10 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Fort Myers
For vacationers, it's almost impossible to think about Fort Myers without considering nearby Fort Myers Beach. Although they are two separate municipalities, jointly, they offer a mix of history, small-city charm, and a beach culture like you won't find elsewhere in Florida. Together, these two municipalities offer a long list of things to do for people of all ages and various interests.
In Fort Myers' River District, you'll find streets of interlocking brick, boutiques, and fantastic restaurants with street-side dining. Nearby are attractions like the historic Ford-Edison Winter Estate. In Fort Myers Beach, think surf shops; casual outdoor restaurants; a fishing pier; and a huge stretch of beach where you can choose from an action-packed area with volleyball and water sports, or find a quieter section where the kids can play in the shallow water. And nature lovers looking to bird-watch or see some alligators will find parks and natural areas spread around the cities.
For a complete look at the most interesting places to visit, see our list of things to do in Fort Myers and Fort Myers Beach.
1. Fort Myers Beach
Fort Myers beach is a seven-mile-long golden strip of sand with shallow, warm water, backed by homes and a small selection of hotels and restaurants. This is a perfect area for swimming, walking, and spotting dolphins, which frequent the area and can sometimes be seen as close as just a few feet off shore.
The beach runs from Bowditch Point Park in the north all the way down to Lovers Key State Park in the south, but most of the action is centered around the pier and the area known as Times Square.
The area south of the pier is the liveliest stretch of sand, where you'll find crowds of sun-seekers on hot days. You can rent beach chairs, and some places offer food service, creating a trendy beach scene. For a more sedate scene, check out the area north of the pier. Here, you'll find the beach backed by a city park with picnic tables and washroom facilities.
The main street through Fort Myers Beach is Estero Blvd, located a very short stroll from the beach. Parking can be at a premium on busy weekends, but if you go early, you should be able to find a spot at one of the many lots or street meters throughout the area. Private lots are available but tend to be expensive. A better bet is to park your car for free in the Beach Park and Ride lot and bypass the traffic by taking the shuttle into the beach area. A free beach trolley runs from Bowditch Park in the north down to Times Square.
2. Times Square
Located directly behind the pier is lively Times Square. This area is home to a multitude of restaurants with patio seating, ice-cream shops, and all manner of beach and souvenir stores and surf shops. In the evenings, street performers entertain crowds. A large section right off the beach is pedestrian-only, but farther back are streets where traffic is permitted and some parking is available.
Times Square is a compact area, which can be easily explored on foot. The scene here is incredibly casual, with many people walking around in beach wear. The area is easily identified by colorful painted bricks. For a pleasant stroll, walk northeast of Times Square along Old San Carlos Blvd to Matanzas Pass. This street is lined with a good assortment of restaurants and shops.
3. Edison Ford Winter Estates
Located just north of downtown Fort Myers in a beautiful neighborhood are the Edison & Ford Winter Estates. These homes are now a National Historic Landmark and operate as a museum open to the public for tours. Spread over 21 acres, this waterfront site features the historical homes of these two fascinating men who were friends.
On a tour, you can see the expansive grounds, laboratories, and a modern museum with seven galleries, complete with vintage cars and displays on electricity. Also of note are the botanical gardens and an amazing Banyan Tree, reportedly the largest in North America, dating from 1925, which covers an acre of ground and is 65 feet tall.
Address: 2350 McGregor Boulevard, Fort Myers, Florida
Official Site: www.edisonfordwinterestates.org
4. Fort Myers River District / Downtown
Fort Myers has done an excellent job of preserving its historical downtown. This area, denoted by the red interlocking roadway, is full of restaurants, theaters, and interesting boutiques. Art Deco buildings dating from the 1920s act as a backdrop for the area, which comes alive in the late afternoon and early evening. Patios fill with diners enjoying some of the fine fare on offer, and pedestrians stroll up and down the wide sidewalks.
One of the iconic restaurants along here is Ford's Garage, decorated in a 1920s service station theme and displaying vintage Ford vehicles and related items.
5. The Pier at Fort Myers Beach
Dating originally from 1921 but fully rebuilt, the Fort Myers Pier juts out 560 feet into the Gulf of Mexico and is one of Southwest Florida's premier sunset spots. The pier is also known locally as Pelican Pier, owing to the fact that pelicans frequently line the pier and keep a close eye on people fishing.
The pier is free to walk on and has a large partially-covered viewing area at the end, along with a small kiosk selling drinks, fishing supplies, and souvenirs halfway along the deck. From the pier, you can often see dolphins swimming parallel to the beach, not far offshore.
During the day, you'll see the lively beach scene to the south, people parasailing in the sky, and all kinds of boats racing back and forth just offshore. In the evening, the pier is all about sunsets. Join the crowds to see the sun dip below the horizon into the Gulf of Mexico and then grab a bite to eat on Old San Carlos Blvd.
6. J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge
Just 45 minutes from downtown Fort Myers, J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge offers a wonderful look into the wildlife and ecosystems that define this area of Florida. The visitor center provides information on the refuge's wildlife and habitats, and gives background on its founder, Jay Norwood "Ding" Darling.
One of the highlights is a 90-minute, open-air tram tour led by a certified naturalist, with opportunities to spot alligators, wading birds, and if you are really lucky, a bobcat or otter. You can drive the same routing in your own car, and there is a charge to enter. You can also see some of the park on foot along any of the four hiking trails. Other popular activities include fishing, stand up paddleboarding, canoeing, kayaking, and bird-watching.
The refuge is located on Sanibel Island, just a short drive over the impressive Sanibel Island Causeway (toll charged) from the mainland.
