FORT MYERS and SANIBEL – December 12 to 14
Fort Meyers is certainly not known in the same light as its close neighbors, like Sarasota or Naples – it’s not a trendy, upmarket beach town and it doesn’t have the urban cool of St Petersburg, but it is home to the winter home and laboratory of Thomas Edison. The home, now a museum, is tucked alongside the Caloosahatchee River. It’s also en-route to Sanibel Island. A much more tranquil location than many of Florida’s other beach destinations, Sanibel Island is a small beach town, free from the high rises and chain restaurants found elsewhere. A favourite activity for visitors and Sanibel locals alike is shelling, collecting all kinds of different shells from the beach, where they are constantly replenished by the waves. Here’s the Roadtrip in Florida Itinerary.
Check out some of the cool and cheap tours you could do in Florida.
Where did we stay?
3 Nights at Sanibel Inn (courtesy of the management) “Where nature meets the sea.” We arrived at this peaceful ocean-side retreat after a short drive from Fort Meyers. The cottage-style reception building at the main gate was welcoming and looked like something out of a British seaside town. Our first-floor suite has big and bright, with a balcony overlooking the pool, then further out to the beach and Gulf of Mexico. The room had everything we needed and more, with a simple beachside feel, allowing the natural surroundings and sea breeze to take care of everything else. The pool was long, wide and deep with the full force of the sun all day long and only a matter of steps to the beach to go hunting for shells, cool off in the warm gulf waters, or to stroll down the beach at sunset. We also had access to the Dunes Golf and Tennis Club, although we were too busy exploring the area to play tennis, the club also offers live entertainment and fun! Full Sanibel Inn story coming soon.
What we did:
- Edison Ford Estate – We stopped at this historic estate on route to Sanibel Island to wander around the 14-acre riverfront estate which once served as Thomas Edison’s winter home and laboratory as far back as 1886. Henry Ford was good friends with Edison and also has his winter home here, where several Ford cars are on display. The expansive gardens are full of plants, tree, and flowers from all over the world.
- Sunset on Sanibel Beach – It was close to sunset when we arrived at Sanibel Inn, so we had just enough time to relax on the beach, walk along the water’s edge and watch the sun drop down into the waves. The elaborate and intricate sand castle sculpture was a nice touch as well!
- Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge – We drove to the Ding Darling Wildlife refuge in the morning for a guided wildlife tram tour. Created in the 1940’s, the meeting of the sea and freshwater, combined with the long grasses, mangroves and colliding tropical and temperate climates, have all merged to form a thriving habitat for thousands of birds and animals. On our guided tram tour around Wildlife Drive, we spotted hundreds of birds, crabs and alligators. There is so many birds here that the refuge is rated as one of the top birding destinations in the whole country. We saw, great egrets, snowy egrets, wood storks, roseate spoonbills, great and little blue herons, white and brown pelicans, cormorants, blue-winged teal, ospreys and probably a lot more!
- Lunch at Doc Ford’s Sanibel Rum Bar and Grille – After our tour around the refuge, we drove just a few minutes to Doc Ford’s Rum Bar and Grille, where an amazing lunch was waiting for us. Themed around the best-selling novels of a local resident and named after the lead character, Doc Ford’s is a multitude of eating and drinking concepts fused together, with a few other unique flavours, into a one-of-a-kind dining and social experience. The inside of the restaurant looks like a giant took a sports bar in one hand, an old fishing shop in the other, crushed them together and added some old world Jules Verne ceiling fans. And it works! We chose to eat lunch outside on the open deck, sheltered by giant fan palms and other greenery. We asked the manager, Elizabeth, to choose our food for us which was the best decision we could have made – Tropical Salad, seasonal Stone Crab claws, BBQ baby back ribs, rare Tuna with an Asian peanut butter sauce, steamed shrimp in Doc’s special Yucatan sauce. This meal has made into our top 5 meals ever. We’ll tell you more later in our full Doc Ford’s food story, but for now, let the pictures do the talking!
