If you liked Fort Myers Beach, you probably loved its Old Florida ambiance. After Hurricane Ian, though, you’ll find a lot less Old Florida here; Old Florida wasn’t built to code.
Fort Myers Beach was hit particularly hard by the Sept. 28, 2022, Category 4 storm. It’s not surprising, then, that looking around in late November 2023, the damage is still painfully obvious.
Something big is happening here, however, that could turn things around.
The 254-room Margaritaville Resort on the beach, originally controversial because of fear it would ruin Fort Myers Beach’s Old Florida feel, opened in December.
Many folks who thought Margaritaville was a travesty when it was approved five years ago are thankful that a big new resort is opening so soon in this devastated little beach town.
What Fort Myers Beach looks like now
You probably saw the videos of the 15-foot storm surge washing over Fort Myers Beach.
With a main street directly adjacent to a beautiful Gulf beach, the flooding destroyed or damaged most of the familiar storefronts, restaurants and hotels, many of which were old enough to predate building requirements designed to improve resiliency.
Many buildings are simply gone; every block has gaps like missing teeth. Some of the “buildings” remaining are wrecked remnants awaiting demolition.
The fishing pier, a favorite for sunsets and beautiful views, is now a series of pilings home to seabirds.
Yet, there are signs of recovery.
Thank goodness for food trucks. Ingenious food truck operators have taken empty lots, parked a food truck, placed patio furniture and umbrellas, and opened for business as open-air restaurants. One of these restaurants is positioned right on the sand overlooking the Gulf.
In Times Square, once home to many restaurants, lively bars and live music, the iconic clock is back. A single tower of the original buildings remains. Nearby, a trailer now serves as a beach bar.
I was lucky to visit on a Friday when Times Square is filled with a weekly farmer’s market that was bustling with shoppers visiting interesting booths. (I had tasty empanadas at one stand.) It was the most cheerful place in town.
The beach is as spectacular as ever. It’s a broad beach with powdery pure white sand and the waters here are shallow and full of shells and marine life. The sunsets? As awesome as ever.
A few hotels are open. Restaurants and businesses along the Matanzas Harbor side of the island were less impacted and you can still experience dining with waterfront views and marina atmosphere here.
It looks like most of the high-rise condos along the beachside Estero Avenue have not reopened yet. Many single family homes, particularly newer, expensive ones built high on pilings, look perfect, however, with new landscaping.
Margaritaville comes to Fort Myers Beach
The sprawling Margaritaville Resort occupyies 7.3-acres at the base of the Matanzas Pass Bridge, 251 Crescent St., Fort Myers Beach.
The $200 million compound includes a huge water-park-like pool holding 380,000 gallons. The building has a large deck (over parking) that provides guests with remarkable views of the Gulf, which is across the street. There will be six restaurants on site.
Reservations in 2024 start at $340 for a standard 300-square foot king-bed room. Some premium suites go for up to $900 a night. Rooms are more in March and then return to that $340 base.
If you’re not staying at the Margaritaville resort, you can buy a day pass to hang out around its remarkable beach-front pool complex. Price will very each day, but will generally start at $65 on weekdays and $75 on the weekend, according to the resort’s website. (Cabana rentals will be available soon.)
Hotels and lodging in Fort Myers Beach
Only a handful of hotels are open as of Nov. 26, 2023, and even those have issues relating to the reconstruction.
Here are a few spots:
Edison Beach House at 830 Estero Blvd., Fort Myers Beach, is an older seven-story suite hotel directly on the beach near the pier. It’s open and proudly posts on its website that its elevator is working. But the pool and its sun deck has not re-opened and parking is limited.
Lighthouse Resort Inn & Suites, 1051 Fifth St., Fort Myers Beach, requires all guests to sign an insurance release and has a prominent notice on its web page: “The available rooms are located on the 2nd and 3rd and 4th floors and our elevators are currently unavailable. Due to our resort being under renovations and repairs; generators, power washers and electric tools will be run early morning to late evening. Please be aware there will be noise throughout the day.”
Pink Shell Beach Resort & Marina, 275 Estero Blvd., Fort Myers Beach, has traditionally been one of the most popular high-end resorts. It’s open, including the “Octopool,” which has a large sculpted octopus, waterfalls, huge shells, sponges, and underwater speakers. The website warns, however that construction will be going on seven days a week, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Still, TripAdvisor has recent rave reviews. Here’s a sample: “My husband and I spent a week at the Pink Shell in early September. Absolutely amazing resort and the entire staff was just incredible. . . Yes, they are still rebuilding after the hurricane last year, but the area is open! Excellent restaurants, food trucks, vendors, some stores are open, etc.”
