Day Trip­ping to Estero Is­land

Bonita & Estero Magazine - - CON­TENTS - Cathy Ch­est­nut is a free­lance writer and fre­quent con­trib­u­tor to TOTI Me­dia who ex­plores the peo­ple and places that make South­west Florida, her home­town stomp­ing grounds, unique.

Es­tero Is­land is the place for both ex­cite­ment and re­lax­ation—what­ever you want to make of it. When you think about Fort My­ers Beach, do sun, surf and sand come to mind? Sure, there’s plenty of that, but in truth, there’s a whole lot more to do for those who want to learn about the re­gion’s nat­u­ral his­tory and cul­ture, pick up a new nau­ti­cal skill or cre­ate in­deli­ble me­mories that won’t wash away with the tide. “We have so many hid­den gems on the is­land that we want peo­ple to know about,” says Jacki Liszak, pres­i­dent of the Greater Fort My­ers Beach Cham­ber of Com­merce. You can fill up an en­tire day, or many, “with­out run­ning out of things to do,” she says.

Here is a guide to help you craft your own ad­ven­ture on Es­tero Is­land—where pi­rates and other trea­sures await.


The 17-acre Bowditch Point Re­gional Park is lo­cated at the north­ern tip of Es­tero Is­land. The only un­de­vel­oped prop­erty with a shore­line on both the Gulf of Mex­ico and Matan­zas Pass, the park has 10 acres set aside for restora­tion/preser­va­tion with walk­ing trails and panoramic wa­ter views. The other seven acres host ta­bles and grills, shaded shel­ters, benches, a food and gift con­ces­sion, re­strooms and chang­ing fa­cil­i­ties, but­ter­fly gar­dens and am­phithe­ater-style seat­ing for tak­ing in a sweep­ing sun­set vista. Lo­ca­tion: 50 Es­tero Blvd.


Lynn Hall Me­mo­rial Park, which fea­tures the Fort My­ers Beach Fish­ing Pier, is a hot spot. The 560-foot pier of­fers a me­morable place to fish in the Gulf of Me xico. Ameni­ties at Lynn Hall Park in­clude out­side show­ers, bath­rooms, a play­ground, cov­ered pic­nic ar­eas and a na­ture kiosk.

This area is lo­cated just north of the foot of Matan­zas Pass Bridge, at the heart of the down­town Times Square. Strike out among the shops and restau­rants to grab a gelato, lunch or cold bev­er­age and shop for unique, lo­cally made gifts, sun­dries, tie-dyes, bathing suits and more. “It’s a very walk­a­ble area, says Jackie Parker, com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager for the Lee County Vis­i­tors and Con­ven­tion Bu­reau. “It’s al­most a car­ni­val at­mos­phere on the beach. It’s a great place to wan­der around and take a break from get­ting sun and swim­ming.” Sun­set is cel­e­brated at Times Square ev­ery Fri­day and Satur­day evening with live mu­sic from 5-10 p.m. Lo­ca­tion: 950 Es­tero Blvd.

We have so many hid­den gems on the is­land that we want peo­ple to know about.” —Jacki Liszak, pres­i­dent of the Greater Fort My­ers Beach Cham­ber of Com­merce


Step back in time at the 60-acre Matan­zas Pass Pre­serve, fea­tur­ing trails with in­ter­pre­tive signs that ex­plain the im­por­tance of the marine ecosys­tem—the last mar­itime trop­i­cal ham­mock on Es­tero Is­land. The site, open dawn to dusk, is also home to the Es­tero Is­land His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety, head­quar­tered in the 1921 Dav­i­son Cot­tage, which im­parts sto­ries and pho­tos of the col­or­ful, hardy pi­o­neers who forged their liveli­hoods on Es­tero Is­land, long be­fore the condo boom. Lo­ca­tion: 199 Bay Road


Learn about the is­land’s evo­lu­tion dur­ing the past 2,000 years at the Mound House, where you can go in­side an im­mer­sive Calusa In­dian ex­hibit built into a shell mound, as well as the is­land’s old­est home. A cou­ple of years ago, the home was ren­o­vated and new ex­hibits were created to help vis­i­tors bet­ter un­der­stand how Calusa In­di­ans, Cubans and pi­o­neers lived off the rich es­tu­ary. Its ex­pand­ing menu of pro­grams in­cludes guided kayak trips around the man­grove is­lands in Es­tero Bay, sun­set pad­dles and a nar­rated boat trip to Mound Key, which be­came a Calusa cap­i­tal af­ter the na­tive peo­ple aban­doned Es­tero Is­land. “We’re more than just a mu­seum,” says Ali­son Giesen, Mound House Mu­seum di­rec­tor. “We’re try­ing to get peo­ple to know this isn’t just about the his­tory or cul­ture, it’s also about the en­vi­ron­ment.” Lo­ca­tion: 451 Con­necti­cut Street


The town of Fort My­ers Beach main­tains 25 pub­lic beach ac­cesses on the Gulf of Mex­ico. These are marked and eas­ily ac­cessed from Es­tero Boule­vard. Many of the ac­cesses also have pub­lic me­tered park­ing. You will see the bright or­ange and blue ac­cess signs along the boule­vard. Park­ing is not al­lowed at re­sorts un­less you are a paid guest, so these ac­cesses are des­ig­nated for day­time vis­i­tors.


