Here we go again, Canada. The dreaded winter months bringing sleet and snow accompanied by so many layers you feel like the Michelin Man. For most Canadians, their get-away-go-to is Florida, and this year should be no different.
The sunny southwest coast of Florida starring Fort Myers, Captiva and Sanibel Island, makes this stop a family favourite.
Known for its beaches, unique shopping experiences and fishing, Fort Myers was also a winter home to two very important men: one, a world-famous inventor and the other, an innovative businessman. Need a hint? Well, you’ve most likely turned on a light today, and perhaps you’ve driven a car; like I did when I had my 1992 Ford Tempo.
Upon arrival at The Edison and Ford Winter Estates, you’ll be greeted by a statue of Edison and behind him, a massive banyan tree that he planted in 1927, which has been preserved to this day. The estate features more than 20 acres of botanic gardens, the Edison Botanic Laboratory (a National Historical Chemical Landmark), Edison’s Study and Moonlight Garden, Winter Estate, the Main home and Guest House, and the Caretakers House, which is one of the oldest standing structures in Southwest Florida (1928). You’ll learn all about Thomas Edison’s thought process via the 15,000-square-foot-museum full of his inventions (including the phonograph) and explore the Smithsonian Spark! Lab for kids, which includes a hands-on area where children can build their own invention. Kids can also take part in the educational programs that take place year-round.
Edison’s dear friend, Henry Ford, purchased land next door to his mentor in 1916. Next to Ford’s Estate, you’ll find The Car Exhibit, which houses the replica of the 1916 Model T that was donated to Edison by Ford for his birthday.
The Butterfly Estates is a fluttering good time. This conservatory strictly houses Florida native butterflies, dedicated to their protection. Not only will your kids want to spend hours chasing butterflies, but so will you, as you try to catch species like the monarch, black swallowtail and gulf fritillary.
Start your day off right with a trip to Bennett’s Fresh Roast. All their doughnuts are made from scratch, including the maple bacon and glazed doughnut and my personal favourite, the Boston cream. Of course, they have light breakfast fare options if sugar isn’t your breakfast go-to.
Known for their beer and burgers, Ford’s Garage takes you back to a 1920’s service station meets prohibition vibe. From their esteemed Estate Burger (half pound of grilled Black Angus, smoked Gouda, sweet red onion marmalade, arugula, tomato, fried onion straws, and white truffle bacon aioli on a brioche bun) to their chicken and shrimp mac and cheese, you’ll want to stop in after a long day of exploring.
Feel like a mid-day treat or fancy some gelato to cool down? Then show some love for Norman Love. From Key Lime, Peanut Butter Cup and Yuzu Mango chocolate to scoops of Caramel Pecan Turtle or raspberry sorbet ice cream, this is a decadent sweet for the whole family.
You’re getting in your car right now, aren’t you?
Date night should be celebrated at The Veranda; combining historic charm in the heart of Fort Myers since the turn of the century. The staff is attentive, and the food will delight your palate. From portobello mushroom pate and the artichoke fritters stuffed with blue crab to the mains of bourbon street filet and baked rack of New Zealand lamb, this is one dining experience you won’t want to pass up.
Time for a nightcap. Head to Coastal Dayz Brewery. With 16 taps on-site, may I suggest trying a flight that includes my personal favourites, Isla Mirada blonde ale mixed with pineapple cider, the sour Prairie lime juniper and the Bombay IPA.
Located in a historic building across the street from the Federal Courthouse, The Hotel Indigo Fort Myers Downtown River District Hotel is the only boutique hotel in the neighbourhood. Its spacious rooms and large windows offer great views of Fort Myers. Amenities include a rooftop pool, free WIFI and Aveda products in the bathroom.
Just over an hour drive from Fort Myers, you’ll find stunning Captiva Island. The dining experiences matched with the eco-boat and dolphin tours are one to add to any travel list.
It’s always Christmas at The Bubble Room; the theme of this unique restaurant in Captiva. Built in 1979, the Bubble Room got its name from all the Christmas lights and bubble lights that were used as décor.
Antiques and photos of old Hollywood movie stars soon filled the walls and customers began dropping off antiques and toys to help fill the place. The staff are dressed like boy and girl scouts as the owner’s daughter used to be a girl scout.
Sunset Celebrations are a big deal in Captiva Island, and everyone gathers on the beach to watch the sun go down. Afterwards, head over to Doc Fords for the catch of the day.
Captiva Cruises Inc. offers incredible dolphin and wildlife tours. There’s nothing more beautiful than to see bottlenose dolphins playing in their natural habitat; so wild and free. Surrounded by majestic scenery where pelicans and eagles can be spotted, this is one tour sure to make the memory wall for any family vacation.
If you enjoy reading quirky signs and indulging in massive portions, then The Island Cow is for you. Go ahead and order the Paella, I dare you. The tender yellow rice sits under strips of chicken, scallops, mussels and shrimp and sure to fill your belly until your next adventure.
Speaking of which, CROW (Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife) is a teaching hospital and visitor centre dedicated to saving wildlife. Animals like Mina, the one-winged owl, participate in programs to help educate visitors about wildlife. Special children’s areas and live camera feed inside the hospital intake rooms are included with your admission ($25), which goes towards the non-for-profit clinic.
Shelling in Sanibel is the #1 activity for children and adults alike, and I’m not sure this one needs any explanation.
The J.N Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge is part of the largest mangrove ecosystem in the United States. It is home to over 245 species of birds including the Great Egret, Double-Crested Cormorant and the Roseate Spoonbill. This Refuge is an ideal place for birds to feed and nest and a great place to observe the inhabitants of this unique ecosystem. Take a 90-minute guided tram tour with a certified naturalist for the full experience.
Opening its doors in 1895, The Island INN is the oldest Inn on Sanibel Island. The 49 rooms in the main building were renovated just a short year ago and feature modern amenities and décor, living room, dining table, spacious balconies with beach views, and complete kitchens so you can feel right at home. You’ll also find a library and games room, heated swimming pool and complimentary continental breakfast included with your stay. Beachfront cottages are ideal for larger families and equipped with the same amenities. Just on the beach.