Florida has become world-renowned for its ability to generate both headlines and punchlines. Which can sometimes overshadow the fact that most of those jokes probably wouldn’t sting so much if it wasn’t such a beautiful place, capable of drawing millions of tourists and weather refugees every year.
With pristine beaches on the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico, year-round vacation-ready weather, and varied biodiversity, the Sunshine State is one hell of a travel destination. Miami is a partier’s hotspot and food lover’s paradise, Orlando has Disney World, St. Augustine is the oldest city in the continental US, and Tampa offers eclectic neighborhoods and a metropolitan lifestyle. These tourist-centric towns are great, but as I discovered during my most recent Floridian experience, the less frequented locations have a charm all their own.
I spent a week exploring Fort Myers and all of its coolest offerings. To my surprise, the city has tons to share with travelers of pretty much all interests. Whether you’re a seafood lover, a nature enthusiast, a sports fanatic, or a history buff, this little seaside city situated along the Gulf of Mexico caters to a wide range of travel itineraries.
I’m sharing my guide on where to play, eat, and stay in Fort Myers, Florida below.
PART I — WHERE TO PLAY
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Now that Major League Baseball is back in full swing, sports fans can get excited about the upcoming season by visiting JetBlue Park in Fort Myers. JetBlue Park is the location of the Boston Red Sox’s spring training facilities. If you’re in town at the right time, you can catch a game and the first glimpse at some potential MLB rookies.
If you want to get a first-hand look at the action, book a tour of the property, which is a small-scale replica of the team’s iconic stadium, Fenway Park in Boston. During the tour, you’ll get to step foot on the warning track, check out the box suite views, take photos in front of the scoreboard, watch batting practice, and learn interesting facts about both JetBlue Park, Fenway, and of course the Boston Red Sox.
Book a tour or get tickets to the next game at JetBlue Park here.
Downtown Fort Myers
Downtown is the epicenter of the nightlife and restaurant scenes in Fort Myers. While “Downtown” consists of only a few blocks in the larger metropolis (just like you’d encounter in many other U.S. cities), it packs a lot of charm and vibrant places to explore into that compact (and walkable) package. It’s also where you’ll find all the best restaurants, bars, and hotels (more on this later).
The brick-paved streets and age-old buildings highlight the area’s historic influences, while the locally-owned boutiques and the monthly art and music walks bring the city’s eclectic and diverse community of artists and business owners to life. I happened to be in town on St. Patrick’s day, when the festive decor, endless supply of beer, live music, and the stampede of green-wearing Floridians proved just how lively Fort Myers can be.
To learn more about Downtown Fort Myers and its upcoming events, click here.
Edison Ford Winter Estates
History buffs and car fanatics alike will love spending an afternoon at the Edison Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers. It’s the site where famous inventor Thomas Edison and iconic car engineer Henry Ford lived and worked with their families during the winter season (just like Florida’s later century emigres, they probably figured why deal with the snowstorms of the Midwest when you can lounge in the sunshine year-round?). The inventors, friends, and eventual neighbors are essentially what put Fort Myers on the map in the first place.
When you visit the property, you can get a first-hand look at the fellow masterminds’ original inventions — from Ford’s first Model T cars to Edison’s laboratory, that’s still filled with his original materials. I recommend opting for a guided tour so you can dive headfirst into everything the estates have to offer. You’ll learn about more than just the celebrated inventors’ work. You’ll also hear about their families (especially about Edison’s wife, Mina, who took a liking to hosting summer parties and brunch with the gals), their everyday laidback lifestyles, their eccentric diet preferences, and more. Walking through the estates truly transports you right back into the homes of two of the early 20th century’s most prominent figures.
To learn more about the Edison Ford Winter Estates and book a tour, click here.
Sanibel Island is where nature lovers and beachgoers go to thrive. While it’s not within the city limits of Fort Myers, it’s only a quick 30-minute drive and a must during your visit. The little Floridian island offers some of the best shelling beaches in the world, so make sure to take a coastal walk and collect a handful of beautiful mollusk souvenirs between ocean dips and sunbathing. If you want to learn more about the area’s seashells (trust me, it’s more interesting than it sounds), make a stop at the National Shell Museum. Here, you’ll get insight into the ocean’s peculiar and diverse mollusk species (Fun Fact: Did you know that Octopi are a type of mollusk?).
Sanibel Island is also home to the J.N. ‘Ding’ Darling National Wildlife Refuge, which is part of the largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystem in the United States. Between the waterside lookout decks complete with binoculars and the evergrowing mangrove trees, you’re sure to spot myriad critters, from crabs to birds, throughout the preserve.
To learn more about Sanibel Island’s many natural musings, click here.
PART II — WHERE TO EAT & DRINK
Fort Myers Brewing Co.
