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Fort Myers Beach
March 27, 2019

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It's a seven-mile island with a sugar-sand beach, a lively downtown square, and opportunities to get lost in nature around every swath of mangrove trees.

Many people love it so much, they decide to call it home the town is full of "snowbirds" who migrate seasonally for the sun and fun.

The bright white sand is famous for its softness and popular with sandsculptors from around the world, who alight on the beach for the American Sand Sculpting Championship each November.

Originally called Crescent Beach, it first became popular as a tourist destination in the 1920s.

By the 1950s it had become a vacation spot for soldiers who had been stationed in Fort Myers during World War II.

The construction of an electrified swing bridge and the discovery of "pink gold" shrimp during this time contributed to a land boom.

The town incorporated in 1995 in response to Lee County's approval of a high-rise hotel, which many residents feared would threaten its small-town charm.

Today, the island balances an ever-growing tourist population, locals who love the Beach's unique ambiance, and coming development.

So, you've just crested the Matanzas Pass Skybridge and staked your space on the sand with a colorful beach towel.

What should you put on your to-do list?

There's a full range of ways to experience this island town; kayaks, paddleboards, jet-skis, beach chairs, and even parasailing adventures are all sold by vendors on the beach, so take your pick.

After a day in the surf, get a selfie with the sunset on the Pelican Pier in Times Square, where crowds gather every night to take in the breath-taking color display.

Then, grab a frozen margarita or a cold beer at any of the restaurants that line the sand, and get ready for some live music, great people-watching, and vibrant nightlife.

Times Square is the pedestrian walking mall in the heart of Fort Myers Beach's downtown area.

Shop, eat, enjoy some ice cream with your family, or stop to watch the island's own street performers put on daily shows.

Take a stroll down Old San Carlos Boulevard for more restaurants, bars, and an ants-eye view of the Matanzas Pass Skybridge.

There's a band to be seen every night of the week on Fort Myers Beach, and often for free, from as far north as Old San Carlos Boulevard to as far south as Santini Marina Shopping Plaza.

Jimmy Buffet lovers and reggae aficionados will be right at home, but there's also plenty of country, rock, and blues.

Seafood is the island's main food group, from mahi to (in season) stone crab, and the star of the show is pink Gulf shrimp, a delicacy that's been made famous by neighboring San Carlos Island, home of the shrimp fleet.

A million-dollar industry, shrimping is still an important part of the community, and the working waterfront has been designated historic by the state for over 50 years of commercial fishing.

In the winter months, you can take an educational tour of the shrimp docks with the Ostego Bay Foundation, which has a marine science center at 718 Fisherman's Wharf where you can learn about the local ecosystem and the wildlife that call it home.

If you're looking for wholesome family fun, head over the Matanzas Pass Bridge to knock around some golf balls at the putt-putt hot spots: tropical-themed Jungle Golf, and Smugglers Cove, a giant pirate ship that boasts caves, waterfalls, and live alligators.

Check the calendar for festivals Fort Myers Beach is home to many of them throughout the year. Major annual events include the Taste of the Beach, the Fort Myers Beach Pirate Festival, the Fort Myers Beach Shrimp Festival, the American Sand Sculpting Championship, the Summerset Regatta, the Christmas Boat Parade, and fireworks celebrations off the pier on the Fourth of July and New Year's Eve.

PLACES TO GO

Visit the Mound House Museum

Estero Island has a long and fascinating history, and it's all on display at the Mound House at 451 Connecticut Street.

The historical site is the location of a 2,000-year-old shell mound made by the Calusa, a Native American people who were notable for their complex culture based on fishing, and their responsibility for the death of Ponce de Leon, who was mortally wounded by the Calusa when he attempted to set up a colony in Southwest Florida.

"Matanzas" means "slaughter" in Spanish, and some say Matanzas Pass was named for the Calusa's fierce victories over the Spanish who tried to conquer them here.

The Mound House, built in 1906, is the oldest standing structure on Estero Island, and is one of the few places in the world where you can walk inside a Calusa mound.

It's now a multi-level museum nestled atop peaceful grounds that overlook Estero Bay.

Admission to the grounds is free; the museum costs $10 for adults, $8 to college students with a school ID, and $5 for children ages 6 to 12 years.

Volunteers and staff also offer a variety of activities, such as guided walks, kayak tours, educational talks, and craft classes.

The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. To 4 p.m. January 1 through April 30; and Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday from 9 a.m. To 4 p.m. From May 1 to December 31. Go to moundhouse.org for more information.

