A nice couple walking along the shore line

the best film locations in Lee County

J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge features canopied canoe trails, active native and migratory bird populations, hiking trails, alligators and wildlife aplenty. The 6,400-acre refuge is part of the largest mangrove ecosystem in the country. Interesting angles include roseate spoonbills, great blue herons, ibis and other dramatic birds that come to feed at low tide. The built environment includes boat ramp, gift shop, education center and new recreation rentals building. Find more.

Gasparilla Island State Park is an isolated island park with access to five beaches with white sand and beautiful shells.. Hiking trails, shelling opportunities and views of the Gulf of Mexico and Cayo Costa Island are found on-site. Interesting angles include two lighthouse towers punctuating sweeps of beaches at the south end of the island. The built environment includes the 1890 Boca Grande Lighthouse, museum, picnic shelters, historic chapel, and the South Beach Bar & Grille, located right on the sand.

Lovers Key State Park is a barrier island park with a nature preserve, wooded area and two-mile long beach. Views of tidal lagoon and inner waterways, Big Carlos Pass and manatees in canals are featured. Interesting angles include the tidal lagoon, sands and the Gulf of Mexico all in the same shot. The built environment includes bathhouses, concessions, shaded picnic areas, and a gazebo up on stilts in the sand. Find more.  

Cayo Costa Island State Park is one of the largest barrier islands in Florida. The park has unique vegetation, more than five miles of biking and hiking trails, plus nine miles of wide, unspoiled white-sand beaches. Find great shelling on the south end of the island. The island is only accessible by boat, and the beach is largely unpopulated, presenting rare, wide-open vistas. The built environment includes cabins, tent campsites, picnic tables, a gift shop, bathrooms, showers, and an amphitheater. Find more.

Estero Bay Preserve is Florida’s first aquatic preserve and is home to a variety of wildlife, including the bald eagle, bottlenose dolphin, gopher tortoise and fiddler crab. Part of the Great Calusa Blueway Paddling Trail, it preserves 10 miles of water, inlets and islands – where you can find native flora, including mangroves, slash pines and live oaks. Most famous for its population of dolphins, the preserve is also the place to find birds, kayakers and fisher-folk posed against the backdrop of dozens of uninhabited islands, including one with a Calusa mound archaeological dig site. Find more.  

Cabbage Key features a panoramic view of Pine Island Sound, but the 100-acre island, which is only accessible by boat, has no cars or paved roads but plenty of nature trails. Interesting angles include an Indian mound and a 1930s water tower providing vantage points for views of the island’s nature trail, vintage buildings and Useppa Island across the channel. The built environment includes a gift shop, restaurant, vintage cottages, inn, and marina.    

Calusa Nature Center is a 105-acre park with boardwalks that go through pine flatwoods and cypress wetlands. There are three nature trails with native wildlife and flora as well as butterfly and bird aviaries on site. Any of the heavily vegetated trails could stand in for a Southern forest environment. The built environment includes audubon aviary, museum, and planetarium. Find more.  

Great Calusa Blueway features 190 miles of sheltered bays, rivers, backwaters and shorelines.The possibilities of stunning shots are too numerous to list.  Varied panoramas can be found—from bird estuaries to mangrove islands to Caloosahatchee River tributaries. Near the mainland in Estero Bay, you’ll get a lot of shots with buildings in background. Find more.  

Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary has an 11,000-acre ancient forest of mammoth cypress trees and a 2.25-mile boardwalk with alligator holes and lakes seen along the trail. Views of birds, mammals, butterflies, reptiles and amphibians aplenty. Here is an authentic peri-Everglades swamp setting complete with alligators, the famous ghost orchid and great natural sound from pig frogs and birds. Boardwalks are beneath ancient Spanish moss–draped cypress trees. The Blair Audubon Center has a media theater and store, plus exhibits and classrooms. Find more.  

Babcock Ranch/Telegraph Cypress Swamp features on-site buggy ecotour through the 90,000-acre swamp’s unspoiled pinewoods and freshwater marsh. Various wildlife sightings include alligators, birds, deer, turkey, Florida Cracker cattle and quarter horses. Unbelievable saturated browns and blacks are punctuated with greens in the cypress forest. A lodge, built for the filming of Just Cause (Sean Connery), and ranch structures add to the vast acreage’s picturesque qualities. Built environment includes concession stands, a gift shop, a restaurant, and ranch structures.  

Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve is a 2,200-acre wetland ecosystem with observation decks, seating enclaves and a 1.2-mile boardwalk trail. The boardwalk snakes through several levels of environment, including a large pool surrounded by dense native vegetation – a magnet for birds and alligators. The built environment includes restrooms, parking lot at entrance, interpretive signs, and a new all-green visitors center. Find more.  

