Located in southwest Florida’s Lee County, Fort Myers is one of the largest tourist destinations and economic centers in the region.
At the time of the last census, the city had a population of nearly 80,000 residents. It was named after a West Point graduate who served the Florida Militia with distinction during the Seminole and Mexican American Wars.
Golf, fishing and wildlife viewing are a few of the area’s most popular activities, and for those who come for the beaches, there are more options than you’ll know what to do with.
Below are 15 things to do in and around Fort Myers, Florida.
1. J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge
Comprised of nearly 8,000 acres, J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge was named after a conservationist and political activist and is located on Sanibel Island just off the beach from Fort Meyers.
The refuge’s grounds cover nearly half of the island and are home to a diverse mangrove forest environment that’s full of alligators, ospreys, and countless species of fish and crustaceans that find protection in the dense mangrove roots.
To enter the park, visitors must pay an inexpensive per-vehicle entry fee, and most guests like to stop at the visitor’s education center before heading out into the wild.
The park’s hours vary with the seasons, so check online before you go.
2. Spring Training
When much of the rest of the country is caught in winter’s icy grip, professional baseball teams from the Midwest and northeast flock to Florida to get their practice in before the regular season starts.
The Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins are a few notables that make their appearance every spring; for many visitors, catching a few spring training games is the perfect way to spend a sunny afternoon.
Unlike most professional baseball stadiums, tickets won’t drain your savings account, and the hotdogs, sodas, and beer are noticeably cheaper too.
The facilities are top-notch, and most guests’ experiences far exceed their expectations.
3. Edison and Ford Winter Estates
In the early 20th century, much of Florida’s stunning coastline was the exclusive domain of the rich and famous from all over the country.
Located on McGregor Boulevard, the winter estates of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford are two of Fort Myers’ most popular historical attractions and give visitors a unique glimpse into the lives of ultra-wealthy high-rollers more than a century ago.
Both homes are open to professional and self-guided tours, and some areas have been turned into museums, which are full of interesting items relating to the lives of these famous men and their families.
Though full-service tours aren’t cheap, there are less expensive options to suit every interest and budget.
4. Manatee Park
With the exception of the iconic American alligator, no creature is more associated with the Sunshine State than the lovable manatee.
These slow moving, vegetarian behemoths are pretty adorable, and there’s no better place to see them in their natural environment than at Manatee Park.
The park lies near the warm water discharge from a Florida Power and Light electricity generating station. When the water is cool during the winter months, it really draws the manatees.
Park admission is free, though there’s a small parking charge for each vehicle regardless of the number of occupants.
Visiting between December and March is your best bet for seeing these amazing animals.
5. IMAG History and Science Center
Located on Cranford Avenue in Fort Myers, the IMAG History and Science Center includes dozens of interactive exhibits relating to culture, technology, science, and the natural world.
For children, the center’s hands-on activities are engaging, entertaining, and educational; they’ll even have the opportunity to touch a variety of marine animals that call the warm coastal waters around Florida home.
The center is closed on Mondays, and most guests find that the price of admission is good value based on the facilities, exhibits, and activities.
If you’d like to miss the crowds, try visiting first thing in the morning.
6. Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge
Located on Florida’s southwest coast near Fort Myers, the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge is thought by many biologists to be the last viable breeding colony of Florida panthers in the eastern portion of the country.
The refuge has been around nearly three decades, and though most visitors don’t get a glimpse of the elusive cats, it’s still a fascinating place to visit.
The visitor’s center is full of exhibits and information about the lives and habits of these apex predators, and there are a variety of paths winding their way through the refuge that are perfect for a hike.
Guided tours are available as well, but you’ll need to sign up in advance.
7. Calusa Nature Center and Planetarium
Located on Ortiz Avenue in Fort Myers, the Calusa Nature Center and Planetarium is home to a variety of exhibits and activities that can keep visitors occupied for hours.
Featuring an aviary, museum, and easily walkable nature trails, finding fun and educational things to do won’t be a problem, even for those traveling with children.
The center’s staff offer daily programs and demonstrations, and the planetarium is the perfect escape destination for those hot summer days when the weather outside is less than inviting.
The center is open every day of the week, though it may close earlier than usual during the rainy season.
8. Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve
At nearly 3,500 acres, Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve is big by any standards. One of the area’s most well-preserved wetland habitats, it’s home to a vast variety of plant and animal species.
