Located in southwest Florida’s Lee County, Fort Myers has always been a place close to my heart. As a person who keeps coming back to this vibrant city, I can proudly say that it is one of the largest tourist destinations and economic centers in our region.
When the last census was conducted, I remember learning that Fort Myers was home to nearly 80,000 residents. It’s incredible to see how the city has grown and flourished over the years.
The city’s name is derived from a remarkable individual—a West Point graduate who served the Florida Militia with great distinction during both the Seminole and Mexican American Wars. It’s fascinating to think about the history and heritage that are woven into the fabric of our community.
Visiting Fort Myers, I have come to appreciate the abundance of activities available to us. Whether it’s golfing, fishing, or simply enjoying the breathtaking wildlife, there is always something to captivate our attention. But it’s the beaches that truly steal the show. With so many options to choose from, it can be overwhelming to decide which one to explore on any given day.
To help fellow residents and visitors alike, I have compiled a list of 15 must-try experiences in and around Fort Myers, Florida. These recommendations highlight the diverse range of attractions that our city has to offer, ensuring that there is something for everyone to enjoy.
1. J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge
I recently had the incredible opportunity to explore J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, a vast sanctuary spanning nearly 8,000 acres. It was named after a remarkable conservationist and political activist, and it is nestled on Sanibel Island, just a stone’s throw away from the shores of Fort Myers.
As I ventured into the refuge, I couldn’t help but marvel at the sheer expanse of the grounds, which encompassed almost half of the entire island. The refuge boasted a captivating and diverse ecosystem dominated by a lush mangrove forest. These enchanting mangroves provided a safe haven for a myriad of fascinating creatures, including alligators, ospreys, and a plethora of fish and crustacean species that sought shelter among the tangles of mangrove roots.
Before setting off on my exploration, I made my way to the visitor’s education center, a must-stop for most visitors. Here, I gathered valuable information about the refuge’s wildlife, habitats, and conservation efforts. It was a great opportunity to deepen my understanding of the sanctuary’s ecological significance and appreciate the delicate balance of life within its borders.
One thing to note is that the park’s operating hours vary with the changing seasons, so it’s always wise to check the official website beforehand. By doing so, I ensured that I made the most of my visit, maximizing my chances of encountering the refuge’s inhabitants during their most active periods.
2. Spring Training
When I think of the cold, harsh grip of winter that engulfs much of the country, my mind immediately wanders to a place where the sun shines brightly and warmth fills the air. That place is Florida, a state that professional baseball teams from the Midwest and northeast flock to for their pre-season practice before the regular season kicks off.
Being a passionate baseball fan myself, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to witness this annual migration firsthand. The anticipation built up inside me as I eagerly awaited the arrival of the Boston Red Sox and the Minnesota Twins, among other notable teams, who make their appearance in Florida every spring. The prospect of catching a few spring training games was simply too enticing to pass up.
As I entered the baseball stadium, I couldn’t help but notice the stark difference from the usual hustle and bustle of regular season games. The atmosphere was more laid-back and relaxed, and it was reflected in every aspect of the experience. What surprised me the most was the affordability of the tickets. Unlike the exorbitant prices I had come to expect from professional games, these spring training tickets were refreshingly reasonable, not draining my savings account in the process.
Of course, no baseball game would be complete without indulging in classic stadium food. To my delight, the hotdogs, sodas, and beer were noticeably cheaper compared to what I was accustomed to paying at regular season games. It felt like a small victory, being able to enjoy these delectable treats without breaking the bank.
The facilities themselves were truly top-notch. The stadiums were immaculate, boasting pristine fields and comfortable seating. The teams spared no expense in ensuring that the players had everything they needed to hone their skills and prepare for the upcoming season. The attention to detail was impressive, and it made me appreciate the commitment these teams had to their craft.
3. Edison and Ford Winter Estates
In the early 20th century, I found myself immersed in the exquisite coastline of Florida, which seemed to be exclusively reserved for the privileged and famous individuals from all corners of the country.