Dive into history and culture

Got a love for all things historical?

Head down to the Estero Island Historic Society at 161 Bay Road, a designated-historic 1921 cottage full of photographs and stories of how Fort Myers Beach (also known as Estero Island) came to be.

Members of the society will be on hand to answer all of your questions many of them have called Fort Myers Beach their home all their lives, and will be happy to tell you their favorite stories of the good old days.

If you're lucky and the season is right, you may be able to purchase some homemade sea grape jelly, a local family recipe from one of the society's members.

Only open on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. til noon, it's tucked between Beach Elementary School and the Matanzas Pass Preserve.

If you've ever wanted to learn how to use alcohol ink or watercolor like a pro, check out the Fort Myers Beach Art Association.

They host regular workshops with local artists, many of whom are national award winners.

Drop in for a weekly painting group to create and collaborate with other local artists, or join them outside for some plein-air paint-outs.

If you're not the artistic type, there's always an exhibit or two that you can admire.

All art on display is for sale and makes for unique souvenirs or gifts to take home.

The FMBAA is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

For more information on their rotating schedule of events and workshops, check www.fortmyersbeachart.com.

Escape afternoon showers

It's not always sunshine and blue skies in Florida summer rain is heavy and often unpredictable.

Luckily, you've got options for some indoor fun, too.

Check out the Fort Myers Beach Theater at 6425 Estero Boulevard.

Locally-owned, the small theater offers newly-released movies for all ages.

They've got you covered for dinner, too: the theater offers items like tacos, sandwiches and ice cream.

For schedules, menus and showtimes, visit fmbtheater.com or call (239) 765-9000.

A downpour is the perfect time to cozy up with a book, and the Fort Myers Beach Public Library is the perfect place to do it.

The beautiful three-story facility is a source of pride for islanders, and there's a talk or workshop scheduled almost every day of the week.

The building also hosts rotating exhibits of local art, vintage photographs, and hand-painted Ukranian eggs made by the late library director, Dr. Leroy Hommerding.

The third floor houses a book shop and seasonal cafe, with a quiet workspace overlooking the sparkling waters of the Gulf.

If you're looking to stay active even on a rainy day, purchase a day pass to Bay Oaks Recreation Center and shoot some hoops, play pickleball, or get a work-out done while the clouds rumble.

Located at 2731 Oak Street, the rec center costs $4 for an adult day pass, $2 for a child under 12, or $8 for a family.

If the sun comes back out, you can also go to the Bay Oaks pool for $3.50 per adult and $1.50 per child per day.

The rec center is open from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday. The pool's hours vary by season.

Visit fortmyersbeachfl.gov for more information.

THINGS TO DO

Get out on the water

No trip to an island is complete without venturing offshore into the marine wilderness.

A myriad of local vendors and marinas offer kayak, canoe and stand-up paddle board rentals.

Adventurers can access the winding world of the mangrove tunnels or get up-close-and-personal with dolphins and manatees.

The Great Calusa Blueway, Southwest Florida's 190-mile paddling trail, winds through Estero Bay and can be accessed from boat launches at Lover's Key or Big Hickory Island.

Don't want to risk getting lost? Many vendors, including the Mound House, offer guided eco-tours to show you around as a group.

If you're not the active type, local marinas offer boat rentals or pontoon tours, so you can feel the salt spray on your skin without doing any of the hard work.

Salty Sam's Waterfront Adventures (239-463-7333) offers sunset tours, rum cruises, and shelling trips, and the two restaurants on the marina's property make for a convenient, satisfying day of fun.

Good Time Charters (239-218-8014) located at 4765 Estero Blvd., is a one-stop shop for kayak rentals and fishing charters.

If you want to get further away from the bustle of the coast, search for sailing rentals.

Companies or individuals, like Dave Richardson of Sundance Sailing, 239-565-5690, will take you out for a day or half-day just to enjoy the open blue.

Visit Matanzas Pass Preserve

The free-of-charge Matanzas Pass Preserve is a quiet place to wander boardwalks that wind through the last remaining stand of maritime tropical hammock on Estero Island.

Nearly 60 acres of oak hammock and mangrove canopies shade 1.25 miles of trails.

The preserve provides an unusual opportunity to see all three species of mangroves black, white, and red in one place.

The easy (and handicap-accessible) Smith Trail and David Simpson Trail lead to Estero Bay, an estuary on the east side of the island popular with boaters, kayakers, and nature lovers.

