Some thoughts on the Fort Myers area for families

Swimming at Bowman's Beach Sanibel Island

Before I was contacted by the Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau, I didn’t even know where Fort Myers, Florida was. I may have realized that it was on the Gulf Coast, but it wasn’t until I consulted a map that I knew it was only about 150 miles north and west of Miami. I certainly had no idea what a nice spot it makes for a family getaway or how easy it is to get there. In fact, you can fly directly from Philadelphia or New York in under three hours, which makes it very doable for a long weekend vacation from the northeastern United States.

We visited the Fort Myers area during the off-season, which starts in late April or early May and lasts roughly through November. Now there are plenty of reasons to visit the area in, say, February. Spring training for the Twins and the Red Sox are two of them as are the thousands of migratory birds who are on full display at that time. The weather is warm and relatively free of humidity and of course, for many people who live up north escaping winter is an appealing prospect.

But remember – if you go then, you will be one of many, many people with the same idea. For this reason, I would definitely recommend considering a visit during either the early spring or fall. You are taking a bit of a risk if you travel during the Atlantic hurricane season but the risk can pay off as it did for us at the beginning of October in weather that is hot but not unpleasantly so with dry air and a nice breeze. Travel during the off-season and you will have your pick of hotel rooms or condos. You will also pay discounted prices and won’t be fighting the crowds. It’s important at this time of year to plan a bit more carefully and be flexible – sometimes group activities like wildlife cruises are canceled due to lack of participation. But if you are prepared to accept that not everything is open or operating at 100 percent capacity you are sure to have a great time.

If you do go, here are a few of my recommendations that I haven’t yet written about:

  • The beaches on Sanibel Island are gorgeous and rightly famous for their seashells, but Fort Myers Beach has some very pretty town beaches too, and you don’t have to pay a toll to get there (the Sanibel causeway has a tollbooth). Drive through the Fort Myers Beach town center and you’ll reach Lovers Key State Park, which offers beaches, shelling, as well as biking and hiking trails and several playgrounds.
  • On San Carlos Boulevard heading out to Fort Myers Beach from Fort Myers you’ll find your pick of miniature golf courses, which are of course great places to spend a few hours when your kids get tired of swimming. We enjoyed Jungle Golf, which has a Tarzan theme.
  • For a great family meal in between Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel Island, try Starz Pizzeria, which is locally owned. The pizza is delicious, the service is very friendly, and they sell delicious local ice cream for dessert. This restaurant is convenient to Adventures in Paradise, which offers a variety of different types of cruises, boat rentals, and a canoe and kayak trail that is perfect for kids.

We were only in the Fort Myers area for a few days and there were definitely some things that we missed that I’d like to take advantage of on another trip. I’d love to spend more time on Sanibel Island and visit Captiva, its northern neighbor and perhaps some of the outlying islands accessible only by boat. And if the weather isn’t too hot, I think renting bikes from Billy’s Rentals from would be a great way to explore. Tarpon Bay Explorers on Sanibel has kayaks for rent and offers a sunset tour of the outlying islands in the “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge where the bird watching is reputedly spectacular. They also have a touch tank full of marine life that we didn’t get to see. There’s the Sanibel Sea School, which offers educational programs about the marine ecosystem that I know we would all enjoy. And the area also has many other parks and wildlife preserves that offer opportunities for exploring on foot or by boat. It would be easy to spend virtually all of one’s stay outside.

I’d recommend the Fort Myers area for families with children of any age. The ocean water is warm and the waves are gentle enough for little ones, and outdoorsy teens will love the opportunities to kayak or parasail. The variety of activities and relaxing atmosphere mean it’s also a good spot for a multigenerational vacation. We are seriously thinking about trying to lure Matt’s parents there in 2011. Wish us luck!

This post is just one of many I wrote about our trip to the Fort Myers. See the rest here.

Our trip to the Fort Myers area was generously paid for by the Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau. The Pink Shell Resort provided our lodging, and many of the other attractions we visited gave us free admission. All of the opinions I express are my own and you can always count on me to let you know if I’ve gotten something for free.

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