Some of the best things to do in Florida are in Fort Myers, Florida. When most people think of Florida, they likely envision beautiful white sandy beaches, palm trees swaying in the breeze, and perfectly manicured golf courses. Of course, you also can’t forget about the spring breakers and retirees.
10 Best Things to Do in Fort Myers Florida | A First Timer’s Guide
While much of them ring true for the entire state, if you’re heading to Fort Myers, you’ll also be able to accent these clichés with collecting sand dollars, fantastic birdwatching, and breathtaking sunsets. Isn’t about time you made those daydreams come true? Use this Fort Myers Florida Travel Guide and Itinerary to plan out the perfect vacation to Fort Myers and Sanibel Island.
Do You Need a Car in Fort Myers?
The Fort Myers area is fairly vast so plan on bringing your car or renting one when arriving at the airport. We’ve recently been using AutoSlash to find amazing deals on rental cars. Having a vehicle will make the trip much more convenient and enjoyable for you. You’ll also be able to see and do more things and trust us, there are tons of things to see and do around Fort Myers.
Disclaimer: We are not affiliated with AutoSlash and receive no money from you making a booking with them. We simply recommend it because it’s what we’ve been finding ourselves using.
10 Best Things to Do in Fort Myers
1. Relax on the Beach
The laidback beaches of Fort Myers are some of the most stunning in the world. When you include nearby Sanibel Island, there are over 50 miles of beaches and a wide array of water sports and activities—there’s something for everyone. The best place to start your trip is at Bowman’s Beach on Sanibel Island.
2. Enjoy a Sunset on the Gulf
Trust us, if you haven’t seen the big orange ball sink into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, then you’re missing out. The dramatic colors in the sky bouncing off the clouds and water will make you feel like you’re having some sort of spiritual experience, guaranteed.
There is an endless number of beaches that face west, so grab a bottle of wine and a blanket and head out. One of our favorites is Tuner Beach on Captiva Island. Afterward, head over to Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille where you’ll dine on fresh seafood in a fun atmosphere!
3. Get Wild With Nature
There are very few places in the US where nature and a large metropolitan area cohabitate so harmoniously. From just about anywhere along the coast you’ll have the opportunity to admire birds flocking across the sea and dolphins jumping in the water.
If you’d like to increase the odds a bit, book a wildlife tour with a reputable operator. We suggest Captiva Cruises or Good Time Charters—both are guaranteed to supply you with the wildlife adventure of a lifetime. Get ready to spot manatees, bottle-nosed dolphins, exotic birds, and go shelling.
Don’t forget to visit the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge where you can go on a drivable safari. The most common sightings include shorebirds and waterbirds, alligators, raccoons, marsh rabbits, and even the occasional bobcat. The refuge is closed on Fridays so plan accordingly.
4. Get Your Shell On
As you tour the soft sandy beaches you’ll most likely feel like you’re walking on eggshells. Don’t be nervous. That crunching sound is seashells. Shell-lovers pilgrimage to Sanibel Island’s Gulf Coast because it’s considered the best shelling spot in North America.
Shelling has become so popular here that the “Sanibel Stoop” is the latest dance move. OK, maybe not. However, it is the bent-at-the-waist stance that most shellers use to retrieve a seashell.
If you become obsessed with the “Sanibel Stoop,” then you may be interested in visiting the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum where you can learn everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the shells you’ve been collecting on the beach. Please keep in mind that it’s illegal to take live shells so be careful.
5. Shut Up and Fish
The best time to go offshore fishing down here is from March through June when the tarpon is migrating. Tarpon may be sighted from the shoreline near Boca Grande Pass, but the odds of catching one them from the sand is pretty slim. Instead, you may want to head out with Paradise Charters where you’ll have the chance for anything from sharks to snapper.
Inshore fishing is pretty much great all year-round. Popular species include redfish, catch snook, spotted seatrout, jack crevalle, sheepshead, mangrove snapper, and various other species. The best locations for inshore fishing are usually around mangrove-lined shorelines, open flats, bridges, beaches, docks, piers, and the many passes and inlets leading to the Gulf of Mexico.
6. Get Up Close and Personal with Nature
The west coast may have the Pacific coast trail but down here in Florida, they have the Great Calusa Blueway. This paddling trail is about 190-miles long. The marked route guides kayaks and canoes from Bonita Springs up to the Caloosahatchee River. Along the way, you’ll pass all kinds of flora and fauna, including manatees.
The highlight of your trip will probably be visiting the Mound Key Archaeological State Park. This island is only accessible by kayak or private boat. This site was once the capital city of the Calusa Indian tribe, the first Jesuit mission in the New World, the site of a Spanish Fort, and the first Jesuit mission in the New World.