One of my remarkable experiences took place on McGregor Boulevard in Fort Myers. It was there that I had the opportunity to explore the winter estates of two legendary figures, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. These estates stood as captivating historical attractions, offering me a captivating window into the opulent lives of the ultra-wealthy high-rollers of over a hundred years ago.
As I stepped foot into their homes, a mix of excitement and curiosity filled my senses. The doors were open to both professional and self-guided tours, allowing me to venture through the halls and rooms at my own pace. It felt surreal, walking in the footsteps of these renowned men and catching a glimpse of the lives they led.
The meticulously preserved homes had been transformed into living museums, each room brimming with fascinating artifacts that shed light on the stories and legacies of these iconic individuals and their families. It was as if time had stood still within those walls, and I found myself transported back to an era of elegance and grandeur.
While the full-service tours were priced on the higher end, I was pleased to discover that there were more affordable options available to cater to various interests and budgets. It allowed everyone, including myself, to delve into the rich history and soak up the magnificence of these extraordinary estates without breaking the bank.
Walking away from the experience, I couldn’t help but feel privileged to have witnessed a part of Florida’s past that was reserved for the elite. The memories and stories embedded within those estates would forever remain etched in my mind, reminding me of the remarkable lives led by these trailblazing visionaries in a bygone era.
4. Manatee Park
When I think about the Sunshine State, one creature immediately comes to mind: the iconic American alligator. However, there’s another creature that is just as synonymous with Florida—the lovable manatee. These gentle, slow-moving giants have captured the hearts of many, including mine, and I had the incredible opportunity to experience their magic firsthand at Manatee Park.
As I arrived at the park, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of anticipation. I had heard so much about these adorable creatures and was eager to catch a glimpse of them in their natural habitat. Manatee Park, located near a warm water discharge from a Florida Power and Light electricity generating station, is a haven for manatees, especially during the cooler winter months.
I stepped out of my car and took a deep breath, preparing myself for an extraordinary experience. The park’s entrance welcomed me with open arms, and I couldn’t believe that admission was free. The only cost was a small parking fee for each vehicle, regardless of the number of occupants—a small price to pay for such a remarkable encounter.
As I made my way towards the water, I couldn’t contain my excitement. December to March was considered the prime time to spot these magnificent creatures, and I had timed my visit perfectly. The anticipation grew with every step, and my eyes scanned the surface of the water, hoping for a glimpse of a gentle giant.
Suddenly, a ripple caught my attention. My heart skipped a beat as I saw a massive gray shadow gracefully glide beneath the surface. It was a manatee! I couldn’t believe my luck. The sheer size of this magnificent creature took my breath away.
I stood there, captivated by the manatee’s serene presence. Its slow movements and gentle nature were simply enchanting. As I watched, more manatees appeared, gracefully swimming in the crystal-clear water. Their round, adorable faces and playful antics melted away any stress or worries I had carried with me.
5. IMAG History and Science Center
Located on Cranford Avenue in Fort Myers, I recently had the chance to visit the IMAG History and Science Center, and let me tell you, it was an incredible experience. From the moment I walked in, I was surrounded by dozens of interactive exhibits that brought history, science, culture, and technology to life.
As I explored the center, I couldn’t help but notice how engaging and entertaining the hands-on activities were, especially for children. It was amazing to see their faces light up with excitement as they learned through play. One of the highlights for them, and honestly for me too, was the opportunity to touch and interact with various marine animals that called the warm coastal waters around Florida their home. It was a unique and unforgettable experience that left us all with a deeper appreciation for the wonders of the natural world.
I should mention that the IMAG History and Science Center is closed on Mondays, so it’s important to plan your visit accordingly. However, I must say that the price of admission was definitely worth it. The facilities were well-maintained, the exhibits were fascinating, and the activities provided a perfect blend of entertainment and education.
If you’re looking to avoid the crowds and make the most of your visit, I highly recommend going first thing in the morning. That way, you can have the exhibits and activities all to yourself and truly immerse yourself in the experience. It’s a great way to start the day and ensure an unforgettable time at the IMAG History and Science Center.
6. Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge
Located on Florida’s southwest coast near Fort Myers, I had the incredible opportunity to visit the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. As I stepped onto the refuge, I couldn’t help but feel the anticipation in the air, knowing that this place is considered by many biologists to be the last viable breeding colony of Florida panthers in the eastern portion of the country.
The refuge has a rich history, spanning nearly three decades, and I was eager to explore its hidden wonders. While it’s true that glimpsing the elusive cats is a rare occurrence for most visitors, I was still captivated by the refuge’s charm and its vital role in conserving these magnificent creatures.
I made my way to the visitor’s center, a hub of knowledge and discovery. Stepping inside, I was greeted by a plethora of exhibits and information, each offering a glimpse into the lives and habits of these apex predators. It was truly fascinating to learn about their behavior, hunting techniques, and the challenges they face in their fragile ecosystem.
Eager to immerse myself in nature, I ventured onto the paths that meandered through the refuge. The lush surroundings, teeming with life, enveloped me in a sense of tranquility and awe. I relished the opportunity to hike along these well-maintained trails, surrounded by the sights and sounds of the wilderness.
While exploring the refuge on my own was a remarkable experience, I couldn’t resist the chance to join a guided tour. The tours offered a unique perspective, led by knowledgeable guides who shared their expertise and passion for the panthers and the refuge. To secure a spot, I had to sign up in advance, ensuring that I didn’t miss out on this incredible opportunity.
7. Calusa Nature Center and Planetarium
Located on Ortiz Avenue in Fort Myers, I recently had the pleasure of visiting the Calusa Nature Center and Planetarium. Let me tell you, it was an experience that left me completely captivated and engaged for hours.
As I entered the center, I was immediately drawn to the lush aviary, which housed a variety of colorful and exotic birds. It was like stepping into a tropical paradise, surrounded by the vibrant sights and sounds of nature. I couldn’t help but marvel at the different species of birds flying freely in their spacious enclosures.
Moving on, I made my way to the museum, where a wealth of fascinating exhibits awaited me. From displays showcasing the region’s rich natural history to educational exhibits about local wildlife, I found myself immersed in a world of knowledge and discovery. The museum’s carefully curated collections provided valuable insights into the diverse ecosystems of the area.
One of the highlights of my visit was exploring the nature trails that meandered through the center. These well-maintained paths allowed me to immerse myself in the beauty of nature, surrounded by towering trees and the soothing sounds of birdsong. It was a refreshing escape from the bustling city, and I could easily understand why families and nature enthusiasts frequented this place.
What truly impressed me was the dedication of the center’s staff. They offered daily programs and demonstrations, ensuring that visitors had the opportunity to learn and interact with the natural world. Their enthusiasm and expertise were contagious, making the experience all the more enjoyable.
And on those scorching summer days, the planetarium provided the perfect respite from the heat. I stepped into the air-conditioned dome, ready to embark on a celestial journey. As the lights dimmed and the projector illuminated the night sky, I found myself transported to distant galaxies, mesmerized by the wonders of the universe.
It’s worth noting that the center is open every day of the week, though during the rainy season, it may close earlier than usual. However, rain or shine, I can assure you that the Calusa Nature Center and Planetarium is a haven for both education and entertainment, offering a wide range of activities for visitors of all ages.
8. Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve
I found myself standing at the entrance of Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve, a sprawling sanctuary encompassing nearly 3,500 acres of untouched beauty. The sheer size of the preserve was awe-inspiring, even by the grandest of standards. I couldn’t help but feel a sense of anticipation as I prepared to explore one of the area’s most well-preserved wetland habitats.
Stepping inside, I made my way towards the interpretive visitor center. It was a bustling hub of activity, filled with enthusiastic nature enthusiasts and curious visitors like myself. The air was filled with an aura of excitement and anticipation. As I entered, I was immediately drawn to the wealth of information displayed around the room. Historical artifacts and vivid environmental displays adorned the walls, providing a captivating glimpse into the preserve’s rich past and diverse ecosystem.