- Captiva Island Dolphin Watch and Wildlife Cruise – After such an incredible meal, we weren’t feeling like doing anything strenuous, so a late afternoon cruise to watch dolphins jumping around in the sea was perfect for us! We drove 25 minutes down the road to the South Seas Island Resort on Captiva Island and collected our cruise tickets from Captiva Cruises, next to the harbour where the boat was waiting for us. From the harbour, we sailed out into the bay, through a narrow channel of deep water in the Pine Island Sound, a sheltered haven of tranquil water, protected from the open sea by Sanibel Island, Captiva Islands and Cayo Costa. The calm waters attract dolphins, manatees and other sea and bird life. We were told that we had a 95 per cent chance of seeing dolphins on the cruise and we saw plenty. Small pods of 2 to 4 Atlantic Bottlenose dolphins chased alongside the boat, playing in the bow waves, jumping and diving and even spinning on their sides! More in our articles to come.
ST PETE and CLEARWATER – December 14 to 17
We woke up late and chilled out by the Sanilbel Inn swimming pool, then headed north to our next destination – St Petersburg and Clearwater. Situated on Florida’s gulf coast, St. Petersburg is famous for a lot of things, but one of the best is its climate, because although the whole of Florida is known as the Sunshine State, St Pete’s just seems to suck out every last drop of sunshine and beautiful weather, holding the title for “most consecutive days with sunshine” with 768 sunny days, earning the title, ‘Sunshine City’! St Pete’s in much more than a sunshine beach destination, it’s a regional centre for culture and the arts – Dali Museum; the Museum of Fine Arts and home of the Florida Orchestra. Of course, it’s also an expert at the South Florida staples of sandy beaches, sport fishing, pure nature like Fort De Soto Park and amazing food!
Clearwater is only a short drive north of St Pete’s and is a favourite point of rest and relaxation for families who need a ‘holiday from their holiday’ in the Disney World Orlando theme parks! It’s known for offering something for everyone, with its award-winning, white sand beaches, lively night time entertainment scene, dining for every taste and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
Where did we stay?
3 nights in Hotel Zamora boutique hotel (courtesy of the management) Driving through the gates of the Hotel Zamora, with its elegant arched windows and wrought iron balconies, was like crossing an imaginary border from Florida into northern Spain, where the Spanish-style, white-washed building could easily look perfectly at home nestled in amongst the vineyards which carpet the rolling countryside of Toro, Zamora, the region for which the hotel is named. Aspects of the hotel’s design, like the high arches, repetitive shapes and decoration, are a respectful reference to elements of the Mudéjar architectural style found in Iberia – the direct result of an amalgamation between ancient Moorish and Christian cultures. The reception and rooms all have high ceilings and balconies overlooking the Gulf of Mexico or the inter coastal waterway behind. The indoor outdoor swimming pool, lounge area and outdoor whirlpool spa look out onto the private seven slip mooring and the rooftop bar is a work of art, boasting panoramic views along the whole St Pete’s Beach, perfect for sipping cocktails as the sun sets over into the sea, casting a hundred shades of pink across the sky. More about this boutique Mediterranean escape in our full Hotel Zamora story, coming soon!
What did we do?
- Rooftop Cocktails – On our first night in St Pete’s, we headed straight to the rooftop bar of Hotel Zamora, sipping cocktails and looking out at the sunset view over the Gulf of Mexico.
- Fort De Soto – The next day we drove out to Fort De Soto, 1,136 acres of beachside parkland consisting of five interconnected islands, or keys, which are home to home to plants, wetlands, mangroves, hundreds of native plants and more than 328 species of birds. We pulled up at the kayaking station, climbed out of the car and into our little boat and paddled around the mangrove wilderness, watching fish jump out of the water and vast-winged grey pelicans swoop down to pluck the out of the water, tipping their head back to shake their dinner from their throat pouch and down into their stomachs. Pelicans were by far the bird we saw the most, but we also spotted Ospreys, cormorants and a lot of other things we didn’t know the names of. Best of all, this place is quiet and serene, floating along the calm waters amongst the mangroves and wildlife.
- Dali Museum – From Fort De Soto, we drove back into St Pete’s to the Dali Museum, which houses the largest collection of surrealist Salvador Dali’s paintings outside of his home in Spain. The building itself is an intriguing combination of brutalism and modernist architectural styles, as the geometric glazing appears to overflow from the angular concrete block body and flow down its side like crisp lava, with the form of Zaha Hadid and the organic nature Antoni Gaudi. The helical staircase which spirals through the centre of the building and continues to a curved tail overhead is a visual masterpiece, particularly mesmerising when viewed against the backdrop of the convex glazed wall, which forms a canopy of light as it rises up and folds back over under its own weight. You could find it hard to tear yourself away from the architecture to join the free guided tour of the Dali collection itself, which was led by an expert in Dali’s work and provided deep insight in to the man, the artist, his life and the meanings and motivations behind the work of Dali and other surrealist artists.
