A Guide to Fort Myers

Located along the Caloosahatchee River, Fort Myers is the heart of Southwest Florida. A paradise with a lovely Southern pace and in harmony with nature, it is bordered by white seashell beaches, tropical island sanctuaries and crystal waters.

By the numbers

Population: 74,013

Elevation: 10 feet / 3 meters

Time Zone: GMT -5 (GMT -4 Daylight Saving Time); Eastern Standard Time (EST)

Weather

Average Annual Precipitation: 55.92 inch / 142 centimetres

Average January Temperature: 64°F / 18°C

Average July Temperature: 83°F / 28°C

Did you know?

The palm trees that line McGregor Boulevard were planted by Thomas Edison and his wife, Mina.

More varieties of shells are found in the Fort Myers area than any other part of the United States.

Fort Myers is located southwest of Florida’s Gulf Coast on the Caloosahatchee River.

District Guide

As a desirable vacation destination, Fort Myers and its neighbouring cities attract thousands of visitors annually. Much remains as it was hundreds of years ago – serene and unspoiled. Mangrove forests, saltwater wetlands, wildlife refuges, tropical gardens, nature trails, miles of winding canals and waterways, and hundreds of islands, some inhabited, some not, provide a magical retreat from the fast-paced world.

Usa, Florida, Fort Myers Beach.

Fort Myers
Located on the southern bank of the Caloosahatchee River, Fort Myers is rich in history as a Civil War settlement, and a Seminole Indian legacy. The wide Caloosahatchee River separates the city from Cape Coral to the west, and North Fort Myers just across the Edison Bridge.

The historic River District is the heart of Fort Myers, a downtown neighbourhood that runs along the banks of the Caloosahatchee. Its quaint streets are sheltered by swaying palms and lined with restaurants, art galleries and specialty boutiques.

Just beyond this lies the Edison Park Historic District, home to the winter estates of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Both of these are now museums that attract thousands of visitors each year, intrigued by these two inventors’ pioneering work and eventful history.

You’ll never be bored here. Museums like the Imaginarium and cultural attractions like the Arcade Theatre blend with beachside promenades, tree-lined streets, and miles of pristine beaches in Fort Lauderdale. The annual Edison Festival of Light ignites a citywide celebration and is the highlight of the city’s entertainment program. Fort Myers is also the winter home of the Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins.

Bordered by twin rows of palm trees, a stroll along McGregor Boulevard is a must to witness first hand why Fort Myers is nicknamed the “City of Palms.” As you move further away from the city center, residential neighbourhoods give way to open spaces like the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve and Lakes Regional Park.

Cape Coral
Northwest of Fort Myers, Cape Coral was originally laid out to resemble the Venice of Italy on the Gulf of Mexico. The man-made canal systems were instrumental in its residential, and commercial growth and expansion. There are many popular outdoor attractions here, such as the Sun Splash Family Waterpark. With more than 30 parks, there are also numerous boardwalks and trails for visitors to explore. The Cape Coral Historical Society Museum provides an educational respite.

Sanibel Island
Southwest of Fort Myers is the popular island of Sanibel. With a reputation for great fishing, windsurfing, shell collecting, bird watching and other outdoor pursuits, the best way to get around the island is by bicycle. Visit the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum and the Sanibel Gallery.

Golf and tennis are available at the Dunes Golf and Tennis Club, on the eastern end of the island, at the Sanibel Harbour Resort & Spa. The J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, is another must-see for nature lovers and outdoors enthusiasts.

Captiva Island
Upper Captiva, at the northern end of Sanibel Island, is about 4.5 miles long and a half mile wide. It is mostly a wildlife sanctuary and a secluded retreat. This barrier island is a great place to view dolphins, birds, and beautiful sunsets.

Fort Myers Beach
Fifteen minutes south of Fort Myers along the Gulf coast is Fort Myers Beach. A popular retreat for vacationers with many quaint restaurants and unique hotels like the Pointe Estero Beach Resort, it offers charter fishing, cruises, and tours to neighbouring islands and as far as Key West. Entertainment can be found at Indian Creek Plaza.

