STAY LOCAL: Let’s Go See and Do and Taste the Things Our Visitors Dream of DoingNov 23, 2020 05:00PM ● By LIBBY MCMILLAN HENSON
It’s funny how we rarely do the things our own hometown is famous for. Fort Myers residents can go years without visiting the fascinating Edison and Ford Winter Estates, knowing they’ll get to it one day because it’s “right there.” Likewise, Sanibel Islanders rarely go shelling. Many Southwest Florida residents don’t even take the time or energy to go to the beach, stick an umbrella in the sand and enjoy the sound of the sea.
Life keeps us all a little too busy—even in a crazy year like this one. And because travel has become tricky at best, a staycation solves these dilemmas. Millions of people from around the world make a yearly trek, after all, to spend their precious accrued time in Southwest Florida. We get to live in the place that had them eagerly counting the months, weeks and days until they could visit again.
So here’s an expanded concept of the “Shop Local” theme: Let’s look at our own surroundings with the eyes of a vacationer. Let’s go see and do and taste the things our visitors dream of doing. Let’s ride bikes with ding-a-ling bells and take selfies with funny signs. Let’s sign up for tennis lessons, go boating or fishing with a guide, and order enormous king crab legs. Let’s check out museums and sing karaoke . . . just because we can.
Never thought about taking a staycation in Cape Coral? Maybe that’s because you’ve never really checked out the Hideaway or The Westin. Although they do it in completely different styles, these two lodging options offer a fantastic getaway option, especially for anglers.
Hideaway Waterfront Resort is aptly named, tucked into an oasis-like property just four blocks from downtown restaurants and fun. The Westin Cape Coral Resort at Marina Village has such a cool vibe, you’ll revamp any outdated thoughts you may have about the Cape. (News flash: The city is a foodie hot spot now). The Westin not only has tennis courts, it has its own lagoon pool and a lap pool with water views. Views from its rooms are so outstanding, hotel management may have to toss you at checkout time.
Cape Coral also puts you in easy driving distance of public golf courses and charming Matlacha (matt-luh-SHAY), with its “fishingest bridge” and art galleries. Next stop: Pine Island fruit farms and waterfront restaurants. All in all, the Cape as a home base is the good counter-balance to our high-paced, complex lives.
- Hideaway Waterfront Resort & Hotel; hideawayflorida.com; 239-542-5812
- The Westin Cape Coral Resort at Marina Village; westin.marriott.com; 239-541-5000
- Nevermind Awesome Bar and Eatery; nevermindcapecoral.com; 239-994-3062
- Cork Soakers Deck & Wine Bar; corksoakers.net; 239-542-6622
- Nice Guys Pizza and Beer; niceguyspizza.com; 239-549-7542
- Siam Hut; capecoralsiamhut.com; 239-945-4247
- Anthony's on the BLVD; anthonysontheblvd.net; 239-772-5900
Fort Myers has several personalities—choose the one that suits you. Coastal Fort Myers, near Sanibel and Fort Myers Beach, gives off a distinctly beachy vibe. The Downtown Fort Myers River District is a stimulating mix of dining, entertainment, architecture and people-watching. And then there’s nature lovers’ Fort Myers, where you can go to a truly magical place called Manatee Park; trek through Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve; or cycle through scenic Lakes Park. Have a camera handy!
If you’ve been putting off a visit to Fort Myers’ most amazing attraction, or it’s been a while since you visited the Edison and Ford Winter Estates, it’s time. The entire riverfront property, from homes and workshop to its truly special plant and gift shops, is mesmerizing. You’ll be awed by diving into a remarkable place and time, where some of America’s renowned innovators worked and mingled. Frankly, it’s worth a stop just to spend time beneath the estates’ jaw-dropping banyan trees.
In Fort Myers, the weather is typically terrific for outdoor activities in November and December. Have some laughs on the putt-putt course; take some tennis lessons; swim at Bunche Beach or arrange to learn windsurfing on the Sanibel Causeway. You’ll be amazed how much fun you can have without an agenda of any kind.