Mid­way on the is­land headed south, New­ton Park is a beach­front prop­erty that of­fers con­ve­nient park­ing, pic­nic ta­bles, cov­ered pavil­ions, re­strooms, out­door show­ers, bocce courts and a his­toric 1953 cot­tage. The cot­tage (which can be rented for spe­cial events) once be­longed to Eleanor and James New­ton, close friends of Thomas Edi­son, Henry Ford, Har­vey Fire­stone, Alexis Car­rel and Charles Lind­bergh. James New­ton de­scribes his re­la­tion­ships with his il­lus­tri­ous friends in his book Un­com­mon

Friends. Reg­u­lar, free coastal walks and Con­ser­va­tion Café en­vi­ron­men­tal pre­sen­ta­tions at New­ton Park can be ar­ranged through the Mound House. Lo­ca­tion: 4650 Es­tero Blvd.


If you want to get out on the wa­ter via stand-up pad­dle­board, kayak, per­sonal wa­ter­craft or a guided fish­ing or dol­phin­watch­ing cruise, there are sev­eral com­pa­nies that of­fer these rentals and ser­vices. If you want to ex­plore far­ther afield, a few boat tour com­pa­nies take rid­ers to other bar­rier is­lands for lunch, shelling and wildlife view­ing.

In ad­di­tion to recre­ational wa­ter equip­ment, Fun ‘N’ Sun Rentals will de­liver bi­cy­cles to your lo­ca­tion. Fort My­ers Beach Seg­way Tours of­fer two-hour tours along a four-mile stretch that in­cludes cross­ing the Matan­zas Pass Bridge. New to the is­land is Lager­head Cy­cle­boats, pedal boats with a ca­pac­ity for 14, which can be re­served for pri­vate groups. Or be­come a reen­ac­tor of sorts on the 65-foot Pieces of Eight pi­rate ship with 90-minute, en­ter­tain­ing trips de­signed for the fam­ily or adult­sonly, head­quar­tered at Salty Sam’s Ma­rina. To find ex­actly what you are look­ing for, visit fort­my­ers­beach.org.


Stroll un­der Matan­zas Pass Bridge for a tour of the is­land’s work­ing wa­ter­front, where you can pick up fresh seafood and glimpse the com­mer­cial fish­ing and shrimp­ing boats that have fu­eled the lo­cal econ­omy for gen­er­a­tions with tasty and lu­cra­tive “pink gold.” Ostego Bay Foun­da­tion Marine Sci­ence Cen­ter of­fers a three­hour guided tour that in­cludes a his­tory of the in­dus­try and area ecosys­tems. Lo­ca­tion: 718 Fish­er­mans Wharf, San Car­los Is­land


Tap into cre­ative ex­pres­sion at the Fort My­ers Beach Art As­so­ci­a­tion’s work­ing gallery, where drop-in vis­i­tors can meet artists putting fin­ish­ing touches on their pieces and view chang­ing ex­hibits. “We’ve been here for­ever, and some peo­ple still don’t re­al­ize we’re here,” says as­so­ci­a­tion pres­i­dent Julie Nus­baum. “We have a lot of new mem­bers. It’s more ac­tive than ever.” The as­so­ci­a­tion is go­ing into its 67th sea­son. If you are plan­ning a long visit, check out the as­so­ci­a­tion’s Fa­mous Artist Work­shops led by tal­ented artists. Lo­ca­tion: 3030 Shell Mound Blvd.


A trip to Lovers Key State Park is a day-long out­ing. The 712-acre gem at the south­ern end of Es­tero Is­land has some­thing for ev­ery­one: five miles of trails, a boat ramp, shal­low wad­ing wa­ters, wildlife, bird­ing, a dog park and con­ces­sions for kayaks, bikes, pad­dle­boards, um­brel­las and chairs. Lo­ca­tion: 8700 Es­tero Blvd.


No bore­dom al­lowed on Fort My­ers Beach— stand-up pad­dle­board­ing, fish­ing off the pier, skim­board­ing, and just play­ing in the sand are all part of the lo­cal ac­tiv­i­ties.

The Mound House, of­fer­ing a glimpse of Es­tero Is­land’s en­vi­ron­men­tal and cul­tural his­tory, is just one of the area’s count­less at­trac­tions—from bik­ing to kayak­ing to deep sea fish­ing.

Fort My­ers Beach is a work­ing wa­ter­front with com­mer­cial fish­ing and shrimp­ing boats, and home to the Es­tero Bay Aquatic Pre­serve.

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