Southwest Florida: A Tale of 5 Islands

On our trip to Florida, we wanted to take some time and check out the Southwest corner of the state. I have never been to Fort Meyers to the Naples area and since there are many timeshare opportunities, we wanted to check out the islands near those towns. We were really shocked by how each town had a very different feel and the only way we would have known this was to visit and see it ourselves. So we left the Keys and passed through the Everglades on our way to Fort Meyers.

Fort Meyers Downtown

We decided that after we left the Florida Keys we would head straight to Fort Meyers where we were staying. To get there, you pretty much drive on the highway past Marco Island, Naples, and Fort Meyers Beach. There isn’t really much to say about Fort Meyers except that it lies on a river upstream from the Gulf of Mexico. It is a picturesque place where both Thomas Edison and Henry Ford had their summer homes.

Manatees and Big Horn Sheep

Fort Meyers also has Manatee Park. I have long wanted to see a manatee and we had been looking for them the entire time we had been in Florida. But thus far, we hadn’t seen any. Mike and I have this joke about seeing Big Horn Sheep and the fact that we have never seen one. We’ve seen signs for them throughout the Rockies and we’ve even stopped at Big Horn Sheep viewing sights. So we joke that either they don’t really exist or they are standing up on the side of the mountain laughing at us. I tell this story because we were afraid that seeing manatees would be the same. But we saw at least 15 of them in Manatee park. The manatees congregate in the effluent of a power plant where the water is nice and warm. We stayed there for quite a while so I could get my fill of watching manatees.

Beach Communities

There are a number of beach communities along the southwest coast of Florida. We set out to visit some of the ones we thought might be interesting enough for a longer stay.

Fort Meyers Beach

As you might imagine, this beach community is pretty close to Fort Meyers and is actually on a barrier island past the island where the fishermen moor their boats. The entire place has one, low, 1950’s style motel after another. Our first thought was that the place reminded us of Santa Cruz. On the left side of the road were houses that backed onto the channel that leads to the gulf. This area is good for boat access. On the right side of the road were the motels on the beach. From each of the beachfront buildings to the water was probably at least a 1/8th of a mile. In some cases, the area was cleared of the natural beach foliage and in some places, boardwalks over the foliage led to the beach. The beach was nice with lots of shells but there really wasn’t a town or much in the way of restaurants. We decided it wasn’t really our kind of place but it might be fun for a few days.


Just off the coast of Fort Meyers are two connected islands. The first one you reach is Sanibel. The crossing to Sanibel provides magnificent views of the entire area and we were really impressed. Once you are on the island, there is lots of green foliage (trees) and a few main roads. One road goes through the middle of the island and one goes along the beach. There are lots of places to ride your bike on Sanibel and the accommodations are limited to a few timeshare apartments or private residences.

We saw lots of low-rise small condo developments all with cute names. Sanibel Island has nice looking restaurants and shops and things to do. The inland side of the island is mostly a protected mangrove habitat that you can hike or bike through that is great for birding. So the majority of the development is on the gulf side of the island. Sanibel seemed like our kind of place so we would like to return another time for a longer visit.


Captiva can only be reached by boat or short bridge from Sanibel. That said, the two islands have a really different feel. Captiva is quite a bit more narrow than Sanibel. Where Sanibel has services and places to bike and explore, Captiva is residential and has few services and restaurants. We did stop at a pretty famous place Doc Ford’s Rum Bar and Grille with outlets all through the islands. As on Sanibel, there was lots of green foliage which prevented us from seeing many of the magnificent homes and the beach. In many places, there were little paths leading to the beach but we didn’t stop to check any of them out because they seemed to be for residents only. I checked on the web and the homes on Captiva are in the $5M range.

Marco Island

Marco Island, near Naples, struck us as a small Miami Beach with high-rises all along the beach. But there are several timeshares and we did visit a great beach bar. The beach was nice, but we didn’t really see any services or restaurants. That said, we did visit a few resort and timeshare pools and we decided it would be a great place to hang out with the grandkids, when we get some, many years from now. The pools and giant beaches looked like fun, but a little too tame for us now.


Naples reminded us of Beverly Hills or Rodeo Drive. There was the main drag with fancy shopping and lots of outdoor restaurants. There was good access and parking for public beaches and they have an awesome pier that you can go out on to fish or just watch the pelicans fish. We chose the latter and we stayed out on the pier for a very pleasant hour. As we were driving on the gulf side road, we saw lots of huge houses, some with beach access and some not, but there were no hotels or timeshares and only a few apartment-type buildings.

Again I checked the real estate and discovered that houses on the beach here went for $8M and houses, not on the beach were around $4M. Homes on the channel side with boat access are selling for a cool $1.5M. But I guess that makes sense once you see the main drag in town. Since there isn’t much in the way of rental housing it might be difficult to visit Naples again. But It is a very pretty place except when there is a Red Tide.

Red Tide

Red Tide is a red algal bloom that carries toxic elements and can lead to dead fish in the surf zone. We were going to visit the Fort Meyers, Naples area a few years ago but there was a Red Tide at that time that drove everyone off of the beaches and out of the water. So we decided that we didn’t want to skip the area then. This time, there was also the beginning of a Red Tide and from the Naples pier we were able to see some dead fish but the surfers were still out in the water doing their thing. I’m not sure how bad it needs to get before all of the people have to get out of the water.

Overall, there are some interesting places in southwest Florida to visit. But, because they are so different we would need to choose carefully before a future visit.

Which place interests you?

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