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Find paradise on Fort Myers Beach

By Staff | Oct 6, 2021

Photo courtesy of The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel

With seven miles of beach spanning Estero Island and plenty of public access points, there’s room for everyone to find paradise on Fort Myers Beach from the bay to the Gulf of Mexico and in between.

This year is supposed to be a busy one on the beach with the ongoing construction of the Margaritaville project which is expected to last into 2023 and involves work on either side of Estero Boulevard at the former Helmerich Plaza and Pierside Hotel & Suites properties where workers have been busy with demolition and construction work.

Among the town’s most popular tourist spots on the north side of the island there is Lee County’s Bowditch Point Park and Lynn Hall Memorial Park, offering the public access to the beach. The public beach at Lynn Hall Memorial Park intertwines with the town’s Times Square. There, you will find eateries and shops as well as occasional street performers and live music. On Fridays and Saturdays there are sunset celebrations. The town is planning renovations at Times Square so depending on when you arrive, you may encounter the place in the midst of an overhaul.

The Fort Myers Beach Pier is one of the more popular attractions offering an expansive view of the Gulf of Mexico and the beach. This is a great location to catch view of wildlife, including birds and occasionally dolphins. When sunset hits, the pier is among the busiest destinations with island visitors flocking to see the famous sunsets that Southwest Florida has to offer. The pier was recently repaved and is also used by anglers. There is also a small shop on the pier.

Walking away from Times Square will bring you to the intersection with Old San Carlos Boulevard, where a new traffic light is going up. On Old San Carlos Boulevard, you will see old Florida buildings occupied by shops and restaurants. There are also a number of parking lots along the road. There are several restaurants which offer scenic views of the back bay of Fort Myers Beach. Sometimes dolphins and manatees will find their way into view.

Bayside Park at the end of Old San Carlos Boulevard provides space for the public to walk and enjoy a view of bay at Matanzas Pass, nestled in between a couple restaurants. There is currently a gazebo though the Town of Fort Myers Beach has been considering plans for overhauling the park so it could be under construction in the next year.

Both ends of the island offer chances to take boat tours and cruises so scout around and check out listings in the Fort Myers Beach Observer for discounted rates. There are sightseeing cruises, family cruises, dolphin tours, fishing charters and boat rental options. There are kayak tours which can take you out to small islands. There is a lot of nature that Fort Myers Beach has to offer.

On the south end of the island, you will find much of the bird action, including the Little Estero Critical Wildlife Area. Look out for osprey, pelicans, falcons, hawks, spoonbills, gulls, herons, egrets, black skimmers, snowy plovers, terns and more. The birds will often get close, soaring from high above and searching the shallow waters for food.

If you are walking the beach in the spring and summer, you will notice sections of yellow tape in the sand. Those are not police-related but mark turtle nests. There were 132 nests counted on Fort Myers Beach in 2020, a record. The turtles nest in the dark and hatchlings will typically break free and head for the ocean in the darkness as well. If you happen to cross their path, avoid shining any lights on them. Outdoor lights are prohibited from shining on the beach from April through October in order to avoid disturbing the turtles.

Fishing is a popular tradition at Fort Myers Beach and there is no shortage of spots. Inshore fishing supplies year-round opportunities to catch snook, redfish, snapper, spotted sea trout, sheepshead, mangrove snapper, catfish and other species. Offshore fishing is a great way to find grouper, black fin tuna, and mackerel. There are periodic fishing contests throughout the year, including an annual children’s fishing contest at Bonita Bill’s Waterfront Cafe and Tiki Bar every Fourth of July weekend.

Sport-fishing for tarpon has been a longtime favorite among visitors and residents alike and brings anglers from all over the world to Fort Myers Beach. One of the largest tarpon migrations in the world takes place annually off the shores of Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel. Some tarpon reside here year-round, but the best time to catch them is during their migration season which is April through June.

For those looking to stay physically active on the beach and do more than swim, there are watercraft and bicycle rentals available. Bicycling is one of the more popular activities. Make sure you ask about the town’s bicycle regulations. There are different rules for regular bicycles and electric bikes. For the daredevils in the family, parasailing is one way to test your fearlessness on the beach.

Other options for staying fit include Bay Oaks Recreational Campus, which has everything from basketball to volleyball, yoga, pilates, water aerobics and a weight room. There is a cost associated with attending which can be found on the town’s website.

