Known as the “Gateway to Southwest Florida”, Fort Myers makes the perfect base for exploring the many beautiful islands that are easily accessible from the city.
Being lucky enough to have called this subtropical paradise home for two years, Fort Myers is a place packed with excitement. Now a major tourist destination, snowbirds from northern cities choose to overwinter here and more and more people are relocating every year.
Fort Myers boasts a wide selection of lavish beachside resorts and hotels (it’s vital to book well in advance, especially during the Spring Break period), and is the gateway to exploring a number of fascinating islands.
Islands around Fort Myers are home to abundant wildlife, loads of outdoor recreation including exceptional golfing, and many of Florida’s most beautiful hidden beaches. So we’ve partnered with Hotels.com to bring you a list of our favorites!
Once you’re finished shopping at the outlets and catching a baseball spring training game, be sure to check out these top nearby islands, each offering their own unique attractions and character.
Best Islands to Explore around Fort Myers, Florida
Fort Myers and COVID-19
Islands around Fort Myers are open to visitors, and many of the natural islands offer plenty of space for social distancing. For those that are more built up, we recommend a more heightened consciousness about safe and responsible travel.
If you are comfortable traveling, please do so responsibly, and within regulation as travel is at your own risk. We recommend wearing a face mask, traveling with hand sanitizer, and washing your hands on a regular basis.
When traveling through Florida, it’s not only about protecting yourself, but also about protecting the largely retired population who are more vulnerable to the current pandemic (1 in 5 of Florida’s residents are 65 or older).
It’s also worthwhile checking official websites before your trip for the latest updates on policies, closures, and status of local businesses, and booking a hotel with free cancellation in case you need to change your plans at the last minute.
Now for the islands …
Known as the seashell capital of America, Sanibel has been luring nature lovers for decades. The island’s beautiful and very natural beaches, void of towering skyscrapers, are home to a great variety of ornate and colorful seashells including the highly sought after junonia.
You can learn all about the shells that can found on the islands as well as shells from around the world at the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum and easily find shells of your own to take home by heading to hotspots like Bowman’s Beach.
Observe alligators, nesting ospreys, bald eagles, roseate spoonbills, and several different species of egrets and herons at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Abundant birds can also be spotted in nearby Bailey Tract which is home to wild bobcats.
The beautiful palm lined Periwinkle Way is packed with lovely shops selling unique jewelry, clothing, and locally made art. You’ll also find the 19th century schoolhouse which has been converted into the BIG ARTS Herb Strauss Theater, now hosting Broadway shows, concerts, and comedy acts.
Also dating back to the 19th century is the Sanibel Island Lighthouse which was one of the very first lighthouses on Florida’s Gulf Coast.
Accessible by a bridge leading from Sanibel, Captiva has long been a vacation spot for prominent people including U.S. presidents and celebrities. Both Teddy Roosevelt and Charles Lindbergh have sunk their feet in Captiva’s beautiful sands.
The small island offers up peaceful, luxurious resorts like Tween Waters and South Seas where you can truly escape civilization in favor of pure tropical bliss. There are abundant water activities to enjoy including parasailing, stand up paddle boarding, kayaking, sailing, and wave runners.
Take a sunset cruise in search of dolphins, where you might possibly come across a gentle manatee. Another great way to see both of these species is by taking a kayaking trip through the mangroves of Pine Island Sound.
Be sure to check out the eclectic restaurant called the Bubble Room, with its vivid pastel colors and large collection of toys form the 1930’s and 40s. The island is also home to the Chapel by the Sea which was once a one bedroom schoolhouse at the turn of the century.
Golfers may want to tee off at the 9-hole South Seas Golf Course, regarded by many as one of the world’s “Top Five Short Courses”.
If Sanibel and Captiva are a bit too peaceful for you, check out Estero Island. Home to the much livelier Fort Myers Beach, you’ll find a nightlife scene with beachside bars and countless seafood restaurants.
Popular with spring breakers, you’ll find more of a party scene here with water sport rentals located out front of most hotels and resorts. You can easily rent a boat for the day or book sunset cruises and deep-sea fishing adventures.
Check out the souvenir and surf shops of Times Square or simply lounge in the sun along the 7-mile-long beachfront. You can also join the fisherman to see what their catching at the Fort Myers Beach pier. To escape the crowds, head to Bowditch Point Park where raccoons, birds, and other wildlife hang out. The island is also home to ancient Calusa Indian shell mounds that are worth checking out.
Fort Myers Beach hosts a number of exciting events throughout the year including their annual Shrimp Festival, Pirate Festival, and the American Sand Sculpting Championship.
Image: Matthew Straubmuller (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr
Sandwiched between Fort Myers Beach and Bonita Beach, Lovers Key is home to the Lovers Key State Park which is completely void of the high-rise hotels you’ll find just across the bridge on Estero Island.
Aptly named, Lovers Key has become a top destination for couples looking for a romantic beachside wedding. The 2-mile-long beach is much more secluded than those found on Estero Island and some months of the year you may find yourself with the sand all to yourself.
The state park covers roughly 700 acres and is one of the best locations for spotting local wildlife in the area. Dolphin and manatee sighting are common, along with all kind of bird and butterfly species.
There are over 5 miles of multi-use trails to explore, where you can either bike or hike to check out the other barrier islands such as Black Island that make up the state park.
In addition to the land-based trails, there are also great kayak trails which can easily be explored by renting a kayak within the park. The park offers a gazebo, picnic areas, boat ramp, and two playgrounds.
Travel back in time to discover one of Southwest Florida’s last authentic fishing villages. The largest island off Florida’s Gulf Coast, Pine Island is home to a number of unique communities including Bokeelia, St. James City, and Pineland.
The island takes being laid-back to the next level. You’ll find numerous interesting art galleries and several great natural areas with hiking trails. While it lacks the beautiful beaches of the barrier islands, you’ll find three aquatic preserves, and large tracts of tropical palm and fruit groves.
Enjoy kayaking in the Pine Island Aquatic Preserve or check out the Calusa Heritage Trail at the Randell Research Center to learn all about the culture of the Calusa Indians that once lived here. The site is home to ancient canals, shell mounds, and other artifacts.
You can also arrange boat trips to Cayo Costa and North Captiva which are not accessible by vehicle.
If you’re really looking to escape it all, look no further than Cayo Costa. Only accessible by charter boat or ferry, the island is home to the Cayo Costa State Park.
There are very limited facilities on the island and no hotels available. The adventurous can, however, camp or stay in a primitive cabin.
The unspoiled Gulf Coast island is home to nine miles of beach and more than six miles of biking and hiking trails that wind through coastal pine forests. The island is notable for its large populations of sea turtles which come ashore to nest from March through October.
Documented species include loggerhead, hawksbill, green, and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles.
When you’re not spending time looking for wildlife, enjoy great swimming, snorkeling, and shelling. One of the easiest ways to reach the island is via the hour-long ferry that leaves from Pineland Marina on Pine Island.