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The Southwest Florida Suncoast, consisting of cities such as Port Charlotte, Cape Coral, Fort Myers and Naples, was the last region of Florida to be connected to the rest of the United States by car and railroad, and was the last region to become urbanized.


Unforgettable experiences are on the agenda as you go south along the Tamiami Trail

by: Mike Halterman

The Southwest Florida Suncoast, consisting of cities such as Port Charlotte, Cape Coral, Fort Myers and Naples, was the last region of Florida to be connected to the rest of the United States by car and railroad, and was the last region to become urbanized. While Fort Myers started as a military outpost, eventually becoming a civilian town as well by the 1860s, many of the other areas along the coast sprung up a lot later. Naples reclaimed a lot of land from the swamp and a real estate boom started there in the late 1940s. Port Charlotte and Cape Coral were planned and built by city planners and architects, and were founded in 1954 and 1957 respectively.

While many other areas of Florida have long histories, southwest Florida is fairly new, feeling almost untouched, although by now it has been well-established as a haven for sightseers and tourists. If you’re driving to Miami from Tampa, or vice versa, stop and linger for a while on the Suncoast and see what southwest Florida has to offer.


Port Charlotte

Hampton Inn Port Charlotte

dgf hampton 1This hotel is located right on its own private lake. Enjoy the view while enjoying breakfast or catching some sun by the pool. The hotel is gay-friendly and close to both gay bars in Port Charlotte. (24480 Sandhill Blvd., Port Charlotte, 941-627-5600)

Cape Coral


Hideaway Waterfront Resort and Hoteldgf hideaway 2

Want to be one with the ocean? Rent a paddle boat or a kayak and go out on the water bordering the hotel property (a little inlet that leads out to the Gulf of Mexico.) Pet lovers rejoice: You can bring your pet with you. (4601 SE 5th Ave., Cape Coral, 239-542-5812)

Fort Myers

Hyatt Place Fort Myers at The Forum

Tastefully decorated, these oversized rooms are great for a luxury getaway for two or for you and a group of friends. Their in-house kitchen can prepare meals to order any time of the day or night. (2600 Champion Ring Rd., Fort Myers, 239-418-1844)

Sanibel Harbour Marriott Resort and Spa

The Sanibel experience can be summed up in one word: ahh. That’s the sound you will be making while relaxing beachside or while enjoying one of the spa treatments at this four-star resort. (17260 Harbour Pointe Dr., Fort Myers, 239-466-4000)


Inn at Pelican Bay

dgf inn 3Are we in Naples or in Margaritaville? Breakfast each morning is served on a lakeside patio, and live music greets you by the pool just after a complimentary happy hour. Leave your cares at home because they aren’t welcome here! (800 Vanderbilt Beach Rd., Naples, 239-597-8777)

GulfCoast Inn

If you’re looking for a romantic getaway on the southwest coast, this place has specials for you. Where else can you book a hotel room and an intimate dinner at your choice of restaurant and is included in the price? (2555 Tamiami Trl., Naples, 239-261-6046)


Port Charlotte

Donato’s Italian Restaurant

New York-style Italian food is on offer at this establishment that has been the diners’ favorite for years, so much so that it has been voted Charlotte County’s best Italian restaurant the last eight years running. (1900 Tamiami Trl., Port Charlotte, 941-764-1600)

Cape Coral


Rumrunners is the centerpiece restaurant at the Cape Harbour yachting community. People rave about both the fish and steaks; may we recommend either the glazed salmon or the prime rib? (5848 Cape Harbour Dr., Cape Coral, 239-542-0200)

Fort Myers

Cru Food and Winedgf cru 4

The hip decor at Cru mixes both dark and light color palettes. Try something from the tapas menu (like lamb sliders, those sound interesting! $11), or have their eponymous “Cru Steak” ($19). (13499 S. Cleveland Ave., #241, Fort Myers, 239-466-3663)

Sasse’s on Evans

Northern Italian cuisine cooked in a wood-fired stove is the specialty on offer at this well-regarded eatery. They have designed a special and extensive gluten-free menu so all diners can enjoy good food. (3651 Evans Ave., Fort Myers, 239-278-5544)


Yabba Island Grilldgf yabba 5

This bar and grill combines a full menu with their own signature drinks (most recommended is their Yabba-Rita, with tequila, citrus rum and more citrus, $11.50). After 10:30 the entire place kicks into “island party” mode; have fun! (711 5th Ave. S., Naples, 239-262-5787)

Daniela’s Restaurant

This restaurant combines the cuisines of Italy, Romania and Hungary all in one menu. The owners insist their tiramisu is the smoothest you’ll taste on the southwest Florida coast. Recommended is their homemade cheese ravioli with meat sauce ($14). (13500 Tamiami Trl. N., Naples, 239-514-4414)