There are also yoga programs which run on the beach, and two fitness centers in town.

If you have an eye for art, the Fort Myers Beach Art Association and Gallery is a must. Local artists are constantly working to produce new oil and acrylic paintings, watercolor and pastel portraits and other art which can be found on the walls of the gallery at Shell Mound Boulevard. Most are also for sale. The gallery is busiest from November through April, with a series of shows. Check out their website and read the Fort Myers Beach Observer for updates. Shucker’s also has an art gallery in their dining room.

Fort Myers Beach is known for its wide array of restaurants, many of which are full of fresh Gulf seafood. You will find scenic views and can enjoy locally caught grouper and shrimp, as well as long menus of other popular fish. There’s no shortage of late-night spots, many of which host live music. The area is also popular for ice cream, with no less than half a dozen shops. Most offer free tastings so make sure you try your favorite flavor or try a new one. There are at least two shops which offer Italian ices.

For those who like history and learning new things, the Mound House is a town-operated property which preserves an ancient Calusa shell mound with the town’s oldest home. The home, which dates back more than a century, has been refurbished in a way to present how the town’s early settlers once lived. The Mound House offers tours and a number of recreational activities, including kayaking. You will also find idyllic vistas of the bay.

Whether you’re looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life to relax Gulf side, go on an outdoor adventure or just find the best happy hour on the beach – you’ve come to the right place.

‘Must Do’s’ on Fort Myers Beach

• Fort Myers Beach Pier: The perfect place to watch a sunset, to view the ocean and beach

• Lynn Hall Memorial Park: A popular public access point to the beach

• Times Square: Centrally located near Lynn Hall Memorial Park and Fort Myers Beach Pier with shops, eateries and performances

• The Mound House: An approximately 2,000-year-old shell mound is a relic of the Calusa tribe, an ancient Native American people who once populated the area. The site features a historic home and offers scenic tours for walking, observing the bay and kayaking.

• Bowditch Point Park: A popular and quieter public access point to the beach

• Dolphin tour: Several boat tour companies can bring you out to see these wondrous creatures in their natural habitat in the bay. Learn about the area’s ecology and marine life on a guided boat tour. Some tours will take you to islands that are only accessible by boat. You may even spot threatened manatees.

‘Must Do’s’ at Lovers Key

One of the state’s most heavily trafficked parks is Lovers Key State Park, which is technically in Fort Myers Beach though just a couple minutes south over the Big Carlos Pass Bridge. Speaking of which, the Big Carlos Pass Bridge is scheduled to be replaced in the next year so you may encounter some traffic delays heading that way off the island.

Lovers Key State Park has more than two miles of pristine white-sand beachfront and was featured on the Travel Channel in “10 Stunning Florida Keys you don’t know about.”

This past year, a $4 million visitor’s center opened up, which provides several educational exhibits.

The park is also a National Gold Medal Winner and has more than five miles of multi-use trails through a maritime hammock, and inner waterways for paddling.

Among the activities you can try at the park are:

• Bicycling or hiking. The Black Island Trail and Eagle Trail are great paths for interacting with nature. There are a large variety of birds in the park as well as gopher tortoises. The morning is the best time to be out on the trails. The Black Island Trail is 2.6 miles long and the Eagle Trail is 1.5 miles long. Maps are available with highlighted observation points. You can rent a bike on site or bring your own.

• Paddle through the mangrove estuary. Rent a kayak, canoe, or paddle board on site. You may get a chance to see manatees, dolphins, alligators, osprey, and/or bald eagles while paddling through the 2.5-mile mangrove estuary.

• Pack a picnic. There are several picnic areas in the park. You can choose to have a picnic on the beach, the inner waterways or the backwaters. Many of the picnic areas have grills and trash cans. If picnicking isn’t your style, the concession stand serves food and drinks.

• Sunbathe on the beach and go for a swim. Get comfortable on the beach and take a dip in the water. The beach at Lovers Key State Park is often more tranquil and quiet for relaxing than other beaches.

• The shelling on Lovers Key is some of the best on Southwest Florida’s Gulf beaches.

• In the winter, there is a “Songwriters at Sunset” show which brings out talented musicians. Local resident and music legend Charlie McCoy has performed on stage at the park.

The park is open from 8 a.m. to sundown, 365 days a year. The cost of admission is $8 per vehicle for 2-8 people, $4 for single-occupant vehicles and $2 for pedestrians and bicyclists.