The area is part of the Florida Birding Trail, so be on the look out for reddish egrets, white ibises, and spotted sandpipers.

(Other nearby options for bird-watchers abound find snowy plovers at Bowditch Point Park and roseate spoonbills at the Little Estero Island Critical Wildlife Area.)

Matanzas Pass Preserve is open from dawn until dusk every day.

Matanzas Pass Preserve is at 199 Bay Road.

Have a picnic in the park

Pack the cooler and get the burgers ready.

There's no shortage of public parks in this coastal paradise.

In the heart of downtown Fort Myers Beach is Lynn Hall Park at 950 Estero Blvd.

It has a few shaded pavilions available for those hot days, with picnic tables and barbecue grills.

There are bathrooms, outdoor showers, and a playground on site.

Just north, Bowditch Point Park at 50 Estero Blvd. is a hotspot for picnics and a wealth of easy wilderness trails.

This tip-of-the-island park is 17 acres full of recreational areas and natural preserve.

Walking trails carry you through mangrove trees, past small serene beaches, and near wading shorebirds that may let you watch them hunt if you're quiet enough.

Don't miss the panoramic views of the Gulf at the tip of Estero Island a true highlight of this park.

The park area also features shaded tables and grills, available on a first come first served basis, and a concession area selling food and souvenirs. Restroom and changing facilities are available as well.

For more about Bowditch Point Regional Park, including parking information, please visit the Lee County Parks & Recreation website, or call 239-765-6794

South of Fort Myers Beach is Lovers Key State Park, one of the most visited state parks in all of Florida.

Made up of 4 barrier islands, the park features more than 8 miles of trails for hiking and biking, 2.5 miles of pristine beachfront, a gazebo that hosts special events like live acoustic shows and morning yoga sessions, and plenty of kayak rentals. Look for Gopher tortoises, manatees, and a variety of shorebirds feeding at low tide.

Located at 8700 Estero Blvd, the park is open from 8 a.m. until sundown.

Admission is $8 for vehicles, $4 for motorcycles and $2 for pedestrians and bicyclists.

For more information on Lovers Key State Park, call 436-4588 or visit www.floridastateparks.org.

If you're the sporty type, Crescent Beach Family Park is the place to spike a volleyball and challenge your friends on the sand courts. It's located at 1100 Estero Blvd, right at the base of the Matanzas Pass Bridge.

And don't forget about Newton Beach Park, further down the island at 4650 Estero Blvd. The former home of Jim and Ellie Newton, friends of Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Charles Lindbergh, the site is now a public park complete with tiki huts, shaded picnic tables, outdoor showers, restrooms, and metered parking. During the winter, free guided walking tours with a master naturalist are offered every Tuesday morning at 9 a.m. from Newton Beach Park. Check moundhouse.org for more information.

Ditch the car for public wheels

If you're staying off-island and want to avoid the painful search for paid parking on Fort Myers Beach, the easiest solution is to hop aboard LeeTran's Beach Park & Ride trolley, Route 490.

The park and ride facility is at 11101 Summerlin Square Drive, just a few miles from the beach. Visitors can park their car at this secure facility for free and catch a ride down to the beach for just 75 cents per person.

A day pass is available for $2 or a three-day pass for $4, and can be purchased at the nearby Publix.

Make sure to bring exact fare, as drivers will be unable to make change for you.

The trolley has space for coolers, beach chairs, and bikes.

It will take you to Times Square and back; there are several stops to choose from along the way, all marked with a white-and-blue "Trollee" sign.

Trolleys begin running at the facility at 5:30 a.m. and end at 10:00 p.m., 7 days a week.

The island is connected by the Beach Trolley, Route 410, from Bowditch Point to Lovers Key State Park.

If you'd rather not rent a car during your beach vacation, the park and ride facility is connected to the Southwest Florida Regional Airport (RSW) by the Route 50 bus.

Recently, LeeTran also introduced a fun new way to travel Fort Myers Beach's north end: the beach tram.

This open air tram is hop-on, hop-off, and free to ride.

It travels from Bowditch Point to the Matanzas Pass Preserve and back with many stops in-between. Depending on traffic, the tram services all the trolley stops along Estero Blvd. about every 20 minutes, starting at Bowditch Point at 8 a.m. and ending at the Matanzas Pass Preserve at 7:50 p.m.

The tram will go out of service for the summer April 11.

Schedules and bus numbers shift in April; go to leegov.com/leetran for more information or download the free smartphone app, Ride LeeTran.

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