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Fort Myers Beach Margaritaville aerial view

They say that Necessity is the Mother of Invention. Or perhaps that should be re-invention, in the case of Fort Myers, Florida. In the wake of Hurricane Ian, which hit in September of 2022 and decimated this coastal city and the community of Fort Myers Beach in particular, the city had to muster all of its resilience and resources to tackle the arduous task of rebuilding itself. The good news is that it has made excellent progress: its historic attractions are open for business as usual, First Street’s restaurants are hopping with locals and visitors, and the determination and generosity shown by the residents in the hurricane’s aftermath has made this community stronger than ever. The even better news is that the sugary-soft white sand beaches and famous sunsets that have drawn visitors here for generations haven’t gone anywhere and are just as beautiful as they’ve always been.

Fort Myers Beaches are Back!

Times Square tower mural Fort Myers Beach
“Times Square” tower mural at Fort Myers Beach

When Henk and I arrived here in February of this year, it was our first visit to Fort Myers, Florida, so we had no basis for comparison when it came to first impressions. Driving across the bridge to Fort Myers Beach on Esteros Island, the little strip-of-sand community that sits just off the mainland, the first thing that we saw was a colourful mural painted on a tower welcoming us to the Beach, and the pastel-coloured resort complex of Margaritaville which flanks both sides of Esteros Boulevard, the main drag.

Margaritaville Fort Myers

With sunshine and clear blue skies banishing any thoughts of the grey winter landscape we had left behind in Canada, we were more focused on basking in the welcoming Florida warmth than looking for signs of hurricane damage.

It was when we were driving farther along Esteros that we noticed the empty lots on both sides: clearly these spaces indicated where many one-story buildings and small houses had stood before the hurricane’s 16-foot storm surge literally swept them away or damaged them beyond repair. Cleared of debris and awaiting re-development, these lots will soon give rise to modern structures that will be very different from the quirky beach businesses and bungalows that existed here previously. Conforming to those new hurricane-proof building codes may be too expensive for many small businesses to rebuild, so it will likely be larger hotels and shops that rise here instead. But while many long-time visitors may lament the loss of that old Fort Myers Beach character, few would argue that a safer, better-built Beach is not a good thing.

Where to Stay in Fort Myers Beach: Diamondhead Resort

While the little motels of old may be gone, many of the newer-built hotels of Fort Myers Beach withstood Ian’s onslaught and are fully operational and welcoming visitors back. One of these was to be our base for exploring Fort Myers: the DiamondHead Beach Resort, a 12-story hotel that sits directly on Fort Myers Beach.

Lounging on Fort Myers Beach at DiamondHead Beach Resort
DiamondHead Beach Resort sits right on Fort Myers Beach

Visitors arriving at DiamondHead Resort may be surprised by the fact that the main reception is on the second floor: hurricane-proof building codes require that the ground floor of buildings are essentially concrete stilts, protecting the upper floors from sustaining damage should there be a storm surge. Which means that the hotel reception areas, public areas and suites are at least one floor up.

After checking in and opening the door to our top-floor suite, the first thing that struck Henk and I was the unbelievable view from our expansive balcony. Dropping our bags in the living room Henk and I wasted no time in checking it out and were blown away by the size of the beach itself and the sweeping, southwest view of the Gulf of Mexico stretching out on the horizon. We could immediately appreciate just why this place draws so many sunshine-seekers and ocean lovers.

DiamondHead Beach Resort Suite balcony view
The view from our huge balcony at DiamondHead Beach Resort

Our large suite had been newly redone with fresh furnishings and decor throughout. There was a separate bedroom that also opened onto the balcony, with a comfy king-sized bed and an adjoining ensuite that could also be accessed from the living area. The suite also came with a kitchenette, which came in particularly handy for making tea and coffee in the mornings so we could enjoy spectacular sunrises on the balcony or right from our bed without having to leave our room.

DiamondHead Beach Resort Suite living room
Our living room at DiamondHead Beach Resort
DiamondHead Beach Resort Suite bedroom

Dining and Drinks at Cabañas

When you do want to head out for a meal, DiamondHead’s restaurant, Cabañas, is located on the same floor as the Reception area, where it took over the space where a previous restaurant had operated pre-hurricane. It is open for lunch and dinner, offering affordable menu selections with an asian twist to many of its entrées, as well as popular appetizers and handheld sandwiches and wraps. We took advantage of their daily Happy Hour too, which offers discounted beer, wine and even select martinis! All of this with beautiful views of the ocean or pool, thanks to the restaurant’s floor-to ceiling windows overlooking the beach.

