Covering Estero Island and a slice of the marvelous Estero Bay, Fort Myers Beach is a beautiful beach escape about 15 miles from the Fort Myers River District.
There’s a good chance that my article will be little more than a snapshot of the immediate months following Hurricane Ian. In September 2022 this Category 4-plus storm brought winds of 150 mph for nine solid hours.
The recovery situation is fluid, with some features sadly gone forever, some getting back on their feet, and some that are totally new.
While a lot of manmade features have been affected, the beach itself remains as beautiful as ever. The same applies to the primeval mangroves of Estero Bay, which can be navigated on the magical, 190-mile Great Calusa Bay Paddling Trail.
1. Fort Myers Beach
Of course, no trip to Fort Myers Beach would be complete without at least one day luxuriating on the glorious sandy shoreline. When I compiled this list there were more than two-dozen public access points along this serpentine ribbon of soft white sand.
Most belong to the town, while Lee County maintains the likes of Bowditch Point Park and Crescent Beach Park.
Water sports—including swimming, kayaking, and parasailing—are enjoyed year-round at Fort Myers Beach. A lot of the beaches are shallow, with calm waters so are safe for young children.
Rounding everything off at the end of the day are the kind of sunsets that stop you in your tracks.
2. Times Square
Exposed to the full ferocity of Hurricane Ian in 2022, Times Square was in line for an overhaul when I came. In the recent past, this bustling, palm-shaded plaza was synonymous with downtown Fort Myers Beach, offering a blend of shopping, dining, and entertainment.
Ordinarily, live entertainment would take place at many spots, while street performers came out to entertain the masses strolling the main stretch.
There was also a weekly Sunset Celebration that took place here on Friday and Saturday evenings. Now, while a lot of those sights and sounds have gone, Times Square remains a linchpin, and may even be back to its best by the time you read this article.
3. Mound House
Overlooking Estero Bay, Mound House is a multifaceted attraction embodying thousands of years of natural and human history.
The name is no coincidence as Mound House was built on a 2,000-year-old Calusa Native American shell mound, or midden. The building dates back to 1906, and gained its current appearance in the 1920s.
Today Mound House is the departure point for eco paddling tours of Calusa Bay. On these peaceful backwaters, you’ll make your way through mangrove tunnels in a manner similar to the Calusa people many centuries ago.
Back at the house you’ll learn all about many aspects of their culture, and how they harnessed this coastal environment to fashion tools and weapons.
4. Lynn Hall Beach Park
Next to Times Square is Fort Myers Beach’s most cherished shorefront park. On the east side, Lynn Hall Beach Park is traced by the Fort Myers Fishing Pier.
Unfortunately, the hurricane had reduced this 560-foot structure to its concrete pilings when I came. A reconstruction was in the works, but there was no timeline when I went to press.
In the meantime, the beach itself was as lovely as ever, distinguished as one of the best places in town to see the sunset. The shore is remarkably flat here, with pretty lagoons among the sandbars when the tide is out.
Amenities were still a bit spartan at the time of writing, but that will surely change.
5. Fort Myers Beach Shrimp Festival
The premier annual festival in Fort Myers Beach is a seafood-themed celebration that goes back to 1959. This sprang from an earlier event called Beach Day, which featured the Blessing of the Shrimp Fleet at the beach pier.
More than 60 years later, the Fort Myers Beach Shrimp Festival falls on the second weekend in March and continues to be organized by the Lions Club.
A few of the things going on are a wonderful two-mile parade along Estero Avenue, a Queen’s Pageant, a big shrimp boil, art fair, 5k run (including kids’ run), and the traditional shrimp-eating contest.
6. Bowditch Point Park
At the northern tip of Estero Island, it’s hard for me to sum up the true wonder of this space. With water on three sides, Bowditch Point combines a preserve with a passive recreation park.
You could easily spend a whole day here, lazing on the beach, collecting shells, and lingering until late in the day for a romantic sunset. Just scanning the water from the beach you’re likely to see at least a few dolphins.
This is also the main entrance to Estero Bay, and it’s satisfying to watch vessels like the Fort Myers-Key West ferry zipping past.
Inland there’s a tangle of trails setting off from the parking area, although amenities like picnic shelters were still awaiting repair on my visit.
7. Paradise Parasail
It’s going to take more than a hurricane to shift Paradise Parasail, which has been a local fixture since 1982. At that time they were the first parasail company in Southwest Florida.
What struck me right away about Paradise Parasail was their attention to safety. For instance, they comply with the highest industry standards, and their chutes are flown only by US Coast Guard-licensed captains.
