A New Englander’s Guide to Fort Myers, Florida

Thanks to JetBlue Park, the spring training “Fenway South” home of the Boston Red Sox, the southwestern Florida city of Fort Myers is a popular warm-weather destination for New Englanders each spring. Beyond baseball, however, it’s a great option for any Florida vacation – offering plenty of sun, sand, and a range of activities for […]

By Aimee Tucker

Jan 18 2013

Fort Myers Postcards
Photo Credit : Aimee Seavey
Thanks to JetBlue Park, the spring training “Fenway South” home of the Boston Red Sox, the southwestern Florida city of Fort Myers is a popular warm-weather destination for New Englanders each spring. Beyond baseball, however, it’s a great option for any Florida vacation – offering plenty of sun, sand, and a range of activities for both relaxation and adventure. Give the mice a run for their money and head to Fort Myers! I have a family connection to Fort Myers that keeps me coming back – my Massachusetts-born cousin Jaime and her Mississippi-born husband Ben live there with their two small daughters. While I hate that she’s so far away, it does sweeten the pot when I can temporarily leave the snowy, cold New England winter behind for a few days and escape down to Florida for a sunny, warm visit – which is exactly what I did this year. From my own experience and their suggestions, I’ve put together a list of some Fort Myers Musts to keep in mind for your own visit. Let’s head to Florida! Opened in March 2012, the 11,000-seat JetBlue park (Go Sox!) contains many of the trademarks from Boston’s Fenway Park, including a 37-foot Green Monster wall in left field with a restored version of the manual scoreboard that was previously housed at Fenway. The field dimensions are also identical. Games start in February so check out the schedule and grab your tickets! Norman Love Confections is next door to JetBlue Park, and if you’ve got a sweet tooth, you won’t want to miss it. For sale are wide assortment of gourmet truffles, along with premium coffee and a newly opened gelateria, serving Italian artisan gelato, French crepes, Belgian waffles, and other sweet treats. Flavors Clockwise: Peaches and Cream, Vanilla Cupcake, Coconut, Hazelnut Praline, Pumpkin Pie, Tiramisu On a healthier note, the large artificial orange outside Sun Harvest Citrus is a beacon for both tourists and local citrus-lovers alike. Equal parts fruit stand, tourist shop, bakery, and post office, Sun Harvest is the perfect place to stock up on postcards, gifts, toys, specialty food items, souvenirs, muffins, juice, and yes…oranges, grapefruits, tangerines, and tangelos. Helpful staff are on hand for gift orders, which is a good idea, since bringing home bags of fruit yourself adds significant luggage weight. I learned this the hard way… Free juice samples are a welcome treat, as are the jumbo muffins and pastries for sale in the display case. They offer fresh smoothies and soft-serve ice cream, too. Once you’ve had your citrus fix, jump in the car and head to Sanibel Island, widely touted as the best spot for seashell gathering in the country (if not the world). It was a hot day and I was grateful for the soda machine, which, after several tries, finally gave up a few bottles of water. Sandy paths and wooden bridges lead the way to the beach, sometimes crossing over kayakers. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife! Then finally — the beach! Sanibel’s beaches are truly littered (in the best sense of the word) with seashells. They don’t call it the “Sanibel Stoop” for nothing — scanning the beach for seashells will have you hunched over for hours if you let it! Choose a few souvenirs, but first make sure your shells are no longer home to any sea creature. After enjoying the sun and gathering as many shells as your pockets can hold, stick around to enjoy a perfect sherbet-colored sunset, or grab a bite on the island before heading back to Fort Myers. Back on the mainland, don’t pass up downtown Fort Myers, which has maintained or restored much its historic charm, including period architecture and brick-lined streets and sidewalks perfect for strolling. Popular events include an Art Walk the first Friday of each month and Music Walk the third Friday of each month. Shopaholics will find everything on their list (plus things that aren’t) at the Bell Tower Shops, Tanger Outlets, or Miromar Outlets in nearby Estero with over 140 top designer and brand name shops. Golf-lovers will also rejoice — the area has dozens of courses, ranking it high nationally in the number of golf holes per capita according to the National Golf Foundation. Families will love visiting Lakes Park, with its seasonal farmers market, lakeside paved trails, birdwatching, an old steam locomotive, boat and bike rentals (the latter seating up to 4), and kid-friendly water park and miniature train ride. History buffs can head to the Edison and Ford Winter Estates on the banks of the Caloosahatchee, the historical museum and accompanying 17 acres of botanical gardens on the sister sites of the winter retreats of the famous inventors and friends. Naturally, all of this sightseeing will really work up an appetite… There are many dining options in the Fort Myers area, but here are some of the places I’ve been to or that come with promising reviews. A colorful salad from Jason’s Deli and ice cold bottle of ginger ale and quesadillas from the Island Cow kept me going on my last trip to Fort Myers.Bennett’s Fresh Roast offers (as their name implies) fresh roasted coffee and hand cut from-scratch donuts along with soups, paninis, and sandwiches. Need I say more? Start your day at Bennett’s and never look back! Jason’s Deli is a chain throughout the southern and some central parts of the country, and I wish (I wish!) they would make their way to New England! A real crowd-pleaser of a place, Jason’s has an enormous deli menu along with a first-class salad bar. With an emphasis on organic and no trans-fats, high fructose corn syrup, or MSG anywhere on the menu, you can feel good about stopping at Jason’s for lunch. Fat Katz Sports Bistro a bit south of the city took care of our large group under an outdoor covered patio. My veggie burger was homemade and chock full of grains and veggies, alongside crispy, salty hand-cut fries. Word of warning, have backup selections at the ready — they were out of several things listed on the menu. The large menu at The Island Cow on Sanibel Island truly offers something for everyone in a casual, colorful indoor/outdoor setting, often with live music. Seafood, burgers, pasta, sandwiches, and more. Ford’s Garage is great new spot for burgers and craft beers in a hip downtown setting. Bonus points for the vintage Model A Ford car hanging from the ceiling, and door handles and bathroom faucets designed to look like filling station gas nozzles. The Firestone Grill, Martini Bar, and Sky Lounge recently opened downtown and is perfect for a night out, boasting four floors of food, drinks, and fun with the only waterfront rooftop bar in town. Am I missing anything? Add your contributions to A New Englander’s Guide to Fort Myers, Florida in the comments section, and think warm Florida weather thoughts for an early New England spring! Special thanks to Jaime and Ben for their help with this list!