Day Tripping to Estero Island
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.
BOWDITCH POINT REGIONAL PARK
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.
TIMES SQUARE/LYNN HALL MEMORIAL PARK
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
MATANZAS PASS PRESERVE
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
MOUND HOUSE: AN ENVIRONMENTAL AND CULTURAL CENTER
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.
NEWTON PARK AND COTTAGE
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.
TOUR YOUR WAY: BY WATERCRAFT, BIKE, CYCLEBOAT, SEGWAY
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
FORT MYERS BEACH ART ASSOCIATION
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.
LOVERS KEY STATE PARK
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.