Fort Myers, Florida, has attracted natives and settlers ever since it was a Seminole War outpost, and its location on the Caloosahatchee River makes it a lively, scenic metropolitan center today. Tourists visit Fort Myers not only for the city itself but for all that the area has to offer, from Cape Coral and North Fort Myers to Bonita Springs.
The barrier islands of Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel and Captiva attract hordes of tourists who flock there to stay in hotels overlooking the shore, loll on white-sand beaches and swim in the surf. Visitors also enjoy exploring the mangrove-clogged waterways, fishing, boating, golfing, playing tennis and other outdoor pursuits available in the area.
Fort Myers Beach is a popular tourist destination. It bustles with watersports, fishing and nightlife, and its southernmost area contains a state park teeming with birds. Sanibel Island is well known for its magnificent, intact seashells and its diligent wildlife conservation. Captiva Island serves as a gateway to a string of upper islands accessible only by boat.
Fort Myers itself supports a burgeoning arts scene buoyed by galleries, theaters and festivals that attract tourists. Historic McGregor Boulevard in Fort Myers never fails to impress with its rows of majestic royal palms that were planted by Thomas Edison. Cape Coral remains largely residential and family-oriented. South of Fort Myers, Florida Gulf Coast University ushered in a boom of development and shopping opportunities that appeal to tourists.
The Caloosahatchee River runs between Fort Myers on its south banks, and Cape Coral and North Fort Myers to the north. The river flows into San Carlos Bay, which separates the mainland from the barrier islands and is part of the Intracoastal Waterway.
Across the Intracoastal Waterway, the string of islands includes Bonita Beach in the south, trailed by Fort Myers Beach on Estero Island, then Sanibel Island. Bridges connect the three islands directly to the mainland. Sanibel links to Captiva Island to the north with a short bridge. Black Island hooks up with Bonita Beach at one end and Fort Myers Beach at another, and Lovers Key lies on its west side. There are more islands near Captiva Island that are inaccessible by car, and countless keys and islands lie leeward of the barrier islands in the bay waters.
The area between Fort Myers and Bonita Springs is filled with mostly residential communities such as San Carlos Park and Estero.
Fort Myers' waterways and balmy climate drew the Calusa Indians to the area, where they subsisted off seafood and shellfish, leaving behind great shell mounds as evidence of their activities. The fierce Calusa kept Spanish explorers at bay in the 1500s, but European diseases killed off most of the tribe. Those who survived blended in with the Cuban fishers who arrived later on the barrier islands to export mullet and roe back to their homeland. The government quickly labeled the region as a scurrilous land populated by outlaws, half-breeds and other unsavory types.
First known as Fort Harvie, Fort Myers became well-known around 1858 during the Seminole Wars. Soldiers who were stationed in the strategic location often stayed, seduced by the area's pleasant climate. The region's far-flung ports saw their share of blockade-runners during the Civil War, which brought yet another influx of soldiers-cum-settlers. The cattle industry brought "cow hunters" to the area. Cow hunters, known for their raucous lifestyle, would drive descendants of the longhorn steers left by early Spanish explorers to Punta Rassa, where today's Sanibel Causeway makes landfall.
With the arrival of Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone in the late 1800s, the Fort Myers region began its rise as a destination for the wealthy and adventurous. Teddy Roosevelt, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Zane Grey and Mary Roberts Rinehart were among those who went to the area to fish for tarpon. Others began to discover Fort Myers' natural charms, and today it is one of Florida's fastest-growing tourist areas.
Fort Myers is rich with history. The impressive Edison & Ford Estates demonstrate the important role the two inventors, particularly Edison, played in the development of modern conveniences and of Fort Myers itself. Other attractions deal with history and science. If you are visiting with children, you should consider the Butterfly Estates in Fort Myers, or a day in Cape Coral, which features a hands-on science museum and a water park.
For beaches, shelling, wildlife and some interesting museums, head to Sanibel Island.
Nightclubs are few and far between in Fort Myers; go to nearby Fort Myers Beach for the best selection. Some restaurants have bars, and you might try asking the locals for their favorite spots.
Fort Myers' culinary scene has something for everyone, from Mexican food to French and German fare. Restaurants tend to come and go in the downtown area. However, on the nearby islands of Sanibel and Captiva, you'll find a handful of longtime favorite restaurants, and most feature fresh seafood as a specialty. The Fort Myers area is known for its ethnic diversity, and the dining options you find there reflect that diversity.
Dining out is a major activity in this area and delicious choices are plentiful, so don't hesitate to ask a local for a favorite spot. Most attire is casual, especially on Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel and Captiva islands. However, ask about the dress code if planning dinner at a restaurant that requires reservations.
Restaurants and bars that serve food are smoke-free in Florida, but many venues near beaches and dockside provide ashtrays for smokers to use adjacent to the premises.
Some places may include a 15% service charge in your restaurant bill, adding a line for an additional tip if desired. Always double-check before paying and ask when in doubt. On Sunday, some eateries close at 8 pm, so plan dinner on the early side with a nightcap elsewhere.
Expect to pay within these general guidelines for a dinner for one, not including drinks, tax or tip: $ = less than US$10; $$ = US$10-$20; $$$ = US$21-$50; and $$$$ = more than US$50.
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