For you this means peace of mind as you float as high as 500 feet above the water. At this height you’ll be treated to the best view of Estero Island and its bay that money can buy.
8. Bonita Beach Dog Park
As a dog owner from cooler climes, the sight of an off-leash dog park on a sub-tropical beach simply blew me away. A Lee County facility, this awaits you just south of Lovers Key on a mangrove-edged tidal flat
Something to note about Bonita Beach Dog Park is that access is affected by the tides. When the water is up you’re going to have to wade through the water to get here.
Still, despite the remote location, there are amenities here including a rinse-off shower, and free parking. Occasionally you may see manatees in the bay, which is as surreal as it gets for me.
9. Lovers Key State Park
Across Big Carlos Pass is a magnificent coastal habitat, comprising beaches and unspoiled mangrove forests. Lovers Key was earmarked for development but thankfully was donated to the people of Florida instead.
Over 700 acres it’s the perfect place to spend the day if you love nature and outdoor activities. Many different bird species can be observed in the park, and bottlenose dolphins and manatees can be spotted in the bay.
The two-mile-long beach area is where visitors can participate in a wide range of water activities, such as swimming and shelling.
I’d recommend renting a kayak or canoe from the concessionaire, and taking all the time you need to explore the bayside habitats. Don’t be surprised if you’re joined by dolphins or manatees on this trip.
10. Take to the Water with Holiday Water Sports
With three locations in Fort Myers Beach, Holiday Water Sports is the local go-to for fun on the water. This company has been around since 1991 and is dedicated to customer service and safety.
You can enjoy a wide variety of water activities with the help of equipment rentals and tours from these folks.
Waverunners, sailboats, parasailing trips, and kayaks are available, along with safety equipment and full instruction. The company also offers nature tours highlighting the area’s bottlenose dolphins.
If I could choose just one thing to do, I’d rent a kayak or paddleboard and head off into the mangroves along the Great Calusa Blueway Paddling Trail.
11. Doc Ford’s Rum Bar and Grille Fort Myers Beach
In a louche bayfront setting on San Carlos Island you can dine at one of the area’s preferred eateries. The focus at Doc Ford’s Rum Bar and Grille is on locally caught seafood, with a Caribbean twist.
This being the Gulf Coast, I think any first-timer has to try the grouper. This comes with a macadamia nut crust and coconut sauce, or pan-seared seared in panko, with a honey-papaya-rum drizzle.
Other entrees that caught my eye were the mango-chipotle glazed salmon, the shrimp penne, and the classic seafood paella.
12. Fort Myers Beach Market
A sure sign that things were gradually returning to normal, this market had opened up when I was in Fort Myers Beach.
Held at Times Square, the Fort Myers Beach Market happens weekly on Fridays from 9am to 1pm. The person who runs this market previously operated markets at the Beach Baptist Church and Santini Plaza, both of which were badly affected by the hurricane.
On my visit, the market had more than 30 vendors, selling seasonal fresh produce, specialty foods, clothing, handmade crafts, candles, jewelry, and much more besides.
13. Fort Myers Beach Art Association and Gallery
The roots of this local art organization go back to 1951, when shows and fundraisers were held in a chickee hut.
The association moved into a purpose-built home in 1968, and this was sadly claimed by Hurricane Ian in 2022.
More than a building, the Fort Myers Beach Art Association was putting on shows at a variety of locations around FMB and Bonita Springs, while raising funds for a new home.
As well as these exhibitions, the FMBAA continues to host indoor and outdoor group painting sessions, as well as classes and workshops for everything from tonal drawing to landscape painting.
14. Matanzas Pass Preserve
Sixty acres of lush greenery makes up the Matanzas Pass Preserve facing inward on Estero Bay.
The park protects one of the area’s last remaining maritime oak hammock habitats. This gives way to mangroves on the water, and you can make your way through these habitats on boardwalks.
This is another handy launching point for the Great Calusa Blueway Paddling Trail, while there’s more than a mile of trails if you’re discovering the preserve on foot. Wherever you go, you’re sure to see a lot of colorful fiddler crabs.
When I was in town the Matanzas Pass Preserve was temporarily closed for repairs following the hurricane.
15. Lagerhead Cycleboats
If you want a party atmosphere while enjoying the astonishing beauty of Estero Bay, Lager Cycleboats will be right for you. Perfect for bachelorette parties or groups of friends catching up, this like a BYOB booze cruise.
The vessel has a bar in the middle, and everyone has to pedal to turn the paddlewheel at the back. From my experience, it’s a lot easier than it sounds.
Either way, you’ll be distracted by the company and the jaw-dropping scenery all around. While onboard, you get to enjoy refreshing beverages and music.