Things to Do in Southwest Florida
No matter what part of Southwest Florida you are exploring there is a wide variety of activities and attractions to suit everyone! Below you will find a list of our favorite things to do in SW Florida.
Go shelling on sanibel island
By far, the most popular activity is shelling – you can rarely step on the beach without indulging in the so-called "Sanibel Stoop" to search for shells. The palm-tree and flower-lined islands are famous for their white fine sand beaches and the incredible variety of shells. The islands lie east and west, different from most islands which lie north and south, this direction allows Sanibel and Captiva Island to catch abundant seashells that the Gulf of Mexico brings to its shores. Another great beach known for their fine selection of seashells is Bowman’s Beach. Lastly, the barrier island of Keewaydin between Naples and Marco Island is one of the best beaches in Naples and a favorite place to go for a great day of shelling.
Shop ‘til you drop - shopping southwest florida
Southwest Florida offers a wide variety of shopping, entertainment, and dining options for both tourists and locals. The region has 18 major shopping hubs and features well-established retailers such as: Chico’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Ann Taylor, Chanel, Coach, Louis Vuitton, Banana Republic, Ralph Lauren, and Tiffany & Co. and a plethora of local shops perfect for finding one-of-a-kind pieces! Here is a short list of our favorites:
Promenade at Bonita Bay
The Promenade at Bonita Bay is a small open-air fine shopping, dining, and entertainment destination located only ten minutes from Bonita Beach Park. A unique feature of this mall is DeRomo's Gourmet Market & Restaurant. On the way through the Promenade, you pass small waterfalls where you can stop and relax between all of the shopping and dining you can do here!
Coconut Point Mall
Coconut Point Mall is a picturesque outdoor mall featuring over 120 stores, a movie theater, restaurants, and even live music and annual festivals. There are condominiums here so you will see a variety of locals and tourists visiting the area. Get lost shopping at this 1,205,363 sq ft open-air mall known for its al fresco hangout for shopping and dining.
Miromar Outlet Stores
Miromar Outlet Stores has been open and serving discounts of up to 70% off designer and brand name retailers since 1998. It is one of the nicest and largest open-air, Mediterranean-style outlet malls with over 140 stores. Located only fifteen minutes from RSW Airport, this is a good destination upon arrival to or right before your departure from SW Florida.
Edison Mall is a newly remodeled mall with all the classic stores and restaurants you have come to expect. In fact, the mall opened in 1965, and has been expanded three times since! It now has over 160 retail and specialty shops. There is also a wide variety of dining options.
You’ve probably heard of the Tanger Outlets chain, but Tanger Outlets- Sanibel has a beachier feel (complete with a “boardwalk”) than you may be used to. It is close to Sanibel and is located only five minutes from Fort Myers Beach! Here, you can shop at over 45 name brand outlet stores.
Take an everglades airboat tour
The Everglades are captivating to explore, and the airboat ride is great fun. You'll see alligators, turtles, and otters popping up here and there. With a Wildlife Show also included, you'll learn loads about this amazing ecosystem and the wonderful wildlife that inhabits it.
Catch the sunset
We suggest carving out some time to enjoy sunset viewings from both the Cape Coral and Fort Myers Beach Piers. There is truly nothing like these experiences and you will likely meet a local or two that wants to give you tips for your stay.
J.N. “Ding” darling national wildlife refuge
There is the four-mile Wildlife Drive at the J.N. “Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge, another popular cycling route. This 7,600-acre wildlife refuge is home to more than 245 bird species, 60 types of reptiles, 35 mammal species, paddling, hiking/biking trails, observation tower and a four-mile scenic drive. Additionally, you can discover Sanibel diversions that include Chapel by the Sea (11580 Chapin Lane, Captiva, 239- 472-1646), C.R.O.W. (the Clinic for Rehabilitation of Wildlife), Old Town Sanibel and Sanibel Historical Museum and Village.