The visitor center proved to be the perfect starting point for my adventure. I immersed myself in the fascinating stories and facts shared through interactive exhibits and informative signage. The knowledgeable staff were on hand, eager to answer any questions and offer helpful insights into the wonders that awaited me along the trails.
Equipped with newfound knowledge, I ventured outside to begin my exploration. The raised wooden boardwalk-style trails beckoned me forward, leading me into the heart of the preserve. As I stepped onto the sturdy walkway, I couldn’t help but appreciate the careful consideration that went into preserving the delicate balance of this natural sanctuary.
Although the late summer and early fall months brought heavy rains, I was undeterred. The preserve transformed into a watery wonderland, with the rising waters reaching a depth of a few feet. However, the raised boardwalk allowed me to continue my journey, granting me access to the hidden corners of this wetland paradise.
With every step, my senses were overwhelmed by the sights and sounds that enveloped me. Towering cypress trees created a lush canopy overhead, casting dappled shadows on the path below. The air was alive with the gentle hum of insects and the melodious calls of native birds. Vibrant wildflowers and delicate ferns painted the landscape with splashes of color, adding to the sense of enchantment.
As I ventured deeper into the preserve, I marveled at the vast array of plant and animal species that called this place home. The wetlands teemed with life, from elusive alligators basking in the sun to graceful herons wading through the shallows. Each turn in the trail revealed a new surprise, a hidden gem waiting to be discovered.
Time seemed to stand still as I lost myself in the embrace of nature. The serenity of the preserve washed over me, providing a much-needed respite from the chaos of daily life. It was a place where the worries and stresses of the world seemed to fade away, replaced by a profound connection to the natural world.
9. Murder Mystery Dinner Train
I had the opportunity to embark on a truly one-of-a-kind adventure: the Murder Mystery Dinner train. Unlike most tourist attractions that claim to be unique but end up being just like many others, this attraction lived up to its promise and offered an experience like no other.
The moment I stepped onto the train at Colonial Station in Fort Myers, I could feel the excitement in the air. The train was beautifully adorned, evoking a sense of elegance and mystery. I found my seat and eagerly awaited the evening’s thrilling events to unfold.
As the train departed, I could already sense the anticipation building among the guests. The atmosphere was electric, with everyone eagerly discussing their theories and strategies for solving the staged murder mystery. It was like being transported into a real-life detective story.
The evening unfolded over a 40-mile train journey, during which we were treated to a delectable dinner. The elegant surroundings and the delightful flavors heightened the sense of immersion, making it feel like we were dining in a different era altogether. It was as if we had stepped back in time, into the world of classic detective novels.
With each course that was served, we delved deeper into the mystery. Clues were strategically placed throughout the train, waiting to be discovered by the keenest of observers. We channeled our inner Sherlock Holmes, carefully analyzing each clue and attempting to piece together the puzzle that would lead us to the identity of the culprit.
What made the Murder Mystery Dinner train truly exceptional was the fact that the mystery shows were changed frequently. This ensured that even repeat customers like myself were kept on their toes, never quite knowing what to expect. The element of surprise added an extra layer of excitement and challenge to the experience, guaranteeing that each journey on the train would be a unique and unforgettable adventure.
Not only did the train offer its regular mystery shows, but it also hosted special holiday events, further enhancing the overall experience. Whether it was a Halloween-themed murder mystery or a Christmas extravaganza, these seasonal events added an extra touch of magic and festivity to an already captivating evening.
As the train finally returned to Colonial Station, there was an air of satisfaction mixed with curiosity among the guests. Some had successfully unraveled the mystery and proudly proclaimed their detective skills, while others were left in awe of the intricate twists and turns that had eluded them. Regardless of the outcome, everyone had an incredible time and left with memories that would be cherished for years to come.
