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Along the Gulf Coast of Florida in Lee County lies an area filled with Mother Nature’s finest handiwork, plus many popular man-made attractions and activities including golf, tennis, the arts, shopping, dining and more. Whether you’d prefer to be outside sunbathing, swimming, boating or beach-combing, or inside searching out antiques, snapping up a bargain at the outlet store or exploring an historical museum, the Fort Myers area has what you’re looking for. The region is known for its sand beaches and spectacular sea shells, with Sanibel Island in particular offering a shell seeker’s paradise.
A number of notables, including Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone, built magnificent estates in the area. Today, the Edison and Ford estates are open to the public.
There is a wide variety of accommodations available in the Fort Myers area.
If you’re partial to luxurious lodgings, try Sanibel Harbour Marriott Resort & Spa (239-466-4000). The resort, which offers 400 units renovated in 2005, is located on a peninsula overlooking San Carlos Bay and Sanibel and Captiva Islands. Whether you’re looking for athletic action or just hoping to relax, the Sanibel Harbour Resort can accommodate you. Rent a bike, swim in the indoor pool or one of the five heated outdoor pools, catch some rays at the bayside beach, play a game of tennis on one of the resort’s five clay courts, attend an invigorating fitness class or work out in the fitness center. For total relaxation, try a little pampering in the resort’s spa, named one of the Top 10 Spa Resorts in the U.S. by Condé Nast Traveler.
There’s enough romance in the atmosphere here to suit honeymooners and other couples, but the resort is also a great place for families. Its Kids Klub promises plenty of fun adventures for children 5-12. Six restaurants and lounges offer great dining options. In fact, there’s enough going on at this resort that you could stay right here for your entire vacation and be perfectly happy, assuming your budget can handle this type of upscale pampering.
The frugal traveler may want to check out the La Quinta Inn & Suites Ft. Myers-Sanibel Gateway (239-466-1200). The hotel offers renovated rooms in a casual atmosphere, just minutes from Sanibel and Captiva Islands. Rooms come with mini-kitchens plus free broadband Internet access and cable TV and complimentary breakfast, not to mention very attractive rates. On-site amenities include an Olympic-sized outdoor heated swimming pool, outdoor whirlpool, fitness center and lounge. The hotel is located 2 miles from Sanibel Island, 1 mile from Bunche Beach and 5 miles from Fort Myers Beach.
For those who prefer to be in the heart of Fort Myers, with easy access to cultural and commercial areas, the Hilton Garden Inn (239-790-3500) on University Drive is a good choice. Its low-rise building offers 109 rooms and 17 suites. Roomy accommodations feature refrigerators, high-speed Internet access, WiFi and free HBO. On-site amenities include a pool, restaurant and bar.
To travel to Fort Myers by air, you can fly into Southwest Florida International Airport (239-590-4800). It’s served by more than 20 airlines, offering nonstop flights throughout North America, plus service to Germany and Canada.
A car is a good way to get around the Fort Myers area, and it’s easy to rent one at the airport. You’ll also find limos and taxis there.
Fort Myers is located in Lee County, on the southwest coast of Florida. Interstate 10 runs east-west between Jacksonville, FL, and Los Angeles, CA. Interstate 95 connects the entire east coast, from Maine to Southeastern Florida. Interstate 75 is the major highway in Lee County, running north to south. US-41 also runs through the Fort Myers area.
Bus transportation is another option. LeeTran serves most of the area, and Greyhound Lines has service to Fort Myers and Naples. Collier Area Transit (CAT) runs regular routes in Naples and Marco Island.
There is year-round ferry service through Key West Shuttle (1-888-539-2628) between Fort Myers Beach and Key West. From Thanksgiving through May, they also offer ferry service to Key West from Marco Island. The one-way trip takes 4 hours.
Located on the Caloosahatchee River, Fort Myers is the oldest city in Lee County. Known as The City of Palms, it became a popular winter destination after both Thomas Edison and Henry Ford built winter homes here. Its historic downtown continues to provide a taste of old Florida today.
Downtown Fort Myers, known as the River District, offers historical and cultural attractions plus shopping of all kinds, from antiques to outlets, and boutiques to malls. There is a fairly lively nightlife in Fort Myers, thanks to its comedy clubs, music clubs, theaters and bars.
