Before the 1990s there were just a few dozen people living in Estero. At that time this was a rural village about halfway between Naples and Fort Myers.
Some three decades later there are almost 40,000 people here. So I don’t need to tell you that a lot of the local attractions are modern.
That goes for the Hertz Arena, the Coconut Point lifestyle center, and Miromar Outlets, a multi-award winning outlet mall.
All the same, there’s history in Estero. In the 1890s the utopian Koreshan Unity cult established a community here. Their settlement is now preserved as a state historic site.
Out in Estero Bay to the west are mounds built over hundreds of years by the Native American Calusa People who lived in the area for more than a millennium.
1. Koreshan State Historic Site
This remarkable place was once the home of a religious group known as the Koreshans. Noted for their curious beliefs, which included a concave hollow Earth, the sect was founded in New York State more than 150 years ago.
Koreshan State Historic Site preserves their last colony, established in the 1890s and composed of 11 restored historic buildings.
In addition to its unique history, the park is beautiful, with tall old oaks along the Estero River. I’ve also seen a lot of wildlife here, including gators, gopher tortoises, bobcats, and American river otters.
As well as native plants, there are a lot of exotic species that were planted in the days of the colony. One is a large stand of bamboo, brought here from the Edison and Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers.
2. Estero River Outfitters
The village first grew up on the banks of Estero River in the 1880s. So, paddling along this spring-fed watercourse is like a trip back in time.
With a lazy current, the river flows beneath the crooked and mossy boughs of mature live oak trees. These give way to mangroves as you approach Estero Bay. Wildlife abounds here. Exploring Estero Bay, I’ve seen manatees, dolphins and no lack of alligators and turtles.
Located by Koreshan State Historic Site, Estero River Outfitters has been in business since 1977. This company sells all kinds of outdoor equipment, from fishing bait to paddle gear. You can rent canoes, kayaks and paddle boards for a truly memorable trip down the river.
3. Miromar Outlets
One of the premier outlet malls in Southwest Florida, this place has earned national recognition ever since it opened in the early 00s.
Even though Miromar Outlets is an open-air mall, it is laid out with the Florida climate in mind. The buildings are set close together, creating a lot of shade. This is enhanced by palms, shrubs, and numerous fountains with koi and turtles.
There are outlets for scores of brands, including Banana Republic, Calvin Klein, New Balance, Old Navy, Polo Ralph Lauren, Skechers, Levi’s, Michael Kors, the list goes on and on.
Plan to stay for lunch or dinner, as there’s a ton of full-service dining options, among them a branch of Ford’s Garage.
4. Hertz Arena
A venue for big indoor events in Estero, the Hertz Arena has had a few different names since opening in 1998.
It was purpose-built for the ECHL’s Florida Everblades, who are still the main tenant. When I wrote this article the Everblades had just won the playoffs and lifted the Kelly Cup. So let me just say, Go Blades.
The Hertz Arena seats almost 7,200 for hockey games, but has a variety of other uses. First up, this is one of Southwest Florida’s destinations for arena concerts. A few of the performers over the last 25+ years are Elton John, Cher, Bob Seger, and Willie Nelson.
In terms of comedy and family entertainment, some recent standouts include WWE shows, Kevin Hart, Cirque du Soleil, Stars on Ice, and Jeff Dunham.
5. Coconut Point Mall
With more than 125 stores, Coconut Point Mall is an upscale lifestyle center resembling a posh downtown.
The complex is partly built around a lake, and there’s a boardwalk, palm-lined sidewalks, and European-style arcades.
What I love about Coconut Point is that it’s made for strolling. You can see where your curiosity takes you, popping inside stores and choosing a spot for lunch.
Some of the brands at this center are Dillard’s, Sephora, Barnes & Noble, Target, Micharl Kors, Apple, Lovesac, J.Crew, and Francesca’s.
Food-wise your options run from casual dining spots like Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse and The Cheesecake Factory to Five Guys and Panera Bread.
6. Koreshan State Park Farmers’ Market
On Sunday mornings there’s a small but worthwhile farmers’ market at Koreshan State Historic Site. This takes place all year round rain or shine, and had a healthy lineup of vendors when I stopped by.
You can shop here for seasonal produce, flowers, fresh breads, oils, preserves, herbs, raw honey, salsas, and a variety of locally made crafts.
This is one of three farmers’ markets in Estero. On Saturday mornings you’ll find vendors at Miromar Outlets, and there’s a market at Coconut Point on Thursdays, October through April.
7. Mound Key Archaeological State Park
By a quirk of geography, this property is officially in Estero but requires a paddling trip. In Estero you can set off from Koreshan State Park and make your way into Estero Bay.
Awaiting you at Mound Key Archaeological State Park is an island with ceremonial mounds left behind by the Native American Calusa People.
This place was a key gathering place for this culture from around 2,000 years ago up to the arrival of the first Spanish in the 16th century.
The monuments are up to 30 feet tall, and rise among beautiful mangroves. You can go ashore to walk an interpretive trail set up by Koreshan State park.
