Florida Travel Guide: How to Spend your Vacation in Ft. Myers and Sanibel

Best beaches and places to visit in Ft. Myers and Sanibel

Whoever said you have to leave the US to get to the Caribbean obviously never visited Southwest Florida. With turquoise crystal-blue waters and soft-white-sugar sand for as far as the eye can see, this little slice of Florida is a beach-lover’s paradise. We just got back from a trip to Ft. Myers and Sanibel and below you’ll find a list of spots you must visit on your trip to this beautiful stretch of Florida beaches. 

First things first, when should you plan your visit? Well, there’s no denying that Southwest Florida is beautiful year-round, but the summer months can get a little hot. Peak season is from December to the end of March. If you’re looking for a little less crowds and great weather, we recommend April and May. But again, you can visit year-round, just be sure to bring a little extra sunscreen in the summer months.

Carley Rudd Travel Photography

Food Lover’s Guide: Where to Dine and Drink in Ft. Myers and Sanibel

If you love fresh seafood, you’ve come to the right place. Locally caught grouper, snapper, redfish, mahi-mahi, lobster and shrimp are sure to delight any seafood lover’s palette. Here’s where you can find a few of my favorites: 

Cabbage Key Inn – Pine Island in Sanibel – You have to get there by boat, but it’s worth the trip. This secluded island getaway is nestled on a thirty-eight foot Indian shell mound. It’s a casual Southwest Florida staple serving up fresh seafood and delicious burgers. If you need a way to get there, check out Captiva Cruises. And don't forget to bring an extra dollar bill to sign and add to the walls of their famous dollar bar, which is adorned with thousands of $$$.

Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille – 2 Locations: Ft. Myers Beach & Sanibel – this casual seafood joint on the water serves up fresh seafood and Caribbean, makes wonderful drinks (try the island mojito!) and had live music most nights. It’s great for lunch and dinner. Doc Ford is a fictional character in famous Southwest Florida author Randy Wayne White’s crime mystery novels. 

Bayfront Bistro – Ft. Myers Beach – This upscale restaurant is right on the water and serves up creative American dishes with an emphasis on seafood. This may have been my favorite meal of the trip. The fresh-caught local snapper was to die for. 

Ford’s Garage – Ft. Myers – Located in the historic downtown Ft. Myers, this brewpub and burger bar is everything you want in a bar. The food is delicious, they have a wide selection of beers, and the décor is a car junkies dream. We'd recommend grabbing lunch here and checking out the cute shops in downtown Ft. Myers

Gramma Dot’s – Sanibel – Named after a local legend, this seaside saloon at the Sanibel marina is open for lunch and dinner is the place to go for the freshest seafood on the island. The fresh-caught local grouper is delicious and their coconut shrimp are delectable. But they stop taking orders at 8pm, so get there early and don’t forget to try their key lime pie! 

For a local breakfast, go to Mom’s Restaurant or Mcgregor Café. Both are delightful. Mom’s had the best biscuits and gravy and cinnamon rolls I’ve ever tasted. 

Cabbage Key

Cabbage Key

Cabbage Key

Cabbage Key

Cabbage Key Inn

Cabbage Key Inn

Cabbage Key Inn

Cabbage Key Inn

Things to Do + Must-see Sites in Ft. Myers & Sanibel

Rent bikes in Ft. Myers Beach – Ft. Myers beach really isn’t all that big. It’s the perfect to rent a bike for the day to hit all the sites. My perfect day would look like this: rent bikes, hit Mom’s restaurant for breakfast, go shopping by the Ft. Myers pier, grab lunch at Doc Fords, sit on the beach and soak it all in. Do itttttttt.

Bonus: Feeling extra adventurous? You can also rent a paddleboard or kayak for the day! It’s a great workout and an easy way to explore the coast. 

Visit the Edison & Ford Winter Estates – Home to two of the most iconic inventors of all-time, this place is crawling with amazing historical artifacts, design, old cars, flowers and more. You can view Thomas Edison’s workshop, walk through Henry Ford’s garage, and see both of their houses exactly as they were nearly 100 years ago. Very cool place.  

Go Shelling in Sanibel – Ft. Myers and Sanibel are the shelling capitals of the not just the U.S., but the entire world! There are so many cool shells to be found. Bring a bag and fill it up, just be sure there are no critters living in the shells you find. Also, if you’re lucky enough to find a Junonia shell, you can get your picture in the local paper! For more on where to shell and what to look for, visit: https://sanibel-captiva.org/sanibel-island-shelling/ 

Try Local Craft Beers at Ft. Myers Brewing Company – Ft. Myers – The craft beer craze finally made its way to Southwest Florida. Started just 4 years ago, this warehouse brewery now serves 20+ beers, has food trucks parked out front, and is an all-around good time in a glass. Don’t miss their Thursday night parking lot party if you’re in the area!  

Become a Shell Expert at The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum – As mentioned earlier, Ft. Myers and Sanibel take their shells pretty seriously. They dedicated an entire museum to these curious crustaceans. Here you can learn all about where shells come from, the different types of shells, and even see a few world record sized shells. It’s a really cool spot and is also great for kids. 

Learn about the Calusa Indians at The Mound House – Once you’ve brushed up on your shell-ology, head over to the Mound House in Ft. Myers beach to learn how indigenous locals used shells in their daily life. This unique archaeological and historical site sits atop a 2,000-year-old Calusa Indian shell mound and is home to all kinds of interesting artifacts and historical items.

Rent a boat and head to Cayo Costa State Park – Home to nearly 9-miles of undeveloped beach and mountains of beautiful shells, this state park island can only be reached by boat. Captiva Cruises can provide you with all the information you need to get to the island.

Chill at the Beach and DO NOTHING – You’re going on vacation. You’ve earned a day of care-free, sunburned cheeks, sun and salt therapy. The beaches here are amazing and the water is always the perfect temperature. Don’t take it for granted during your stay :) For a list of the best beaches, head to: https://www.fortmyers-sanibel.com/discover/on-water/beaches 

CarleyRuddPhotography_FTMyersSanibel-2.jpg
Calusa Indian artifacts at the Mound House

Calusa Indian artifacts at the Mound House

Cayo Costa Shells

Cayo Costa Shells

Whether you’re drawn to Southwest Florida for the beaches, the wildlife, or the shells—Ft. Myers and Sanibel are sure to give you an unforgettable stay on one of the most beautiful stretch of beaches in U.S. I hope this weekend guide helps you plan your perfect trip :)

Do you have any favorite spots in the Southwest Florida area I missed? Let me know in the comments below! 

xx

Carley + Jake

@thetravelingcreatives

// Words by Jake Broselle + Photos by Carley Rudd

This post was published in partnership with The Beaches of Ft. Myers and Sanibel. Find limited-time deals, events in the area, and plan your trip by visiting their site: https://www.fortmyers-sanibel.com/ .