Fort Myers Beach glistens like a jewel and beckons to all the world. “Come play in the sand and sun,” it says, and so the people do, lining the long causeway bumper to bumper and filling vacation rentals, hotels and condos.
Surprisingly, it’s the beaches at Fort Myers that don’t see the crowds. Maybe it’s because each coveted spot on the sand is directly fronted by a private home, condo unit or hotel. There are only a few public spaces on Fort Myers Beach.
Or maybe its because there are so many things to do in Fort Myers and the surrounding area that travelers are easily enticed away from lounging in the sun. If you don’t mind battling the traffic on the causeway, or getting up early to set out before the traffic lines up, there is plenty to entice you away from the shore.
Here are some of the best things we found to do in Fort Myers, most within a simple drive.
When Looking for Things to do on Fort Myers, visit Edison Ford Winter Estates
In 1885, Thomas Edison visited the Fort Myers Beach area and fell in love with the enigmatic coastline. He purchased several acres of prime ocean front property and built a vacation home and guest house where friends and family gathered to escape the northern winters.
Throughout the course of his life, he became acquainted with a young innovator named Henry Ford, who would later become the king of modern manufacturing. Based on a mutual interest in progress and invention, the two men became fast friends.
In 1914, Edison invited Ford and his family to visit his Fort Myers estate. Two years later, Ford purchased a two story craftsman home adjacent to Edison’s home in Fort Myers.
Both estates are now open to the public as the Edison Ford Winter Estates. On the grounds, you’ll find a museum with several examples of vehicles created by Ford motor company as well as a timeline in pictures of Ford’s life and progress.
Many of Edison’s inventions are also on display with additional timeline photographs detailing the life of the master innovator and the friendship between the two men. A simple cottage now houses several tools of the day for viewing.
Across the street from the museum and the ticket office are the winter homes once enjoyed by the Edison and Ford families. Edison’s main house, as well as the guest home and caretaker’s residence, are all on display, featuring original furnishings. Unfortunately, due to the large number of visitors the museum sees each year, guests are not allowed to enter the buildings but can easily view the lower level rooms from the doorways.
Ford’s winter estate, The Mangoes, was originally sold to a private family in 1945, who then donated it to the town of Fort Myers in the late 1980s. Similar to Edison’s estate, the home and its amenities can be viewed from outside. Several times a day, museum curators will bring one of Ford’s early vehicles to life. All cars on the property are regularly maintained and operated for guests to the winter estates.
The Winter Estates grounds include many of the original 1,700 plant specimens, including the largest banyan tree in the United States. Visiting the gardens, which are filled with heritage species and unique varieties, is one of the more popular things to do in Fort Myers.
Of particular note is the Moonlight Garden. Designed by landscape architect Ellen Biddle Shipmen, the formal garden features night blooming plants, shrubs and flowers, making it a delight to visit after dark.
Plan to spend at least a half day at the Winter Estates.
Shells and More on Sanibel Island
Shell hunters can always find something to do in Fort Myers Beach, but those in the know head over to Sanibel Island. Known as the unofficial shell capital of Florida, Sanibel Island is a conchologist’s paradise.
Vacationers and locals alike arrive with the tide to scoop up precious specimens of conches, whelks, scallops and other varieties. The area is a prime shell dumping ground due to the island’s curved shape and the prominent wind direction. Heavy tides lift shells from the ocean floor and deposit them directly into the scoop of the coastline.
When you’re done hunting for exoskeletons, you can fill up on some excellent eats by visiting some of the island’s fine restaurants. Over Easy Café offers standard fare with some unique surprises, including stuffed pancakes and gulf shrimp omelets.
Another favorite is the Blue Giraffe. The food truck tacos are a popular and tasty dish, the type that encourages you to keep eating long after you know you should stop. Bert’s Breakfast is another favorite, filled with chunks of corned beef and topped with two eggs, sunny side up.
With your appetite satisfied, it’s a good time to grab a kayak and explore one of the inland waterways. There are several facilities that will rent a kayak for a day, but first timers might consider a tour.
Outfitters from Tarpon Bay Explorers will guide you on a 90-minute glide through two ecosystems, including one of the mangrove forests of the J.N. Ding Darling Wildlife Preserve. Your guide will help you recognize the native wildlife, then leave you to safely explore on your own for the remainder of the day.
