Bonita Springs and Estero

More than you bargained for.

Bonita Springs has lived many lives. The onetime pineapple, banana and coconut plantation turned hunting and fishing destination turned railroad town has reinvented itself again as a friendly bedroom community with easy access to the area's best malls, public beaches and Bonita Beach Park. To the north, Estero boasts both outlet and high-end shopping and cultural attractions such as Mound Key, a major ceremonial center and village of the Calusa Indians reachable only by boat or kayak.

Bonita Springs & Estero Community

"Attractions such as Everglades Wonder Gardens and Koreshan State Historic Site bring the wonders of the natural world to the forefront."

Modern Bonita Springs, named for a medicinal spring on the Shangri La Hotel property on U.S. 41, began life as the town of Survey. Next, the outpost was transformed first into a pineapple, banana and coconut plantation, then into a hunting and fishing destination. The arrival of developer Barron Collier’s Tamiami Trail (U.S. 41) and railroad brought a new wave of prosperity to the town, which incorporated for the first time in 1925, and again in the late 1990s.

Attractions such as Everglades Wonder Gardens and Koreshan State Historic Site brought the wonders of the natural world to the forefront. Nearby Bonita Beach on Hickory Island was called Fiddlerville because of the vast number of fiddler crabs on its shell-strewn shores. Visitors today enjoy boating the waterways and the amenities at Bonita Beach Park.

Further north, Estero was incorporated in 1904 by the Koreshans, a religious sect that at one time numbered near 10,000. The remains of their “New Jerusalem" on the banks of the Estero River can be seen at the settlement at Koreshan State Historic Site, which also encompasses Mound Key, a large, former Calusa Indian village and sacred site.

More recent attractions include great dining options, Germain Arena for live events and shopping emporia such as The Promenade, Miromar Outlets and Gulf Coast Town Center.

Bonita Springs & Estero Quick Trips

"Spot wildlife along the Great Calusa Blueway Paddling Trail, explore uninhabited islands, discover ancient shell mounds and soak up natural beauty."

Follow Ancient Trails: Paddle your way from one end of the county to the other along the Great Calusa Blueway (239-461-7400), a marked and GPS-plotted waterway trail named for a native tribe that covers 190 miles.

Captain Your Own Destiny: Or at least your own salty, exciting day riding the waves: Rent a powerboat from one of the local marinas. Explore secluded beaches, visit uninhabited islands and cast for your fantasy fish.

Keep Your Cool: Game time is cool and comfortable at Germain Arena (239-948-7825), Estero. Watch Florida Everblades hockey action.

Look for Fins and Snouts: Each day brings new surprises when you set sail on a nature cruise. Some tours cast seine nets to introduce visitors to tiny creatures from the sea. Others go in search of dolphins, manatees and birds where they live.

Look at the World in a New Way: Scientists and artists made up the utopian 19th-century religious community that settled at today’s Koreshan State Historic Site  (239-992-0311), Estero, to spread their “inside out" views of the world.

Drop In: Perfect for grinding, ollies and dropping in, the Bonita Springs Recreation Center B3 Skatepark (239-992-2556) boasts a gear shop, ramps, rails and other structures to accommodate skateboarders, in-line skaters and extreme bicyclists.

Go for the Gusto: Bonita Beach Park (239-949-4615) gets a charge of energy from the sand volleyball court, nearby watersports rentals and the popular restaurant next door.

Reach New Heights: Accessible by boat tour or kayak, the ancient Calusa settlement at Mound Key Archaeological State Park (239-992-0311), Estero, reaches a mountainous (by Southwest Florida standards) 32 feet atop its shell mounds, a source of fascination for archaeologists.

Do Burgers on the Beach: Look for the palm tree wearing shades and holding a frothy mug of beer – you’ll know you’re at Doc’s Beach House (239-992-6444), Bonita Beach. And once you gobble up a burger with a view of Bonita Beach, you’ll know why the sign’s icon is smiling.

Experience Diverse Ecology: At Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed (CREW) Marsh (239-657-2253), Estero, nearly 10 miles of hiking trails take you through a peri-Everglades environment – pine flatwoods, oak hammock and sawgrass marsh – to a 12-foot observation tower. Guided tours in season are free.

Take the Waters: With one of Florida’s few Watsu (water shiatsu) treatment pools, the Stillwater Spa at Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort & Spa (239-444-1234, 800-55 HYATT), Bonita Springs, is as cutting-edge as it is tried-and-true.

See a Wood Stork Nursery: South of Bonita Springs, most of The Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary’s (239-348-9151) creatures could be shy, but you can see signs that bears, river otters and deer visit. See and hear pig frogs, butterflies, alligators and the nesting wood storks for which the sanctuary is famous.

A Day in Bonita Springs & Estero

"Spend a day exploring Bonita Springs and Estero – from the formal gardens at a historic site to gators, bears and more at Everglades Wonder Gardens. "

In the southern reaches of Lee County, just off U.S. 41, is Koreshan State Historic Site, nestled among pines and palmetto and snug up against the Estero River. In addition to the beautiful natural surroundings, there’s a late-1800s religious settlement that has been preserved. Marvel at the complex geometric layout of the historic buildings, which reflects part of the Koreshans’ religious theory. Rent a canoe and explore the river, or take a ranger-guided tour through the grounds.

Head farther south to Bonita Springs and have lunch at the Big Hickory Seafood Grille, complete with ""Cracker”-style fare, as well as more refined choices, such as Cubana Grouper. Oh, and keep an eye out for Emerald, the resident white heron.

Next stop: Wonderland. Well, Everglades Wonder Gardens may feel like Alice’s trip down the rabbit hole, or at least back to the 1930s, when the attraction was built. Each tour is narrated by a knowledgeable staffer (often one with a sense of humor). Tours are continuous, and visitors are escorted to wherever the group is at the time they arrive. Native Florida fauna, including alligators, bears, panthers, bobcats and other reptiles, is on display among tropical plantings.

After the 60-minute tour, drive to Bonita Beach Park to catch some rays or find some shells to add to your collection. Then mosey on back to the mainland and Rodes Fresh & Fancy, a seafood market with a restaurant attached. The seafood is as fresh as it gets, and the Key lime pie is delightful.

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  • Another Review
    “Great place!” - Reviewer

  • BUTTERFLY RAINFOREST
    “Beyond expectations.” - Florida

  • Review #2
    “Really cool!” - Florida

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