From stunning beaches and wildlife encounters, to a colourful arts scene and delicious dining options, these are the best things to do in Fort Myers, Sanibel and Captiva in Florida.
If you didn’t know from browsing the pages of my blog, I’m a self-confessed colour addict! I have always been drawn to colourful destinations around the world. I’ve walked the rainbow steps in Turkey, searched for the best street art in London, enjoyed the murals in Isla Holbox in Mexico and snapped endless photos of Gaudi’s vibrant creations in Barcelona.
Next on my list? Fort Myers in Florida. The sunshine state is renowned for its vivid and cheerful spots. You know, the kind of places that bring you joy just by looking at them! A favourite of mine has always been Miami’s Art Deco scene in South Beach, along with its fabulous Wynwood Walls.
I’d heard about Fort Myers on Florida’s Gulf Coast too. I’d heard it was home to vibrant murals, a thriving art scene and streets where every building is a different colour. I couldn’t wait to hop on a plane and see it for myself!
Now I’m back I can firmly add Fort Myers to my list of favourite colourful destinations on the planet. However, there are plenty more reasons to visit Fort Myers and the surrounding areas.
There are the pristine and upmarket islands of Sanibel and Captiva, where perfectly formed shells wash up on the shores each day. It’s a region that has taken steps to protect the landscapes, so indigenous creatures such as alligators, roseate spoonbills, dolphins and manatees can live safely. Plus, there’s a strong heritage with innovators Thomas Edison and Henry Ford marking Fort Myers firmly on the map.
My guide to the top things to do in Fort Myers is ideal if you’re planning a trip to Florida and can’t decide where to go, or you simply want a little help to make the most of your time in this particular region. I packed a lot into my time there, so no matter what you’re interested in, there will be something that takes your fancy!
Where is Fort Myers?
If you’re not familiar with it yet, the city of Fort Myers is located on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of Tampa and north of Florida Keys. Key places to visit include the city’s downtown zone, Fort Myers Beach, Cape Coral and the islands of Sanibel, Captiva and Matlacha. I’ve made a downloadable Fort Myers map too, which you can view here. If you’re wondering how to get to Fort Myers or where to stay, you’ll find some helpful information towards the end of this post.
I think people sometimes overlook how much there is in Florida beyond the theme parks. While they’re awesome, a twin-centre trip would probably be my top recommendation, so you can fit in a mix of activities.
Fort Myers Video
We also made a video of our trip! If you fancy getting a real flavour of the region before diving into my travel guide, you can watch it on YouTube. Enjoy!
Top things to do in Fort Myers, Sanibel & Captiva
Immerse yourself in nature at 6 Mile Cypress Slough Preserve
Leave your opinions of Slough in the UK at the door, this beautiful nature preserve is worlds apart! Pronounced ‘slew’, 6 Mile Cypress Slough Preserve encompasses 3,500 acres of wetland ecosystem. If you’re visiting Florida with dreams of seeing alligators, turtles, racoons and birds, you simply have to visit!
I loved walking the boardwalks through the preserve. There are trails that lead you through the mangroves, reaching serenely still ponds filled with wildlife. The highlight was the huge alligator we spotted lounging in shallow water. It was so well camouflaged; you really do need to be eagle-eyed!
I’d recommend joining one of the 9.30am guided walks through the preserve. The volunteers working here have a huge breadth of knowledge and know exactly where to look for all sorts of creatures. It was also fascinating hearing about the ecosystem, and the way the cypress slough filters water before it reaches the coast.
Go back in time at the Edison and Ford Winter Estates
Well, this is quite some legacy! Did you know that inventor Thomas Edison (yes, he of lightbulb fame) and Henry Ford (creator of the Ford Motor Company) owned winter residences next door to each other?
They actually struck up a friendship back in the 1890s. Then, when Henry Ford visited Edison at his winter home, Seminole Lodge, in Fort Myers in 1914, he was won over by the area. Just two years later he bought the property next door. The two inventors and entrepreneurs would spend some of their winters enjoying the warm Florida climate, with Edison working in his laboratory (which you can tour today).