10. Defy Fort Meyers
I had the opportunity to visit Defy Fort Myers, and let me tell you, it was an experience like no other. From the moment I walked through the doors, I could sense the excitement in the air. Billed as one of the most unique recreation destinations in the country, Defy Fort Myers truly lived up to its reputation.
As I entered the facility, I was immediately greeted by a sea of trampolines stretching out before me. The place was bustling with kids and adults alike, all eagerly bouncing and flipping their way to pure joy. I couldn’t help but join in on the fun, feeling the rush of adrenaline as I jumped from one trampoline to another.
But Defy Fort Myers offered much more than just trampolines. There were foam pits where you could practice your flips and tricks, dodge ball courts where you could engage in friendly competition, and even trapezes for the daring souls who wanted to test their aerial skills. The variety of activities was simply mind-boggling.
Located on Dynasty Drive, Defy Fort Myers wasn’t the cheapest attraction in town, but it was worth every penny. The sheer exhilaration I felt as I soared through the air was priceless. Plus, the park often ran specials and promotions, which significantly reduced the standard admission costs. So, I would highly recommend checking their website before planning your visit.
If you happen to be visiting during the summer school break with your kids, Defy Fort Myers has got you covered. They offer a range of safe programs led by qualified and enthusiastic staff. These programs are packed with fun group activities and plenty of positive reinforcement. It’s the perfect way to keep your little ones entertained and active during their vacation.
11. Muscle Car City
Located on the Tamiami Trail in nearby Punta Gorda, I recently had the opportunity to visit Muscle Car City. Let me tell you, it was an experience like no other. As I stepped into the facility, I was immediately immersed in a world of vintage cars and the nostalgia they exuded.
Muscle Car City is a unique blend of museum and vintage car dealership. It has been around for almost four decades, and over the years, its collection has grown to impressive proportions. Walking through the halls, I was surrounded by an awe-inspiring array of General Motors muscle cars, some of which dated back nearly 70 years. The craftsmanship and attention to detail in these vehicles were simply breathtaking.
While some of the cars were up for sale, I quickly realized that owning one of these beauties would require a hefty investment. All that shiny chrome and meticulous restoration work came at a price. So, unless you were ready to part with a substantial amount of money, you might find yourself leaving in the same old ratty Dodge Omni you arrived in.
I also noticed that Muscle Car City caters to families by offering discounted prices for children up to 12 years old. It’s a great opportunity for younger car enthusiasts to get a glimpse of automotive history without breaking the bank. Plus, to top it all off, there was a popular restaurant conveniently located on-site. After hours of marveling at the impressive car collection, I treated myself to a delicious meal, savoring the memories I had made throughout the day.
12. Four Mile Cove Ecological Preserve
I had the opportunity to explore Four Mile Cove Ecological Preserve, located just a stone’s throw away in Cape Coral. Being an outdoor enthusiast with a keen interest in history, I was thrilled to explore the various activities it had to offer.
Upon arriving, I discovered that renting kayaks was a popular choice for those seeking both exercise and a chance to traverse the beautiful waterways. I couldn’t resist the temptation and decided to give it a try. Gliding through the calm waters, I felt a sense of serenity and connection with nature that is often hard to come by in our fast-paced world.
For those who preferred a leisurely stroll, a well-maintained elevated boardwalk awaited, leading to breathtaking viewing areas that overlooked the majestic river. As I walked along the boardwalk, I couldn’t help but marvel at the stunning vistas that unfolded before my eyes. It was a true feast for the senses, with the sounds of birds chirping and the gentle rustle of leaves in the breeze.
One thing that struck me about Four Mile Cove Ecological Preserve was its hidden location. Tucked away behind a local mall, it was off the beaten path and away from the usual tourist hotspots. This meant that it enjoyed a sense of tranquility and was not crowded with visitors, allowing me to fully immerse myself in the natural surroundings.
As I continued exploring, I came across a poignant memorial dedicated to the brave soldiers who fought on Iwo Jima. The memorial served as a reminder of the sacrifices made by those who fought for our freedom. It was a humbling experience, and I took a moment to reflect and pay my respects.
