- Distance from Philadelphia: 161 miles
- Best time: November to April
- Best for: FamilyOutdoorBeaches
Take advantage of Florida's balmy year-round weather and get outside. Just twenty miles apart, Fort Myers and Sanibel pair up nicely for a weekend getaway that's all about sun-soaked activities and connecting with nature. Fort Myers has an expansive white sand beach and some urban buzz, while Sanibel is a sleepy island known for sunsets and seashells—plus a fondness for quirky theme décor in its restaurants (animals are especially popular). These are our favorite ways to combine the two destinations into a weekend of outdoor fun for all ages. – By LoAnn Halden
Sanibel and Fort Myers Cheat Sheet
View a printable list of all sights, restaurants, entertainment, and hotels from this itinerary. View
1Upon arrival in Fort Myers Beach, bask in sweeping views of Estero Bay from the indoor or outdoor seating at Bayfront Bistro in the Snook Bight Yacht Club and Marina. The bar does a daily happy hour; the casually upscale dinner menu focuses on steaks and seafood.
2Board the Adventures in Paradise's Sunset Dolphin Cruise at Port Sanibel Marina, located between Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel Island. The 90-minute trip cruises placid San Carlos Bay, taking in mangrove islands, flocks of birds nesting for the evening, and frolicking dolphins.
3Take a walk down the renovated Fort Myers Beach Pier, where fishermen cast lines into the Gulf of Mexico well into the night. Then meander around the lively surrounding shopping and dining area known as Times Square.
1 Start with an early-morning walk at the lesser-visited Bailey Tract of the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge to take advantage of the best wildlife-viewing time. Choose among four trails, none longer than 1.1 miles, through marshes populated with wading birds, alligators, and turtles.
2Just outside the refuge entrance, fuel up with breakfast at Sanibel's Over Easy Café, where the adults can enjoy mimosas made with freshly squeezed orange juice. The indoor-outdoor French country-style café use chickens as its signature design accent, so it's no surprise to see egg dishes take a lead role on the menu.
3Sanibel is known for its shell-laden beaches. Work on a collection or just bask in the sun at Lighthouse Beach on the eastern tip of the island. The namesake lighthouse, built in 1884, makes a great family photo op.
4Drive west across Sanibel to Captiva Island to have lunch at the iconic Bubble Room, where an explosion of movie memorabilia, clowns, and Christmas decorations cover every inch of the walls. Save room for cake; the oversized hunks of chocolate, red velvet, and orange crunch are top sellers.
5Head back to Sanibel for the leisurely four-mile drive through the main section of J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge, making sure to stop at the observation tower near Mile 2. Then take to the water in a kayak from the park's concessionaire, Tarpon Bay Explorers, which offers rentals and guided tours.
6Make the short drive north to neighboring Captiva Island for The Mad Hatter, a tiny New American restaurant that makes up for its humble digs with wide windows lining the dining room to capture every moment of the island's legendary sunsets. (Book early in high season.) Seafood features strongly; the spiced watermelon salad is a favorite.
1Colorful Adirondack chairs flanking the front porch make it easy to spot The Island Cow, a bovine-themed Sanibel restaurant with a substantial selection of breakfast choices. Crayons on the table occupy kids inside; choose outside seating for a quieter meal.
2Travel through downtown Fort Myers en route to I-75 for a visit to the 20-acre Edison and Ford Winter Estates, with botanical gardens and nine historic buildings dedicated to these American inventors.
3Before hitting the highway, fuel up with lunch at Ford's Garage, a gourmet burger and craft beer restaurant in historic downtown Fort Myers with indoor/outdoor seating. Specialty sides include mac 'n cheese with pulled pork and truffle fries.
Where to Stay
For a family-oriented stay, book the Pink Shell Beach Resort & Marina (rooms from $190/night), which recently widened its beach and is currently expanding its marina. New onsite restaurant Jack's serves a daily breakfast buffet with Gulf of Mexico views.
Also in Sanibel, the more intimate Song of the Sea Resort (rooms from $160/night) sits on a slice of sandy beach and comes with plenty of complimentary extras, like bicycle usage, a welcome bottle of wine, and Wi-Fi. Guests also have access to The Dunes Championship Golf Course.
When to Go
The Sanibel/Fort Myers area makes a great winter getaway for outdoor enthusiasts from November to April, with mild, sunny weather in the 60s and 70s and an absence of biting insects. November through January is the driest period, with average rainfall under two inches per month.
Those willing to brave the steamy summers will enjoy the absence of crowds, warm Gulf waters, and hotel rates dropping as much as 50 percent—just bring bug repellent for the parks.
November's American Sand Sculpting Championship and Festival attracts some of the world's top sand sculptors to Fort Myers Beach for a family-friendly showcase of imaginative, natural art.
How to Get There
By car: Fort Myers Beach is just less than three hours from Miami. Take 836 West to 826 North/Palmetto Expressway to connect to I-75 North toward Naples. From I-75, take Exit 116 for Bonita Springs/Gulf Beaches.
Downtown Fort Myers is about thirty minutes northeast of Fort Myers Beach. Take San Carlos Boulevard to McGregor Boulevard.
Sanibel is around three hours from Miami. Take 836 West to 826 North/Palmetto Expressway to connect to I-75 North toward Naples. From I-75, take Exit 123 toward Estero.