7. Lovers Key State Park
Lovers Key State park has one of the finest stretches of beach in the Fort Myers area and can be a pleasant escape from the traffic and craziness of Fort Myers Beach on busy days. The beach is reached via a short walk over a couple of bridges, where you have a chance of seeing alligators and other aquatic wildlife. If you have lots of beach gear, a free open-air shuttle runs on a regular basis from the main parking lot.
Lovers Key is a popular spot for canoeing, kayaking, and stand up paddleboarding due to its protected inland waterways. This is also a good spot to look for shells, as quite a few varieties wash up on the shores, and the crowds are smaller here.
Lovers Key is located over a large bridge at the southern end of Estero Island. The best beaches are on the gulf side. At the south end of the park is a dog beach. It's a wonderful spot for those with four legs to play in the shallow waters.
Parking is easy here, with plenty of spaces, and the cost is included with your daily admission.
8. Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve
The 3,500-acre Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve is a wonderful haven for wildlife, including alligators, otters, and turtles. It is also one of Fort Myers' best birding locations. You'll likely see wading birds like blue herons, ibis, snowy egrets, and if you are lucky, roseate spoonbills.
One of the highlights of a visit is a walk on the 1.4-mile-long boardwalk. This looping trail, complete with interpretive kiosks, takes you past a variety of flora, including red maple, wood ferns, and young cypress trees. The preserve is located at the eastern edge of Fort Myers and is a free attraction, although there is a modest fee to park.
9. Catch a Game during Spring Training
Every spring, Jetblue Park and Hammond Stadium come alive with the crack of the bat and the shout of the umpire as Major League Baseball's Spring Training, also known as the Florida Grapefruit League, comes to town.
The Boston Red Sox and the Minnesota Twins are the two teams that call Fort Myers home. The first game is usually in the 3rd week of February and wraps up about four weeks later. Games take place almost every day, so securing tickets is never an issue, but the schedule is released each November if you want to plan.
10. Lakes Regional Park
This former gravel quarry has been transformed into a 289-acre park and is a popular family destination and outdoor recreation area. Visiting Lakes Regional Park is also one of the free things to do in Fort Myers.
For the kids there is a splash pad and a playground, but one of the park's major highlights is the miniature train. The train, 1/8th the size of a real one, is driven by an engineer and runs on a 1.5-mile loop that passes by lakes, small recreated villages, and tropical woods. The loop takes approximately 15 minutes to complete, and the trains run every 30 minutes on the hour, seven days a week. Nearby the ticket office is a 3,200-square-foot train museum with interactive exhibits.
Those not interested in trains will enjoy the man-made lake. You can rent a boat or launch your own watercraft (no motors), fish, or just enjoy watching the fountains. Bike rentals are also available, and a number of trails run through the park. If you want to get more active, there are several volleyball courts and fitness stations. Picnic sites in the park can be booked.
Where to Stay in Fort Myers & Fort Myers Beach
The best place to stay in Fort Myers is right downtown in the beautiful River District, or, if you are here to enjoy the beach, at Fort Myers Beach. Below are some highly rated hotels in these areas.
- Luxury Hotels: Near the north tip of Estero Island and with a fabulous beachfront location is Pink Shell Beach Resort. The hotel has a huge pool, complete with a waterfall from a stone arch; restaurants; and a spa. This is a large hotel, and rooms on higher floors have spectacular views from the balconies.
Slightly closer to the action of Fort Myers Beach, the Edison Beach House has a variety of suites with kitchens, and balconies providing full and partial ocean views. This property has a beachfront pool, and rental bicycles are available.
For accommodation in the heart of downtown Fort Myers, the Hotel Indo Fort Myers River District is a good option. From here, you can walk to dining, shopping, and theaters. This boutique hotel is set in a historic property and features a rooftop pool.
- Mid-Range Hotels: At the top end of mid-range, the Best Western Plus Beach Resort has an ideal waterfront location in Fort Myers Beach, just a short stroll from Times Square and the pier. Rooms have large balconies and ocean views, and the waterfront pool area with lounge chairs is the perfect spot to work on your tan.
Also located in the heart of the action is Beach Shell Inn. Here, you'll find a mix of rooms and suites, many of which have kitchenettes. Rooms look over the small pool, and the beach is 100 feet away, down a sand path.
Farther south in Fort Myers Beach, on an amazing stretch of sand, is the Outrigger Beach Resort. This resort has a Polynesian look and feel and a huge pool area. Two restaurants offer al fresco dining, and in the evening there is often live music. A variety of room styles, from efficiencies to apartments and regular rooms, either face the ocean or the pool area, and all have balconies.
- Budget Hotels: In the center of town and almost in Times Square is the Shipwreck Motel. This recently renovated hotel has decent rooms at a fair price and a small pool. Free parking is a bonus, and there are also barbecue grills for guests' use.
The Dolphin Inn Resort is near the southern end of Estero Island and across Estero Blvd from the beach. The hotel has a large pool and is steps from the beach. Boaters will enjoy the fact that they can tie up their boat at the hotel's docks. All rooms are one-bedroom apartments with kitchens. The free trolley to Times Square stops nearby. A great value is just down the street at the pet-friendly Carousel Inn on the Beach. All rooms come with kitchens, balconies, and ocean views.
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Places to Visit Nearby: If you are in this area of Florida, you may also want to consider taking a short drive south to see the attractions in Naples. Better yet, spend a night or two and stay at one of the top resorts in Naples. Alternatively, take a quick trip over to the Atlantic side to see Miami, and play your excursion with our guide to the top attractions in Miami.