Fort Myers — Family-friendly City of Palms
by Scott Kauffman
Thomas Edison and Henry Ford are credited with inventing dozens of modern-day conveniences. When it comes to Florida, their greatest discoveries might very well have been their mutual love for Fort Myers.
As the story goes, Edison first came to what was then a sleepy tropical village on Florida’s southwest coast in 1885 as a place to recover from a lingering illness. The New Jersey native liked the place so much, he purchased a small house and 13 acres on the banks of the Caloosahatchee River.
The following year Edison was joined by his wife, Minnie Miller Edison, and they became two of Florida’s original winter snowbirds. Soon after, famous friends Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone flocked to Fort Myers, turning the quiet Seminole War-era settlement into front-page headline news and launching a tourist industry that transformed the city.
Nearly 100 years after Ford purchased his winter residence next door to mentor and good friend, Edison, Fort Myers is thriving as much as the city’s 1,800 towering palm trees that line McGregor Boulevard and give the city its nickname.
Today, this Southern-influenced town has grown into a city with attractions and an atmosphere worthy of a bigger city’s envy. A big part of that energy and excitement comes from being the county seat and commercial center of Lee County and the gateway to the southwest Florida region courtesy of its shiny new Southwest Florida International Airport.
Consequently, Fort Myers, known for its beautiful weather, outdoor activities and world-renowned pristine beaches on nearby Sanibel, Captiva and Estero Islands, is a popular leisure destination that attracts visitors from all over the globe.
As local tourism officials put it, visitors can go from “baggage claim to beach” in under 30 minutes. One trip here and you’ll know why the Edisons and Fords first fell in love with Fort Myers.
- Angelina’s Ristorante’s award-winning ravioli and 30-foot wine tower with 4,000 selections are just two of the highlights from this restaurant.
- CRU Restaurant is home to a hip bar and classy indoor restaurant, and it’s the place to see and be seen in town.
- Flippers on the Bay is part of Lovers Key Resort and is a hidden alfresco gem that overlooks Estero Bay.
- La Trattoria Cafe Napoli is known locally as Gloria’s, in reference to the owner’s name, and is Fort Myers’ only true tapas bar.
- The Mad Hatter, a beachside dining spot that has been an island favorite for three decades, boasts the perfect combination of food and ambiance.
- Sweet Melissa’s Café serves local ingredients year-round, and this unique Sanibel restaurant is where foodies go while on the island.
Top Things To Do
- City of Fort Myers Yacht Basin Float into Fort Myers and take in the revitalized historic downtown river district full of shops and restaurants.
- Edison and Ford Winter Estates This National Register Historic Site features 20 acres of historical buildings, gardens and the Edison Botanic
Research Lab and Edison Ford Museum.
- Imaginarium Hands-On Museum & Aquarium Whether it’s running through a rainstorm, being blown away by a hurricane or handling sea life, learning is fun for the whole family at this science emporium.
- JetBlue Park Watch a Boston Red Sox spring training baseball game or Minor League game during the summer in this replica of Fenway Park.
- J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge This 5,000-acre refuge, home to 278 species of resident and migratory birds, including waterfowl, birds of prey and wading birds, is one of the highlights on nearby Sanibel Island.