DiamondHead Beach Resort Cabanas
Cabañas offers lunch, dinner and happy hour drinks daily

For those who may want some after-dinner drinks once the kitchen closes, the bar at Cabañas stays open offering live entertainment and crowd-friendly karaoke and trivia nights.

Pool or Beach?

Relaxing is definitely the main objective at Fort Myers Beach and DiamondHead Resort, so the only decision you may have to make is whether you want to do that relaxing by the pool, or on the beach. There are no wrong answers. Poolside, you have the advantage of a bar where you can order your favourite tropical cocktail, swim in the pool or relax in one of the two whirlpool spas, all while enjoying live poolside musicians.

DiamondHead Beach Resort Suite view of pool and Gulf
Pool or beach? Both are excellent options at DiamondHead Beach Resort.

If you prefer to stretch out on the sand, beach loungers and umbrellas are available for a fee from Holiday Water Sports, who have partnered with the hotel to provide these amenities and more to guests. With a beach as huge as this one, there’s plenty of personal space for everyone so you’ll never feel crowded. And if you want to get out onto the ocean, not just in it, guests of the hotel can also rent paddleboards, kayaks and waverunners, or go on ocean excursions with the same outfitter, all of which they can conveniently charge to their room.

Biking Fort Myers Beach
Swim, parasail, bike or jetski: Fort Myers Beach has it all.

Exploring the city of Fort Myers

While many come to Fort Myers exclusively for sun and sand time, there is more to explore in the town of Fort Myers itself, just 20 miles from Fort Myers Beach. The heart of downtown is First Street, where you’ll find all kinds of eclectic boutiques selling everything from clothing and home decor to tarot cards and artwork.

Ford's Garage restaurant Fort Myers
Ford’s Garage restaurant on First Street, Fort Myers

There’s artwork on the street too, in the form of metal sculptures that dot the sidewalks and provide fun photo ops.

Street Art Fort Myers
Jane is caught between two titans on Fort Myers First Street

Architecture fans can admire some of the Art Deco buildings too, like the Edison Theatre and the building that houses Ford’s Garage restaurant. The American inventors Edison and Ford have a significant connection to Fort Myers, so you’ll see many things are named after these two men (more on that later).

Edison Theatre Fort Myers
The Art Deco Edison Theatre in Fort Myers reflects a pastel Florida palette

Murals in Fort Myers

If you are interested in murals and street art, there are several around the downtown area of Fort Myers including a collaborative installation near the library that is part of the America Connects mural project that was unveiled in 2023. Created by 1500 individuals from across the Southeastern states and North America, it is made up of individually-painted tiles that combine to form a tree as a symbol of the unifying power and joy of creating art. This is all part of the Global Roots international initiative that operates around the world.

America Connects mural Fort Myers
The America Connects mural near Fort Myers’ library
America Connects mural Fort Myers detail
1500 artists contributed with individually-painted tiles

A little farther afield is a huge wall of murals at McCollum Hall that celebrates Black history and the Dunbar neighbourhood. Seventeen panels are painted with images depicting Black cultural events and influences including musicians like B.B. King, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, who in the 1940s and 50s played gigs at a nearby hall.

McCollum Hall mural Fort Myers
The massive McCollum Hall mural in the Dunbar neighbourhood of Fort Myers

Crowds of fans would spill outside the music hall into the adjacent yard, nicknamed Buck’s Backyard after Clifford “Buck” McCollum Sr. which is where the murals are today. The Big Band sounds would spill out into the yard, and for a lot of people who couldn’t afford the admission to the actual venue, the party happened here instead.

McCollum Hall mural Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong is celebrated on the McCollum Hall mural

Buck’s Backyard became one of the few places where both black and white people danced and celebrated music together, which was a huge thing given most communities in America were still segregated at that time.

McCollum Hall mural Fort Myers Swing dancers

Fort Myers Top Historic Attraction: the Edison Ford Winter Estates

Canadian snowbirds aren’t the only sun-seekers who have been coming to Fort Myers for decades to escape the winter. Some of America’s greatest inventors over-wintered in this city, too, the most famous being Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Not only had these two great minds become friends with a shared interest in technology, the two families became neighbours on adjoining estates in Fort Myers. Today, these Edison Ford Winter Estates are one of the city’s most popular historic attractions.

