Sunset Beach at South Seas Island Resort & Spa (Photo via Noreen Kompanik)
There’s something very special about Florida’s Gulf Coast. Stunning pearly white sand beaches, palm-fringed shores, clear tourmaline waters, unspoiled landscapes, and stunning sunsets are the norm. There’s also a laid-back vibe here that’s almost intoxicating, and that’s not a bad thing at all.
Island escapes are becoming more popular than ever with travelers wanting to take that family vacation or long weekend getaway but do so in a safe and less harried environment. This is why this region is so ideal. This is a place to relax, unwind and let your worries drift away with the tide.
Visitors arriving by air fly into Fort Myers, the Lee County government seat. For road trippers, Fort Myers is only three hours from Orlando and two from Miami. Yet it feels a world away.
About Captiva and Sanibel Islands
These two island communities are often mentioned in the same breath because they are adjacent to one another, separated only by the impressive wildlife refuge they share, covering two-thirds of the islands. Captiva is the smaller of the two but both are world-renowned for their award-winning beaches, biking, fishing, shelling, bird watching, boating, golfing and snorkeling.
There are no stoplights or streetlights on the islands, no fast-food places or chains. What you will find is peaceful serenity, a strong commitment to protecting natural habitats, and a string of the loveliest picture-postcard stretches of sand imaginable.
Houses and small locally-owned businesses are adorned with a painter’s palate of vibrant happy shades. Crime is almost unheard of. As a matter of fact, the hot story of the week was a frisky manatee that chased away a gator in a state park.
South Seas Island Resort & Spa Vacation Villas (Photo via Noreen Kompanik)
South Seas Island Resort & Spa
We heard that this secluded 330-acre oceanfront retreat and wildlife nature preserve on Captiva Island has been a destination of choice for generations of families visiting the islands. And after our stay here, the reason is clear. With its 2.5-miles of beachfront, this coastal playground is absolutely charming.
South Seas reflects a distinct and genuine Old Florida feel. The relaxing vibe is felt immediately. Luckily for guests, there’s a myriad of accommodations ranging from single hotel rooms and villas to vacation rentals sporting garden, marina, and harbor views. Plans are in the works for some exciting new changes.
My oceanfront harborside room with a king bed, fully furnished bath and balcony was splendid. And there’s nothing like waking early to greet the sunrise. And here on the coast, they are stunning.
The palm-fringed pool at the resort overlooks. a stunning beachfront. The pool area features a tiki bar with a casual menu. Beachgoers will love the nearby Attitudes and Latitudes, a colorful-Caribbean vibe beach bar and food shack located right on Sunset Beach. Of no surprise, the beach’s powdery white sand is pristine, leading into the incredible aquamarine waters of the Gulf.
South Seas Island Resort & Spa marina (photo via Noreen Kompanik)
Dining at Harborside Bar & Grill
Open for breakfast, dinner or drinks, the nautical-themed Harborside Grill overlooking the marina is only available to South Seas hotel guests and resort members. Fittingly, the menu is very seafood-centric, though other options are available.
And speaking of an island ambiance, no visit to Captiva is complete without dining at Doc Ford’s located at the entrance to South Seas Island Resort. The restaurant is delightful, the food is amazing, and the service is top-notch. It’s a fun place with a true Caribbean flair.
Fort Myers Beach (Photo via Noreen Kompanik)
Getting to Know Fort Myers Beach
This is definitely your quintessential Florida beach town where everything revolves around the big three S’s – the sun, the sand, and the sea. And here’s an inside scoop: Margaritaville is currently building a beach resort here, slated to open in the fall of 2023. You can bet that the views will be to die for.
Life in Fort Myers Beach is simple and carefree, and I’ll admit that getting here was half the fun. We boarded a boat at Fort Myers marina and journeyed through the sparkling waterways filled with abundant sea life, natural mangroves, and stunning views before docking at Fort Myers Beach’s Pink Shell Beach Resort & Marina. And yes, true to its name, it’s very pink and utterly charming.
Arriving at Pink Shell Resort’s Pier (Photo via Noreen Kompanik)
Iconic Pink Shell Beach Resort
This unparalleled beachfront escape evolved from a single cottage built in 1950 to a lovely expansive 12-acre beach resort and marina today. It’s a perfect place for families and friends to create memories that to last a lifetime, and it’s currently undergoing one impressive renovation.