The estate has been carefully preserved and is now one of the most popular attractions in Fort Myers. Gaze through the windows of the homes on the Edison and Ford Winter Estates and you’ll feel like you’ve rolled back the clock, seeing dining rooms laid for dinner parties and a garage filled with original Ford motor vehicles. Edison’s laboratory is particularly fascinating, with so many apparatuses in place. It appears as though he’s just popped out and will be back any moment!
There’s also a large museum space dedicated to the two masterminds. You can peruse some of Edison’s most famous inventions and learn more about the unlikely friendship.
Be sure to allow time to walk the botanical gardens which are home to over 1,700 plants. With tall mango trees, palms, flowers and even an enormous banyan tree, there’s a lot of beauty to appreciate here.
Appreciate the architecture of Downtown Fort Myers
You might not know that this is actually my fifth trip to Florida. As mentioned, one of my favourite trips was the week I spent in Miami. I fell in love with its pastel colour palette and Art Deco architecture. So, I was elated to discover that Downtown Fort Myers is home to several iconic buildings too.
I’d recommend spending an hour walking around the centre, passing the marshmallow pink Edison Theatre and the olive green and yellow Arcade Theatre. They’re pretty spectacular so you’ll want to admire them from every angle.
Enjoy the buzz of Fort Myers River District
Downtown Fort Myers has a thriving food and drink scene too, with establishments such as
Ford’s Garage Downtown and super-trendy rooftop bar Beacon, located inside the brand new Luminary Hotel.
Ford’s Garage plays homage to the area’s heritage, being just a stone’s throw from the Edison and Ford Winter Estates. Inside this Florida based chain you’ll find lots of quirky décor, including a vintage moving car suspended over the bar and petrol tanks in the windows.
The concept continues right through to the bathrooms, where you’ll find sinks made from car tyres and taps made from old petrol pumps! Even the cocktails have automotive themes. Who fancies a Motor-jito or a Back Seat Driver? If you’re hungry, I’d recommend the burgers here, as well as the sesame-crusted tuna.
For coffee and ice cream in Fort Myers, stop by Peter’s, one block from the Edison Theatre. Run by German couple Stefan and Marika, everything you find in store is homemade, even the ice cream!
This is also a lovely area for shopping in Fort Myers. Stop by The Franklin Shops for a range of gifts, clothes and homewares, pick up some flavoured popcorn in Wild About Popcorn or embrace your inner Edison at Timeless, where you can buy antique lamps.
If you time your trip right, you might be able to join one of the monthly art or music walks. The music walks sound particularly fun! They usually take place on the third Friday of the month and see lots of musicians performing on the streets of the river district. You’ll hear a bit of everything too – from jazz and blues to rock and roll! You can check out the schedule of events here.
Relax on Fort Myers Beach
Looking to visit one of the best beaches in America? Well, you’ve come to the right place! With its perfect white sand, turquoise water and iconic pier, Fort Myers Beach is a must-visit!
Fort Myers Beach actually stretches for seven miles along the Gulf coastline, but the central hub (and where you’ll find most of the action) is around Times Square. I couldn’t resist but take a dip in the water here. It was like stepping into a lovely warm bath. Let’s face it, the balmy temperatures are a huge reason we love visiting Florida!
Lining the beachfront and San Carlos Boulevard you’ll find a handful of vibrant restaurants, serving up American classics and cocktails. For something a little different, stop by Smokin’ Oyster Brewery and tuck into a plate of oysters and a locally-brewed craft beer. (As an aside, I’ve also heard Fort Myers Brewing Company is excellent if you’re a beer drinker!)
Or take a trip across the bridge to The Dixie Fish Co, one of the best seafood restaurants in Fort Myers Beach. The building dates back to 1937, when it was built as a fish market. I loved sitting in this open-air building, sipping on a refreshing cocktail while gazing out at the water.
