Outdoor Weekend Getaway in Sanibel and Fort Myers
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.
1Start 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. An extensive restoration was completed on the Edison Botanic Research Laboratory in 2012.
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.