Find fossilized shark teeth in Venice, Florida
Venice, Florida is considered the “Shark Tooth Capital of the World.” Blind Pass Beach and Stump Pass Beach State Park are two more favorites among the shark teeth hunters! If you get a chance to search for shark teeth you will be shocked by how many you find once you find your first one! Shark teeth, invertebrate and plant fossils can be collected without a permit in Florida.
Cabbage key and the dollar bar saloon
Offshore you will find Cabbage Key, a small island with a popular restaurant and a few lodge rooms. It’s only accessible by boat! Cabbage Key was said to be the inspiration for Jimmy Buffett’s “Cheeseburger In Paradise.” Cabbage Key and the Dollar Bar is the premier boating destination in Southwest Florida that is decorated in one-dollar bills. The food is great, the views are stunning, and the atmosphere is incredible.
Rent a boat in cape coral
This doesn’t need much explanation, but in case you are still on the fence think: the ocean OR the Caloosahatchee River. For the latter, there is a wildlife refuge for manatees at the mouth of the river. Otherwise, up and down the 67-mile river, perfect stopping points dot the trail. There are historic attractions, hiking, biking, horseback riding, birding, boating, seafood restaurants, and more.
Take a private helicopter tour Southwest Florida
Most tour companies depart daily with a flight plan overlooking Estero Bay, Sanibel Island Lighthouse, Naples Beach, and Marco Island or see the Everglades from above. We also can customize your flight plan upon request. Sightseeing charters can be arranged for viewing beautiful Southwest Florida from high above. You can see the fascinating Florida Everglades, wildlife, and/or fly above the pristine white sand beaches of Sanibel Island, Fort Myers Beach, Naples and Marco Island. (Typically, 1-6 people per tour)
Visit sanibel and captiva
The Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation has over four miles of nature trails and an observation tower overlooking the Sanibel River, as well as in-depth educational programs and nature walks, this impressive conservation foundation on Sanibel Island is a must-see for families. Guided trail walks are offered regularly throughout the year. Shoreline discovery walks, self-guided tours, and many other programs are also available. They also have: a marine-life touch tank, kids play area, Foundation Butterfly House Tours, a shop, a bookstore, and a native plant nursery. Lighthouse Park is at one end of Sanibel, punctuated by the historic light tower and home to a popular fishing pier.
Spend the day at cayo costa state park
Cayo Costa consists of acres of pine forests, oak-palm hammocks, mangrove swamps, nature trails, and shady picnic areas. In addition, once you arrive at Cayo Costa State Park you’ll be rewarded with 9 miles of beautiful beaches. Bring a picnic lunch and something to drink as there are no concessions available. Tent camping and primitive cabins are available for those wishing an extended stay (reservations are required). Spot delightful dolphins, enjoy superb shelling, and snorkel in the shallows with a boat ride to the barrier island of Cayo Costa with Sanibel Island Cruise Line. The pristine paradise boasts seven miles of beautiful Gulf front beach.
Take a day trip to key west
You can take a ferry, The Key West Express, from Marco Island and Fort Myers Beach to Key West and back again daily. This fast and fun option offers smooth and fast travel to the Florida Keys. You can relax indoors while enjoying the flat screen TVs, a snack, or even a few drinks at one of the bars. Additionally, you can enjoy a Gulf Coast view by heading up to the sundeck. You will depart in the morning and make it to Key West just in time for lunch. Stay for the day to explore Old Town or extend the trip into a long weekend on the island. This ferry takes 3.5 hours each way, but it is well worth it! The ferry begins boarding at 4pm.
Lakes regional park fort myers
Whether you’re interested in hiking, biking, canoeing, kayaking, birdwatching, or picnicking, Lee County’s 279-acre Lakes Regional Park has it all. Kids will love the rock-climbing wall, playground, and water feature playground (splash park). Check out their Miniature Railroad and Train Village, Community Gardens, Wheel Fun Rentals: (surreys, bikes and paddle boat rentals), Whistle Stop Ice Cream Shop at the Marina for snacks and refreshments, and Lakes Park Guided Walks.