You can watch the shrimp boats coming and going from Matanzas Pass as you tuck into some fresh blackened triple tail, pan-seared grouper, mahi mahi tacos or a zingy bowl of shrimp ceviche. Seafood really doesn’t get much fresher than this!
Keep your eyes peeled for birds too. We spotted several pelicans perched on the end of docks and swooping into the water around Fort Myers Beach.
Take a tram tour of Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge in Sanibel
One of Sanibel’s biggest attractions is this amazing wildlife refuge. What a fun name too! It’s named after the cartoonist and avid conservationist Jay Norwood Darling, who was known better as “Ding” Darling.
Along with 6 Mile Cypress Slough Preserve and Manatee Park, this is an incredible place to view many species in their natural habitats. Throughout the year you’ll be able to see manatees, alligators, raccoons, bobcats, roseate spoonbill, river otters, crabs, spiders and more!
We chose to hop on the 90-minute guided tram tour, which I’d definitely recommend. Our guide was full of interesting facts about the creatures who live in the refuge. He pointed out all sorts of creepy crawlies too. Arachnophobics beware!
If you’d rather travel on your own schedule, you can actually take your car along the 4-mile ‘Wildlife Drive’. Consider it your very own Florida safari! You can stop along the way and for a closer look at the animals and birds. Alternatively, hop on two wheels and cycle the route, or take a stroll along one of the trails.
If I had one piece of advice on when to visit, it would be to take a trip during low tide. It’s a lot easier to spot creatures in the mangroves at that point. We also heard from our guide that there’s infinitely more to see in the winter and spring, when many birds stop here on their migration path.
Go shelling on Sanibel’s beaches
Every day, thousands of pretty sea shells wash up on the white sandy beaches on the island of Sanibel. Why? Well, it’s all down to the island’s geography. Sanibel curves around towards Fort Myers Beach where the current of the Gulf of Mexico pushes the shells in.
These beaches are some of the best in the world for ‘shelling’, which isn’t a term I’d actually come across before this trip! Essentially, it’s a bit like hunting for treasure on the beach, except the treasure is absolutely everywhere!
Once you start sifting through the layers and layers of shells, you’ll find it hard to stop. It’s strangely addictive. We found loads of beautiful shells on the beach by Sanibel Lighthouse.
First, I spotted a small conch shell, then a set of giant cockle shells, and then I found more and more! It was a tricky deciding which two were coming home as souvenirs! If you’re looking to identify what you find, this photo will help.
Learn about shells and molluscs at Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum
If you enjoyed getting your shell on in Sanibel, be sure to stop by the National Shell Museum! It’s home to around half a million shells, with lots of exotic types on display.
There’s plenty of information about shells you’ll find locally as well as further afield. It’s really interactive too, with touch pools and aquariums. If you’re looking for fun things to do in Fort Myers with kids, this is a great option.
Have a quirky lunch at The Bubble Room Restaurant
The islands, beaches and neighbourhoods of Fort Myers are full of rainbow colours, but this really steps up a level when you reach The Bubble Room! This kitsch restaurant on the island of Captiva is like a living museum of novelty ornaments, retro games, toys from the 1930s and 40s and the iconic bubble lights (from which the restaurant gets its name!)
Forget regular servers too. At The Bubble Room you’ll be greeted by an enthusiastic ‘scout’ (in uniform!) who will look after your every need.
Oh, and get this… at The Bubble Room it’s Christmas every single day of the year! Make sure you visit the Christmas room and you’ll be able to admire the tree and novelty decorations, including a little army of festive elves!
This restaurant does offer a menu of standard dishes such as salads, burgers and fish. My recommendation? Skip lunch and arrive hungry for a sweet treat. The cake here is legendary. One slab is probably your entire daily calorie intake, so order one slice to share between the table. The orange crunch gets my vote, with the red velvet a close second.
