Travel

Explore Florida’s Best Kept Secret

The unspoiled beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel blends its Gilded Age past with breathtaking landscapes, a twenty-first-century food scene, and an enduring sense of adventure

photo: Courtesy of Mackenzie Horan

From left: Gasparilla Inn; biking along the Boca Grande Bike Path; and sunset over the Gulf of Mexico.

Thomas Edison. Henry Ford. Du Ponts. Bushes. Rockefellers. The list of legendary figures who have escaped to The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel is long and prominent. And no wonder. From the tarpon-teeming waters off Boca Grande to Captiva Island’s white-sand beaches to the rich subtropical ecosystem thrumming inside the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, the area is a 1,200-square-mile coastal paradise that balances stunning terrain and outdoor adventure with historic preservation, cultural attractions, and an irresistible food and drink scene. Peak season runs from January through May, when blue skies and mild temperatures lure bird-watchers, beachcombers, and shell seekers, but there’s hardly a bad time to visit. Join G&G as we road-trip through this sunny stretch of shoreline with Design Darling lifestyle blogger Mackenzie Horan Beuttenmuller and her husband, Will.

Where to Stay

 

The Gasparilla Inn & Club

Since opening in 1913, the Gasparilla Inn & Club on Boca Grande has remained a pedigreed bastion of Old Florida charm. Awash in candy stripes, gingham, and floral, it is a feast for the eyes and other senses, and there is no shortage of activities on offer—from swimming, tennis, and tarpon fishing to golf on the seaside Pete Dye–designed course and, of course, plenty of good old-fashioned people-watching.

photo: Courtesy of Mackenzie Horan

The Gasparilla Inn & Club.

Where to Eat & Drink

 

Boca Grande

Not only does the the Gasparilla Inn & Club provide a respite from real life in the form of sport and wellness, it is also home to some of the area’s best dining. The Pink Elephant gets its name from the punchy umbrellas that adorn its deck, but it is the restaurant’s standout fresh catch—try the fish tacos—that makes the experience truly unforgettable. At cocktail hour, there’s no better sunset perch than the Gasparilla Inn Beach Club (house-made margarita in hand, of course). For early risers, the dining room serves decadent eye-openers such as lobster scrambled eggs, and the Inn Bakery, located a short walk away in the village of Boca Grande, specializes in breakfast and baked goods—plus a wide selection of caffeinated beverages—for those on the go. Back at the inn, BZ’s, a go-to stop on the main floor, stocks snacks and sundries.

photo: Courtesy of Mackenzie Horan

From left: the deck of the Pink Elephant; the Gasparilla Inn Beach Club; breakfast at the Inn Bakery.

Another short walk from the Gasparilla Inn, the Loose Caboose—a Boca Grande staple—is housed in a former train depot. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner, with a rotating selection of nightly specials, a midday menu heavy on no-frills seafood favorites, such as conch fritters and grouper fingers (caught locally, delivered daily, hand cut, and dished up with a side of house-made tartar sauce for dipping), and fresh ice cream made gelato-style with an unusually high percentage of heavy cream. Traveling with pets? No problem. The patio is Fido-friendly.

photo: Courtesy of Mackenzie Horan

The Loose Caboose.

What to See & Do

Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum

Conchology. Malacology. Shell identification and historical markers. If it relates to the area’s rich archaeological and natural wonders in shell form, it lives here. (The permanent collection also houses shells found around the world, as well as some of the largest shells on record.) Opened to the public in 1995, the Sanibel Island–based museum acts as a treasured national resource for scientists and shell enthusiasts alike.

 

Boca Grande Bike Path

This area began as a fishing village, so it’s no wonder that its bike paths traverse coastal beauty in a way that preserves both nature and a direct connection to the water. Take the six-mile paved Boca Grande Bike Path to explore the length of Gasparilla Island. Along the way, expect to spot iguanas, gopher tortoises, and plenty of sunbathers.

Courtesy of Mackenzie Horan

Jensen’s Marina Water Taxi

For an up-close view of Fort Myers and Sanibel’s transcendent, turquoise waters, schedule a boat ride through Jensen’s Twin Palm Resort & Marina. Not only is it an efficient way to travel from, say, Boca Grande to Captiva Island, but it’s also the most scenic route for everything from lighthouse-hopping to dolphin-watching. Rentals range from a twenty-four-foot pontoon to a sixteen-foot skiff; full tours and fishing guides are also available.

photo: Courtesy of Mackenzie Horan

The turquoise water of Boca Grande.

Sanibel Island Lighthouse

First lit in 1884, the Sanibel Island Lighthouse was one of the first lighthouses north of Key West, and it continues to beckon visitors today—not least because of the surrounding beach and pristine cypress-laden trails that beg to be explored.

photo: Courtesy of Mackenzie Horan

The Sanibel Island Lighthouse was first lit in 1884.

J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge

Established in 1976 to protect a vast mangrove ecosystem, this 6,390-acre sanctuary is renowned for its diverse wildlife: 51 types of reptiles and amphibians, 32 types of mammal species, and more than 270 species of birds, including many migratory populations. Whether you’re paddling its waterways, hiking its paths, or cycling through the landscape, there is no better place to see wildlife in Southwest Florida.


To start planning your trip to The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel, click here for more information.


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