Whether it’s the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, the winding Caloosahatchee River, the untamed everglades or the many creeks, canals and paddling trails – it has always been the water that draws settlers and visitors to the Fort Myers area.
Before Fort Myers Beach became one of top 10 spring break destinations in the United States, this narrow, 11-km-long island was the sleepy, balmy home mostly of shrimp fishermen and their families.
“Shrimpers” still dock near the bridge at Matanzas Pass before they head to the gulf, but these days, the bridge carries vacationing families, honeymooners, spring breakers and local day-trippers. Come to Fort Myers for the swimming, sunning, parasailing and events. Attend the annual offshore power boat races, the International Sand Sculpting Competition and don’t forget to try the fresh, fried, boiled and chilled shrimp when you’re here.
The Everglades National Park stretches through four south Florida counties and is the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States. Airboat guides stay busy year-round as they ferry guests through the grassy waters for sightings of alligators and rare birds.
The Caloosahatchee River starts its 120-km-long stretch from Lake Okeechobee in Glades County and winds its way down the state to the Gulf of Mexico. Until 1904, it was the only way to get to Fort Myers. “That’s how everybody got here, including Thomas Edison, by boat on the river,” says Matt Johnson, executive director of the Southwest Florida Museum of History. “When the railroad was finally built in the early 1900s, all that changed. But without the Caloosahatchee, there wouldn’t have been a Fort Myers. ”
Today, the Caloosahatchee legacy lives on with historic downtown Fort Myers, also known as the “River District.” (And, yes, there was once a Fort, the southernmost union outpost during the Civil War.) Art and culture are the main attractions in this neighbourhood.
The critically acclaimed Florida Repertory Theatre was built in 1908 and is housed in an old vaudeville venue. It is entering its 14th season, producing nine shows a year on its main stage and bringing more than 70,000 people to the River District annually.
This riverfront city is a popular hub with locals and travellers alike. Within an eight-block radius downtown, you’ll find more than a dozen eclectic art galleries, restaurants and bars, the Fort Myers Yacht Basin and Centennial Park with its weekly Thursday farmer’s market.