- Hotel Indigo; ihg.com; 239-337-3446
- Crowne Plaza Hotel; crowneplaza.com; 239-482-2900
- Marriott Sanibel Harbor Resort & Spa; marriott.com; 239-466-4000
- Drury Inn & Suites; druryhotels.com; 239-267-1340
- Trattoria Napoli; latrattoriacafenapoli.com; 239-931-0050
- Harold’s; haroldscuisine.com; 239-849-0622
- Blanc Entertainment; blancentertainment.com; 239-887-3139
- The Roadhouse Café; roadhousecafefl.com; 239-415-4375
- Broadway Palm Dinner Theater; broadwaypalm.com; 239-278-4422
- Doc Ford's Rum Bar & Grille; docfords.com; Fort Myers Beach 239-765-9660
- Fort Myers Princess sunset cruise; fortmyersprincess.net; 239-765-8500
Estero & Bonita Springs
While Sanibel and Naples tend to earn top billing for Southwest Florida destinations, a lesser-known village and city have lots going for them, starting with “location, location, location.” Estero and Bonita Springs are prime spots for shopping, dining out and easy drives to points further south. They also hold some wonderful waterfront resorts, in less-than-predictable settings. Case in point: the Hyatt at Coconut Point, from which lucky guests get shuttled to the beach by water taxi when they’ve tired of the resort’s luxury pool.
It must be said—the Bonita Beach area is absolutely stunning. Sugar-sand beaches look out across the Gulf, and public pavilions offer picnics with an amazing view. Lovers Key State Park is a great place to go paddling. Got a dog? Hit the Bonita Beach Dog Park at New Pass. Barefoot Beach County Preserve takes tranquility to a new level. And nightly sunset awaits you, in all its glory, from stunning Little Hickory Island Beach Park. Pick your pleasure.
Two mysterious places can add a little intrigue to your staycation. Estero Bay’s remote Mound Key Archeological State Park, accessible only by boat, reveals secrets of Florida’s ancient Calusa culture. In contrast, Koreshan State Park, on the mainland, will introduce you to a 19th-century religious community whose members believed the universe was a hollow sphere.
Hertz Arena could have public ice skating going again; call to inquire. Everglades Wonder Gardens was just completing a terrific renovation as we went to press. Surprise your friends by being the first to post selfies from this iconic circa-1936 wildlife and garden park.
- Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort and Spa; hyatt.com; 239-444-1234
- Trianon Bonita Bay; trianonbonitabay.com; 239-948-4400
- Latitude 26 Waterfront Boutique Resort; latitude26inn.com; 239-673-0505
- DeRomo's Gourmet Market & Restaurant; deromos.com; 239-325-3583
- Old 41 Restaurant; old41.com; 239-948-4190
- Ruth's Chris Steak House; ruthschris.com; 239-948-8888
- Rodizio Grill The Brazilian Steakhouse; rodiziogrill.com; 239-498-0018
- Angelina's Ristorante; angelinasofbonitasprings.com; 239-390-3187
- Hertz Arena; hertzarena.com; 239-948-7825
- Miromar Outlets; miromaroutlets.com; 239-948-3766
- Naples Fort Myers Racing & Poker; naplesfortmyersdogs.com; 239-992-2411
Sanibel & Captiva
In our barrier islands’ beautiful environment, opportunities to unwind are abundant, and nature will do its part to help. If you like wildlife, prepare to be dazzled. On Sanibel and Captiva, you’ll also be able to choose between an active staycation or doing relatively little in a drop-dead gorgeous setting. You do you.
Nightly sunset on Captiva (and the west end of Sanibel) is not just a moment in time, it’s a full-blown celebration. Don’t leave too early—the best colors come afterward. Stargazing is also magnificent, particularly on Captiva, a blissful end-of-the-road destination.
On this sandbar that’s only a few hundred feet wide, life revolves around fellas named Captain, a tiny island store, and water, water everywhere. A day on the water is practically required and easily obtained, giving you a much better perspective. Capt. Brian Holaway (known on social media as Capt. Brian on the Water) is a certified Florida Master Naturalist who deftly treats his boat’s lucky passengers to wildlife sightings, historical tales and fun ecological facts.
“I love showing people things they may not have ever seen,” says Holaway. “I showed a Fort Myers native a live horse conch. You’d be surprised how many locals have never been to Cayo Costa. It’s beautiful—13 different eco-systems.”
Sanibel has brilliantly set aside nearly half its land mass as wildlife preserve, where exotic birds, gopher tortoises and even bobcats roam freely. It’s a place for deep breaths, slow bike rides, sandy toes and quiet nights. Give yourself a real island gift and turn off your devices for a few days. You might find yourself getting in bed with a book at “Sanibel midnight,” which locals jokingly refer to as 9 p.m.
