When you live in Florida—where Recommend is headquartered—you tend to be a bit of a snob when it comes to beaches, but no matter how many times we visit Fort Myers and Sanibel and their luminous beaches, we fall madly in love time and again with Florida’s Southwest Gulf coast.
Here, in this beach destination where the days trickle by, glowing sunsets, early-morning shelling, an Old Florida ambiance, lazy, breezy drives on long and winding roads through nature parks, and miles and miles of powdery white-sand beaches create a perfect sun-kissed holiday. This area is made for people who really want to get away from it all, and it seems that once they’ve dipped their toes into these sands, these people keep coming back for more. In 2009, according to the Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau, nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of visitors were repeat visitors, and these statistics echo what we heard from the people we spoke to during our visit—they just can’t get enough of this destination. So book a client on a Fort Myers & Sanibel beach vacation, and you’ll have them in your pocket for years to come.
what to do The area’s beaches, of course, are the primary lure, and because the oil never even got close to the Southwest Florida shoreline, these beautiful beaches are as pristine as ever. Here, it’s a must to experience an early-morning stroll as the water laps gently onto the shore and before the sun gets too high in the sky. Shelling aficionados will want to head out in the early morning, too, because according to locals that’s when the best shell specimens are found, before the selection is picked over. Point hardcore shell enthusiasts, though, to the charters that make their way to North Captiva and Cayo Costa, where very low populations of people mean an abundance of shells.
Once the early-afternoon has kicked in, families should rent a couple of beach chairs and an umbrella, park them shoreline and watch as time idly passes by. This is the destination to do nothing but enjoy the ocean scent, wriggle one’s toes into the sand, and let the kids have fun building sand castles, looking for shells, playing with the waves, or watching as other more brave souls caress heaven’s gate while parasailing over the waters. Of course, jet skis—among a host of other watersports—are readily available, too, for those who like to play closer to land.
After a day at the beach, well, it’s back to the beach for those glorious sunsets. This is a family affair as everyone comes out from the beachfront resorts to watch Mother Nature in her finest hour, and kids will love spotting the different birds such as pelicans as they dip in and out of the water during the late-afternoon. A nice spot to watch the sun drip away into the Gulf is at the Fort Myers Beach pier, where both locals and visitors converge to go fishing—parents will like to know that children under 16 do not need a license for fresh or saltwater fishing—people watching, jump off the pier or enjoy some waterfront dining at Times Square, a pedestrian-only area filled with restaurants and shops. Sunset, incidentally, is also the best time to see dolphins, as it’s when they cruise the waters near shore for schools of fish.
For a more unique water-bound experience, visitors should board the 600-passenger Capt. J.P. Paddlewheeler, operated by J.C. Cruises. It sails on the Caloosahatchee River, through downtown Fort Myers, and affords views of Fort Myers’ historic sights. To delve even deeper into Old Florida history, wanna-be historians will want to tour the Sanibel Historical Museum & Village, a gem of a place that gives a glimpse into life on Sanibel from the 1880s to the 1940s. Included in the village is a general store, a Sears Roebuck catalog kit home from 1924, an early-1900s schoolhouse with the original school bell, and a 1926 Post Office. This is a must for the little ones—they’ll especially love playing with the old-time toys that are on display in the schoolhouse.
For kids who’d rather study nature than take a stroll back in time, the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is an open-air laboratory. In this 6,400-acre refuge, there are birdwatching paths, winding canoe trails, footpaths, the scenic Wildlife Drive, and a chance to spot alligators—the perfect adventure for little explorers.