What? You didn’t bring a kayak with you on the plane? No problem. Connect with Estero River Outfitter to rent a SUP, kayak, or canoe. There are dozens of great day trip routes. Head over to the Great Calusa Blueway website to download free maps.
7. Tour Historic Homes
Did you know that the Edison & Ford Winter Estates are among the 10 most visited historic homes in the US? Highlights of the tour include demonstrations using the equipment in Edison’s research lab, behind-the-scenes views of the estate buildings, and horticultural tours of the gardens.
Two of the most creative innovators in American history—Henry Ford and Thomas Edison—spent their winters in Fort Myers. They built two magnificent homes on a premier piece of real estate along the Caloosahatchee River. The Edison and Ford Winter Estates contain a historical museum and a 21-acre botanical garden on the adjacent sites of the winter homes.
8. Start and Finish Your Day in Style
Start your day at a coffee roastery where you’ll be treated to beans that were properly roasted. Our top choices are The Grind and Bennet’s Fresh Roast. Did I mention that Bennet’s also sells hand-cut from-scratch donuts?
Celebrate your adventurous day at a micro-brewery over a pint. We recommend “No.3 Craft Brews & Beer Bar” or Bury Me Brewing, which features graveyard style decorations and tap handles you need to see to believe. Make sure you try the Bag O’Bones, with its 6.0% ABV, toasty and nutty notes, and a nice hop bite.
9. Escape to the Islands
If the Fort Myers area seems a bit too busy, try heading out to the islands to escape it all. On Cabbage Key, Gasparilla, or North Captiva you’ll probably end up seeing more golf carts than cars. It’s all about enjoying life on these islands.
Adventurous travelers will head to Cayo Costa and the Cayo Costa State Park where you can rent one of the many small rustic wooden cabins. The cozy cabins are only steps from one of the most spectacular beaches in the US and are surrounded by native vegetation. Hopefully, you’re not afraid of snakes.
10. The Umpire Strikes Back
Consider yourself very lucky if you make it to Fort Myers during the springtime. The Minnesota Twins play in Hammond Stadium at Lee County Sports Complex and the Boston Red Sox play at JetBlue Park, just a few miles away.
Baseball fans will enjoy a visit to Terry Park Ball Field. Hall of Famers Jimmy Foxx, Bob Feller, Tris Speaker, Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, and Roberto Clemente are just a few of the great players that have graced the Terry Park Field. Make sure to check their events calendar to see who’s in the lineup.
Best Fort Myers Itinerary
The itinerary below is based on five days in the Fort Myers area. It is jam-packed with daily activities and is great for anyone looking for an active vacation. The itinerary starts near downtown Fort Myers and progressively moves outwards towards the islands. Keep in mind, you could easily spend a few days in each location it’s probably better to pick one or two spots so you have time to enjoy the sites. After all, you’re now on island time!
1 Day | Fort Myers Itinerary | Fort Myers
Morning: Kick off the day with coffee and a homemade donut at Bennett’s Fresh Roast in Fort Myers. Afterward, visit the Edison & Ford Winter Estates, located along the Caloosahatchee River. The estate features the Edison Botanic Research Laboratory, where Edison, Ford, and Firestone worked on creating a source of rubber that could be grown in the US. If you’re visiting between December and February, it’s worth going a bit further north to Manatee Park. Manatees are generally not present during the warm summer months so plan accordingly.
Day: Tour historic Fort Myers, also known as the River District on foot. Parking can be difficult, so make sure to check out this map ahead of time. Start your self guided tour at the Franklin Shops on First Street, or take a proper guided walking tour. Force yourself to get lost in the maze of alleyways, courtyards, narrow streets, and brick-lined sidewalks shrouded with palm trees. Now that you’ve built up an appetite, head over to nearby Veranda for a wonderfully fancy lunch, or Capone’s Coal Fired Pizza for something a little bit more relaxed. After lunch, go on a river cruise. We prefer the Caloosahatchee River Cruise with Pure Florida.
Night: Tonight, let’s reach new heights by warming up at the Firestone Sky Bar. Afterward, depending on the mood, enjoy live jazz at the Roadhouse Cafe or eat like a local at Lehne Burger in Cape Coral. If you’re finally ready to turn Margaritaville into a way of life, head on over to the Boat House Tiki Bar & Grill for dinner or a nightcap. It’s probably better to Uber at this point.
2 Day | Fort Myers Itinerary | Fort Myers Beach
Morning: Start the day with a quick dip at Fort Myers Beach on Estero Island. Afterward, head to Heavenly Biscuit and try their famous cinnamon rolls and biscuits. A good place to park is right around Times Square, the heart of Estero Island’s downtown—there’s tons of outdoor dining, street performers, and plenty of spots to sit down and relax. Take some extra rolls or bring additional snacks to Bowditch Point Regional Park to walk, swim, or sunbathe. There’s plenty of parking, toilet and shower facilities, and gorgeous soft powdery sand. This is not a beach for shelling though.