Historic Locations & Architecture  

The Edison & Ford Winter Estates have 20 acres of tropical gardens with a 400-foot banyan tree, recently restored historic homes, one of Florida’s first swimming pools and Edison’s laboratory. Across the street is the museum with inventions and exhibits, a museum store, garden and cottage shop. The estates are on the Caloosahatchee River, so the aspect from the houses through the vegetation to the river is quite picturesque. The built environment includes two fully restored early-1900s homes, garages with vintage Ford cars, various outbuildings, Edison’s office and laboratory as he left them. Find more.

Sanibel Island Lighthouse features a nearby pier plus a boardwalk that leads to the working lighthouse, which is on the eastern tip of the island. Surrounding areas include white-sand beaches with shells, shade trees along the shoreline, and views of the Gulf of Mexico. The sun rising over the bay brings dramatic lighting to the fishing pier, lighthouse keepers' cottages and light tower. The built environment includes boardwalks, lighthouse keepers’ cottages, and lighthouse. Find more.  

Boca Grande Lighthouse is located on the south end of Gasparilla Island State Park. The still-working 1890 lighthouse is adjacent to the assistant keeper’s cottage. The museum inside the lighthouse provides a perfect observation site for boat traffic and fishing expeditions. Videographers can capture a scene of people playing and fishing on the beach with the oft-photographed Florida-style lighthouse as a backdrop. The built environment includes two vintage keepers’ cottages, vintage lighthouse, picnic shelters, and range light on one of the beach accesses. Find more.  

The Koreshan State Historic Site was settled in 1894. This religious settlement has 11 buildings, including the Bakery, Art Hall and the restored home of founder Cyrus Reed Teed. There are also areas  for fishing, camping and picnicking with a playground and boat ramp on site. Shots are varied and interesting with the combination of native landscaping, exotic trees, river and reconstructed historic buildings. The built environment includes buildings of various vintages and sizes from the early 20th century, a workshop with collection of vintage tools, and reproduction wooden bridges in Craftsman and Victorian styles. Find more.  

Downtown Fort Myers River District is a 504-acre area that has many historic influences, including Italian (1924 Richard Building) and medieval revival (Courthouse and 1926 Miles Building) with views throughout the district of the Caloosahatchee River. The river and historic buildings combine to create a setting that is both hometown and timeless. The built environment includes shops, art centers, museums, live theater, government buildings and restaurants.

Southwest Florida Museum of History is housed in a historic train depot with pre-historic through present-day exhibits. You’ll find a Cracker House replica, a 1926 La France fire pumper (fire engine), a 1929 Pullman rail car and a display of 1,200 pieces of depression and carnival glass available for viewing. Exhibits indoors and out can set the stage for historic scenes.. The built environment includes Vintage Spanish Revival depot, gift shop, Cracker House replica, and historic Pullman rail car. Find more.  

Sanibel Historical Village and Museum is made up of eight restored buildings, which date back to the early 1900s. The attraction showcases  life on Sanibel Island from the days of the Calusa Indians and its early pioneers. Arranged like an old fashioned village, its front porches, historic vehicle, period-furnished rooms and live pioneer garden provide great angles. The built environment includes Rutland House, schoolhouse, cottage, post office, store, packinghouse, and tea room. Find more.  

For Old Florida fishing camps and marinas, the historic Whidden’s Marina has a maritime museum and a shop with fishing supplies. Big Hickory Fishing Nook is a fishing charter shack with views of egrets, pelicans and blue herons looking for lunch. Located on the Gulf of Mexico, Jensen's Twin Palm Resort & Marina has historic beach cottages and a water taxi. Cabbage Key Marina is located at the foot of an Indian mound where the restaurant and inn sit. Matlacha has a boat ramp, kayak launch to the Great Calusa Blueway, fishing pier, walking path, community buildings, sheltered picnic tables, restrooms and basketball courts. Capture Old Florida in the colorful, weathered shacks slumped waterside and purely maritime fishing and boating scenes. Whidden’s displays vintage fishing and boating equipment along with an assortment of pot-bellied pigs, rabbits and other animals. The built environment includes weather-worn Old Florida sheds, shacks and fish houses, restaurants, docks, boats, ramps, piers and other recreational facilities.  

Beaches  

Gasparilla Island State Park, at the southern end of Gasparilla Island, offers scenic views of Boca Grande Pass, white-sand beaches and the Gulf of Mexico’s emerald-green waters. From the lighthouse’s front porch or the dunes walkover, there are magnificent views of the beach, short sand dunes, pass waters and boats, plus Cayo Costa can be seen from across the pass. A charming historic chapel also provides interest. The built environment includes picnic areas with pavilions, 1890 Boca Grande Lighthouse and museum, and historic chapel.

