Note: Hurricane Ian destroyed many buildings in Fort Myers Beach and the community is not ready for visitors. The following story was written before the storm.
There is nothing sophisticated about Fort Myers Beach. It’s a throwback to an era of unpretentious beach towns with funky bars, a commercial center with T-shirt shops and ice cream parlors, and an evening scene with live music and street performers. Things to do in Fort Myers Beach are all your beach-town favorites.
Fort Myers Beach has been updated and enhanced with lighting, landscaping and paving stone sidewalks, and the atmosphere is wholesome and lively. But there are still plenty of beat-up wooden buildings painted neon pastel colors. (I thought the ethos was captured in the T-shirt shop whose main sign was “Henna Tattoos Live Turtles.” )
But one reason Fort Myers Beach hasn’t changed much lately is because it has been on hold. In recent years, it has been poised for a big downtown redevelopment project.
The new development involves six acres from the base of the Matanzas Bridge to the beach, where TPI Hospitality will build a 254-room Margaritaville Resort hotel, water park, restaurants, stores and more.
This development, located in the downtown Times Square area around the pier, will remake Fort Myers Beach forever when it opens, probably in 2023. (Construction began in mid-2021.)
For now, though, Fort Myers Beach seems like old school Old Florida.
You reach Fort Myers Beach, a city located on the barrier island of Estero, either taking the Matanzas Pass Bridge west from Fort Myers or, from the south, via Bonita Springs and the Bonita Beach Causeway.
One of the best things to do in Fort Myers Beach: The beach, of course
The appeal of Fort Myers Beach starts, of course, with the fabulous beach. Wide, flat and concrete hard, you can ride a bike on it (in the morning, before it gets crowded.) It’s a shallow beach great for children and swimming.
My favorite thing was walking at low tide and finding so much sea life – sand dollars, a sea star, lots of live shells.
The other key asset of Fort Myers Beach are numerous restaurants and bars built right along the beach. We loved having dinner outdoors, with our feet in the sand, hearing the sound of the surf. (And we had good seafood, too, at the Salty Crab Bar & Grill, 1154 Estero Blvd.)
Downtown Fort Myers Beach is compact and walkable, and it is an entertaining stroll in the evenings. Sunset attracts crowds around the free pier. Nearby, the Time Square area is busy with street performers, music and strolling families. On a weeknight in April there were at least a half dozen live performers at various open-air bars, each with a good crowd of fans.
Things to do in Fort Myers Beach neighborhoring areas
Bowditch Point Park
At the northern tip of the barrier island, there’s a great little county park, Bowditch Point. The point overlooks a wide body of water, across from which you see the causeway and Sanibel Island.
It’s a beautiful one-mile walk along the beach from the Fort Myers Beach pier area to Bowditch Point. At the park, you’ll find picnic tables and benches, where we watched pleasure boats and shrimp boats coming and going from the harbor.
There’s a lot of nature to observe. We watched osprey catch fish and magnificent frigate birds soar overhead. Lots of shorebirds rushed around the beach. This park also has a large population of gopher tortoises, who are easy to spot.
The Mound House: Add this historic site to list of things to do in Fort Myers Beach
The oldest house in Fort Myers Beach, with portions built in 1906, is 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.
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 walk the grounds, enjoy the boardwalk over the bay, fish, picnic and admire the view.
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.)
The most special aspect of the Mound House is your ability to actually go inside the shell midden. Here you see the various layers of shells left over the years and the archaeologists’ work is explained with a well-made video. (They didn’t destroy the shell mound for this exhibit; access inside the shell mound is the result of an earlier swimming pool built there.)
The museum tells the history of the early residents of Fort Myers Beach and has several exhibits about the life and culture of the Calusa Indians, who disappeared through disease and dispersal after the Spanish landed in the 1500s.
If you visited years ago, you didn’t visit Mound House. It was renovated and opened to the public in 2015.
It also offers boat tours to Mound Key, kayak tours of Estero Bay and full moon tours.
The Mound House, is at 451 Connecticut St, Fort Myers Beach. Admission $10.
Just 15 minutes south of downtown and connected by trolley, this state park is a must for nature lovers. Lovers Key State Park is comprised of four islands and makes a great destination for any season.
In summer, people will love its fabulous 2.5 mile long pristine beach with powdery white sand and a natural shoreline. At the north and south end there are bleached out tree trunks that add drama to the scene and delight photographers.
In winter, many will still swim, but others will enjoy just walking the beach and collecting seashells or kayaking the waterways, where manatees are often seen.
There are also hiking trails, bike and kayak rentals, a café for lunch and more.
Lovers Key is also the place to launch a kayak to visit Mound Key Archaeological State Park, the center of the Calusa civilization. We love the kayak trip to Mound Key, which we describe here.
If you’ve gotten enough sun and want a shadier place for a walk, this free park offers a glimpse of what this area look like before development. Trails totaling 1.25 miles extend to the bay through hardwood forest and mangrove swamp. Free. 199 Bay Rd, Fort Myers Beach. 239-229-1610.
Camping and hotels in Fort Myers Beach
My colleague Bob Rountree has visited Fort Myers Beach many times and writes here about finding campsites and accommodations in Fort Myers Beach. He recommends shopping for mom-and-pop motels and suggests several campgrounds.
There are also VRBO vacation rentals including in beachfront condos.
More things to do in Fort Myers Beach area:
- Koreshan State Historic Site: Wacky Florida history; a lovely spot preserved, plus good camping
- Lovers Key State Park: Beach, kayaking, manatees
- Kayak to Mound Key Archaeological State Park
- Matlacha FL: Delightful, artsy, Gulf spot for kayaking, nature
- Barefoot Beach, a pristine beach tucked out of sight
- 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
- Kayaking on Sanibel and Captiva
- What makes Sanibel so special
- Bicycling Sanibel Island
A note from the editor:
The information in this article was accurate when published but may change without notice. Confirm details when planning your trip.
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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.