Go on an island treasure hunt: Seek out pink-hued roseate spoonbills or the coveted junonia seashell. Dive into an ice-cold plate of shrimp. Look for manatees while you paddle the back bay. Visit The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum before or after you explore J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. And Sanibel’s shared use path extends for 26 miles. Get your ride on!
- Island Inn; islandinnsanibel.com; 239-472-1561
- Casa Ybel Resort; casaybelresort.com; 239-472-3145
- Jensen’s Twin Palms Cottages & Marina Resort; gocaptiva.com; 239-472-5800
- 'Tween Waters Inn Island Resort & Spa; tween-waters.com; 239-472-5161
- Sweet Melissa's Cafe; sweetmelissascafe.com, 239-472-1956
- The Sanibel Grill; thesanibelgrill.com; 239-472-4453;
- Lighthouse Cafe; lighthousecafe.com; 239-472-0303
- Island Cow; sanibelislandcow.com; 239-472-0606
- Cielo Restaurant; cielo-sanibel.com; 239-472-5555
- Doc Ford's Rum Bar & Grille; docfords.com; Sanibel 239-472-8311; Captiva 239-312-4275
- Traders ; traderssanibel.com; 239-472-7242
- George & Wendy's Sanibel Seafood Grille; sanibelseafoodgrille.com; 239-395-1263
- Tipsy Turtle Restaurant & Bar; tipsyturtlerestaurant.com; 239-472-1771
- Key Lime Bistro; captivaislandinn.com; 239-395-4000
- Captiva Cruises; captivacruises.com; 239-472-5300
While Naples is often associated with lifestyles of the rich and famous, it offers the rest of us just as great an opportunity for fun and relaxation, in a beautiful Gulf-front setting. Swank hotels and resorts from Vanderbilt Beach to downtown will put you in vacation mode from the minute you check in.
When was the last time you threw on your best Tommy Bahama and visited all the art galleries in Naples? It’s actually fun to compare your tastes with someone else’s. Stroll out on the Naples Pier at sunset for a natural thrill. We can almost hear you saying, “Why don’t we do this more often? It’s right here!” Ditto for the beaches. If you have a boat, Naples resident Donna Solimene recommends the Gulf side of Keewaydin. “The shelling is amazing and it’s peaceful for a great walk,” she says.
Staycation attractions are abundant at this end of U.S. 41, and varied as well. Get inspired at Naples Botanical Gardens, or find your inner child at the Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens. The Revs Institute brings diehard car enthusiasts to their knees, with its dazzling collection of more than 100 automobiles manufactured between 1896 and 1995.
Love golf or a good workout? Grab a five-day pass for only $15 to Naples’ upscale 28,000-square-foot gym and golf center Athletica Health & Fitness. “We have the No. 1 rated golf simulators by Golf Digest,” says owner Ryan Middleton. “They allow people to play 18 holes on courses like St. Andrews and Pebble Beach. We also sell beer and wine.”
With Miami so close, Naples’ Cuban culture is also alive and well; transport yourself to La Habana via cuisine and live music. Don’t forget that Naples is the jumping-off point for day trips to Isle of Marco Island, the Everglades, Clyde Butcher’s Big Cypress Gallery, Everglades City, Chokoloskee and Stan’s Idle Hour Restaurant in Goodland. Enjoy your time off!
- Vanderbilt Beach Resort; vanderbiltbeachresort.com; 239-597-3144
- LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort; laplayaresort.com; 239-597-3123
- Naples Grande Beach Resort; naplesgrande.com; 239-227-2182
- Edgewater Beach Hotel; edgewaternaples.com; 239-403-2000
- The Inn on Fifth; innonfifth.com; 239-403-8777
- Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club; naplesbeachhotel.com; 239-261-2222
- Bha! Bha! Persian Bistro; bhabhabistro.com; 239-594-5557
- Naples Coastal Kitchen; naplescoastalkitchen.com; 239-514-4414
- Bleu Provence; bleuprovencenaples.com; 239-261-8239
- Ritz-Carlton lobby bar; 280 Vanderbilt Beach Road; ritzcarlton.com; 239-598-3300
- Whiskey Park; whiskeypark-naples.com; 239-263-6777
- Havana Blue Cuban Cuisine and Lounge; havanabluefl.com; 239-591-5149
- Fernandez the Bull Cuban Café; fernandezthebull.com; 239-254-9855
Libby McMillan Henson is a freelance travel writer and regular contributor to TOTI Media.