North Captiva Island is a sparsely populated 4.5-mile island with pristine beaches and is densely wooded. The north part of the island is inhabited, but there are no cars, grocery stores or hotels. With its historic stilted fish house in the harbor, colorful Barnacle Phil’s restaurant, an unpaved grassy landing strip and isolated white-sand beaches, this island – only accessible by boat and small plane – offers variety with its seclusion. The built environment includes a collection of large rental homes, three restaurants, and a historic stilted fish house at mouth of harbor. 

Cayo Costa is a state park that features a nine-mile, white-sand, commonly-deserted beach, as well as a pine forest, oak-palm hammock and mangrove swamps. Find abundant bird life and shelling opportunities, plus a nature trail through the woods. The island is only accessible by boat. Vestiges of historic human habitation, such as a pioneer cemetery, blend with rustic cabins to create impressive images against a "deserted island" setting. The built environment includes 12 cabins, restrooms, dock, and a few private homes. Find more.  

Captiva Beach’s six-mile beach runs the entire west coast of the island with an abundance of shells. Surf is rougher and wavier than Sanibel, but beach is wide and sand is slightly grayer. Dunes are largely intact and small groves of trees grow right up to the beach. It has the best sunsets on the islands. Blue herons and other shorebirds strut the sand, sea oats and dune daisies adorn the dunes, and typically, plenty of people are playing and walking on the beach. The built environment includes South Seas Island Resort and golf course in background at the north end, restaurants and homes along the beach, historic chapel and cemetery close to the beach. Find more.  

Turner Beach has wide, flat sands with an excellent vantage point for Gulf Coast sunsets north (Captiva side) of Blind Pass between Sanibel and Captiva islands. There, you’ll find strong currents and a small dirt lot with access to the beach and inlet. Poised on the pass, it has water on three sides, with a good view of sunset featuring sand and trees in the foreground. For people shots: There are fisher-folk on the bridge, as well as surfer, skimboarder and body-boarders whenever a front brings in waves. Built environment includes restaurants nearby, foot showers and restrooms, and bridge across pass. Find more

Blind Pass Beach is a 60-acre public preserve with a nature walk leading to a lagoon on the Sanibel side of the bridge. Also, you’ll find coves along the bayshore, cars parked on Gulf side and the beach stretching half a mile. Just across the pass from Turner Beach, it offers many of the same features, as well as colorfully painted cottages and trees near the water’s edge. The built environment includes restrooms, picnic tables and showers, bridge across the pass, restaurants and cottages on south end.  

Bowman’s Beach has great shelling opportunities and sunset views. The quarter-mile walk from parking lot to beach features views of beach grasses, shrubs, pine trees, estuary and sea grapes along the way. Birds and tropical fauna can be found around the beach’s soft, fine sand. Views vary from ospreys and pileated woodpeckers in the estuary to a stretch of Sanibel’s most secluded beach, carpeted in shells. The built environment includes picnic tables, restrooms, and showers. Find more.  

Lighthouse Park Beach is found on the eastern tip of Sanibel. The beach has Gulf and bay views plus strong currents. Shelling opportunities abound. People and structures add appeal to a beach that rounds the south end of the island. Kitesurfers come here often, and there are impressive views of sunrise, fishermen on the pier and the bay with causeway bridges in the background. The built environment includes Sanibel Lighthouse, historic Oil House, refurbished concrete fishing pier, restrooms, picnic tables, and boardwalk. Find more.  

Sanibel Causeway features views of dolphins and Gulf of Mexico sunsets from the beach. Vehicles can be parked right up to water’s edge. This is the area’s windsurfing and kitesurfing hot spot. Shots from the road can catch water views on both sides with Sanibel island in the background. The built environment includes bridges and restrooms. Find more.  

Bowditch Point, a 17.5-acre park, features a wide boardwalk among palm trees that leads to the narrow beach which becomes thinner at its tip. It fronts both Gulf and bay. Its end-of-island vantage affords views of boat traffic coming into the bay, Fort Myers Beach high bridge and Sanibel Island and its lighthouse – all with white-sand beach and native vegetation in the foreground. The built environment includes restrooms, a snack bar, bathhouse, boardwalk and resort nearby. Find more.  

Lynn Hall Memorial Park features a flat beach with small waves. It also provides direct access to the Fort Myers Beach Pier and Times Square with shops and restaurants. This lively scene’s components include a picturesque pier, a nightly sunset celebration – with musicians and other performers – at the base of the pier, and people milling around Times Square. You’ll also find pelicans buzzing the pier, sidewalk restaurants, parasailing, boating and a nighttime party landscape. The built environment includes benches, picnic tables, playground, fishing pier, restaurants, shops, resorts, and clubs. Find more.  

