Fort Myers and Naples are cities along the Southwest Florida coast, and the area is a mix of old and new. This area 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. The post-war boom brought tens of thousands of people to the area and they’ve loved it so much that many of them never left. If you’re driving to Miami from Tampa, or vice versa, stop and linger for a while on the Gulf Coast and see what southwest Florida has to offer. Let me tell you where to stay, play and go in this area.
WHERE TO STAY
Hyatt Place Fort Myers at The Forum
This hotel is located just minutes away from Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel. 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, The Gallery, 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
People come to Sanibel to relax and forget about their cares, and this hotel, located on Sanibel Harbour, lets you accomplish those simple tasks. Once you’re here, you can lounge about in your beautiful guest room or suite, sun yourself beachside, or enjoy one of the spa treatments on offer in their 40,000-square foot facility. This four-star resort has everything you need. (17260 Harbour Pointe Dr., Fort Myers, 239-466-4000)
Inn at Pelican Bay
This upscale hotel offering boasts boutique service in a good-sized resort setting. When you wake up each morning, breakfast is served on a lakeside patio, and live music greets you by the pool just after a complimentary happy hour. If you’re interested in taking care of the environment even on vacation, you’ll like that this hotel is a member of the Florida Green Lodging Program. (800 Vanderbilt Beach Rd., Naples, 239-597-8777)
This hotel is immediately adjacent to the Moorings Country Club and is just blocks from Moorings Bay. If you’re looking for spacious accommodations at the right price, you don’t have to look any further. Ask about their special two-night romance packages, which include your room, dinner and drinks for two, and complimentary breakfast each morning. (2555 Tamiami Trl., Naples, 239-261-6046)
WHERE TO PLAY
of Southwest Florida’s gay nightlife is centered around Fort Myers. The first place to visit should be The Bottom Line (3090 Evans Ave.), which is the largest gay nighclub complex in the area at 15,000 square feet. There are seven complete double bars over two levels, and lots of fun weekly events. The Office Pub (3704 Cleveland Ave.) is another bar that’s very popular with the community, and it’s easy to see why with such fun theme nights as “Topless Thursdays” (Woof!) and “Bad Influence Friday,” a drag show held every last Friday of the month, hosted by Anna Bortion. Rascals (3759 Cleveland Ave.) recently celebrates two years in business, and their Thursday night bear events and their Friday drag-and-go-go show hosted by Rachael Valentine are particularly well-received.
In nearby Cape Coral, Tubby’s City Hangout (4810 Vincennes St.) has served the local community for the past three years, and one compliment they receive on a regular basis is that the bar is cozy and welcoming. In Naples, the hangout for the local LGBT community is Bambusa Bar & Grill (600 Goodlette Frank Rd.), which serves food and fun events, such as the weekend drag shows. Hostess Meagan Towers has a keen eye for talent and invites queens from all across the state to grace her stage.
If you’re in the area next month, be sure to attend SWFL Pride, which will be held on Saturday, October 10 at the Alliance for the Arts (10091 McGregor Blvd., Fort Myers). The theme this year is “Free 2 Be” and everyone is invited to show their pride on such a happy day. For more information, visit prideswfl.org.
WHERE TO GO
Southwest Florida has beautiful beaches, and a few you should visit include Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel Island and Captiva Island. Fort Myers Beach is located on Estero Island, due west of the town of Estero, and it’s home to beautiful resorts, luxury condominiums, and the Bay Oaks Recreational Campus, a full-sized health club open to the public. Sanibel and Captiva, west-northwest from Fort Myers Beach, has been open for business as a getaway for the well-heeled traveler for decades, and both beaches are home to some of the most beautiful seashells you’ll find on Florida’s beaches.
The Edison and Ford Winter Estates are so named because they were the winter homes of American inventors and entrepreneurs Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Their houses are open for tours, as is Thomas Edison’s research laboratory. The Fort Myers River District is a beautiful place to embark on a leisurely walk, stopping in on the shops, cafés and art galleries along the way. Manatee Park and Lakes Regional Park also have some great walking trails if you want to get up and close with the local flora and fauna. If a live theater performance is what you’re after, you can catch shows at the Arcade Theatre, home of the Florida Repertory Theatre company, and at the state-of-the-art Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall. If you’re here in the early spring, JetBlue Park hosts spring training for the Boston Red Sox and the Philadelphia Phillies.
The epicenter for arts and entertainment in Naples is Artis-Naples, which is home to the Naples Philharmonic and also includes The Baker Museum, a three-story facility formerly known as the Naples Museum of Art. If you are interested in learning more about Southwest Florida history, visit Palm Cottage. Built in 1895, it is the oldest house currently standing in Naples and inside there is a museum. The Naples Botanical Garden, spread across six different areas, features flora native to Florida as well as separate areas for Caribbean, Brazilian and Asian flowers and plants. Two of the best beaches in Naples are Vanderbilt Beach, where you can see loggerhead sea turtles every summer, and Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, which offers some of the most pristine stretches of beach in the state for tourists and locals to enjoy.
Find out more about Southwest Florida by going to the tourism websites for Fort Myers and Naples. To learn about Fort Myers and the islands of Sanibel and Captiva, visit fortmyers-sanibel.com. To learn about Naples, visit paradisecoast.com.