The pools and beach are superb, and probably one of the most interesting aspects of the resort is its nature program covering this marine habitat. Guests can learn about the sea turtles that build nests on the dunes and the rescue efforts to ensure these baby turtles make it safely to the water.
Pink Shell is also popular for beach volleyball games, seaside campfires, dive-in movies by the pool, and arts and crafts celebrating the local culture. Grab a fun cocktail or quick lunch poolside at Bongo’s Bar and Grill. You’ll love it!
Exploring Ancient American Indian History
To truly understand and appreciate a place, you’ve got to deep dive into its history. This is why the opportunity to visit the Mound House and its museum was such a great experience.
The ancient coastal tribe known as the Calusa occupied these barrier islands long before the first explorers set foot on the Gulf shores. One of their defining characteristics was the building of shell mounds. These mounds were massive heaps of shells forming the foundations of water-bound towns. It was on this property that a huge shell mound discovery led to one of the most fascinating archeological digs in South Florida.
Pier Views from Dixie Fish Co., Fort Myers, Beach (Photo via Noreen Kompanik)
Matanzas Pass Waterfront
Shrimp boats still tie up at the Matanzas Pass on Estero Bay just as they’ve done for countless years. The waters have always provided a blessed abundance of seafood. But in the 1950s, the discovery of “pink gold” was a game changer for the fishing industry. No, not Spanish gold, but rather, delightfully succulent pink shrimp found just off the Southwest Florida Gulf.
In 1937, Dixie Fish Company was built as one of the premier places to buy and sell daily catches. Despite hurricanes, the tin-roofed, wide-open, windowless building still stands today as an award-winning waterfront restaurant serving the freshest seafood in a fun and vibrant atmosphere. The top menu item? That precious pink gold shrimp, of course.
Getting to Know Fort Myers
Fort Myers was named for its history as a coastal military outpost during a Seminole war and later served as a Civil War Union Army base. But it grew into a ‘cow town’ where cattleman drove their herds through the streets in the 1800s. Fort Myers has always seemed to maintain a perfect balance of preserving its history while managing revitalizing growth.
Luminary Hotel in Fort Myers (Photo via Noreen Kompanik)
Stay on the Waterfront
The town of Fort Myers has a charming, easily walkable downtown with bricked streets, beautifully restored buildings, boutique shopping and amazing restaurants. Finding the ideal place to stay is important to really experience the vibe of its lovely historic river district.
Luminary Hotel is located directly on the Caloosahatchee River with stunning views of the water and marina. Rooms and suites are fresh and modern in design and extremely comfortable. The hotel also sports a lively 12th-floor rooftop bar, a coffee roastery, and an impressive culinary arts space for cooking classes.
Dine Surrounded by History
Named in honor of Dr. Ella Mae Piper, a Fort Myers African-American medical doctor, visionary, philanthropist and entrepreneur, this corner diner is absolutely adorable. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Ella Mae’s offers classic southern cuisine with a modern twist and couples it with a vintage throwback ambiance. And the service here is outstanding.
Farmer’s Market is Fort Myers’s longest operating restaurant serving homestyle southern eats for 70 years. For those who love history, comfort food, and value long-time service, Farmer’s Market is a must-do. Two sisters have worked here for 55 years, and the simple laidback kitchen serves up the most incredible breakfast and lunch delights.
Edison & Ford Winter Estates (photo via Noreen Kompanik)
Visit the Edison & Ford Winter Estates
This is a not-miss for Fort Myers visitors. Open to the public since 1947, this estate includes the winter homes of good friends Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. The 20-acre property includes the waterfront abodes of these two famous inventors, along with a caretaker’s cottage now filled with vintage Ford automobiles.
Its botanical gardens contain over 1,700 plants representing more than 400 species from six continents. We loved the Edison botanical research laboratory and the impressive estate museum containing thousands of artifacts, photos, and historic displays. This is a true southwest Florida treasure.
Though I’m not a shopper per se, before leaving I couldn’t resist browsing through some lovely boutique shops in Captiva, hoping to find a special ornament. A lovely wooden sign here read “At the beach, life is different. Time doesn’t move hour to hour but mood to moment. We live by the currents, plan by the tides, and follow the sun.”
If this doesn’t describe the magical unforgettable coastal towns of Fort Myers, nothing does.