Edison Ford Estates houses
Edison built his winter escape on 13 acres fronting the Caloosahatchee River

Edison was the first to come to Fort Myers in 1885, where he purchased a property and 13 acres of land on the Caloosahatchee River. He renovated and added to the original home that was there, creating a winter estate where he and his family lived for several months every winter for more than six decades.

Edison Ford Estates Statue of Edison
Statue of Thomas Edison at the Edison Ford Winter Estates, Fort Myers

Henry Ford had met Edison while working on his ‘quadricycle’ (the forerunner to his automobile) and Edison’s encouragement of the young automobile inventor led to a lasting friendship between the two men. When Ford and his wife Clara were invited to Fort Myers as a guest of the Edisons in 1914, they loved their visit so much, two years later they bought the adjoining property.

Edison Ford Estates houses
Visitors get a glimpse into the lifestyles of the then Rich and Famous

Visiting these historic properties is one of the most popular things to do in Fort Myers, and touring the homes and gardens provides visitors with a glimpse into the past and how these two famous men spent their down time. (Although ‘down time’ would be a bit of a stretch, judging by Edison’s research that he conducted here, including building a botanical laboratory that would be the envy of many university biology departments.)

Edison Ford Estates Rose garden
The Moonlight Garden at the Edison Estate

That being said, Edison put his inventiveness to good use in the pursuit of leisure, too, constructing one of the first residential pools in 1910, a 20-foot by 50-foot rebar-reinforced concrete structure that utilized Edison Portland Cement in its construction. Although Edison himself preferred to ‘exercise his brain’ versus lounging around the pool, his family and guests certainly took advantage of this luxury.

TIP: There is a phone app that visitors can download that provides an audio tour of the estate, helping you to navigate from building to building and giving more details about each feature.

Don’t Miss the Edison Ford Museum

The Visitor Centre at the Edison Ford Winter Estates is also home to a museum that houses not just some of Ford’s most iconic vehicles, but also a great cross-section of Edison’s most significant inventions.

Edison Ford Estates Museum Ford automobile
The car that changed the world.

What makes this particularly interesting is that these artifacts are displayed on a ‘timeline’ that puts his achievements into historical context. Newspaper headlines are used to help illustrate what else was happening in the world at the same time that Edison was inventing light bulbs, batteries and phonographs.

Edison Ford Estates Museum Timeline
Check out the newspaper headlines on this timeline exhibit

End the Day with a Sunset at Fort Myers Beach

Sunset Times Square Downtown Fort Myers Beach

Whether you spent your days lounging by the pool or beach, or touring the attractions in the greater Fort Myers area, the end of any day signals a must-do ritual for both locals and visitors: sunset gazing. The west coast of Florida is famous for its spectacular sunsets and watching the sun disappear into the ocean while the waves lap the shore is just plain good for the soul.

A great place to do this is in the heart of downtown Fort Myers Beach known as Times Square, at the centre of which stands a uniquely coloured teal clock. Obviously this part of Esteros Island was severely damaged by Ian, and the original beloved clock was swept or blown away, but the company who cast the original clock recreated a replacement from the original design, and today it stands as a local meeting place and symbol of Fort Myers’ resilience.

Times Squsre Downtown Fort Myers Beach
The historic Fort Myers Beach street clock has been replaced in Times Square

Near the clock, there’s a funky food truck/beach bar where people can enjoy a drink before, after, or during sunset. And local restaurants and businesses have re-built and re-opened here too, bringing life back to the Downtown. There are also plans to replace the downtown fishing pier soon. (But even in its current state, its stonehenge-like pillars make for a beautiful sunset photograph.)

Sunset Pier with Pirate Ship Fort Myers Beach
A pirate ship sunset cruise sails in front of the sun at the Fort Myers pier

Still Quirky, Still Beautiful and Building Back Better

Chamber of Commerce Trailer Fort Myers Beach
The Chamber of Commerce’s unusual Fort Myers Beach welcome centre

Fort Myers may have been hit hard – really hard – by Hurricane Ian, but its recovery in the wake of that disaster is a tangible demonstration of the community’s #FortMyersStrong attitude and resilience. As first-time visitors to this southwestern Florida city, Henk and I may not have been familiar with what was lost, but we certainly could appreciate what remains: historic attractions, stunning beaches, spectacular sunsets, and most of all, entrepreneurial people who will continue to call this place their home for generations to come.

Those people aren’t going anywhere, and they are ready to welcome you back.