Sanibel and Captiva are barrier islands connected to the mainland by a three-mile causeway, extending from Fort Myers across San Carlos Bay. These idyllic islands lie 14 miles west of Fort Myers and are known for their natural sand beaches and plethora of pretty seashells. Captiva is a bit more remote than Sanibel.
If you’re looking for a peaceful getaway where you can commune with nature, you’ll want to schedule a stop on Sanibel. No high-rise condos here, no neon signs and nothing to distract you from the relaxing sound of the wind whispering through the many pines that line Sanibel’s main street, Periwinkle Way. Locals have worked hard to save the area’s trees and tropical foliage, while keeping away the clutter of large buildings and signs that is so common in much of the state.
More than half of Sanibel is made up of one of the state’s best wildlife refuges, J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, where you can walk, ride a bike, bird watch, canoe, kayak and, of course, search for shells.
Beside the wildlife refuge, attractions on Sanibel include the Sanibel Historical Village and Museum (239-472-4648). Step back in time as you tour the 1913-vintage, cracker-style Rutland House. Or stop by one of the other early homes, Bailey’s General Store, the post office, the schoolhouse, Sanibel Packing House or Miss Charlotta’s Tea Room, all providing a glimpse into early 20th century Florida life.
Since 1884, the Sanibel Island Lighthouse, situated at the east end of Periwinkle Way, has lighted the way to San Carlos Bay. You can enjoy exploring the grounds and beach, although the lighthouse itself is not open to the public.
A fun way to explore local eateries is the Dine Around by Trolley tour offered by Adventures in Paradise (239-472-8443 or 239-437-1660). It’s a chance to enjoy fine dining without wearing out your walking shoes.
Captiva Island, which is smaller than Sanibel, offers great beachcombing and fishing on Turner Beach. Scenic Captiva Drive provides a view of colorful flowers and giant cacti as it makes its way along the sea before ending in the village of Captiva.
In addition to its other trips, Captiva Cruises (239-472-5300) offers daily sunset cruises with live music from both McCarthy’s Marina and South Seas Resort on Captiva Island.
Fort Myers Beach is located on Estero Island and linked to the mainland by a bridge. Visitors flock to Estero Island for its miles of white, sandy beaches and recreational opportunities, including boating and fishing. The island is also home to Lovers Key State Park (239-463-4588), many kid-friendly resorts, charming cottages and restaurants offering the freshest seafood imaginable. The northern tip of Estero Island is prime shopping territory and also offers fine dining and fun nightlife.
A handy guide to local beaches, plus other helpful info about the Fort Myers area, is available at FortMeyers-Sanibel.com, or call at 1-800-237-6444.
To experience an out-of-the-way place of untouched beauty, visit the barrier island of Cayo Costa State Park (941-964-0375. The park lies west of North Fort Myers and can be accessed only by private boat or passenger ferry (239-283-0015).
Once you arrive in the park, you can search for shells to add to your collection along its nine miles of beaches, do a little fly-fishing, swim, snorkel or just relax and soak up the rays. You may even spot manatees and dolphins in the Gulf Coast waters surrounding the park.
If you’re feeling energetic, rent a bike and use it to explore more than five miles of island trails. You’ll see a grand assortment of birds in the island’s mangrove swamps, oak-palm hammocks and pine forests. Overnight camping is possible in tents and primitive cabins.
The Edison & Ford Winter Estates (239-334-7419), located on McGregor Boulevard in Fort Myers, pay homage to two great inventors from America’s past, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. The attraction features 20 acres of lush tropical gardens; Edison’s 12-acre winter estate, with three homes, Edison’s laboratory, botanical gardens and a 15,000 sq. ft. museum showcasing hundreds of Edison and Ford inventions and exhibits, video theatres and changing special exhibits. It also includes Ford’s neighboring winter home, The Mangoes, where it is said that Ford designed the V-8 engine.
Whether you’re a first time visitor to Fort Myers or a seasoned traveler, you’ll find plenty of fun things to see and do. And with seven dialysis facilities to accommodate your treatment needs, you don’t have to let your kidney disease get in the way of having a wonderful time.
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