Dining and drinking

In and around the Fort Myers area, and on the neighbouring islands, there are many wonderful restaurants, cafes and eateries that will satisfy any taste, from simple country cooking to sophisticated continental.

Hispanic woman feeding man at sunset dinner outdoors

Downtown
Downtown near the historic district, Sasse’s is well known for delicious Italian fare, or try Farmer’s Market Restaurant for yummy casual country cooking.

Take an unusual ride to dinner, to a unique and popular place 20 miles (32.1 kilometres) northwest of the city and accessible only by boat: the Cabbage Key Restaurant. Unless you own a boat, water taxis from Pine Island are another the way to get here. Be sure to try the fresh grouper and key lime pie. There’s also an inn here if you want to spend a day or more. Rated high for its great seafood is Prawnbroker Restaurant and Fish Market.

If you’re in the mood for both good food and laughter, go to the Laugh In Comedy Cafe.

Sanibel and Captiva
Near wildlife parks and refuges on the islands of Sanibel and Captiva, dining on the Gulf of Mexico is at its best with terrific water views and warm tropical breezes. Anything will taste good in such a beautiful setting. Just the same, you’ll find creative dining at the popular Mad Hatter, located right on the Gulf of Mexico. For a casual dinner and some dancing, try Jacaranda.

For a romantic view of San Carlos Bay, along with healthy dining options, the Sanibel Harbour Marriott Resort & Spa offers Charley’s Cabana Bar. The Bubble Room is another well known dining establishment on this quaint island.

For California-style fare made with natural ingredients, try the Sunshine Cafe. Afterward, enjoy delicious homemade ice cream or a latte at The Bean.

South Fort Myers
In the south Fort Myers area, you’ll find the Bistro 41 restaurant, popular for its eclectic cuisine. If you’re into authentic Mexican food with large, satisfying portions, then head over to Iguana Mia.

Fort Myers Beach
Along popular Fort Myers Beach and Estero to the south, Fernando’s Italian Restaurant of Martha’s Vineyard serves authentic Italian fare right on the water. For dining and dancing by the ocean, enjoy your evening at the Lani Kai Beach Resort.

Entertainment

There’s lots to do and see in this growing corner of southwest Florida. Visit wildlife refuges, learn about the past through historic sites and museums, explore secret inlets and coves by canoe or kayak, fish to your heart’s delight, or just relax under a shaded palm and soak up the sunshine.

Low angle view of older Caucasian couple hugging outdoors

Amusement Parks
For some family fun just across the Caloosahatchee River in Cape Coral to the north of the city, there’s plenty of action, rides and activities at the Sun Splash Family Waterpark.

In Fort Myers itself, you’ll find the Zoomers Amusement Park. This family-friendly attraction is teeming with fun-filled activities for kids including mini golf, go-karts, bumper boats and mining. There’s a roller coaster and an arcade as well with plenty to enjoy for the whole family

Museums
For historic landmarks in the downtown district, visit the Burroughs Home. Built in the Georgian Revival Style, this house was Fort Myers’ first year-round luxury home, constructed in 1901 for a cattle rancher by the name of John T. Murphy. The house now offers docent tours and is available on hire for private functions. The Imaginarium, also in Fort Myers, is a science center and aquarium that promises an edifying experience for all.

In Estero, there is the well known Koreshan State Historic Site, the legacy of a community that settled in the area and made significant contributions to its development.

On Sanibel and Captiva, is one of the worlds only museums devoted exclusively to the study of seashells – the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum. For an appreciation of the culture and history of the area, the Cape Coral Historical Society Museum offers a fascinating insight into early Florida settlement days.

Performing Arts
While Fort Myers’ attractions skew more towards the outdoors, making the most of the city’s spectacular locale, there are ample cultural attractions that celebrate the arts as well. The Florida Repertory Theater is the foremost of these with a diverse program of theatrical plays, musicals and more showcased at the historic theatre on Bay Street in downtown Fort Myers. The Arcade Theater nearby is another gem, a 1915-era, vaudeville house that now hosts plays and other live entertainment. The Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall at the Edison State College is another popular venue for the performing arts with a program that features symphonies, concerts and dance recitals as well as dramas. For a more casual rendezvous with the performing arts, visit the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre where delicious food is paired with Broadway style musicals. There are several other theatre and dance companies as well that perform at venues across Fort Myers and its surrounding cities.

