By: Susan Finch
Nature and history lovers flock to the Fort Myers, Florida area for its wealth of outdoor activities, historic estates, and shelling opportunities. There’s plenty of things to do in and around Fort Myers to satisfy your must-do list without busting your vacation budget. Here’s where to start.
Tourists often think Fort Myers’ reputation as a shelling paradise is mostly talked with a few gorgeous areas to find treasure. In reality, Fort Myers Beach’s powdery soft sand looks like someone spread out a carpet of seashells for the taking. Nearby Sanibel Island is the most famous shelling spot in the area with varieties like conch, lightning whelk, cockle, tulip, olive and so many more free souvenirs for the taking.
Sanibel Moorings Botanical Tour
Nature lovers looking for things to do on Fort Myers discover a world of butterflies, birds, and wildlife dotting the landscape at the Botanical Gardens at Sanibel Moorings. Designed with nature in mind, the gardens feature leisurely pathways and a growing collection of tropical plants and trees. Look for colorful varieties like African Tulip Tree, Beach Sunflower, Hibiscus Lady Liberty and Pink Tassel Tree among dozens of others.
J.N. “Ding” Darling
Situated on Sanibel Island, the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is world-famous for its migratory bird populations. Visitors come to see birds playing along the 6,400 acres of mangrove forest, marshes, submerged seagrass beds, and native Florida vegetation. Over 245 species of birds come to nest, feed, and roost in the protected area that gives refuge to threatened and endangered species.
The Mound House
Florida’s long history dates back to the life of the ancient Calusa Indian and their mysterious shell mound. Traditionally filled with mastodon teeth, bone, and shell, Florida shell mounds were created for ceremonies and rituals. Visitors learn more about the area’s early natives at the restored house museum, the Mound House which is located in nearby Fort Myers Beach. Choose from guided kayak eco-tours, shoreline strolls, interactive programs, and learn about the ancient customers of the Calusa while traveling down the Blueway Paddling Trail.
Lakes Regional Park
There are more things to do on Fort Myers than sun soaked beaches. A favorite among families, Lakes Regional Park features a children’s garden and play area complete with a small train traveling through the park’s delightful mini villages. Shutterbugs love to capture the sunrise and exotic flowers in the park, as well as native wildlife from birds to gators. Bring the kids to play in the splash pad to cool off in the Florida sun.
Wicked Dolphin Rum Distillery Tours
Wicked Dolphin Distillery in nearby Cape Coral attracts a loyal following with its artisanal rum featuring bold, unique color and taste. Stop by the distillery on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays and take a tour. Rum lovers learn how the team sources their ingredients and creates their award-winning rum from cooking to distilling and fermenting. The tour gives a fascinating look at how rum is created, but visitors eagerly await its conclusion for their turn to step into the tasting room.
Fish off the Pier
Set-up your gear at Sanibel Lighthouse Beach and Fishing Pier at the eastern tip of Sanibel Island for an adventure that won’t break the bank. Fishing enthusiasts dip their lines off the pier for heavy catches of redfish, cobia, and mackerel playing in the deep waters. After snagging your catch, enjoy some quick shelling along the shoreline and take in the views of the historic 1884 lighthouse standing 98 feet tall.
The Fort Myers Beach Pier also offers free fishing without the need for a license. The pier stretches into the Gulf of Mexico, providing glorious sunset views. And if you need supplies, check out the nearby Pelican Pitstop to rent a rod and reel or grab some bait and supplies.
Estero Island Cottage Museum
Built in 1921, the Estero Island Cottage Museum in Fort Myers Beach sits at the trailhead of Matanzas Pass Preserve with the last maritime tropical hammock on Estero Island. The preserve is open from dawn until dusk, but the Estero Island Historic Society Museum and Nature Center is open from 10 am to 12 pm on Wednesday and Saturday. The cottage houses the Estero Historical Society who gather to work on projects ranging from the “Map of Historic and Present Day Estero” to publishing a local historical cookbook.
Matanzas Pass Preserve
After stopping by the Estero Island Cottage Museum, spend some time exploring the 60-acre Matanzas Pass Preserve. The preserve is also home to an impressive mangrove forest and the last remaining maritime oak hammock community on Estero Island. Visitors feel like they’re on a secluded getaway on a tucked away boardwalk trail. Take note of the historic Great Calusa Blueway Paddling Trail passing along the preserve that was once used by the Calusa “Shell Indians.”
The best part about exploring things to do on Fort Myers? You’ll find endless opportunities for sunshine and nature—all free.