Beer enthusiasts need to make a stop at Fort Myers Brewing Co., which is the fifth-largest taproom in the entire state of Florida. It serves more than 10 original brews, from pale ales to lagers and stouts. Order the Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter for a boozy treat — there’s a reason it’s one of the brewery’s most sought-after seasonal brews.
Beer connoisseurs can also get a guided tour of the facility. You’ll hear all about Fort Myers Brewing Co.’s unique brewing process while sipping on a cold one along the way. While I’m not typically a beer gal, I loved getting a first-hand look at the brewing equipment and learning about just how much goes into making sure every can of beer is made right. Visiting Fort Myers Brewing Co. is fun and refreshing, but also a favorite among the locals, offering a chance to rub shoulders with some authentic Fort Myers residents. Plus, it’s right around the corner from JetBlue Park, so you can stop in for a few brews before or after a game.
Check out the Fort Myers Brewing Co. beer selection here.
Izzy’s Fish & Oyster
Fort Myers has fresh oysters aplenty, and Izzy’s Fish & Oyster has some of the best in town. I liked it here so much that I ended up coming back for a second meal on the last day of my trip. In addition to the must-have oysters (doused in lemon juice, hot sauce, and horseradish, of course), the menu offers a wide selection of seafood favorites — including a raw bar and sushi.
With appetizers like gator bites and cajun shrimp hush puppies, fresh greens (I ordered the beet and goat cheese salad — it was delicious), and mouthwatering entrees like lobster rolls, fried scallops, and a mahi-mahi sandwich, every seafood lover will have a field day at Izzy’s. The only downside of dining here is the dilemma of deciding what to order.
Get your seafood fix and view Izzy’s dinner menu here.
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Ford’s Garage is a must for burger lovers and beer drinkers. Sticking to the recognition of Fort Myers’ most notable historic figures, the restaurant is decked out in all things Henry Ford. Sure, it’s a little kitschy, but I’m a sucker for a good theme. There’s literally an old Ford car hanging over the bar, the bathroom sink is made of a tire and a gas pump faucet, and even the napkins are made with rags you’d typically find at the mechanic.
As for the food, Ford’s Garage is a burger joint done right. It offers a selection of more than 10 prime burgers, as well as a few vegetarian options. If you’re feeling adventurous, order The Jiffy Burger (yes, like Jiffy the peanut butter brand). It’s made with American cheese, applewood smoked bacon, chopped romaine, and creamy peanut butter on a brioche bun, which is better than it has any right to be.
Between the 23 craft beer options, including the local Fort Myers Brewing Co. favorites, and the 79 canned or bottled beers, you’re sure to find a brew to your liking. If you’re in the mood for something stronger, order from the restaurant’s extensive cocktail menu. I recommend one of the signature “Ford’s Fusions” cocktails. I ordered the Backseat Driver, which consisted of Patrón Silver Tequila, Cointreau, pure cane syrup, lime juice, mint leaves, and club soda.
Peruse the full Ford’s Garage menu here.
If you feel like dressing up and celebrating your time in Fort Myers with a fancy, French-inspired dinner, book a table at The Veranda. Long known among the community as the best spot in town (or at least the poshest), the restaurant makes for a lovely night of fine dining. The waiters are dressed to the nines in full suits, the wine list is extensive (complete with a $300 bottle of champagne), and the ambiance resembles a house from the Victorian era.
Aside from the elegance of it all, your meal at The Veranda will be an experience in and of itself. If you order the Ceasar salad to start, you’re in for a show. The waiter prepares it for you tableside, tossing all the ingredients together like a televised cooking competition. As for the main course, you can’t go wrong with the Pan Seared Jumbo Scallops, served with spinach and wild mushroom orzo and finished with a lemon beurre blanc.
While it’s hard to put the fork down, make sure to save room for dessert. The Veranda’s menu of sweet treats is worth every calorie. I ordered both the Florida Key Lime Pie and the Bailey’s Irish Cream Cheesecake, and I didn’t regret it for a second.
Browse through The Veranda’s full dinner menu here.
PART III — WHERE TO STAY
The Luminary Hotel
If you want a hotel that offers a slew of amenities and proximity to the heart of town, there’s the The Luminary Hotel. Having just opened in 2020, the property’s updated aesthetics and sleek design celebrate the stories of the city’s past, present, and future. Aside from the new, comfortable, and clean rooms, the hotel offers a rooftop bar, pool, large gym, and an in-house restaurant and coffee shop.
The best part is that it’s right across the street from downtown and alongside the marina, so you’ll be within steps of the action. Tip: If you can, book a room on one of the higher levels for gorgeous sunset views every evening.
To book your room at The Luminary Hotel, click here.