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Spotlight on:
Fort Myers

Bask in nature and warm gulf coast breezes in a snowbird sanctuary called home by Edison and Ford

If you live where the snow starts to fall in early November and doesn't stop until May, then why not consider a wintertime escape to a place with aquamarine water, sunshine galore and winter temperatures that occupy the 70-degree range on the thermometer? Plan your escape to Fort Myers, Florida.

In addition to snowbirds, one of the fair-weather friends to Fort Myers is the 1,000-pound Manatee. At the end of hurricane season, when the water temperature in the gulf has dropped to under 70 degrees, the Manatees start swimming up the Caloosahatchee River (pronounced Cal-oosa-hatch-ee) and congregate at Fort Myers. One of the best places to see these gentle giants is at Manatee Park. The public park is home to hundreds of Manatees that just want to find some warmer water. This isn't a zoo, and they are free to come and go as they please. If you go to the park between November and March, you'll be sure to see these big-ole mammals in their natural habitat. Manatee Park is not pet friendly, so please leave the dogs at home.

If you visit the park in the spring and summer months, you'll witness the colorful spectacle of the area's countless butterflies. There are a number of butterfly species that live in Florida year-round, and many others who migrate up and down the Southern Atlantic Coast. You can also check out Butterfly Estates, a botanical garden and home to the Florida Native Butterfly Conservatory. Here you'll see plants, trees, tropical flowers and a lot of butterflies in abundance.

Caloosahatchee River
The Caloosahatchee River runs through the heart of Fort Myers. This waterway was been home to Native Americans who lived here before the Europeans settled hundreds of years ago. Today it's home to a number of destinations for watery fun, including paddlewheel boat cruises, kayaks and, of course, fishing.

Bring your kayak or rent one to explore the hundreds of miles of Calusa Indian water trails that spiderweb around Southwestern Florida, including a leg that flows through Fort Myers. You can see the scenery in a way you never thought possible while sharing your experience with native plant and animal species that still thrive in the waterways.

If you'd rather allow some good old fashioned gasoline-powered motors to do the work for you, that's okay, because there are a number of cruise lines that will take you fishing out for an evening dinner cruise or just for a boat ride.

A Little History
What do the inventor of the electric light and America's most famous automotive manufacturer have in common? Well, they both had their winter homes here and, lucky for visitors, both residences are right next door to one another.

Thomas Edison and Henry Ford hit it big at the turn of the century with the onset of electricity and then the development of the horseless carriage, respectively. Everyone wanted a piece of the new technologies that propelled these two men to prosperity and their own places in the history books about America's economic dominance.

Visitors to the estates can stroll the grounds through the lush botanical gardens, sit in the Banyan tree that has been made into a natural pergola and visit the estate museum that includes Edison's still fully stocked laboratory.

Golf on the Gulf
The warm temperatures that are nearly always present in Fort Myers lend the area to a number of favorite pastimes like sunbathing, swimming and, of course, golf. There's a nice mix of public and private courses in the Fort Myers area that will keep any golfer from amateur to semipro busy for weeks.

Beach Day
Fort Myers is known for its white sand beaches with gentle rolling waves that are perfect for anyone of any age to enjoy. The beaches of Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel Island are a paradise escape that will make you want to stay. Who wouldn't want to put a toe into the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico? When you go, be sure to pack a towel and your sunscreen.

While you're at the beach walking the coastline you'll want to look down because what may be hiding just below the sand at low tide is the most perfect seashell you'll ever see, assuming of course you're on Sanibel Island. This seashell sanctuary is home to some of the most perfect shells in the world, and all you have to do is bend over to make them yours. If you'd like to see some that have already been immortalized you'll want to head on over to the Bailey-Mathews Shell Museum, where you can learn about how shells have been used for centuries and today are an object of beauty.

Are you ready to get away from the winter, even if it's summer? Then start planning your trip to Fort Myers today.

Fort Myers Trivia
Here are just a few of the area's fascinating facts.

• The sport of tarpon fishing originated in Southwest Florida's Pine Island Sound in the late 1880s and Boca Grande Pass, the opening between Cayo Costa and Gasparilla Islands, is considered the "Tarpon Fishing Capital of the World."

• Thomas Edison, who spent 35 winters in Fort Myers, is considered to be the most inventive man who ever lived, holding 1,097 patents for everything from lightbulbs and phonographs to cement and the natural rubber he made from goldenrod.

• Lee County beaches are ranked third best in the world for shelling, with more varieties found here than anywhere else in North America. The shelling posture is so common, it's been given a name—the Sanibel Stoop! The other two beaches are in the Sulu Islands in the Southwest Pacific and Jeffreys Bay in Africa.

• Florida's West Coast, including Southwest Florida, was ranked among the Top 10 U.S. tourism destinations in 1987 in Rand McNally's Vacation Places Rated.

• You can boat straight across the state of Florida from Fort Myers to Palm Bach via the Caloosahatchee River and Okeechobee Waterway.

• The banyan tree at the Edison Winter Home, a gift from industrialist Harvey Firestone, is the largest specimen in the United States. The tree's aerial roots now have a circumference of more than 400 feet.

• Koreshan State Historic Site in Bonita Springs commemorates an eccentric religious sect, which believed the world to be a hollow globe, with mankind residing on the inner surface, gazing into the universe below.

• Legend has it that Spanish pirate Jose Gaspar made his home in Pine Island Sound, reportedly establishing headquarters on Sanibel Island, holding his female prisoners captive on Captiva Island, burying his booty on Gasparilla Island and imprisoning his beloved Mexican Princess Josefa on Useppa Island. Rather than be taken prisoner by the U.S. Navy, the outlaw drowned himself in anchor chains in 1821, the same year Spain sold Florida to the U.S. government for $13 million.

• Cape Coral has more canals than the Italian city of Venice.

• J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge, occupying more than one third of Sanibel Island, was named for Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Jay Norwood Darling. During the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Darling became the first environmentalist to hold a presidential cabinet post.

For More Information:
The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel

Florida Department of Tourism