When I think of Florida, images of palm trees, colorful sunsets and pretty beaches come to mind. On my recent trip to Fort Myers in the southwest part of the state, I got plenty of the above, along with some unexpected activities involving wildlife. The perfect place for nature lovers, Fort Myers has tons of hiking and bike trails, miles of pretty beaches, wildlife preserves and opportunities to get out on the water, from kayaking to sailing.

Below are the top 15 best things I’d recommend doing on a trip to Fort Myers.

Get up close with flamingos and alligators at the Everglades Wonder Gardens

Home to rescued birds and reptiles like flamingos, peacocks and turtles, the Everglades Wonder Gardens is great for animal lovers. We spent an entire afternoon sitting by the flamingo pond watching them eat, walk around, sleep and twist their necks in the funniest ways. Before leaving we caught their daily alligator feeding that was also very fascinating to watch.

Go sailing on a sunset cruise

It seemed like everyone had a boat in Fort Myers and the islands nearby. For those of us without a boat, it’s still possible to enjoy being out on the water on a private cruise. Captain Dan and Dianne have daily sailings on their beautiful boat Star of Orion. We took a 2.5 hour sunset cruise around the Gulf and enjoyed sailing with such a fun couple!

Chill out on Sanibel and Captiva Island

These two islands are connected to the mainland by a bridge but feel like a complete world away. Made up of 15 miles of beaches, 22 miles of bike paths, 190 miles of kayak and canoe trails and various animals, mammals and birds, it’s the perfect place for those looking to spend quality time in the outdoors. There’s just one main road that goes through the islands, which forces you to slow down. If you’re looking for a relaxed vibe, head to Sanibel and Captiva. Some of my favorite beaches: Bowman’s Beach, Blind Pass Beach and Captiva Beach.

See alligators in the Everglades

A trip to Florida wouldn’t be complete without seeing alligators. Located in the headwaters of the Historic Everglades and the closest airboat ride in southwest Florida, we drove about 45 minutes to take this Airboats and Alligators Tour in Lake Trafford. It was worth the drive seeing so many alligators in their natural habitat. 

Go for a nature walk at a swamp sanctuary

After our Airboats and Alligators Tour, we stayed in the area and took a stroll through the 13,000-acre Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. During our nature walk on their 2.25-mile boardwalk, we saw owls, falcons and my favorite—an alligator that just gave birth to 20 alligator babies.

Go shelling on Sanibel Island

Due to its shallow shoreline that stretches into the Gulf of Mexico, shells are able to remain intact on Sanibel’s shores. A top shelling destination, the best time to explore is an hour before to an hour past low tide.

Get some key lime pie at Cabbage Key

This secluded island is only accessible by boat and has over 100 acres of tropical vegetation surrounding a historic restaurant, inn and rental cottages. Without any paved roads, there are also no cars on the island. We stopped by here for lunch during our island hopping boat trip and loved how low-key it was. The favorite was definitely the key lime pie for dessert.

Relax at the Island Inn

Located on Sanibel, Island Inn is the ideal island hideaway for those looking to relax and unwind. With hammocks, lounge chairs, a pool and their own stretch of sand in front of the property, it’s difficult to not feel relaxed while staying here. They have an assortment of room types including traditional rooms, suites and cottages for larger parties. I stayed in one of their newly renovated luxury suites and took full advantage of my patio with views of the ocean every morning. They also offer a beach walk with a Marine Biologist from the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum that teaches you about the various types of seashells on Sanibel.

J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge

Located across from the Island Inn, this 7,600-acre wildlife refuge is home to 51 types of reptiles and amphibians, 32 mammal species and more than 230 species of birds. We did the four-mile scenic drive by car and stopped at designated spots with observation towers and viewpoints. It’s also possible to experience it on their hiking/biking trails. Best to stop in the Visitor & Education Center before heading out.

Tour the Edison Ford Winter Estates

Serving as the winter residences for inventors and good friends Henry Ford and Thomas Edison, the estates are made up of their historic homes, a historical museum, research lab and 21-acre botanical garden. The tour is helpful to take as it gives an overview of the grounds before exploring on your own.

Go island hopping around Captiva Island

Did you ever think you could go island hopping in Florida? There are many little islands and islets around Captiva Island that are only accessible by boat. Besides getting access to private beaches, we got a mini mansions tour along the coastline and saw wild birds, dolphins and manatees during our day trip. We hired a private speedboat and captain to show us all the best spots like Cabbage Key, North Captiva Island, Boca Grande and Cayo Costa State Park.

Spend a day at the beach in Cayo Costa State Park and North Captiva Island

Everyone told us this was the area with the prettiest beaches and they definitely were not lying. During our boat ride exploring the smaller islands near Captiva Island and Cayo Costa State Park, we found this stretch of sand with all kinds of beautiful driftwood and trees where people hung shells. With endless sandy beaches, it’s easy to find a stretch of beach all to yourself.

Stay at South Seas Island Resort

Located on a 330-acre nature preserve in Captiva Island, South Seas Island Resort has 2.5 miles of private shoreline on their property. With different accommodation options including hotel suites, condos or private home rentals, there’s something for everyone. My favorite spots on the resort were the hammocks by the Sunset Beach Bar and the golf course during sunset, which had the best palm tree silhouettes!

See dolphins in the wild

Dolphins are some of my favorite animals to see in the wild. So playful and inquisitive, they’re a delight to watch. We went out on a sunset dolphin cruise and saw pods of dolphins cruising along next to our boat, jumping out every so often to say hello.

Catch sunset anywhere along the coastline

Florida really does have some of the best sunsets. Each seemed to be more colorful than the next. My favorite spots to end the day were the beach in front of Island Inn and the pier at Fort Myers Beach. If you walk to the end of the pier, it feels like you’re standing in the middle of the ocean with endless waves extending onto the horizon.

How to Get There

Fort Myers is located in the Southwest part of Florida. The closest airport is Southwest Florida International Airport. If driving, it is connected to cities like Miami, Tampa and Orlando via major highways. It’s also possible to boat in on either the Key West Ferry or a personal vessel.

Summary

I didn’t expect there would be so much to do in Fort Myers other than hitting the beaches and relaxing by the pool. I especially liked the nature preserves and opportunities to see wildlife in their natural habitats. Island life has a way of forcing you to slow down and the relaxed pace of life in Captiva and Sanibel are definitely apparent. If you’re looking for a comfortable, low-key vacation with opportunities for wildlife sightings, boating and nature-related activities, Fort Myers is the perfect place to check out.

Start planning your own trip to The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel.

Thank you to Fort Myers Tourism Bureau for hosting me on this relaxing getaway. As always, all opinions and photos are my own.

Photos of me by my travel partners Claudio Bezerra and Jeremy Foster