FORT MYERS BEACH, Fla. - Summer is over, the kids are back in school, vacations are now but a memory. It's time to focus on work, the daily routine and outsmarting traffic. Right?
Wrong! It's time for another vacation, one for you and your significant other. When was the last time you had one of those?
"The reason couples come to this area is literally to unplug, just to get away from all of the noise of the kids or work or the cellphone," Francesca Donlan, from The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel, told wsbtv.com's Nelson Hicks. "Just drop all that and get in the car, go across the causeway, see the wildlife, unplug (and) get to know each other."
The area she's talking about is home to Fort Myers and Fort Myers Beach along with Sanibel and Captiva islands. It's on the southwest coast of Florida. From the beaches to wildlife, searching for seashells to sunsets, history to adventure, there's plenty to do with or without the kids.
The fun starts at the beach. Enjoy a quiet hand-in-hand walk down the beach on a remote barrier island, some alone time in the water on a trip to Lovers Key State Park or a ride on wave runners and a lot more action at Times Square.
"If you're looking for a nice, relaxed vacation, (the area) is nice," visitor Amanda Rasawehr said. "If you're looking for more upbeat, they have that as well. It's just such a great in between, depending on what you're looking for. They have it all."
Lovers Key is a 700-acre state park that includes a collection of barrier islands that were only reachable by boat until 1965. It was said that only lovers were willing to make the effort to get to this romantic spot prior to the bridge being built. These days, visitors can be a little adventurous; kayaking, biking or hiking the state park before hanging out at the beach.
Seeking a little more action? Head to Times Square. We're not talking about the Big Apple in New York. This Times Square is in the heart of the Fort Myers Beach downtown area.
For the thrill-seekers, strap on a parachute and enjoy the views several hundred feet above Fort Myers Beach on a parasailing excursion. Those wanting to keep their feet a little closer to land can shop, eat a beachfront meal, fish or check out all the action, boats and fun that the area offers.
Seeking a little less action? Head to North Captiva Island. Adventures in Paradise offers a scenic cruise to the island, which is only accessible by boat. Swim, snorkel, enjoy some alone time and be on the lookout for wildlife.
"There's a 50-minute ride out to the island," Adventures in Paradise Capt. Evan Bogdon said. "We see a lot of wildlife along the way, a lot of history along the way. We narrate along the way, as well. Once we're out here, we're out here for about three hours, just hanging out on the beach."
No matter your choice; busy beaches with lots of people or something a little quieter, one thing they all offer is great shelling.
"We have the best shelling in the world," Donlan said. "We have 50 miles of white sand beaches in which the geography of Sanibel Island and Captiva Island are such that the shells just scoop up right onto the sand."
The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel offer a lot of wildlife encounters, too. Dolphins and manatees can be spotted all year around Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel and Captiva islands. The area is great for birdwatching, too.
Since the seashells and wildlife can be found in the area all year long, it might be best to plan your getaway based on the area's festival offerings. There's plenty from which to choose. The area hosts the 10-day Island Hopper Songwriter Fest in late September.
"We're going to bring songwriters from mostly Nashville, but in these incredibly intimate venues in our coastal cities where you can sit and get to know a songwriter for the top hits in Nashville."
Kristian Bush and Rodney Atkins are among the headliners this year.
The Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins conduct spring training in February and March. More than 100,000 people attend Artfest in February, November brings the Sand Sculpting Championship, and the holidays are a special time to visit the Edison and Ford Winter Estates as they are lit up in beautiful brilliance. The estates were once home to two of the country's most famous entrepreneurs.
"So coming here is really kind of like stepping back in time because you're going to see the winter estates of two famous American icons, but they lived here in a very kind of unglamorous way," Mike Cosden from the Edison and Ford Winter Estates said. "You'll see some simple estates that were really a reflection of how they wanted to spend time in nature."
Thomas Edison made his way to Fort Myers in the 1880s. His friend, Henry Ford, joined him about 30 years later. Their estates showcase the simple way they wanted to spend their winters. At the time, the estates were remote and only reachable by boat. In addition to the homes, visitors can visit the 15,000 square-foot museum. It includes historic cars, Edison's inventions, a timeline of innovation and America's most accomplished inventor's final project.
"We've also got their botanical laboratory, which is original, built in 1928," Cosden said. "It was the last project that Thomas Edison worked on in his lifetime. And he worked with Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone to try and find a source of rubber that they could grow here in the United States."
Things to see and do are an important part of any getaway; so is the food.
"We do fresh grouper, snapper (and) mahi," Eric Hines from Dixie Fish Company said. "Our Yucatan shrimp is also a big seller here."
At Dixie Fish Company on Fort Myers Beach and restaurants across the area, seafood is the specialty. That's no surprise given the area's proximity to the ocean. Whole fried yellowtail snapper tops the list at Dixie. Imagine an evening without text and calls on the cellphone, enjoying the snapper, some cold drinks and amazing views.
Julia McKnight doesn't have to just imagine it. She lives it. She and her husband moved to the area from Cartersville, Georgia after they retired.
"Lots of restaurants, lots of happy hours, always a good thing, almost everywhere has live music," McKnight said.
And that's good news, both for visitors and those who call the area home.
Across the bridge on Sanibel and Captiva islands, the food is outstanding, too, it's just a little different atmosphere.
"Everybody is a little more relaxed, everybody's on vacation, it's a nice vibe," said Andy Biddle from the Key Lime Bistro on Captiva Island. "It is old Florida. It is what Florida used to be. And you'd be hard-pressed to find this somewhere else."
From the quirkiness of RC Otters to the Key lime pie at the Key Lime Bistro; there are plenty of reasons to venture across the bridge. Heck, the Key lime pie alone is reason to venture across.
"People fly it out," Biddle said. "I have people call all the time and they're, like, going, 'We need it shipped.' I said, 'We don't ship it. It won't stay together.' 'My mother is going to come get it and ship it to me.' I said, 'That's great.'"
Great food, wildlife, the beaches, adventure, relaxation -- there are plenty of reason to visit. But no matter your reason, there's one thing nearly every visitor will surely enjoy: The Beaches of Fort Myers, Sanibel and Captiva sunsets.
This story is sponsored by The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel. Some video is courtesy of Bryce Clerk with 3D Interspace Solutions.
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