13. Koreshan State Historic Site
Named after a religious group from Chicago that I learned about, who believed in the power of a close-knit community and the eradication of the concept of money, Koreshan State Historic Park became a personal experience for me. As I strolled through the park, I was captivated by more than ten original structures, some of which had stood the test of time for nearly 150 years.
While the historical significance of the site intrigued me, I found myself particularly drawn to the park’s allure for outdoor enthusiasts like myself. Camping, fishing, and boating were among the cherished activities that made this place a haven for nature lovers. With its expansive 200-acre expanse, the park may not have become the utopia its founders had envisioned, but it had transformed into a serene sanctuary where I could immerse myself in the wonders of the natural world.
One of the highlights of my visit was the Sunday farmers market, where I encountered a vibrant array of local produce and artisanal goods. It was a delightful experience, indulging in the fresh flavors and connecting with the community that thrived in this idyllic setting. Additionally, the guided tours led by knowledgeable rangers provided a deeper understanding of the park’s rich history and its significance.
14. Mound Key State Park
Long before it was colonized by settlers of European descent, I had the incredible opportunity to experience the vibrant history of Florida as it unfolded. Millennia ago, the land was a thriving home to a diverse array of Native American people. Along the coast, within the embrace of mangrove forests and deep within the impenetrable inland swamps, these ancient communities eked out their livings.
During my journey, I stumbled upon a place known as Mound Key. The island was a hidden gem, accessible only by boat. As I approached, I couldn’t help but marvel at its natural beauty. No facilities or modern amenities existed on the island, but I soon discovered that the trails were marked with intriguing signs, offering snippets of the region’s rich history.
It was believed that the mounds within the park held immense ceremonial significance, having been created by the Calusa Indians. These sacred sites had been hidden for centuries until the 16th century when Spanish treasure hunters first stumbled upon them during their explorations of the area. The thought of standing upon land that had witnessed ancient rituals and gatherings filled me with a sense of reverence and awe.
To reach this enchanting park, I had to embark on a boat journey from the nearby Koreshan State Historic Site. As I sailed towards my destination, the wind caressed my face, carrying whispers of the past. The anticipation of what awaited me on Mound Key grew with each passing moment, as I prepared to immerse myself in the living history of the land.
15. Cayo Costa Beach
When I think about my time in the Fort Myers area, one thing that stands out the most is the beautiful beaches. There are so many historical and cultural sites to explore, but for me, it was all about the beaches.
One particular beach that captured my heart was Cayo Costa Beach. It’s located on a barrier island and stretches for nearly ten miles, showcasing pristine white sand and crystal-clear waters. The journey to get there wasn’t the easiest, but that’s part of what makes this beach a hidden gem.
As I stepped onto the soft sand, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of tranquility wash over me. The beach was relatively secluded, away from the bustling crowds, allowing me to immerse myself in the natural beauty that surrounded me. It was like stepping into a paradise untouched by time.
Cayo Costa Beach is renowned for its abundance of seashells, attracting shell collectors from far and wide. I joined the ranks of beachcombers, eagerly scanning the shoreline for unique and beautiful shells. Each discovery felt like finding a hidden treasure, a small piece of the ocean to take home with me.
While I marveled at the shells, I couldn’t ignore the playful presence of dolphins in the distance. Spotting these majestic creatures leaping and diving in the azure waters was a breathtaking sight. It reminded me of the incredible diversity of life that thrives in the ocean.
To reach the island, I had to take a ferry from nearby Jensen’s Marina. Leaving the mainland behind, the boat ride added an extra touch of adventure to the whole experience. As we sailed across the calm waters, I eagerly anticipated the paradise that awaited me.
For those who wanted to extend their stay, Cayo Costa Beach offered camping options and basic cabin rentals that didn’t break the bank. Spending more than a day on this idyllic island seemed like a dream come true. Waking up to the sound of gentle waves and being surrounded by nature’s beauty would be an experience to cherish.