Sugar Skull Downtown Fort Myers Beach
Fort Myers Beach has kept its quirkiness and is definitely open for business!


Where to Eat in Fort Myers

Downtown Fort Myers has no shortage of places to eat, especially on First Street. A favourite is Ford’s Garage, which not only boasts a Model T suspended over the bar area, but their famous burgers come branded with a Ford logo: how fun is that!

Ford's Garage bar with car

They also offer a great selection of seafood, salads, sandwiches and more. And to accompany it, try a local craft beer like the popular High 5 IPA brewed by the Fort Myers Brewing Company.

Ford's Garage Fort Myers
Ford’s Garage serves up seafood favourites, burgers and salads

Ice Cream Decadence! For a truly indulgent dessert, head to one of downtown’s ice cream shops, all of whom brag about being ‘the best’. We made our choice with one look at the poster advertising the Freak Shakes at the Gulf Coast Fudge Co. just off of First Street. This confection was over the top with more than enough toppings for two, but if that doesn’t give you enough of a sugar rush, you can also buy the company’s signature fudge here and lots of retro candy.

Freak Shake Gulf Coast Fudge Co Fort Myers-2
The ‘Mint to Be’ Freak Shake was an ice cream meal for two!

Where to Eat in Fort Myers Beach

Fort Myers Beach Dixie Fish Co

Dixie Fish Company has been a destination for fish lovers in Fort Myers Beach since the mid 1930s when it was built to cater to the local fishermen who operated out of the Esteros Bay estuary where the restaurant is located. Not surprisingly, the fish on the menu here is about as fresh as it gets. With a funky, ‘old Florida’ ambience and one of the best waterfront views of the Bay, this is a great casual place to experience what this part of Florida is all about: good food and good vibes. And if you time your dinner just right, you might even catch the sunset Pirate Cruise floating by your waterfront table!

Salty Sam's Pirate Ship cruise Fort Myers Beach
Salty Sam’s Pirate Ship Cruise is a favourite at Fort Myers Beach

Dixie Fish Company’s sister restaurant, Doc Ford’s, is equally popular and located right next door, with more tables and a larger selection of items on their menu. So if the wait is too long at one restaurant, you can always hop next door to the other.

Fort Myers Beach Doc Ford's
Doc Ford’s on the waterfront

Heavenly Biscuit: After the hurricane hit the Beach, a few entrepreneurs re-invented themselves as food trucks so they could get up and operational as soon as possible, and Heavenly Biscuit is one of them. Their breakfast biscuits are legendary, and having tried one of these delicious sandwiches, I can definitely see why people are still lining up for them, the same way they used to at the former restaurant. Same goes for their ‘Sinful Cinnamon Bun”! Come hungry but come early: these goodies sell out every morning.

Margaritaville: This large resort on Esteros Boulevard offers plenty of takeaway, casual and sit-down options whether you are looking for breakfast, lunch or dinner. The open-air License to Chill Bar is a great choice for breakfasts and casual all-day menu items, and like the name suggests, it’s also a great place to chill any time of the day, cocktail in hand.

Avocado Eggs Benny Margaritaville Fort Myers
Avocado Eggs Benny at License to Chill at Margaritaville

TIP: Many restaurants in Fort Myers don’t take reservations, especially in busy season, but you can call ahead to put your name on their wait list, and find out the best time to show up for a table. You’ll get a text on your phone when it’s ready, and this way you can limit your actual time waiting in line.

Driving Tips for Fort Myers Beach

Because Fort Myers Beach is accessible via a narrow bridge, traffic can get pretty busy at certain times of the day on both the bridge and Esteros Boulevard. Beach-goers typically arrive mid-late morning and leave late in the afternoon, so if you can avoid these times for coming and going, try to do just that. Weekends and holidays are even busier, of course, so just pack a little patience in that beach cooler!

Other drives in the area, like the one to the Edison Ford Winter Estates, were no problem for us with congestion, unless you consider so many beautiful palm trees lining the boulevard ‘congestion’!

McGregor Boulevard Fort Myers-2
McGregor Boulevard, near the Edison Ford Estates, is one of the most beautiful roads in the area

Special thanks to Visit Fort Myers and DiamondHead Resort in Fort Myers Beach who hosted us on our visit.

Jane with Hat Tanzania

Jane Canapini is a member of the Travel Media Association of Canada and the North American Travel Journalists Association. She established in 2014 to share information and tips based on personal experience so her readers could get the most out of their travels.

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