Visit fort myers beach
Located about 20 minutes from Cape Coral, Lynn Hall Memorial Park is in the hub of activity for Fort Myers Beach. Lynn Hall Memorial Park is a popular family destination and is home to one of the area's best-known attractions: Fort Myers Beach pier. The beach is located next to "Times Square," an area full of restaurants and shops. If you're looking for a fun, activity-filled day at the beach, Lynn Hall is the perfect place.
Love boat ice cream
Love Boat Ice Cream has been serving SW Florida since the mid 60's. They offer over 50 flavors of the creamiest ice cream with sugar/fat free selections, sorbets, and more! Whether you are craving a sundae, shake, or freezie, Love Boat Home-Made Ice Cream is the place to go. They have quite a few locations in the SW Florida area so you will never be too far from this tasty treat.
A classic vacation activity! You will not want to miss this experience. SW Florida is known for some of the most creative and elaborate miniature golf courses in the world. Here are three of our top rated in the area:
- Castle Golf
- Jungle Golf
- Tropical Breeze Fun Park
Miniature Golf designed by Tiger Woods? Yes, SW Florida has it! More precisely, Fort Myers has it. Pop Stroke is a two course (18 holes each), Miniature Golf Paradise. You pay a set price and can play all day. This is a huge perk because they have a full bar, ice cream, outdoor games, and a kid’s playground.
Shell factory and nature park
Voted #1 Family Entertainment Destination in SW Florida is the Shell Factory and Nature Park. They are situated on 18 acres with over 400 live animals in their Nature Park. They also have a 50,000 square foot retail space with tons of shells, clothing, jewelry, a state-of-the-art video arcade, Hunts Bro Pizza Cafe', a Fudge Shop, and more. Their Fun Park has games and rides including a Zip Line & Bumper Boats, a Full-service restaurant, and 2 dog friendly outdoor cafes. There is something for everyone in the family at this large attraction in the heart of Southwest Florida.
Go on a kayak tour
There are more places to rent a kayak than we can count in SW Florida, but if you find yourself in Fort Myers, we suggest using Fort Myers Beach Holiday Water Sports. They have guided tours via kayak or paddle boards. Additionally, they have parasailing, boat rentals, and more here!
Look for dolphins and manatees
You can take Dolphin cruise tours. We like Captiva Cruises, and they have a plethora of options. Manatee Park is a non-captive warm water refuge for the Florida Manatee. The waterfront park provides paved trails, up-close views of manatees, an amphitheater, and kayak rentals, for your convenience. The optimum viewing months are late December, January, and February when the gulf temperature is below 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
Edison & ford winter estates
We recommend a trip to The Edison and Ford Winter Estates. It contains a historical museum and 20+ acre botanical garden on the adjacent sites of the winter homes of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford beside the Caloosahatchee River in Southwestern Florida. They have a Garden Center with hundreds of plants and trees available for purchase. One of the highlights here is the 1928 Edison Botanical Research Laboratory.
Golisano children’s museum
The Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples (CMON) is a 38,000-square-foot museum for families located in the North Collier Regional Park in Naples. CMON features 12 family fun exhibit galleries and thousands of interactive experiences. It is one of the finest children’s museums in the United States and is fully accessible to all children regardless of their physical or learning abilities. Check out their CMON Museum Store, Trolley, Banyan Tree Exhibit, and Mother Nature’s House Exhibit.
Naples zoo at caribbean gardens
Families will discover a full day of fun activities and rarely seen species like the giant anteater and Florida panther. You’ll also find favorites such as lions, bears, cheetahs, and parrots at this nationally accredited zoo and historic botanical garden. With a focus on conservation and education, families will not only see amazing animals but also learn steps they can take to save the species in the wild. Here, you can feed giraffes! This is a great option for not only kids, but the whole family.
