It's a destination that when visitors arrive after living in more congested areas of the country, they can revisit old Florida and discover that it really does still exist. In fact it flourishes.
The Past... Given the area's wealth of natural resources, it's no surprise that Fort Myers/Sanibel is also rich in history.
The world of the area's past is the focus of tours offered at the Randall Research Center at Pineland. The center allows both a walking tour of the Pineland archeological site and a kayak trip to Josslyn Island, offering insight to the history, archeology, and culture of the Calusa Indians, one of the first to discover this Southwest paradise.
By the turn of the 20th century, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and other prominent Americans who wintered here, helped put the area on the modern-day map. In 1912, advertising entrepreneur Barron Collier bought the 100-acre Useppa Island and developed it as a resort for the rich and famous. Meanwhile, the DuPont family had founded Boca Grande, renowned for being rich in fish, on Gasparilla Island. Today, the island's well-heeled visitors and fishing aficionados range from movie stars to the President of the United States and his family.
The Beaches. The Lee County area embraces 9 distinct areas, each offering its own unique charm and charisma. Best known are Sanibel and Captiva islands, connected by a blink-and-you'll-miss-it bridge at Blind Pass.
Known worldwide for its shelling opportunities, visitors in search of that perfect sea treasure won't have far to look. More than 400 varieties of shells are found littering the beaches, particularity after high, or low tide.
As desert islands conjure romantic fantasies, North Captiva and Coyo Costa Island Preserve are known for their deserted yet alluring coastlines and excellent shelling potential. Cayo Costa was purchased by the state in 1985 and the Florida Department of Natural Resources maintains primitive cabins on the northern portion of the island.
For an afternoon picnic, there is no better spot than Lovers Key on Black Island, to the south of Estero. Visitors proceed by open tram across a scenic vista of mangrove islands, arriving at a secluded beach less than 10 minutes later.
Anyone suffering from island fever can find instant relief by paying a call to the "City of Palms" Fort Myers, with its charming downtown historic district and expanding hub of urban activity that extends to shopping malls, restaurants, and nightclubs. For the sports minded, public golf courses and tennis courts make this destination one of the best playing turf in the state.
Naples / Marco Island / Everglades . . . Rimmed by white sand beaches to the west and vast, wild Everglades to the South, this destination is considered far removed from the rest of Florida, deeming it the Paradise Coast.
Perhaps Naples is best known for its locals and their affluent status. Visitors flock to the area and its stylish atmosphere, which includes beautiful pedestrian walks, art galleries, and row after row of palatial homes surrounded by tropical landscaping.
If self-guided exploration is your forte, opportunities for relaxing walks are plentiful in Naples. Secluded courtyards, outdoor sculptures, and beautiful fountains highlight historic buildings throughout the community. The beach is always within easy reach for a sunset stroll and nearby, Audubon's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary provides a boardwalk, over two miles in length, which passes through an ancient cypress forest, and is home to hundreds of birds and animal species.
If the thought of golfing has your pulse racing, nearly 90 golf courses are found in the Greater Naples area. A growing number of public courses provide ample opportunity for visitors to get into the swing.
Travelers with a penchant for fine shopping will find unique treasures ranging from original artwork to designer fashions. Third Street South, Naples business district at the turn of the century, now serves as a premier shopping and dining district. The area includes Gallery Row, a collection of distinctive art galleries. Third Street South is perhaps best known for having its own Street Concierge, staffed with friendly helpers eager to point visitors in the right direction for dining, shopping and more.
Part of Southwest Florida's Paradise Coast, Marco Island is home to some of the world's most beautiful beaches. The largest of the Ten Thousand Islands, Marco Island, is surrounded by the Gulf of Mexico to one side and pristine wilderness on the other.
Flanked by nearly 100 miles of islands, bays and estuaries that will never be developed, this southern stretch of serenity is truly a water wonderland. Canoes and kayaks are readily available for rent, with both short and extended tours available. However, don't be misled that Marco Island is only about its breathtaking locale. Specialty shops and resort boutiques offer everything from bathing suits and island wear to the finest designer fashions, while popular area restaurants specialize in fresh Gulf seafood.
Visiting the Everglades is like stepping into the past. Everglades National Park is the only subtropical preserve in North America and is part of the largest wetlands ecosystem in the United States. Known for its rich bird life, it's actually better known for being the only place in the world where alligators and crocodiles exist side-by-side.
Everglades City and nearby Chokoloskee Island provide a glimpse into the area's past with several notable museums and quaint small town charm. Known as the Stone Crab Capital of the World, Everglades City's numerous stone crab processing facilities provide ample supplies of this fresh Florida delicacy to restaurants in town and all along Florida's coast during stone crab season each year from October 15 through May 15.