Hotels are re-opening every month, and the ones that are open are improving their amenities too. Here’s the local chamber’s update page on businesses.
Restaurants in Fort Myers Beach
Given the challenges of rebuilding after a hurricane, the restaurants that are open are working particularly hard to provide good experiences and food for guests.
San Carlos Island, which you cross as you take San Carlos Boulevard to the beach, was less devastated than the beachfront and several restaurants located here are open. These are a half mile from the beach and offer a waterfront marina setting with that “Old Florida” feel.
Some say this area along Matanzas Pass is the new Times Square, which was the center of evening entertainment in the pre-storm days.
Along the marinas on Matanas Pass are the waterfront Dixie Fish Company, 714 Fishermans Wharf, Fort Myers Beach; Doc Ford’s Rum Bar and Grille, 708 Fishermans Wharf, Fort Myers Beach; Bonita Bill’s Waterfront Café, 702 Fisherman’s Wharf Fort Myers Beach, and the Original Shrimp Dock Bar & Grill, 2200 Main St. Fort Myers Beach.
On the beach in Fort Myers Beach, Cabanas Beach Bar & Grille is located off the lobby on the pool deck at Diamondhead Beach Resort, 2000 Estero Blvd. (Its previous location was destroyed.) Cabanas offers live music several nights a week.
Things to do in Fort Myers Beach in the 2023-24 winter
If you visit Fort Myers Beach as a daytrip destination or a weekend getaway, you’ll be helping the small business owners who are trying to recover.
On a visit, you’ll want to spend time on the beach — it’s why people have always flocked to Fort Myers Beach. Nearby, the outstanding Lovers Key State Park, 8700 Estero Blvd., Fort Myers Beach, has a long undeveloped beach and is a good place for seeing wildlife.
Just 15 minutes south of downtown and connected by trolley, this state park is a loved by nature lovers. Lovers Key State Park is comprised of four islands.
In summer, people will enjoy its fabulous 2.5 mile long pristine beach with powdery white sand and a natural shoreline. In winter, many will enjoy kayaking the waterways, where manatees are often seen.
There are also hiking trails, including the Black Island Trail, where gopher tortoises are often spotted.
Admission is $8 per vehicle or $2 each if you arrive by trolley (75 cents a ride.)
A second great destination is Mound House, 451 Connecticut St, Fort Myers Beach.
The oldest house in Fort Myers Beach, with portions built in 1906, it’s now a museum, but it’s more than your typical “pioneer house.”
Mound House is built on a mound of shells, bones and pottery shards left by the Calusa Indians, and I think it’s the best place in Florida to learn about these indigenous people who thrived on the Gulf Coast’s bounty.
Because of that shell mound, the Mound House is built on the highest spot in Fort Myers Beach and escaped substantial damage. As of Dec. 1, 2023, the museum has re-opened its last component damaged in the storm, the exhibit “Stories Beneath our Feet,” which allows you to walk into a cutaway shell mound.
Located overlooking Estero Bay in a residential neighborhood, the Mound House is operated by the town of Fort Myers Beach. Even if you don’t buy a ticket to tour the facility, you can still walk the grounds, enjoy the boardwalk over the bay, fish, picnic and admire the view. It’s a scenic spot.
Admission to the museum is $10 for adults and guided tours (given several times a day in season) are an additional $5. (We took the guided tour and recommend it for those interested in learning about the Calusa and the area’s history.)
Note: This article was researched over Thanksgiving weekend in 2023, a little more than a year after Hurricane Ian. While Fort Myers Beach has a long way to go, progress is happening every day, so please check hotel and restaurant websites for updates.
More things to do in Fort Myers Beach area:
- Koreshan State Historic Site: Wacky Florida history; a lovely spot preserved, plus good camping
- Kayak to Mound Key Archaeological State Park
- Delnor Wiggins State Park: Top beach and more, with something for everyone
- Clam Pass Park, a Naples beach where you ride the tide
- Kayaking Imperial River in Bonita Springs
- Bicycling Sanibel Island
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The author, Bonnie Gross, travels with her husband David Blasco, discovering off-the-beaten path places to hike, kayak, bike, swim and explore. Florida Rambler was founded in 2010 by Bonnie and fellow journalist Bob Rountree, two long-time Florida residents who have spent decades exploring the Florida outdoors. Their articles have been published in the Sun Sentinel, the Miami Herald, the Orlando Sentinel, The Guardian and Visit Florida.