The preserve’s interpretive visitor center is a great place to start, as it’s full of interesting historical and environmental information that’ll be the perfect introduction to the things you’re about to see.
During the rainy late summer and early fall months, the preserve fills with water up to a few feet deep, but it’s still possible to take a tour on the raised wooden boardwalk-style trails.
9. Murder Mystery Dinner Train
Most tourist attractions claim to be one-of-a-kind, but usually, they’re one of many.
The Murder Mystery Dinner train, on the other hand, is indeed a unique attraction that’s popular with those looking for an experience with a twist.
The staged murder mystery and dinner takes place over a 40-mile train trip that begins and ends at Colonial Station in Fort Myers.
Guests dine in elegance and channel their inner Sherlock Holmes as they attempt to decipher clues that may lead them to the guilty party.
Mystery shows are changed frequently to keep repeat customers guessing, and special holiday events are offered as well.
10. Defy Fort Meyers
Billed as one of the most unique recreation destinations in the country, Defy Fort Myers is a wonderland place for kids and adults alike and is chockfull of trampolines, foam pits, dodge ball courts, and even trapezes.
They’re located on Dynasty Drive in town, and though it’s not the world’s cheapest attraction, it’s definitely one of the most exhilarating.
The park often runs specials which can reduce the standard admission costs significantly, so check online before making a special trip.
For those traveling with kids during the summer school break, they also offer a variety of safe programs, led by qualified and enthusiastic staff, and full of fun group activities – and plenty of positive reinforcement too.
11. Muscle Car City
Located on the Tamiami Trail in nearby Punta Gorda, Muscle Car City is open every day except Monday and is part museum and part vintage car dealership.
The facility’s collection started small, but after nearly four decades, it has reached impressive proportions. It’s now one of the state’s most extensive collections of General Motors muscle cars, some of which date back nearly 70 years.
Though some of the cars are for sale, all that chrome and restoration work doesn’t come cheap, so be prepared to head home in the same ratty Dodge Omni that you came in.
Children up to 12 only pay half price, and there’s a popular restaurant on site too.
12. Four Mile Cove Ecological Preserve
Four Mile Cove Ecological Preserve is located in nearby Cape Coral and offers a variety of activity options for outdoor and history-minded travelers.
For those interested in burning some calories and taking to the waterways, it’s possible to rent kayaks. If walking is more your speed, there’s an elevated boardwalk leading to some stunning viewing areas overlooking the river.
The preserve’s entrance is behind a local mall, so it’s a bit off the beaten path, which means it doesn’t get the tourist traffic that other attractions do.
There’s a poignant memorial to the soldiers who fought on Iwo Jima as well. Don’t forget a good hat and sunglasses.
13. Koreshan State Historic Site
Named after a religious group from Chicago that believed in strong community and the abolishment of money, Koreshan State Historic Park includes more than ten original structures, many of them dating back nearly 150 years.
Though the site’s history is fascinating, it’s also a favorite destination for outdoor lovers; camping, fishing, and boating are among its most popular activities.
The site consists of nearly 200 acres, and though it’s not the utopia that its founders envisioned, it’s a great place to spend a few morning or afternoon hours appreciating nature.
The site also features a Sunday farmers market, and tours guided by rangers are available as well.
14. Mound Key State Park
Millennia before it was colonized by settlers of European descent, Florida was home to a variety of Native American people, who eked out their livings along the coast, mangrove forests, and dense inland swamps.
Mound Key is only accessible by boat, and though there aren’t any facilities or amenities, there are markers along the trails that offer interesting historic information.
The park’s mounds are thought to be ceremonial sites made by the Calusa Indians; they were first discovered in the 16th century when the area was explored by Spanish treasure hunters.
The park is most easily reached by boat from the aforementioned Koreshan State Historic Site.
15. Cayo Costa Beach
Though there’s no shortage of historical and cultural sites in the Fort Myers area, for many visitors, it’s all about the beaches.
Located on a barrier island that boasts nearly ten miles of pristine beach, Cayo Costa Beach isn’t the most easily reached of Fort Myers beaches, but that’s one of the things that makes it such a gem.
A favorite destination for shell collectors, it’s not uncommon to see dolphins offshore too.
The island isn’t accessible by car, so you’ll need to pick up a ferry at nearby Jensen’s Marina. If you’d like to spend more than a day, it’s possible to camp or rent a basic cabin without breaking the bank.