Hundreds of tiny barrier islands line Southwest Florida's sparkling coastline. It's the perfect place to discover the laid-back, happy feeling of being on "island time." Bring your family here for a holiday by the sea, or even better get away on a romantic holiday for two.
Those who prefer quiet to crowds will find the rustic charm of "old Florida" survives in many of Southwest Florida's communities. The Charlotte Harbor area around Punta Gorda is a good example. Fishermen and boaters flock to the harbor (part of the nation's largest federally protected marine estuary) as well as to the nearby Peace and Myakka Rivers. The quiet seaside town of Englewood offers scenic water views and excellent fishing. Boca Grande on Gasparilla Island is an exclusive retreat with lovely beaches; Boca Grande Pass is considered the "Tarpon Fishing Capital of the World," with sportsfishermen arriving in early summer to try their luck with these silvery giants, often weighing in at more than 100 pounds.
Nearby Fort Myers has a rich history, with tales of Native Americans, crackers (Florida "cowpokes") and inventors woven through its past. Inventor Thomas Edison built his winter home and laboratory here in 1885. He also planted 200 towering palms which still line Fort Myers' McGregor Boulevard today. Edison's home, botanical gardens and laboratory, as well as the home Henry Ford built next door, are now favourite tour stops for visitors. Just a few minutes' drive from the city, Fort Myers Beach offers a fun, beach-town atmosphere with family-priced accommodations.
Once accessible only by boat or ferry, tiny Sanibel Island and its sister island Captiva offer breathtaking views of sand, sea and sky. With more varieties found here than anywhere else in North America, the world considers Sanibel Island one of the best places in the nation for shelling. Off the beach, lush foliage conceals chic shops, galleries and restaurants tucked here and there along Sanibel's main route. The J. N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge claims almost a third of the island and is home to 5,000 acres of mangrove swamp and meandering waterways. Hundreds of species of birds as well as otters, raccoons and alligators are protected here. Romantic Captiva, just west of Sanibel across a short bridge, retains much of its sleepy fish camp heritage, although many wealthy residents have built retreats back in the bush along its only driving route. Its beautiful white beaches are legendary. Anne Morrow Lindbergh often vacationed here and used the island as the setting for her novel, A Gift from the Sea.
A world apart in demeanor but only a few miles in distance is Southwest Florida's most sophisticated city. Wealthy residents in Naples demand the best and the city's boutiques, galleries and cultural arts calendar oblige. In keeping with its upscale character, a huge number of golf courses welcome visitors and have earned Naples the nickname "Golf Capital of America." Just to the south, the tiny four-mile stretch of Marco Island is another scenic escape with sun-washed beaches and waterfront resorts that line the Gulf of Mexico. Dolphins, manatees and bald eagles share the island and its waterways with visitors, reminding all that the great Everglades National Park, Florida's final frontier, is very close at hand. The remote Ten Thousand Islands, Everglades National Park and many nature preserves allow visitors to explore the Florida that once was, when the alligator and panther were lords of the Florida landscape.