Educational Places for Youngsters
Summer fun includes learning, the wonderment of Southwest Florida
Florida’s beaches are beautiful, our theme parks special. But there are so many other wonderful places to check out during summer that are a wealth of family fun, a treasure trove of learning opportunities (don’t forget to pack lunches).
Edison & Ford Winter Estates, Fort Myers
A top attraction with some 20 acres of botanical gardens/ research lab, historic buildings and the Edison Ford Museum of exhibits, artifacts and collections, the Ford Winter Estate (The Mangoes), and the Edison Winter Estate (Seminole Lodge), Edison’s guest house, a caretaker’s house, one of the country’s first swimming pools, a bookstore and a plant nursery, audio and docent-guided tours. Outdoor refreshment area with light lunches, snacks and drinks, fees apply. The attraction will bring some 250,000 annual visitors. Summer camps and other programs are available.
Calusa Nature Center & Planetarium, Fort Myers
Nonprofit environmental organization’s interesting and
educational activities include a 105-acre site offering a museum, nature trails, butterfly and bird aviaries and a gift shop. There's also a planetarium, the only such place in Southwest Florida― children are thrilled to see these shows, as well as other events and activities. The site is also home to some 100 wild animals that sponsorships help house and feed. Outdoor picnic areas, fees apply. Summer camps and other programs are available.
Imaginarium Science Center, Fort Myers
Touch-tank sea critters, build things, run through a rainstorm, lots of hands-on science exhibits. The little ones love the Dino Discovery Dig Area. There’s a 3-D movie theater, an outdoor pond where fish and wildlife can be fed, and much more. Lunch is available until 3 p.m. at the on-site snack bar with pizzas, hot dogs and more. Fees apply. Summer camps and other programs are available.
Nature Park at the Shell Factory, North Fort Myers
A 4.5-acre park with domestic and wild critters includes a two-toed sloth. There’s also an aviary with birds, tortoises and turtles inside the screened enclosure. “Many of the animals are rescues and have found a safe home [here],” says marketing director Rick Tupper. There’s also a pond of alligators that guests can watch being fed on Saturdays at 1:30 p.m. (weather permitting). Additionally, there’s an eco-lab of exotic snakes and reptiles, a farm animal petting/feeding area, zip-lining, miniature golf, bumper/paddle boats, a dog park, other fun stuff. Picnic tables are available near the turtle and duck pond,
places to dine such as Capt’n Fishbone’s and the Dog Bones Café. There is also the nearby Aqua Dog Sports training site. You’re encouraged to practice dock-diving with your dog. Fees apply. Shell Factory also has an arcade and space for birthday parties. There are outdoor flea/farmers market events in the parking area off the entry. Check the website for days/times.
Rotary Park Environmental Center, Cape Coral
Some 97 acres of trails and stroller paths, a salt marsh, a dog park, an environmental center for events, a garden area, the Liam J. Perk Playground, the Glover Bight Boardwalk & Observation Tower and the Tom Allen Memorial Butterfly House, a screen enclosure donated and cared for by the Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife. Free tours Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays starting at 10:30 a.m., volunteer guides providing information about butterfly species, host and nectar plants for gardens, and the lifecycle of butterflies, caterpillars and chrysalises of the different species ― on location for about an hour. Donations can be made to Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife. “The butterfly house has native butterfly species, including the monarch, zebra longwing, gulf fritillary, polydamus butterfly, giant swallowtail, black swallowtail, pipevine swallowtail and atala butterfly,” says Honey Phillips, senior recreation specialist with Cape Parks and Recreation. Picnic tables under pavilions, available restrooms. The Eco Adventure Nature Camp is available in summer months.
Southwest Florida offers a trove of summer activities and learning opportunities (don’t forget to pack lunches).
Exotic banyans, the industrialist and the inventor (left) are part of the Edison & Ford Winter Estates' experience in Fort Myers.
Shell Factory's Nature Park (above) and the Tom Allen Memorial Butterfly House in Cape Coral are great for kids.