Relax on Captiva’s pristine beaches
If you’re looking for a beach day away from the crowds of Fort Myers Beach, then drive over to Captiva. The beach here is spectacular, with soft white sand and shallow waters.
I had a wander along the shore and saw lots of people who had set up camp for the day. They’d brought down tents and parasols, along with well-stocked coolers full of food and drink. It looked like a perfect place to spend a day in the sunshine.
Kayak through the mangroves in Matlacha
This was definitely one of my favourite things to do in Fort Myers! We spent a morning on the water with Gulf Coast Kayak, who offer kayak and stand-up paddle boarding tours through the mangroves of Matlacha. It was such a beautiful experience, paddling through the untouched wilderness, spotting herons, osprey, cormorants, anhinga (aka the snake bird) and other species of birds.
The highlight came near the docks where I was gentle paddling as a dolphin shimmied up towards my kayak, took a breath and then disappeared under the water again! It can’t have been more than a metre away from me, and it felt like it put on a little show just for me! It’s moments like these that makes me appreciate travelling in a whole new way.
The locals of Fort Myers are so incredibly lucky to have experiences like this on their doorstep. I hope they realise that!
Soak up the arts scene in Matlacha
Matlacha (pronounced Mat-lash-ay) is home to a thriving arts scene. The little fishing village is surrounded by water on all sides and only stretches for a few blocks. Despite being diddy, it packs a punch with its vibrant rainbow colours strewn over buildings, billboards and inside the small art galleries and gift shops.
The brightest spot in the area is Leoma Lovegrave’s gallery and tropical gardens. This Matlacha-based artist uses only the brightest shades to create paintings of vivid pink flamingos, lime green palm trees and orange alligators and more. They’re loud, in your face, but guaranteed to make you smile!
Outside, the gardens are similarly exuberant, with a Beatles-themed stage, technicolour caravan and a herd of neon flamingo sculptures bobbing in the sunshine.
Once you’ve perused her artworks, you could cool off with an ice cream at CW Fudge Factory (recommend the Key Lime Pie flavour!) while admiring the colourful murals outside.
Solve a murder mystery on board the Seminole Gulf Railway
Looking for unique things to do in Fort Myers and surrounding areas? How about hopping on board the old Seminole Gulf Railway for a murder mystery dinner train experience. This was another highlight from our trip as it’s unlike anything we’ve done before!
Not only is it a great way to see more of the landscapes of Fort Myers, you also get to enjoy a great 5-course dinner with some very amusing entertainment! They change the shows regularly, so it’s something you could do again and again.
If you’re celebrating a special birthday or anniversary, this would be an ideal activity. The food was excellent, with courses including a delightfully creamy leek and potato soup, a light and airy spiced apple and cinnamon cake and an extremely generous prime rib steak for main course.
Over the course of 3+ hours we watched little scenes from the murder mystery acted out in the train carriage. We scribbled notes on our papers and ended the experience trying to figure out ‘whodunnit’! All in all, it was a very pleasurable and unique evening out in Fort Myers.
Eat your body weight in pizza at Nice Guys Pizza in Cape Coral
Who loves pizza? Everyone right?! One of the best pizza joints in the area is Nice Guys Pizza in Cape Coral. If you’re a child of the 80s you’ll appreciate this place even more as there are several retro arcade games and pinball machines here too.
Once you’ve feasted on pizza, be sure to work your way through the large menu of cocktails and craft beers. This is the kind of place you might go to for dinner, but wind up staying until the early hours!
Dine with an ocean view at Thistle Lodge
There are a lot of great places to eat in Fort Myers and surrounding areas, but few offer the white tablecloth experience. For a special meal, book a table at Thistle Lodge. This fine-dining restaurant is part of Casa Ybel, a Sanibel beach resort set across 23 acres.