Nightlife
One of southwestern Florida’s greatest party towns, Fort Myers and the Gulf Islands are teeming with bars, pubs and nightclubs that cater to varied tastes. Downtown Fort Myers lies at the heart of it all, home to a plethora of fine options like the Firestone, featuring live music, a fabulous martini bar and some of the region’s hottest DJs. The monthly Music and Art Walks in downtown Fort Myers are popular events that add a fresh verve to an already bustling nightlife. Galleries, museums and shops stay open late, featuring special exhibits and wine tastings, while venues across the neighbourhood host live performances galore.

Stop by the Fort Myers Brewing Company for a taste of some local brews in a laid-back setting, or head to the Gulf Coast Town Center for a self-guided bar crawl. This entertainment complex is positively brimming with nighttime distractions that run the gamut from duelling pianos at the Keys Bar & Grille to premium tequila at Cantina 109. For a country-themed night, try the Dixie Roadhouse, while the Cottage in a quintessential beach bar. There’s much to experience by way of nightlife in Fort Myers and the Gulf Islands.

Shopping
For the avid shopper, there’s plenty to discover, from flea markets to upscale shopping centres such as the Edison Mall. On Estero Island, south of Fort Myers, you can spend the day browsing over 100 brand name outlet stores at Miromar Outlets. There’s more shopping on charming Sanibel Island.

For the flea market aficionado, Fort Myers offers the Fleamasters Fleamarket, with 900 booths of all manner of treasures, collectibles, and junk you can’t live without, where it’s easy to spend a few hours mingling with locals and scouring the racks for the best deals.

Sports
In Fort Myers Beach and Estero, there are spectator sports for the avid fan, such as Florida Sea Dragons Basketball, the Florida Firecats Arena Football, and the Florida Everblades Ice Hockey. Inline skating anyone? The family can spend a few hours at the Fort Myers Skatium for a break from the warm summer climate.

There are several fine golf clubs in and around Fort Myers that draw a varied clientele of beginners and experienced golfers alike. The Eastwood Golf Club and the Fort Myers Country Club are the closest at hand, while further afield lie the Club at Pelican Preserve, the riverfront Gulf Harbor Yacht and Country Club, and the Forest Country Club.

The Outdoors
In South Fort Myers, learn all about the citrus industry with a tour of the Sun Harvest Citrus. There’s also plenty to discover about the environment and ecology of the area through the eco-tours offered through Everglades Day Safari. In downtown Fort Myers, the 105-acre Calusa Nature Center and Planetarium has a museum, an aviary, nature trails and picnic areas. With guided tours and a nature shop, you’ll find there’s a lot to learn and enjoy. For outdoor fun and wildlife discovery, a visit to the J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is a must.

The Lakes Regional Park, to the south of Fort Myers promises miles of hiking trails, opportunities for freshwater fishing and shady picnic spots for the whole family, while the sandy stretch of Fort Myers Beach is the perfect place to sunbathe and indulge in water sports.

Recommended Tours

Fort Myers and the surrounding areas that include Cape Coral, Sanibel and Captiva Islands, Fort Myers Beach and Estero Island, offer a variety of tour options.

View to the beach

Edison & Ford Winter Estates
Downtown Fort Myers is home to the 19th Century Edison & Ford Winter Estates and the Burroughs Home, both of which offer tours. The nearby Calusa Nature Center and Planetarium also contains an aviary and hiking trails, while the Butterfly Estates has over 1,500 species of butterflies. Enjoy authentic Southern comfort food at Farmer’s Market Restaurant.

Fort Myers Historical Museum
Visit the hands-on Imaginarium, and have a picnic at Centennial Park or visit the picturesque City of Fort Myers Yacht Basin.

Manatee Springs State Park
Visit Manatee Springs State Park and Shell Factory Nature Park. Swim and fish at Cayo Costa State Park.

Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum
Visit the J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, with its 5,000 acres of mangroves and 200 species of birds. Then browse the Sanibel Gallery and the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum. Dine at the Great White Grill.

Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve
Wander the boardwalk through the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve, kayak at Lakes Regional Park or go on the Everglades Day Safari. Dine at the popular Bistro 41 or the University Grill.

Whichever way you decide to see it, the Fort Myers area offers many opportunities to both learn about and to experience the environment.

Boat Tours

Captiva Cruises ( +1 239 472 5300/ http://www.captivacruises.com/ )

Helicopter Tours

Gulfshore Helicopters ( +1 239 274 0333 )

Historical Tours

Burroughs Home ( +1 239 332 7577 )

Edison Ford Winter Estates ( +1 239 334 7419/ http://www.edison-ford-estate.com/ )

History

The Seminole Indian Wars during the 1840s and 1850s brought about the construction of several union forts along the Caloosahatchee River to serve as a base of operation for federal troops. One was Fort Myers, named after Colonel Abraham C. Myers, chief quartermaster in Florida. It fell into disuse until the Civil War when it became an important outpost and was reoccupied.

A Wood Stork with a Group of Ibis and a Snowy Egret

In 1521, 400 years earlier, Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon introduced cattle into the territory. They roamed the wide-open ranges freely, thriving on wild grasses and the plentiful Palmetto. During the Spanish occupation of Florida, large herds were raised, providing beef, tallow for candles and hides.

When Florida became an American territory in 1821, people from the north began resettling here, many bringing their own cattle and breeding them with the Spanish cows. Raiding Indians and white outlaws were serious problems. Another was loss of stock by wolves, panthers and bears. These early cattle ranchers eventually developed the stronger and bigger Angus and Hereford cows. The Florida cattle industry flourished, as colourful and wild as the Old West, complete with hard-riding cowboys known as “Crackers” because of the popping noise from their whips, cross-country roundups, and tales of gun fights and rustlers.

Sanibel Island saw its first settlers in 1833 as part of a private New York land investment program. Although it didn’t last long, the colonists petitioned the United States government for a lighthouse since commerce over water was increasing. In 1884 the beacon of the Sanibel Lighthouse was turned on.

During the Civil War, Florida cattle were an important source of food to the Confederate Army. With a ready market, many ranchers shipped their cows by steamboat up the Apalachicola and Chattahoochee Rivers and sold them at Columbus, Georgia, where there was a major trading post. With the destruction of the economy in the Southern states after the war, the first wave of settlers found a new home in Fort Myers where a school, theatre, banks, hotels and shops were built.

Also after the war, the US cattle market died but a new one opened in Cuba. The cows were rounded up from the open Florida ranges and herded through the Old Fort Myers area to Punta Rassa, a busy little town with an 800-foot wharf, hotels, cow pens, and a few saloons. The cows were loaded onto clipper ships bound for the Spanish country which paid one gold coin for each cow, about $15 in those days. It was common for cattlemen to carry leather bags filled with gold coins. Tales of buried gold abound today since few trusted banks then.

In the 1830s, a compulsory dipping law for cattle was enforced to eradicate the fever tick. This required ranchers to build fences and control where their cattle roamed. The grazing territories for cattle changed and the open ranges became more restricted. Today, Florida’s oldest industry is still a major business. The state ranks third in the nation in cattle production.

Fort Myers was known as “Cowtown” until folks from up north began resettling in the area during the 1960s and 1970s. Its temperate climate, natural amenities, cheap land, and favorable growth potential brought a steady stream of new homesteaders. In 1885, Thomas Alva Edison came to Fort Myers for the healthier and warmer locale and built a 14-acre winter home. His estate included laboratories, vintage automobiles, exotic plants and tropical gardens. His good friend, auto manufacturer Henry Ford, also became a resident next door. Their homes are now city museums open to public tours.

By 1876 the community of Fort Myers was officially created. At the turn of the century, Fort Myers boasted 943 residents. The warm, temperate climate drew families desiring to resettle along with winter visitors escaping the cold, harsh north.