Day: Make your way to Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille. We recommend trying the Panamaniac’s pulled pork sandwich, the Yucatan shrimp tacos, or the deep water mahi-mahi, or all three! Afterward, walk off all those indulgences at the Matanzas Pass Preserve, where you can enjoy a quiet boardwalk trail walk. You’ll be sure to see some unique birds and other wildlife.
Night: Start the night at Fresh Catch Bistro, where you can take in one of the best sunsets in the world and enjoy a cocktail. Stay for a romantic dinner of fresh fish or head to The Doghouse for street food. If The Doghouse was exactly what you were looking for, then you’ve got to hit up The Beach Pub afterward, where you can enjoy the coldest beer in Fort Myers with your toes in the sand. Oh, by the way, it’s a dive bar so bring plenty of cash!
3 Day | Fort Myers Itinerary | Sanibel Island
Morning: Start your day at Over Easy Cafe on Sanibel Island with a Sanibel Shrimp Benedict. The dish features grilled shrimp on a toasted English muffin with two poached eggs and Hollandaise sauce. A very local treat! Cruise on over to J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge for a cruise through the park on a bicycle. Here you’re looking for exotic birds, alligators, and of course manatees.
Day: Enjoy a light lunch at Cip’s Place. They have indoor/outdoor dining and a lunch special—soup and half sandwich served with Cip’s Chips. Afterward, explore and discover the rich history of Sanibel up close and personal at the Sanibel Historical Museum & Village. Next, visit the Bailey Matthews National Shell Museum to view some of the most beautiful shells ever found from around the globe. It’s now time to use all this newly acquired knowledge at nearby Blind Pass Beach, and go shelling—however, any beach on Sanibel-Captiva Road will work.
Night: Celebrate the night at the Mad Hatter, a cozy, romantic restaurant on the beach. The food is marvelous and the sunset view is spectacular.
4 Day | Fort Myers Itinerary | Pine Island
Morning: Start your day with a delicious breakfast at Hart & Soul Cafe, a small local family-run diner. The food is scrumptious and the service here is quick and friendly.
Day: Afterward, you’ll be going on a road trip to Pine Island. Once there, rent a kayak with Carmen’s Kayaks to paddle all around Pine Island and Matlacha on the Calusa Blueway paddling trail. If you are hesitant to explore alone, no worries! They also provide guided tours. After kayaking, make sure to stop by the Randell Reseach Center along the Calusa Heritage Trail. It’s here that you’ll be able to tour this internationally significant site and learn about the Calusa culture and their environment.
Night: Two dinner options are depending on the mood. Either head to Tarpon Lodge to enjoy a 4-star waterfront restaurant or Bert’s Bar & Grill, a one-of-kind restaurant offering delicious and fresh local seafood, refreshing brews, beautiful views, and nightly entertainment.
5 Day | Fort Myers Itinerary | Boca Grande
Morning: Sometimes the most productive thing you can do is to relax. And why not? You’ve earned it! Chill on the beach today or charter a boat with Paradise Charters and head out to Cabbage Key. This “old Florida” island is where Jimmy Buffet was inspired to write “Cheeseburger in Paradise.”
If chartering a boat is a bit out of the budget, take your car to Boca Grande. More specifically, to Sandspur Beach which has good restrooms and picnic shelters. The town of Placida has a Publix so you can pick up some food and drinks here. There are several tolls along the way. Including a small fee to access the beach, but it’s all worth it.
Day: If that seems like a bit too much activity for the day, you can simply head to Pine Island and take the ferry to Cayo Costa. Bring a picnic lunch and prepare to relax in the sun all day. I know, it’s a tough job but somebody has to do it! An interesting spot in the area is Whidden’s Marina, one of the oldest marinas on Boca Grande. For those of us who are always want to go fishing and avoid all of those adult problems, they also provide fishing charters.
Night: Take a short stroll to the Boca Grande Bayou for a casual dinner at The Pink Elephant. Start the evening with a celebratory drink in the downstairs pub. Afterward, head to the outdoor patio for some regional comfort food.
Where to stay: Gasparilla Inn & Club or The Innlet on the Waterfront
Why Should I Visit Fort Myers?
If you’re looking for a quiet, classy vacation spot, then Fort Myers is for you. In Fort Myers, the craziness that you’d come across in Fort Lauderdale and Miami is replaced by a classy “old Florida” feeling and with family-friendly beaches.
The natural areas and state parks are second to none. There are dozens of nature and wildlife preserves sprinkled throughout the area. Most of the coastline is preserved land. Therefore, many beachgoers flock to Fort Myers Beach or one of the outlying islands. The charming downtown and numerous attractions make it the perfect vacation destination.
Have you visited the Fort Myers region? Tell us about your experience in the comments section below.