Port Charlotte

Spring Spectacular Art & Craft Eggstravaganza

This is one of Port Charlotte’s most popular events. Over 120 craft booths are set up for people interested in sewing, crocheting, as well as other endeavors. The Easter egg hunt involves tens of thousands of eggs and there are giveaways for some who find lucky eggs! (Easter Sunday)

Cape Coral

Cape Coral Bike Night

dgf capebike 8It’s estimated that 15,000 people come out to the quarterly event hosted by the City of Cape Coral. Ride your bike into town and enjoy live music performed on specially built stages. Vendors, activities and games are also set up all along SE 47th Terrace. (many times a year, next dates October 12 and December 14)

Fort Myers

Edison Festival of Light

These events celebrate the life and achievements of Thomas Edison, and are held throughout the city (only two of the nearly two dozen events are held at Edison’s winter estate). A local favorite is the Edison Grand Parade from the high school stadium to the downtown river district. (Last week in January, first two weeks of February, http://www.edisonfestival.org/)

American Sand Sculpting Championship dgf sand 7

36 master sculptors from all over the world fight it out to see who gets to take the American Sand Sculpting singles and doubles titles. Over 1,000 tons of sand are brought in just for this event, and every ounce is well-utilized; last year’s singles winner built a sand castle that resembled a spooky Transylvanian abode! (Last week in November, http://fmbsandsculpting.com/)


Swamp Buggy Races

Swamp buggy racing has been a Naples tradition ever since the city started its reclamation process from the swamps in the late 1940s (2014 will mark the 65th year of the buggy races). The proceeds raised from ticket sales help civic organizations and charities in Collier County. (many times a year, next race November 2-3, http://www.thefloridasportspark.com/events/swamp-buggy-races/

Naples Christmas Parade

dgf christ 6Naples is as much of a tropical paradise as you’re going to get in Florida, but it doesn’t stop the entire town from getting into the holiday spirit. Specially designed floats and automobiles strung with Christmas lights drive down Fifth Avenue South to the delight of thousands, proving it doesn’t have to be cold to be Christmastime. (December 10)


There are a handful of bars along the southwest Florida Suncoast. Port Charlotte is home to Charlotte’s Web (1193 Enterprise Dr.), a beer and wine bar; and Masquerades Bar and Cabaret (3492 Tamiami Trl.), which doubles as a dining option with a full food menu. Cape Coral’s gay bar is Tubby’s City Hangout (4810 Vincennes St.), which celebrated its first anniversary this month. Fort Myers has two gay bars: The Office Pub (3704 Cleveland Ave.), where the crowd is predominantly men; and The Bottom Line (3090 Evans Ave.), which is noted for their Sunday afternoon drag queen bingo games. In Naples the lone establishment in town, combining a restaurant with a full bar, is Bambusa (600 Goodlette-Frank Rd., #200).

Things to See and Do

Useppa Island

dgf useppa 9This private island off the coast of Lee County has been synonymous with seclusion and luxury since the end of the 19th century. Barron Collier once owned a mansion here; it has since been destroyed and rebuilt as The Collier Inn. Come visit, but keep in mind that you have to buy a membership if you want to return! (5-6 miles southwest of Bokeelia, http://www.useppa.com, 239-283-1061)


Cape Coral Historical Society and Museum

The historical society was the first organization dedicated to preserving the historical narrative of the southwest Florida coast. Three buildings of museum artifacts tell the story of the area before the Rosen brothers master-planned it, what happened in the decades after planning, and the life story of the brothers themselves. (544 Cultural Park Blvd., Cape Coral, 239-772-7037)

Estero Bay Preserve State Park

This was Florida’s very first aquatic reserve, established in 1973. Ten miles of hiking and biking trails exist at two points, the Estero River Scrub and Winkler Point. Observation decks are available to observe flora and fauna, many of which are native to southwest Florida. (off Exit 123 on Interstate 75, Estero, 239-992-0311)

Burroughs Home & Gardens

The Burroughs family from Chicago purchased this Georgian Revival mansion in 1918 and entertained Fort Myers high society here. See how the rich lived and played in southwest Florida in the 1910s and 1920s by attending the tour, as told through the thoughts of the long-deceased daughters. The beautiful and spacious grounds have made it one of America’s top destinations for weddings. (2505 First Street, Fort Myers, 239-337-0706)

Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Parkdgf dwpass 10

This state park has white sand beaches that rival Pensacola, with clearer water to boot. Rent a canoe or a kayak and paddle around Water Turkey Bay. There is a tower open to the public that gives a beautiful view of the coastline and Naples off in the distance. (11135 Gulfshore Dr., Naples, 239-597-6196)

Naples Botanical Garden

The Naples Botanical Garden turns 20 this year, and has grown to include six cultivated gardens and 2.5 miles of walking trails over 170 acres of land. More than half of the land has been cultivated to preserve native fauna and keep it safe from non-native threats. There are other themed gardens which include flowers from Asia, Brazil and the Caribbean. (4820 Bayshore Dr., Naples, 239-643-7275)