Another building boom began. Elaborately decorated vernacular homes were built. The city’s growth was facilitated by the arrival of Henry Flagler’s railroad in 1904. The new tourism industry also brought community expansion. The historic Bradford Hotel on First Street was built. Communities such as Edgewood, Woodward Grove, and Dean Park were developed, streets were paved, and the famous palm trees along McGregor Boulevard were planted, giving Fort Myers the moniker “City of Palms”. The Burroughs Home, built in 1901 in the downtown historic district, offers tours.

Housed in the restored Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Depot, the Fort Myers Historical Museum traces the history of the area from prehistoric times.

In 1894, Cyrus Teed founded a self-sufficient utopian religious community. The Koreshan State Historic Site gives a glimpse into the lifestyle and culture of this sect which left its legacy on the community.

During the last part of the nineteenth century, pineapple plantations sprung up along the river. A severe freeze in 1893 destroyed the industry that moved farther south.

The 1920s was a “Boom Time” for all of Florida, and Fort Myers enjoyed the growth. As in other historic towns in Florida, the Mediterranean Revival style of architecture was popular with both commercial buildings and homes. During this time the Seaboard Railroad competed with Henry Flagler’s Coast Line. Three terminals from this period are still in existence in the city.

The Tamiami Trail, linking Fort Myers to Tampa and Miami opened another avenue of travel and commerce.

The 1930s saw the end of the Boom Era with the collapse of the stock market and the nation’s economy, along with hurricanes and poor city planning. However, some significant building continued with the construction of the Edison Bridge and the Federal Building in the downtown Fort Myers district.

World War II brought a new wave of growth to Fort Myers along with the rest of Southwest Florida. Since then development has been east and west along the river. The charming, historic downtown district remains.

Lee County, and in particular Cape Coral, are leaders in the nation’s growth, residentially and commercially, drawing visitors and new residents at an ever-increasing rate.

Getting there and getting around

Getting There

From the Airport
Shuttle: Charlotte Shuttles Inc. (+1 888 663 2430 / http://www.charlotteshuttles.com/) Naples Airport Shuttle (+1 888 569 2227 / http://www.naplesairportshuttle.com/) Island Transportation Ft. Myers (+1 800 722 0411 / http://www.islandtransportation.com/)

Taxi: AAA Airport Transportation (+1 239 275 7228) Aaron Discount Taxi (+1 239 768 1898) Airport Express Transportation (+1 239 482 1200) Apple Transportation Best Value Taxi (+1 239 768 1898)

Car Rental:
Alamo (+1 800 462 5266 / http://www.alamo.com/)
Avis (+1 800 831 2847 / http://www.avis.com)
Budget (+1 800 527 0700 / http://www.budget.com)
Dollar (+ 1 800 365 5271 / http://www.dollar.com/)
Enterprise (+1 800 736 8227 / http://www.enterprise.com/)
Hertz (+1 800 654 3131 / http://www.hertz.com)
National (+1 800 227 7368 / http://www.nationalcar.com)
Royal (+1 800 314 8616 / http://www.royalrac.com/)
Thrifty (+1 800 847 4389 / http://www.thrifty.com)

Limo: A-1 Royal Transportation (+1 239 369 8300) Harold’s Limo (+ 1 239 278 3100) Majestic Limo Airport Transportation (+1 239 489 4473) Tropical Limousines (+1 239 495 9522)

By Bus
Greyhound (+1 800 231 2222 / http://www.greyhound.com ) offers service to Fort Myers.

By Car
Major Interstate to Ft. Myers is I-75, which enters Florida from Georgia through Lake Lake City into Tampa Bay traveling south straight to Ft. Myers.

Getting Around

Bus
Lee Trans (+1 239 275 8726 / http://www.rideleetran.com/) provides public transportation throughout Fort Myers.

Ferry
Key West Ferry (+1 239 765 0808) provides year-round service between Ft. Myers Beach and Key West.

Travel Information
If traveling overseas, take the safety precaution of registering your trip at https://travelregistration.state.gov and for helpful, practical advice about traveling technicalities and safety standards check out http://travel.state.gov/