Just be sure to save some time to visit the J.N. Ding Darling wildlife preserve itself. You can take a guided tram tour or wander at will down Wildlife Drive, stopping as you see fit to walk the boardwalk trails through mangrove swamps and primitive native American sites.
Another stop on the Sanibel Island tour is the Sanibel Beach Park and Lighthouse. The lighthouse was built in 1884 and lit with kerosene. The lighthouse remains on Sanibel under the ownership of the town and efforts are underway to raise funds to restore the keeper’s lodgings.
You can always drive around Sanibel, but keep in mind that the Sanibel Captiva Road is the only way on and off the island, and traffic can slow to a crawl at peak times. For simpler travel, consider renting a bicycle and peddling your way around. The island is entirely bike friendly with dedicated lanes for travel and laws that yield the right of way to cyclists.
Exploring Ancient Cultures at Mound House
The entire Fort Myers Beach Island was once the home of the Calusa Indians. The Calusa are recognized today for their intricate societies and the shell mounds used as part of a coastal defense against hostile tribes.
The Mound House at Fort Myers Beach was originally built in 1909, and throughout its life, housed a variety of inhabitants, including a research group dedicated to exploring the Fort Myers ecology. Today, the home features a museum on the Calusa society, with exhibits dedicated to the tools of the Calusa as well as their complex society.
The highlight of the musuem, however, is the “Stories Beneath Our Feet” exhibit. Here, you can travel beneath the ground to view one of the Calusa’s shell mounds from the inside. An informative movie will provide context about the Calusa culture and explain when and how various strata of the mound were created.
If you’re looking for things to do on Fort Myers that fill the entire day, consider adding onto your visit to Mound House with a boat excursion out to Mound Key Archeological State Park. Mound Key is believed to be the ceremonial center of the Calusa culture in the Fort Myers area, and the shell mounds here can rise more than 30 feet above the mangrove-lined coast.
Mound Key is accessed only by boat and offers no facilities, but a well-maintained path will allow you to explore the island and visit several interpretive signs to learn more about the Calusa. Kayak tours are also available.
Seeking the Fort Myers Hotspot: the Fort Myers Square
For shopping and dining, Times Square at Fort Myers Beach is where you will find most of the activity. Located at the northern end of the island, the square is jumping point for the Fort Myers public beach. With several restaurants beach side, and more than few down Old San Carlos Boulevard, the square is also the hotspot for night time entertainment.
For the shopper in you, the square features the typical resort town shops, complete with beachwear and souveniers, as well as a few more quaint locales.
If you’re looking for things to do in Fort Myers, the square is a great place to start. Sign up for a fishing charter, rent a bike or scooter, and even take a parasailing trip over the great blue.
If you’re in walking distance of the square, you’re in luck, as parking is limited and first come, first served. Rates are higher at night than during the day, which may help you decide when to visit.
Visiting Nearby Naples
While there are plenty of things to do on Fort Myers Beach, it’s sometimes nice to escape the larger crowds of vacationers and snow birds to see how the natives live. Naples is nearby and experiences less of the tourist crush.
The pier is always a happening place, where walkers, joggers, fishermen and beach goers congretate to watch the tide and grab a snack. It’s noisy, crowded and everything you expect to find in a beach town.
If you’re looking for a quieter atmosphere, step back from the shoreline. Here, palm trees line quaint village roadways and high-end shops vie for your attention with well-appointed storefronts. You’ll find plenty of tasty and restful restaurants, including the popular Tommy Bahamas.
Gordon Drive is always worth a drive for a peek at beachfront mansion homes, some grand enough to rival Newport’s industrial age splendors. For a closer glimpse at reality, however, visit the Palm Cottage. Built as the 19th century came to a close by one of the town founders, the home offers a true representation of how early residents lived. It’s located at the corner of 12th Avenue South and Gulfshore Boulevard.
For more historical treats, take a walking tour of Naples. Historical guides will lead you down yesterday’s road, telling stories about the colorful beach cottages that line Third Avenue South.
There is Plenty to Do on Fort Myers Beach
If you’re planning a beach vacation to Fort Myers Beach, you certainly won’t be disappointed with the opportunities to enjoy the sun, sand and surf. However, you’ll also find a bounty of activities awaits away from the shore, making this area of Florida a great place to call home for a week or two.
If you’re looking for places to stay, you’ll find several hotels and rentals through Fort Myers VRBO, including beach front condos and homes.