- Segway Tour – After a couple of hours of cultural immersion, we were ready for something a bit more active and headed to Hubbard’s Marina for a sunset Segway Tour around the John’s Pass Marina. We visited the lost sailors’ memorial and the site of the old bridge, then crossed the Gulf Blvd bridge over Johns Pass and down to Treasure Island Beach, where a dozen immensely complex sand sculptures were still standing from the Sanding Ovations sand sculpting competition some weeks earlier. On the way back we stopped at the middle of the bridge for a cloud spattered sunset view over the pass as it opens out into the Gulf of Mexico. It was our first time on Segways and a truly original way to explore.
- The Original Crabby Bills – That evening we had dinner at a local legend – the original Crabby Bill’s at Indian Rocks Beach, only about a 20 minute drive from St Pete’s Beach. Originally opened in 1983, The Original Crabby Bill’s focuses on providing incredible fresh seafood from the local area, with delicacies like oysters, grouper, smoked or fried mullet, Florida clams, Florida stone crab claws and Alaskan King Crab. We were served by Karen and her sister Sandy, two local sisters who have both been working there for years, serving up amazing food. They told us everything we could possibly know about the food we were eating, including the oysters, stone crab claws, Alaskan king crab, gator tail, octopus, pan-fried shrimp, and their famous in-house key lime pie!
- Honeymoon Island & Caledesi Island State Park – Our final full day in St Pete’s and Clearwater was a very relaxing one. We drove from Hotel Zamora on St Pete’s beach to Honeymoon Island, in Dunedin near Clearwater, a four mile island of pristine sandy beaches, nature walks and wildlife. We explored the main beach front of Honeymoon Island, before taking the passenger ferry across the neighbouring, a completely natural island, perfect for swimming, sunbathing, line fishing, short nature walks and kayaking around the three mile kayak trail through the mangroves and bay. For us though, it was the perfect place to just lie on the beach in the sun, relaxing and absorbing all the experiences of the past ten days in Florida.
- Sunset – When woke up on the beach in the late afternoon, the sun was already on its way down, so we caught the ferry back and drove over to Causeway Boulevard to watch the sunset behind the islands, as the local kayakers and line fishermen packed up for the day.
- Beachside Dinner – For our final St Pete’s and Clearwater dinner, we met up with John, the Director of Public Relations for Paradise, who had helped to organise our amazing stay. We met for dinner in Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill in Clearwater, with fresh-caught grouper and coconut shrimp.
- A Five-Star Breakfast – On our final morning in St Pete’s Beach we had breakfast in Florida’s ‘Pink Palace,’ the affectionate nickname given to the Loews Don CeSar Hotel facing the ocean on the shores of St Pete’s. The Sea Porch Café to the beachside of the Mediterranean-style castle turned hotel sits on the outdoor patio by the pool, with the beach in the background. We met with Jeff, the Director of Public Relations for the Loews Don CeSar Hotel, who told us all about how this impressive building came to be and how it had been saved from near destruction on more than one occasion. Breakfast was excellent, with fresh, invigorating juices and smoothies, an overflowing plate of fresh fruit, bacon and banana bread and the famous Don’s Benedict – their own special spin on a breakfast classic, incorporating fresh crab cakes! More about our Don CeSar – Sea Porch Café experience, coming soon.
You can check details and latest rates for Loews Don Cesar Hotel on Agoda or Expedia or visit their website directly at Loews Don CeSar. Don’t just take our word for it though, check out their reviews on TripAdvisor
This is Part 2 of 3 – Jump to Part 3 (Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, Miami) or Jump to Part 1 (Miami, Delray, Naples, Everglades)
Note: This trip wouldn’t have been possible without the help and support of Lee County for our itinerary in Fort Myers and Sanibel, Visit St Pete/Clearwater for our itinerary in St Petersburg and Clearwater and to Visit Florida, the official tourism office of Florida in Tallahassee. Thank you!
Thank you to everyone we met along the way who all helped to make this such a special experience. It was an incredible first visit to the USA and I will never forget it!
Many more detailed articles about our Florida experiences coming very soon!