel Island: Beyond the Beaches

    If your family is traveling to Southwest Florida, you're in for a treat. Find out what Fort Myers and Sanibel Island have to offer beyond the beaches.

With brilliant white sands and calm waters in varying shades of blue, Fort Myers and Sanibel Island radiate beauty, so it’s no surprise they’re popular beach destinations in southwest Florida. If the time comes when you’ve had enough soaking in the sun and are ready for a bit more activity, there’s plenty more to see and do in the area.

Must-See Attractions in the Fort Myers Area

Edison & Ford Winter Estates, Fort Myers

While vacationing, revisit a bit of history at the Edison & Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers. Take a peek into the private lives of inventors Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, who were friends as well as neighbors – they bought adjoining properties, where they built their winter homes. You and your family may freely roam the 20 combined acres. Walk through the tropical gardens before browsing hundreds of inventions, artifacts and special exhibits on display in the Edison Botanic Research Laboratory and the newly restored houses of Ford and Edison. Who knows? You may even become inspired to invent something new and extraordinary.

J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island

After driving about 45 minutes from Southwest Florida International Airport, you’ll see we aren’t the only species attracted to the beauty of southwest Florida. The area hosts more than 220 species of migratory birds, which travelers may spot within the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island. A $5 fee is assessed for cars traveling Wildlife Drive. The refuge is also part of the largest undeveloped mangrove system in the United States, making it ripe for kayaking, canoeing or stand-up paddling on your own or with a guide. If you’d rather stay on solid ground, check out the wildlife from trails such as the 4-mile, round-trip Indigo Trail. Along the way, look out for raccoons, alligators, marsh rabbits and, if you’re lucky, otters and bobcats.

Wildlife Refuge


Seashells and Paddling

Sanibel Island is known worldwide for its amazing shelling — there are about 400 varieties found on the island’s beaches — so everyone in the family can choose his or her favorites as souvenirs. For a bit more activity, rent a canoe or kayak and paddle some of the 190-mile Great Calusa Blueway Paddling Trail that weaves through the coastal waters around Fort Myers and Sanibel Island. From your vantage point atop the water, watch for docile, curious manatees under the water’s surface or playful dolphins.


See Sanibel Island Like a Local

Without a single stoplight and with only about 7,000 year-round residents, Sanibel Island has a small-town feel that makes travelers feel at ease. Live like a local by ditching your watch and adjusting to island time, meaning no rushing about. Cast a line into the calm waters and try your luck at catching dinner, rent a bike or scooter and ride around the island, or just head to the beach. Watch as the sun sets, which is always a cause for celebration on Florida’s gulf coast, and you may catch the elusive green flash as the sun drops into the Gulf of Mexico. In the evening, the sky’s stars seem to shine a little brighter on Sanibel. With less city light pollution, you and the whole family can easily spot constellations.

Start your morning on Sanibel Island with coffee and fresh donuts at Bailey’s General Store, which first opened its doors to islanders and visitors in 1899. While you’re there, pick up ingredients for a beach picnic. After a day of fun, venture to the Lazy Flamingo and order its renowned grouper sandwich.


Plan a Day Trip to the Everglades

Drive just a little more than an hour south from Fort Myers or Sanibel Island, and you’ll reach the Florida Everglades. The easiest entry point into the wilds of the Everglades is Big Cypress National Preserve, via Alligator Alley. It’s really Interstate Highway 75, but locals call it Alligator Alley because alligators are frequently spotted along the roadside. Hike any of the national preserve’s trails, watch birds and wildlife, or paddle the waterways. Try to spot alligators, river otters, bobcats, black bears and the elusive Florida panther. National Park Service ranger-led programs are also available, including a 15-minute boardwalk talk, four- to five-hour canoe trips, one- to eight-mile hikes and night sky programs. For a more adrenaline-pumping experience in the Everglades, opt for an airboat ride. Keep an eye out for gators as you and your family ride atop the water.

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About the Author

Susan B. Barnes, aka travlin’ girl, is a travel writer who enjoys exploring the world as much as her own Florida backyard and sharing discoveries with her readers. Follow her travels online on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.