~Quaint shops, seafood houses, mom-and-pop motels and charming beachfront cabins line the beaches of Estero Island, where you can walk out of your room and land in the sand.
Head south on the island and you’ll cross over to Lovers KeyÂ and its pristine beach and paddling paradise in Estero and Ostego Bays.
Visitors usually gravitate toward nearby Sanibel and Captiva islands, but they are missing a real taste of Old Florida when they bypass Fort Myers Beach, not to be confused with the sprawling city of Fort Myers across the Intracoastal Waterway.
Fort Myers Beach is the authentic, real Florida, whether you are camping at Red Coconut or relaxing at a beachside mom ‘n’ pop motel.
I have visited this little town many times over the years, and I’m usually able to find a moderately priced motel room or cabin right on the beach — just a few steps from your room. I’ve had good luck finding inexpensive beachfront accommodations on Hotels.com, although nothing beats stopping at a beach-area pub that caters to locals, or just cruising along Estero Boulevard until you see something you like.
Camping on the beach in Fort Myers Beach
RV camping is available on the beach at Red Coconut Resort, and the beach sites are charming, if a little tight and expensive. Â If you have trouble booking a beachfront site, be aware that the sites in the main campground on the east side of Estero Boulevard are less desirable and very cramped.
Friends had reserved a beachfront site for their RV, but we ended up across the road in a tent. Â We disliked it so much that we forfeited a day’s camping fee to get out of there, choosing instead to stay in a motel room with a dock for our boat in the center of Fort Myers Beach.
Camping nearby at Koreshan State Park
RV and tent camping is available in a natural setting inland at Koreshan State Historic Site, which is not a bad choice at all.
The park sits on the Estero River with access to paddling, hiking and biking trails. This park is bustling with wildlife along the river, including 100 species of birds.
From Koreshan, you can paddle just three miles downriver to Estero Bay. Â Cross the bay, and you’re at Lovers Key, or veer north and you’llÂ paddle into Mound Key Archeological State Park, then the Estero Bay Preserve State Park.
See related Florida Rambler article: Koreshan: Park preserves wacky Florida history
Kayak destination: Mound Key
Mound Key is believed to have been a ceremonial center of the Calusa Indians, the mounds being the discards of their shellfish feasts. The island, which can only be reached by boat, was also the home of a Spanish fort in the 1500s, until the Indians drove them out.
These paddles are richly rewarding, but be prepared for a long day on the water and watch for changes in the weather.
See related Florida Rambler article: Take Calusa Blueway trail to archeological island
Down the road: Lovers KeyÂ
This beach offers 2.5 miles of secluded white-sand beach that is strewn with shells and driftwood, gloriously populated with shorebirds, a real throwback to the days when all Florida’s Gulf beaches looked natural.
The beach is part of Lovers Key State Park, a diverse network of islands, bays and mangrove stands that offer swimming, padding, hiking and biking.
Lovers Key was selected as the 4th best beach in Florida by the Travel Channel.
After paying your $8 per vehicle admission to the park, a courtesy tram will take you out to the south end of the island’s beaches. Â A short hike across a pair of wooden bridges provides access to the middle beach, and access to the north end of the island is via a gate near Big Carlos Pass.
The park offers 5 miles of off-road hiking trails also suitable for bicycles.
See related Florida Rambler article: Lovers Key: Great beach, paddling and manatees
Hanging out nearÂ Fort Myers Beach pier
While Fort Myers Beach offers many side trips, no visit to the area is complete without spending a few hours in central business district of Fort Myers Beach, not to be confused with the nearby city of Fort Myers. Â Go through Fort Myers via San Carlos Boulevard, cross the Matanzas Bridge, and you’ll come right out to the fishing pier.
The pier juts 600 feet into the Gulf and is the anchor for Times Square, a pedestrian mall of small shops and restaurants that connects the pier to the small downtown area.
Sunset libations are best enjoyed at the Beach Pierside Grill, although there are plenty of great places to wine and dine nearby. Walk around and explore. You just might find a quaint little seafood shack that serves fresh Gulf shrimp, a Fort Myers specialty.
Fort Myers and Fort Myers Beach are at the heart of the Gulf shrimping industry with a fleet of trawlers that ply Gulf waters for days at a time as far south as the Tortugas.
I’ve enjoyed many multi-day Tortugas fishing trips aboard the Sea Trek, a 65-foot head boat that sails from its dock underneath the Matanzas Bridge on the beach side. Â The Sea Trek also offers half-day and full-day trips in the Gulf. (Call 239-765-7665).
If you’re bringing your own boat, you can launch it at Salty Sam’s Marina for a fee. You can also rent boats at the marina, and there’s a ferry to Key West that departs from Salty Sam’s. The marina is at 2500 Main Street, next to the Parrot Key Caribbean Grill, on the east side of the Matanzas Bridge. You can also rent kayaks at the marina. (Call 888-539-2628)
GettingÂ to Fort Myers Beach
By car, you can access Estero Island on San Carlos Boulevard through Fort Myers, or at the south end of the island from Bonita Springs on Bonita Beach Road.
This area has much to offer in the way of the natural, real Florida: biking, fishing, hiking, paddling, hidden beaches and a taste of Old Florida, whether you are tent camping, “roughing it” in an RV or settling into a beachside cabin.
Related Florida Rambler articles:
Things to do near Fort Myers Beach