Fort Myers and Beyond

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A driving tour through Fort Myers and beyond takes you from state parks to an off-Broadway theater.

Loosely known as Southwest Florida, the region around Fort Myers goes to extremes. To the south, it holds some of Florida's most pristine and unique terrain in Everglades National Park and peripheral preserve lands, which in fact are part of the whole Everglades ecosystem, as much of South Florida is. At its northernmost, a heritage of circus performance gives way to a deep appreciation for the arts in Sarasota. Eastward, small-town America survives among fields of caladium, cattle ranches and Lake Okeechobee, one of the nation's biggest lakes. The western fringe is rimmed with shell-studded white sand beaches.

At the heart of it all beats Fort Myers, saturated with the kind of history that involves name-dropping: Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh and Harvey Firestone, to drop a few. Once a humble cow town along the path to cattle-baron riches, Fort Myers holds dear its historic memories and natural treasures.


Heritage Highlights

It is believed Thomas Edison chose Fort Myers because he was interested in the flora and fauna which would further his work with the incandescent light bulb. He built a winter home and set up shop. He planted a garden full of exotics, including a banyan tree that has now reached 450 feet in diameter, partly to find raw materials for his experiments and those of his friends, tire mogul Harvey Firestone and Henry Ford. It is believed that he persuaded Ford, to purchase next door to him. The Edison & Ford Winter Estates, 2350 McGregor Blvd., remain a monument to the genius behind America's modernization. It also contains Edison's lab-away-from-home and rare-plant garden, a museum of his inventions, and the Moonlight Garden and the Friendship Gate that passes between the two homes. Call (239) 334-7419.

South on Highway 41, the town of Estero opens up a quirky world of bygone intrigue at Koreshan State Historic Site, U.S. 41 at Corkscrew Rd., where a religious cult at the turn of the last century built its utopia on the banks of the Estero River. The cult's religion embraced gardening, arts and unorthodox science. Members believed the world clung to the inside of the earth's sphere, rather than the outside. Its legacy was exotic gardens, culture, beauty, and a celebration of the universe carried on today by music festivals and other events held in the park. Call (239) 992-0311.


Nature Trek

Summerlin Avenue leads to Sanibel Island, popular as a beach and shelling resort, but more importantly for its J. N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge, 1 Wildlife Dr., which protects more than half of the island for the benefit of the environment. "Ding," with its impressive education center, wildlife drive and trails, exposes visitors to the subtle beauty of the wetlands, home to hundreds of bird species, manatees, bobcats, river otters and alligators. Refuge hours vary monthly, see website for details. Call (239) 472-1100.

The waters of Estero Bay, to the south, are known for their dolphin population. Get a water-level perspective with a canoeing or kayaking adventure at Lovers Key State Park, located between Fort Myers Beach and Bonita Springs on Estero Boulevard. It is part of the 40-mile Great Calusa Blueway paddling trail. Call (239) 463-4588.


Culture Quest

Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre, 1380 Colonial Blvd., is one of southwest Florida's most entertaining destinations. The main dining room accommodates 450 guests and features eight professional theatrical productions each season with an award-winning buffet. The Off Broadway Palm Theatre is a 90-seat general admission black box theatre featuring exciting musical revues and comedies October - May. Call (239) 278-4422 for its current schedule.

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