If you’re looking for your next tropical getaway, you may not have to go as far as you think. The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel may not be on your travel bucket list yet, but AWA’s adventure overview may change your mind. With palm trees a plenty, seashells galore, and the highest number of sunshine hours in all of Florida, The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel check all the out-of-office boxes.
Marking the entrance to San Carlos Bay, the Sanibel Lighthouse was one of the first lighthouses on Florida’s Gulf coast. Standing 98-feet above sea level, the tower was first lit August 20, 1884. The Light would welcome several keepers over the years before it would become automated in 1949. When Henry Shanahan was promoted to head keeper, he enlisted the help of his family to help run the lighthouse. With 13 children, a cat trained like a dog, and a pet deer, he had plenty of extra hands, paws, and hooves to keep the Light in working order.
Take a stroll back in time to life on Sanibel in the 1800s. Wander into the old post office, the first school house, and catch a glimpse of what it was like to go grocery shopping in the early 1900s at the old General store. You won’t find any replicas here! The village is complied of historic buildings moved from their original island sites and fully restored, some dating as far back as 1898.
Taking advantage of this rule, island visitors can cozy up in a historic 1960’s A-frame like that of the Anchor Inn & Cottages, where one gets the option of staying low near the beaches, or hanging on the second floor amongst the rambunctious palm leaves.
If you want to learn more about your shells you scored at the beach, you’ve come to the right place! The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum is the only accredited museum in the United States devoted solely to shells and mollusks. Found a shell in the bottom of your beach bag when you got home? Check out the museum’s mobile app, where you can take a photo of any shell and find out everything you wanted to know about your beach treasure!
Put your bird watching skills to the test! Established in 1976, the refuge is named after the 2x Pulitzer Prize Winner and cartoonist Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling. With over 2,500 acres of protected land, it preserves one of the country’s largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystems. With over 245 different species of fowl that call this place “home”, the refuge is truly a bird’s paradise.
With vintage cottages, island tours, resident manatees, and the “World’s Smallest Fishing Museum”, Jenson’s Marina & Cottages has something for everyone.Built in 1928, guest from all walks of life have enjoyed the marina including John F. Kennedy Jr.So much so that some manatees have decided to call this place home all year long.Where most sea cows head back out to the Gulf for the summer, a small population have decided to become the unofficial welcoming committee of the marina.
Built in 1901, this tiny chapel served as a one room school house until 1921.During that time, the building was also used for religious services whenever a preacher was in the area.As the population on Captiva grew, so did the need for more frequent services.A circuit preacher was brought over, often by ferry, from the mainland on a more regular basis.Today, services are held seasonally every Sunday, April through November, with the addition of a Christmas Eve Mass which has become a treasured tradition of locals and visitors from around the world.
While orchestrating the lights and sound of his first show at the Laboratory Theater, Technical Director Jonathan Johnson’s screen went dark (a nightmare for any seasoned theater tech.) Right before Johnson’s next cue, however, the system miraculously rebooted as he heard a disembodied giggle. This was just the beginning of the paranormal experiences at 1634 Woodford Avenue.
Not only were two of the world’s greatest inventors friends, they were also neighbors. Looking for a place to relax and warm winter retreats, Edison and Ford decided Fort Myers would make a perfect home away from home. Dating back to 1885, the estates include 21 acres of botanical gardens, a museum, and Edison’s Botanic Research Laboratory.
From Post Office to Courthouse to Art Center, this 1933 Neoclassical Revival Building has seen Fort Myers from its early beginnings. The building’s massive columns were made of limestone from the Florida Keys and the walls are embedded with coral formations and sea shells.
When you turn down Main Street and see the Edison Theater, you may think you made a wrong turn and somehow ended up in Miami. Named after the Fort Myers most famous resident, Thomas Edison, the theater showed silent movies accompanied by a piano. Not much else is known about this Art Deco landmark, even the architect and the year it was built remains a mystery.
Holding court amongst the palm trees, this bright yellow mansion is a remnant of a bygone era when Fort Myers was a sleepy hideaway for America’s affluent. The lone survivor of what was once called “Millionaire’s Row”, the stately Georgian Revival home is not as unique as one might think—it was made to order from a Sears-Roebuck catalog.
During the winter months, your chances of seeing manatees at the park are almost guaranteed. Like clockwork, they seek shelter in the warmer waters of the rivers and canals along the coast. Hop on a kayak to get up close and personal with these docile creatures. Rather stay on land? From the lookout points, you can put your ear up to a speaker and listen to the herd “chirping” to one another through underwater microphones.
With a population only around 8,000, Pine Island is the largest island in Florida and has an even bigger job. It supplies the entire state with palm trees, fruits, and vegetables. Unlike the sandy barrier islands, you won’t find any beaches here! It is made from the same coral rock as the mainland and surrounded by mangroves.
If you want to explore the sandy barrier islands off the coast or grab lunch at Cabbage Key, you’re going to need a boat. We recommend scheduling a tour with our new friend Captain Jim over at Pine Island Boat Tours. Make sure you tell him we said hi!
Containing no electricity, running water, or telephones, these cabins perched on the shoals of Pine Island Sound are not your average tropical getaway. Instead, these “Daddy long leg shacks” are remnants of a once powerful commercial fishing industry. Still used today, their continued existence is as fragile as the wooden stilts they rest upon.
Calusa Island where the Calusa Indians thrived for 1500 years. Samples taken from the shell middens date as far back as 1200 BC. Today, the protected land is home to 3 types of mangroves … and 2 archeologists.
If you want to feel like you are on a deserted island, you’ve come to the right place. Cayo Costa is one of the few places in Florida that looks the same as it did 500 years ago. Only accessible by boat, this remote island hasn’t had full time residents since 1958. Visitors are welcome to pitch a tent or stay in one the primitive cabins overnight. Just be sure to pack your lunch, as there are no concessions available for hungry campers.
Gil Hampton remembers witnessing the first dollar bill going up on the wall of the bar. There are many reasons why visitors have copied this action, with one myth being that fishermen left a bill to make sure they had money for their next next drink, but Hampton offers a more honest approach — “I’m not really sure.” Though the reasoning behind the first dollars may remain a mystery, the attractive aura of the Cabbage Key Inn and its famous Dollar Bill Bar are well known throughout the Pine Island Sound, and continue to draw big names and day trippers alike.