8. Estero Community Park
Estero’s main public park is on 60 acres in the heart of the village. To go with a wealth of amenities the park is home to the Estero Recreation Center, and the Estero Historical Society which I’ll talk about below.
True to its name, the park is a stellar community resource, with an excellent playground and the fenced K-9 Corral Dog Park. There are three sizable lakes in the park, with waterside pavilions, and paved trails linking the various amenities.
A real highlight for me is the 18-hole disc golf course. Well looked after and with a mix of wooded holes and open ground, this is hands-down one of the best in Southwest Florida.
9. Estero Historical Society
A pair of century-old buildings in the northeast corner of Estero Community Park help bring the village’s distant past to life.
The Estero Historical Society is based in a quaint old cottage and a one-room schoolhouse from 1904. To illustrate the pace of change in the area, these two structures used to be on Highland Avenue.
They were saved from demolition some 20 years ago and relocated to the park. Both feature historically accurate furnishings, as well as Estero-specific artifacts. On show when I took a look was historical clothing, quilts, household tools, and plenty of photographs.
I also caught an enlightening talk on the history of the Koreshan Unity Settlement not long ago. The gift shop is a treat too, with handmade jewelry, art, toys, decorative items, and even mango chutney in season.
10. Congo River Golf
A couple of minutes south on US 41 there’s a location for this Florida-wide chain of adventure golf centers.
The first thing that sprang to my mind at Congo River Golf was Indiana Jones. The 18-hole course is like something from a movie set.
There are caves, rocky mountaintops, waterfalls, and tropical vegetation all around. And while superior putting skills will give you a big advantage, there are fun side-challenges all the way.
To spice things up you can spin a wheel on several holes, giving you forfeits. For example, I had to use the handle of my putter, and needless to say I posted a high score.
Kids can also stay engaged with the help of a scavenger hunt, and live gators that you can feed.
11. Estero River Scrub – Estero Bay Preserve State Park
Bordering the Estero River on the west side of the village is a 10,000-acre state park, encompassing the marshes, islands and open water of Estero Bay.
Most of the state park can only be approached from the water. Still, there’s an accessible parcel of flatwoods and tidal marsh with a trailhead at the western end of Broadway in Estero.
The main loop extends north from here for almost five miles, but you can keep things shorter on the Blue Trail, which heads south down to the riverbank. My one piece of advice is to visit after an extended dry period, as this landscape is often flooded.
When I wrote this list, the trails were temporarily out of action following Hurricane Ian.
12. Stoneybrook Golf Club
At more than 7,300 yards, Stoneybrook Golf Club in Estero has one of the longest courses in Florida.
This par-72 is known for its serene natural setting and ample lakes, and has updated its tees, fairways and greens over the last decade.
There are also seven sets of tees. So for those who choose to play from the shortest, the course’s length is significantly reduced.
Despite the length, I found the open fairways and enormous greens very forgiving on my round. This is surely one of the reasons it’s rated as “beginner friendly” by the National Golf Course Owners Association.
13. Old Corkscrew Golf Course
If you’re willing to pay a premium, Estero also boasts one of the best golf courses in Southwest Florida.
Like Stoneybrook, Old Corkscrew Golf Course is unusually long, at 7,400 yards from the tips. Where this Jack Nicklaus-designed course differs is that it’s also tough.
Trimmed by tall pines and water hazards, the fairways are narrow from the tee. They also tend to taper as you get closer to the greens, which are small.
Getting to the green was just half the challenge for me. These have unexpected elevation changes that may add to your score. At any rate the location is sublime.
This is an Audubon International Silver Signature Sanctuary, with waterbirds like anhingas, and no lack of gators lurking in the lakes.
14. Coconut Point Art Festival
For almost 20 years, Coconut Point’s lakes and boardwalks have served as the venue for a major art festival.
Attracting thousands of visitors, this event features the work of more than 200 exhibitors. Right up my alley, it’s a great opportunity to purchase something completely unique.
There’s photography, sculpture, painting, pottery, jewelry, prints, home decor, glasswork and more. The booths are lined up in two long rows, and some of the exhibitors also demonstrate their craft in front of you.
The year I compiled this list, the event took place on the third weekend of February.
15. Ford’s Garage
Part of a Ford-branded national chain, this theme restaurant at Miromar Outlets is designed like a 20th-century automobile garage/service station..
A place to go for prime burgers and craft beer, Ford’s Garage has a Prohibition-era vibe. In a Mediterranean Revival-style building, this spot has a hammered copper bar, brickwork, and dark hardwood furniture.
I like how deep the theming goes—even the bathroom sinks are made from tires, while the faucets are like gas handles. There’s also a replica Model T in the middle of the restaurant, elevated like it’s about to be fixed.
Don’t worry, it’s much cleaner than a working garage. Some picks from my visit were the BBQ Brisket Burger, the Blackened Salmon, and the Estate Burger with gouda and red onion marmalade.