As with so many Florida restaurants, I’d recommend sampling some of the fish and seafood dishes. When we visited, they included grouper, scallops, Gulf shrimp, clams and octopus. I ordered the pistachio-crusted salmon which was absolutely delicious, served pink in the middle, accompanied by a rich beurre blanc. This restaurant is in a stunning setting – ideal for a memorable dinner.
Feast on shrimp tacos at Blue Dog Bar and Grill in Matlacha
If you’re planning to spend a few hours in the colourful community of Matlacha, try to coincide your trip with a lunch stop. Blue Dog Bar and Grill is in a charming location backing onto one of the canals. Sit outside in the sunshine enjoying the view as you tuck into the house speciality: Gulf shrimp tacos.
Considering the shrimp boats are right outside, I couldn’t resist trying these and WOW… genuinely the biggest shrimp I’ve ever seen! Massive, juicy and full of flavour. I learned that these Gulf shrimp are often referred to as ‘pink gold’ as when the pink shrimp were discovered near Fort Myers in 1949, it changed the area’s economy forever. Forget the Gold Rush, this was the Pink Gold Rush!
Portions are on the large size at Blue Dog, so I’d recommend ordering a main course to share, or taking home a doggy bag!
How to get to Fort Myers?
Fort Myers is easy to reach by car from any of Florida’s international airports. The city does have its own airport (Southwest Florida International Airport) but there aren’t currently any direct flights from the UK.
For this trip we compared flight options to Miami, Tampa and Orlando. We chose to fly into Orlando International Airport as it offered the best flights and prices at our time of booking. The drive from there took three hours. Tampa and Miami are a little closer, at just over two hours’ drive away.
I’d recommend taking a look at the Icelolly website, which has lots of amazing Florida holiday deals. You could look at options of twin-centre holidays if you fancy spending a few days at the theme parks in Orlando before visiting Fort Myers.
Where to stay in Fort Myers
We stayed at The Westin Cape Coral Resort at Marina Village, a 4* hotel right on the water. With swimming pools, a fitness suite, several dining options and an al fresco cocktail bar, this luxurious hotel has everything you need for a relaxing stay.
One of my favourite things about the hotel was the view from our room. We had a one-bedroom suite on the 17th floor (near the top) which boasted sweeping panoramic views over the mangroves, nature preserve and the water. As we arrived after dark on our first night, it was quite a special moment opening the curtains in the morning and seeing the stunning views for the first time.
We enjoyed a few meals in the main restaurant Marker 92. The hotel has a pledge to using local and sustainable produce, so you’ll find plenty of fresh fish and seafood dishes on the menu. Some of my favourite items were the small chicken and beef taco bowls, topped with pico de gallo and salad – a delight to eat!
A really great feature of this hotel is the complimentary water taxi that runs between the marina and Fort Myers Beach each day. There are even sunset tours to see dolphins in the winter months.
I really enjoyed being based in the marina area, as there are a handful of other restaurants and shops there too. It was also fun wandering the boardwalk and checking out the vast yachts and speed boats… a girl can dream right?!
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my trip to Florida and all the amazing things to do in Fort Myers! If you’re considering a twin-centre trip to Florida, you could pair Fort Myers with one of these great destinations:
A big thanks to Visit Florida, Icelolly and Visit Fort Myers for making this trip happen. As always, all opinions are my own.
If you’re looking for information to make the most of your time in the Sunshine State, don’t miss my Florida travel guides:
- 17 Cool And Unique Hotels in Florida
- The Ultimate Holiday Travel Guide To Miami, Florida
- 16 Amazing Things To Do In Fort Myers, Sanibel + Captiva, Florida
- 48 Hours In St Petersburg & St Pete Beach, Florida: Top Things To Do
- Crystal River and Pasco County, Florida: A 3-Day Travel Guide
- Florida Food Scene: Best Restaurants In Tampa, St Petersburg, Pasco County And Crystal River
- 9 Things To Do In Stuart, Martin County, Florida
- The Ultimate Travel Guide To Martin County, Florida