Last weekend, I flew down to Fort Myers, Florida for a little beach time, a little relaxation, & a little quality family time. While I grew up two hours to the north in Tampa, I didn’t really know what to expect to find in Fort Myers. I did much less research than normal for my trip, just a little Googling to find some local eats – basically hoped on a plane with a suitcase of shorts, t-shirts & a bathing suit.
Getting there & back
Part of what prompted my trip was the random luck of a reasonably priced (under $200) direct flight, out of my airport of choice (DCA). It was my first time flying AirTran, & while it was definitely low frills (although they did give me three of those Biscoff cookies I love), it was a generally positive experience of nice airline employees (!), clean planes, & on-time schedules.
After landing at Southwest Florida International Airport, I was pleasantly surprised at the airport’s size & nice-ness. An astonishing number of people fly through RSW: in 2010, total passengers numbered over 7.5 million & it’s one of the busiest single runway airports in the country. Renovated & expanded from 2002 through 2005, the airport now has three concourses, 28 gates, & a variety of food options (including a local coffee place which won my business over Starbucks).
If you need to rent a car, which I did for a portion of my trip, the rentals cars are located in the garage at the airport. Be prepared to stand in a lengthy line, as there is virtually no public transit in the area, which means the majority of people getting off planes head to the rental car counter.
Where to stay
My hotel this trip didn’t warrant it’s own review: I stayed at the non-exciting-but-fairly-reliable Hilton Garden Inn, mostly because it was conveniently located within a mile of my brother’s apartment (& anyone who has known a 26 year old single guy knows that you don’t want to be staying with them!).
If you’re looking for something a little more exciting, the Pink Shell Beach Resort on Fort Myers Beach, the Casa Yabel on Sanibel Island, the South Seas Island Resort in Captiva or the Hotel Indigo in Fort Myers might tickle your fancy.*
As anyone who reads my blog with any regularity already knows, I have a hard & fast “no chain restaurants except Starbucks when traveling” rule. However, given that we were celebrating my brother’s birthday, which meant he got to pick the dinner places both nights, I caved a bit in the name of family harmony. Dinner Friday night was at Bonefish Grill, which has a smattering of locations across the United States, apparently including in the very city I call home (no idea!). Dinner Saturday night was at Bahama Breeze, a Caribbean themed restaurant I have fond memories of from my Tampa days (they also have a location about 20 minutes from where I live – clearly we don’t eat at many chains!).
The good news is that we did get two meals in at solid, local places. Cantina Captiva serves up some surprisingly good tex-mex on beautiful Captiva Island. The service was fast & friendly & I can only imagine the hopping scene this tiny restaurant must be on a Friday night. Added bonus: they served up my favorite Barbados beer, which is nearly impossible to find in the U.S.
In addition, we breakfasted at Crave which is apparently the place to go for brunch in Fort Myers. Tucked inside a non-descript strip mall, this tiny place serves up a variety of daily omelet specials (brie & asparagus? sign me up!), as well as several varieties of eggs benedict & other breakfast favorites. If I lived in the Fort Myers area, you can bet that you’d find me here every weekend.
Lets face it: short of having a brother who lives there, the only reason you’re going to head to the Fort Myers area is to go to the beach. Beach lovers everywhere will tell you why Sanibel Island is consistently ranked one of the top U.S. beaches & the undisputed #1 shelling beach in the country: it’s gorgeous. Sanibel & Captiva Islands are largely nature preserves, which helps keep the sand pristine & the coast line beautiful. After finding a place to park at one of several parking lots (not always an easy task), walk down a bit to get away from the crowds & find your own perfect plot of sand.
Back toward the mainland (& without the $6 toll to cross the bridge), Fort Myers Beach offers a much more bustling, busy, family-oriented scene. When we arrived mid-afternoon on a Saturday, the beach was filled with colorful umbrellas, beach balls, sand castles, & families. Walk out the Fort Myers Beach Pier for a great view of the beach, as well as Captiva Island & the seemingly endless Gulf of Mexico.
I’ll admit it: I’m a sucker for Gulf beaches, Gulf cities & anything to do with the west coast of Florida. The way the water calmly laps up on the shore. The firm, white sand.The murky, non-crystal clean color of the water (okay, maybe that’s not always a highlight). While the purpose of my trip was to surprise my little brother on the occasion of his 26th birthday, I found so much more: another Gulf city to love.
*Note: I haven’t stayed at any of these properties, nor do I know too much about them, other than that they look like places I might consider on my next trip to the area.
PS I’m not paid or perk’d to write any of this – I just love the Gulf Coast of Florida :)