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Captiva Island Biking

Take to the Sands

Whether it's relaxing on the stark white sands of a deserted beach or paddleboarding along the Gulf of Mexico's placid waters, The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel offer something for everyone — with ample options to choose from. Lovers Key State Park is a gem of sparsely populated pristine beaches spanning four barrier islands, its waters a popular spot for bottlenose dolphins and West Indian manatees. Once accessible only by boat, it remains off the general radar. For drool-worthy sunsets, you can’t go wrong with a visit to Sanibel Island's Bowman’s beach or the white sands of Captiva Beach, on Sanibel's smaller sister island. If you're traveling with your pup, head over to Bonita Beach Dog Park, where dogs can roam leash-free.

Lighthouse Beach, also on Sanibel, is home to the 98-feet-tall Sanibel Lighthouse, a 19th-century iron skeleton tower still in use. This family-friendly spot also has a boardwalk trail and a fishing pier. Watersport enthusiasts should head to Sanibel Causeway's beaches, just after the tollbooth near the bridge connecting Sanibel Island and the mainland. Park your car directly on the beach, then hit the waters for windsurfing, kiteboarding, and paddleboarding.

The region's liveliest beach is undoubtedly the seven-mile stretch of Fort Myers Beach on Estero Island. Known for its white sands resembling the color and consistency of powdered sugar, much of the beach is within walking distance of shops, bars, and restaurants. Its gradually sloping ocean floor also prevents big waves, making it a popular spot for parents with small kids.

Rest your head at the affordable Fort Myers Beach Mango Street Inn,a colorful spot with six tropically inspired suites, each with its own kitchen and access to beach chairs, towels, and umbrellas. The beach itself is less than five minutes away on foot.

 


 

Go Shelling

Go Shelling!

The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel boast some of the best shelling in the country — not to mention worldwide. For millennia, the area's indigenous Calusa people have been collecting shells to use as tools. While these days it's more about beauty, shelling is undoubtedly one of the area's most popular recreational activities. There are more than 400 varieties of shells to search for: favorites include scallop shells, lightning whelks, and Florida conchs. The rarest of them all is the stunning brown-speckled Junonia, which typically only washes up after storms. Stick around long enough and you'll develop the infamous “Sanibel Stoop" or the “Captiva Crouch,” depending on which beaches you search. While some are more prolific than others at producing finds, it all depends on Mother Nature, winds, currents, and tides. Still, popular shelling spots include Blind Pass Beach, on Sanibel's north end, and neighboring Turner Beach, just across the bridge on Captiva.

For the best selection, head out around low tide in the early morning after nocturnal mollusks have had their dinner and discarded their shells. Otherwise, evening low tide and days/nights when there's either a new or full moon are also prime shelling times. Remember: It's against the law to touch or take shells still housing live creatures, but everything else is fair game.

To learn more about shells in general, be sure to visit Sanibel's Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum. Exhibits here highlight everything from shells around the world to Florida’s native shells and the Calusa, “The Original Shell People.” The museum hosts daily shell walks with one of their marine biologists and has an onsite store selling everything from shell necklaces to seahorse-inspired bookends.

 


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Explore Local Attractions

In addition to its amazing beaches, the Fort Myers & Sanibel region is also home to wonderful sites and attractions. The town of Fort Myers Beach is where you'll find Florida's own “Time Square,” a hub of restaurants, shops, and entertainment options. Browse sunglasses, board shorts, and longboards at the beloved West Coast Surf Shop; grab an a.m. bite at Heavenly Biscuit, a tiny porch-front cafe serving up a variety of breakfast sandwiches and lunchtime eats; or linger over a bowl of seafood paella at Caribbean-influenced Doc Ford's Rum Bar & Grille. Every Friday and Saturday evening, the local chamber hosts Time Square “Sunset Celebrations,” family gatherings with live bands and tasty treats, and runs activities such as sand-sculpting contests and a holiday boat parade.

The city of Fort Myers also has a wealth of restaurants to choose from, as well as art galleries to explore, most notably in its historic palm-lined River District. This is where you'll find the monthly First Friday Art Walk and The Butterfly Estates, its butterfly- and tropical-plant-filled glass conservatory.

Even if the sun is endless, be sure to take time off the beach to visit the one-time winter homes of American innovators (and good friends) Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. The neighboring Edison & Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers feature nine historic buildings — including both of their main residences — and more than 20 acres of botanical gardens with 500 varieties of unique flora. The properties are home to the Edison Botanic Research Laboratory, where Edison, Ford, and Harvey Firestone once sought a source of rubber that was U.S. based and quick to produce, and some of Ford's most iconic automobiles, including a 1914 Model T and a 1917 Ford Truck. The historic two-story Hibiscus House Bed & Breakfast just a few minutes away along palm-lined McGregor Boulevard, with a handful of bright and generously sized guestrooms — each one unique. Across the Caloosahatchee River in North Fort Myers, the family-friendly Shell Factory & Nature Park continues the shelling theme with a seemingly endless display of shell varieties. The complex is also home to a fun park with bumper boats, ziplining, and miniature golf, as well as a nature park where kids can get a close-up view of iguanas and alligators.

For a bit of local background, the Sanibel Historical Museum and Village celebrates the lives of the island's early settlers with a living history exhibit composed of seven structures, including a schoolhouse and tea room.

 


 

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Enjoy Some Ecotourism

The Greater Fort Myers & Sanibel area is ripe with incredible natural assets that go beyond beaches, including lush tropical preserves and unique wildlife. There's Sanibel's JN “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, 6,400 accessible acres best known for its world famous migratory bird populations. Kayak through freshwater marsh and beds of seagrass, keeping an eye out for the American crocodile and diamondback terrapins. The refuge is either home or a stopover point for approximately 245 bird species, including the flamingo-like Roseate Spoonbill and the shaggy and oh-so-fun-to-watch Reddish Egret. Another place to take up a paddle is Lee County's Great Calusa Blueway Paddling Trail, 190 miles of well-marked coastal and inland waters starting in Pine Island South and making its way south to the southern end of Estero Bay. It's a popular stretch for all levels of kayakers and canoers, as well as shore birds like seasonal white pelicans and snowy egrets, not to mention dolphins, seas turtles, and manatees. Even more wildlife resides at the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve, an over 3,500-acre wetland ecosystem with both an interpretive center and boardwalk trails.

During winter months, playful manatees (Florida's state marine mammal) head to the shallow waters of Manatee Park to frolic and feed in full sight. A boardwalk platform provides prime viewing from late December through February. To experience Florida's flora as it was in the early days before the presence of exotic plants, pay a visit to the 718-acre San Carlos Bay – Bunche Beach Preserve. It's another area particularly known for its sunsets. For hiking, try the Caloosahatchee Regional Park, where a series of short, interconnecting trails wind through pine flatwoods and wetlands.

Settle in evenings at the Fort Myers Beach Manatee Bay Inn, home to six poolside apartments, each one sporting island decor.

 


 

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Head Further Afield

For something even more removed, head to Cayo Costa State Park — just north of North Captiva Island. Accessible only by boat, it's nine miles of natural wilderness, including wide-open beaches (some perfect for shelling), mangrove swamps, and pine forests, all nearly void of visitors — meaning you can have an entire stretch of paradise all to yourself. Both snorkeling and swimming are prime activities, though you may end up sharing the water with a few dolphins and manatees.

 


 

Can't get enough of Fort Myers? Visit The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel for more information »