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10 Must-See Fort Myers Attractions

SmarterTravel

Fort Myers has more than enough enticements to keep visitors of all ages and temperaments occupied. From Fort Myers attractions that highlight the area’s fascinating wetlands to those that zoom in on the historical and cultural life of past and current residents, there are dozens of must-see Fort Myers attractions.

10 Must-See Fort Myers Attractions

Ready for a break from the beach or the pool? Check out these Fort Myers points of interest.

The Butterfly Estates

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Butterflies are big in Fort Myers; several venues and preserves offer classes on butterfly gardening and the conservation of native species. The Butterfly Estates, a green-friendly effort located in Gardner’s Park in the Downtown Fort Myers River District, combines free workshops, (they take place on the last Saturday of every month) with boutiques packed with butterfly products, a café, and a 3,600-square-foot glass butterfly conservatory. Check the website of this favorite Fort Myers attraction for upcoming kids’ projects and activities.

Calusa Nature Center & Planetarium

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This long-running, not-for-profit Fort Myers attraction is focused on educating guests about the environment. Its 105 acres feature three nature trails that are ideal for learning about the Southwest Florida wetlands, plus butterfly and bird aviaries for additional fact-finding missions. An on-site museum and planetarium provide plenty of fodder for curious kids (and adults). Calusa also offers programming including concerts and laser shows in the planetarium, staff talks about native animals including alligators, eagles, and butterflies; and even outdoor, nature-based yoga classes.

Edison & Ford Winter Estates

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Learn about the surprising entrepreneurial history of Fort Myers at these side-by-side estates, where inventors Thomas A. Edison and Henry Ford spent their winters inventing, gallivanting, and socializing. Today, the historic buildings have been preserved and include Edison’s Botanic Research Laboratory and the Edison Ford Museum. Take specialty tours (inventions, antique cars), or explore 20 acres of botanical gardens that include Edison’s thousands of experimental research plants and the family’s fruit trees. Grab a bite at Pinchers at The Marina at Edison Ford; or sign up for an art or gardening workshop.

After you leave, be sure to drive down majestic McGregor Boulevard. Formerly a road for cattle driving, it’s now a wonderfully scenic two-lane street planted on both sides with Royal Palms.

Fort Myers River District

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Downtown Fort Myers, also known as the River District, was first established in 1904, when the railroad was extended from Punta Gorda. Today, the Downtown River District is one of four declared historic areas (along with Edison Park, Dean Park and Seminole Park) where the architecture and heritage of Southwest Florida has been preserved. Stroll past fashionable boutiques, dine in trendy restaurants, or take in a show here. The Downtown River District regularly hosts events including art walks, outdoor concerts, and food festivals.

For a vivid sense of history, tour The Burroughs Home & Gardens, a Georgian Revival mansion, whose owners entertained the likes of the Edisons and the Fords.

The Great Calusa Blueway

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As a tribute to the indigenous Calusa natives who once occupied the region, Lee County developed this awesome 190-mile paddling trail. Comprising three legs, it takes kayakers and canoers first through Estero Bay, next through Pine Island and Matlacha Pass, and finally into the inland portions of the Caloosahatchee River and its smaller tributaries. Paddlers can fish, view native wildlife like dolphins and manatees, and even camp for several days along the way.

The Great Calusa Blueway can be navigated by those with any level of experience, from beginners to experts, but those who are unfamiliar with the region should hire a guide or join a tour. A trail guide with 80-plus access points and highlights is also available to order.

Lakes Regional Park

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Bird lovers, be warned. Once you start exploring the 300 or so acres of Lakes Park, you won’t want to leave. That’s because egrets, herons, ibis, and anhinga migrate in the fall and then nest here by the thousands, making this one of the most established rookeries in the United States. But there’s also more to Lakes than nature trails—which are both paved and unpaved for different levels of hiking and biking—boardwalks, and gardens. The name offers a good clue: You can rent kayaks and canoes, and fish here as well.

Younger guests find favorite Fort Myer attractions here as well: A railroad museum and miniature train are sure to hold their fascination, as will playgrounds and water parks.

Manatee Park

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This must-see among Fort Myers attractions is a refuge for these gentle sea cows, a spot where you can paddle among manatees and observe them in their natural environment. But there’s a caveat: They have to choose to be in the area. And, of course, because this is a non-captive environment, there’s also no guarantee you’ll see them. Your best chances for seeing families of manatees here are when the temperatures drop during the winter months, when the water gets colder in the gulf and stays warmer in these shallower waters. Rent watercraft from the onsite outfitter, Calusa Blueway Outfitters & Gift Shop. Staff offer educational programs, including how to approach and leave manatee areas, plus fish and butterfly identification tips. Other park features include fishing opportunities, playgrounds, picnic areas, restrooms, walking paths, and a butterfly garden with native plants that serves as a model program for others.

Check the website to discover the current status of manatees in the park. And note that manatees, like other Florida wildlife, should never be touched, startled (intentionally or unintentionally), surrounded by vessels or prevented from leaving the area.

Mound Key Archaeological State Park

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This island in the middle of Estero Bay was actually “filled in” between mangrove roots by the Calusa natives. They built all 125 acres of it from shells, creating pathways and mounds as they went. It’s a fascinating structure, rising 30 feet out of the water. Archaeologists believe it had spiritual significance. Dating back 10,000 years, it’s an incredible site to explore. However, it can only be reached by boat. Book a tour or rent kayaks or canoes to reach get there. While visitors are welcome to explore the park, relax in the sun, and picnic, there are no facilities or amenities here, including toilets.

Royal Shell Port Sanibel Marina

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Fort Myers is the gateway to several environmental regions, including the Caloosahatchee River, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Everglades. To make the most of the area, head to Royal Shell Port Sanibel Marina to sign up for eco-tours, fishing charters, and watercraft rentals (boats, paddleboards, and more). This Fort Myers attraction is a great jumping-off point for everything from manatee tours to multi-day kayaking trips.

Pro tip: The marina has beautifully appointed marble bathrooms with showers. Bring a change of clothes so that when you return from your outdoor activity, you can freshen up and head straight to Times Square for cocktails and dinner.

Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve

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First things first: It’s pronounced “sloo.” This 3,400-acre ecosystem is a fascinating freshwater habitat and tidal passageway that prevents flooding and provides protection for native wildlife and plant life, including several endangered species. Humans navigate the slough via a boardwalk built several feet above the wetlands. The boardwalk route is self-guided, but volunteers are also available to lead tours. Stop in at the LEED-certified Interpretative Center to explore the exhibits or to try to catch a tour.

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– Original reporting by Jen Karetnik

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