Fishing southwest Florida
One of the most popular activities in Florida is fishing. Our favorite spot to fish is Turner Beach, located on the southern tip of Captiva Island. It is popular among locals for fishing from the beach and admiring the beautiful Gulf of Mexico sunsets. Swimmers should exercise caution when swimming near the Blind Pass Bridge because of swift currents and strong undertow. Swimming further down the beach is a safer option. Captiva beaches do not allow pets, alcohol (November-May), open fires, or the collecting of live shells. Bars and restaurants are close by or pack food and refreshments for a picnic on the beach.
Visit the most romantic beach in southwest florida
Alison Hagerup Beach Park (AKA Captiva Beach) is a wide, sandy stretch of beach located at the northern tip of Captiva Island. Captiva Beach is located within easy walking distance to several Captiva Island casual restaurants and cafes. Travelocity rated Captiva Beach “The Most Romantic Beach in Florida.” Although parking is limited here it is worth the visit! You will bask in the picturesque landscape and ocean views.
Most of the restaurants in SW Florida have seafood options as we are right on the Gulf of Mexico. In addition to the restaurants, there are many fishmongers and markets where you can find local, fresh seafood options. Florida is known to have many crab and fish sacks. In SW Florida, we are known for our grouper (try a fried grouper sandwich!). Additionally, Florida has the best* Snow Crab! Below is a list of our favorite seafood restaurants:
- Pinchers Crab Shack
- Lighthouse Restaurant
- Fins Seafood & Dive Bar
- Deep Lagoon Seafood
- Rumrunners Restaurant
- Lobster Lady
- Fish Tale Grill by Merrick Seafood
*we may be biased.
Calusa nature center
The Calusa Nature Center & Planetarium is a private, not-for-profit organization dedicated to environmental education and preservation. Their 105-acre site has many rescue animals, two nature trails, a planetarium theater, bird aviary, butterfly garden, and more! We recommend two hours here.
Matlacha is known for being the artsy and funky town in SW Florida. Here, you can browse artisan galleries like Leoma Lovegrove’s gallery, Wild Child Art Gallery, and more. With a day’s worth of shops and places to dine on fresh seafood, you will have plenty to do in Matlacha.
Warm mineral springs
The Warm Mineral Springs are kept at a consistent temperature of 85 degrees. The Warm Mineral Springs in North Port is the only “warm” mineral spring in Florida, actually. It represents a pastime: therapeutic spring, passive recreation options, and more that you don’t see much of in Florida anymore.
Sinking dome houses
We recommend taking a boat ride to the Cape Romano dome houses in Marco Island. Here, (about 300’ off the southern shore of Marco Island) are 6 modular domes that were originally built on dry land. They are now abandoned and surrounded by rising water! People love to use this as a cool photo opportunity as it really is a cool site.
Naples botanical garden
The botanical garden was founded in 1993 and consists of 170 acres of cultivated gardens and preservation land, representing seven distinct natural habitats and ecosystems and featuring over 1000 species. They are also the youngest garden in history to receive the American Public Gardens Association’s prestigious Award for Garden Excellence. The Garden welcomes over 220,000 visitors per year to experience themed gardens that represent the culture and flora of the tropics. Parking is free and each tour lasts about 45 minutes (16 people per tour). You can easily spend a day here, but we recommend carving out at least two hours for this attraction.
Imag history and science center
The IMAG History and Science Center in Fort Myers truly gives children the opportunity to come face-to-face with science and nature with over 60 interactive exhibits! It features a combination of history and science exhibits to spark everyone’s interest. Here, you can learn how Fort Myers got its name and other Fort Myers history. Check out their Virtual reality exhibit, Virtual Fort Myers: The Past Meets the Present. They are known for their interactive exhibits you won’t want to miss (Science on a Sphere and Shaping SWFL Watersheds, to name a couple)!