It's travel Tuesday!! So how about the first installment of the Exploring the Sunshine State series??
I have documents full of travel research. Places I’ve been to and place I dream of visiting. Sometimes I’ll read about something on a blog or in a magazine article and add it to the plethora of information I’m saving for someday, just in case.
This is one of my favorite parts of traveling, the anticipation and the research. I love research; a trait I definitely inherited from my father who we always joked should be a fact-checker.
At the end of 2013 I was in the final stretch of a Bachelor’s degree in nursing, a 16 month marathon program. I decided that I was definitely rewarding myself for finishing the mother of a program so I started researching warm places for January and February. After trying desperately to find somewhere semi-affordable in the Florida Keys we settled on Cape Coral, which was still far enough south to be warm, but not as expensive.
We rented a 4 bedroom/2 bath house with a private pool and hot tub through VRBO.com. Then I slogged through the end of my degree, managed to pass all of my classes, and actually graduated! We departed Indiana where the wind chill was about -8 and landed in Ft. Myers where it was 82 degrees. Hallelujah! The best part of getting on the plane in Indy was that the demographics of our plane to Ft. Myers was about 95% senior citizens. I joked to my sister that we were definitely on the party plane. (Little did I know that Ft. Myers as a whole would continue to be made up of about 95% people over 60).
We arrived and got our rental car before heading out to our house, which was in a normal residential neighborhood. Although what the listing forgot to mention was that they were currently in the middle of putting city water and sewer throughout the neighborhood so the roads were all red clay. If we hadn’t had an SUV we might not have made it through some of them. But we persevered and proceeded to stock up on groceries and random stuff from the 5 different Publix grocery stores we visited over the course of two days (I mean I’m a fan of Publix but even for me this was bit much).
Sunday morning we got up and went to the Arts Fest in downtown Ft. Myers. I’m a big fan of arts festivals, Pensacola has a huge one every year. I usually don’t buy anything but its fun to walk around and look at all the interesting and amazing artwork that’s on display.
After the arts fest we headed to Ft. Myer’s Beach to do what we came to Florida to do, lay on the beach. We ate dinner at Nemo’s on the Beach and I had the best chicken teriyaki sandwich. Plus we got an appetizer of some of the biggest nachos I have ever seen.
The next day we headed to Sanibel Island to hang out at the beach. Sanibel is a much different feel than Ft. Myers Beach. Sanibel feels much more deserted and there are multiple little access points up and down the island so you can feel like you have the beach to yourself whereas Ft. Myers Beach you are pretty packed into one small area with lots of people. Sanibel Island also had more wildlife and a less commercial feel.
After that it’s more of a blur of beaches, shopping, time spent in the pool and searching for good places to eat.
Places to Shop:
These outlets are on the way to Ft. Myer’s beach so their a nice stop after you’ve been out in the sun all day.
Bell Tower Shops
This is an outdoor shopping mall in Ft. Myers. It’s a bit older and doesn’t have a huge variety of stores but there are some unique ones worth checking out.
This one is actually in Bonita Springs, south of Ft. Myers. It is a newer outdoor shopping center. It has a ton of variety in stores and lots of food options as well. This one is definitely the winner out of all the shopping we did in the area.
Things to Do:
My sister loves marine animals so we definitely made it a point to visit the Manatee Park in Ft. Myers. From the website it’s a “Non-captive warm water refuge for the florida manatee”. The best times to see manatees are December, January and February. There is a fair amount of paved nature trails and you can also rent kayaks. Parking is $2/hr or $5/day. Free admission.
We actually didn’t have time to do this but I wish we had! You can visit their winter homes in Ft. Myers and see the lab where Edison worked on his inventions.
Places to Eat:
If you go to Ft. Myer’s you MUST GO to Heavenly Biscuit. My cousin had recommended we try this and waxed poetic about the giant cinnamon rolls and biscuits. I’m all about the baked goods, so of course we had to make this a priority. I will tell you, make sure you go early because they do sometimes run out of cinnamon rolls. Also be prepared for a line out the door no matter what time you go. This place is tiny too, so don’t count on getting a table. I had the cinnamon roll and Rachael got the biscuits and gravy which I could hardly photograph she was eating them so fast.
Ford’s Garage is another must visit if you’re in the Ft. Myers area. There are a couple of different locations and we went to the Cape Coral one. The theme is a garage during prohibition. It’s super cute and my favorite features were definitely the old Model T’s inside the restaurant and the sinks in the bathroom! I had a turkey burger and it was out of this world!
We went here one morning to get doughnuts (because of course I couldn’t go to a new city and not try a doughnut!!). I got a peanut butter glazed one that was fantastic! I don’t drink coffee so no idea what theirs tastes like.
Yes I swear that is actually the name of this ice cream place in Cape Coral. I got an amazing dipped cone there!
Now for some pros and cons of a trip to Ft. Myer’s/Cape Coral
- Warm during the winter (70’s and 80’s while we were there the first week in February)
- Lots of options for eating and shopping
- Not a ton of cultural options (though I’m sure there were more than I looked up)
- Lots of different options for beaches in the area. Some more populated and touristy, others more deserted, lots of good opportunities to get seashells.
- Lots of vacation rental options if you’re interested in a house with a pool rather than a hotel and cheaper than further south in florida.
- Most of the visitors to Ft. Myers (or at least in the winter time) are older adults. We saw very few families and pretty much nobody in their 20’s. Which is fine because it wasn’t like we were there to party, but if you are Ft. Myers may not be the place for you.
- If you are staying in Cape Coral know you are at least a 45 minute drive to pretty much any beach that I could find. So, take that into account when picking a place to stay if being close to beach is important to you.
- Traffic getting on and off some of the beaches is bad as many of the bridges and roads are only two lanes (often par for the course to get to beaches).
Here's a video of our time in Ft. Myers!