Fort Myers Public Beach is equipped with 30 beach access points. This beach is wide with white, fine sand close to dunes. This is a quieter beach location, where an offshore sandbar at the south end attracts birds. Some of the taller resorts offer an elevated vantage point for catching sunrise, beach and views of the Gulf. The built environment includes older houses with seawalls, nearby restaurants and resorts. Find more.  

Lovers Key State Park, at 712 acres, has flat, white and secluded beaches covered with shells and driftwood. Manatee, dolphins and birds can be seen from the beach. Wetlands and estuaries can also be shot at the park. Dolphins play in the bay waters, birds flock to the estuary, kayakers make their way along the Great Calusa Blueway and dogs frolic in the water at the designated pet beach on the south end. The gazebo on the beach adds interest. The built environment includes restrooms, picnic tables, showers, wedding/picnic gazebo, and bridges over estuary. Find more.  

Bunche Beach is an "Old Florida" passive beach with a natural tidal wetlands area that is representative of the area before the introduction of exotic plant species. Bald eagles and shorebirds are plentiful, especially at low tide. No immediate structures interrupt views of mangroves, mud flats and sunsets over Sanibel. Find more.  

Bonita Beach Park is a 2.5-mile beachfront park with sand dunes and sparse vegetation. This is a happening little beach with plenty of fun-in-the-sun shots and shells in the sand. The built environment includes picnic tables, restrooms, volleyball courts, concessions, showers, bathhouse, boardwalk, gazebo and restaurant. Find more.    

Sporting Settings  

Championship golf courses range from city-owned to semi-private, and green-carpeted golf courses spread to every corner of the county. Some are Audubon-certified, but all are magnets for birds and alligators, as well as golfers. Each course has its own personality reflected in various types of vegetation and style of clubhouses. Golfers are swinging while gators are sunning on the banks. The built environment includes clubhouses, bridges and golf carts. Find more.  

With no lack of boats in Lee County, Old Florida–style marinas, local marinas and exclusive yacht harbors range from the funky to the fine. Portray the boating lifestyle with shots of vessels, from crusty old shrimping trawlers to luxury stretch yachts. Marinas attract colorful structures, fishermen, pelicans and adventure. The built environment includes docks, boatels, restaurants, ship’s stores and showers. Fishing charter boats are perfect for serious fishing types who hire the services of an experienced, informed fishing guide to take them to GPS points where the fish congregate. It’s the surest way to connect with what’s biting. Most are affiliated with a marina, but some operate on their own and pick up at various locations. For a more affordable option, visitors board a party boat to take them to deep waters. Charter a fishing boat to capture prime footage of pulling in a tarpon, shark or other impressive catch while also scoring dolphins and birds at sea, plus views of the coast from offshore. The built environment often includes boats, and party boats with facilities aboard. 

Naples–Fort Myers Greyhound Track is a quarter-mile round track with matinee and night races, as well as trackside dining. You’ll also find full-card simulcasting of dog and thoroughbred racing, and poker. Shoot racing dogs from a dog’s-eye view or an audience perspective. The built environment includes stadium and poker room (second floor).  

Lee County Posse Arena features rope-tying, stock-sorting and barrel-racing events with cattle and horses in a metal-fenced circle with dirt. Behind-the-scene shots make nice B-roll background for footage of action-packed arena events. The built environment includes arena stands, barns.  

Germain Arena has two NHL-sized hockey rinks, public ice-skating, pro shop, arcade and party rooms. The facility is also used for major concerts and touring shows. Both professional hockey action and family skating can be shot at this location, where the built environment includes three restaurants, restrooms, rinks. Find more.  

Two major league baseball spring training complexes include the 10,823-seat JetBlue Park at Fenway South as the Boston Red Sox’s spring training destination and the 9,300-seat CenturyLink Sports Complex as the Minnesota Twins spring training destination.  The exciting atmosphere of professional baseball games make these two stadiums great backdrops for sporting scenes. For minor league and local baseball, Terry Park has four lighted fields and batting cages, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Baseball legends Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Roberto Clemente have played at this park since it opened in 1925. Other stadiums provide fields for college teams, community baseball games and one professional minor league team. The field settings are interesting in the hometown parks, and the baseball action is more grassroots. The built environment includes City of Palms Park, , Cape Coral Sports Complex (which hosts minor league baseball games) and Terry Park.   City Settings   Historic and modern courthouses in downtown Fort Myers feature new and old government buildings, including the 1926 County Courthouse built in Classical Revival style of sandstone and brick. The historic courthouse, with its lovely old banyan tree, is a contrasting counterpoint to the modern U.S. Courthouse and federal building across the street. The built environment includes courthouse and other buildings.  

Find historic and modern dedicated theater buildings and performing arts halls in Fort Myers, Sanibel Island and Cape Coral. The settings range from a historic movie theater turned stage to intimate, grand and outdoor stages. The built environment includes theater buildings, outdoor stages and amphitheaters.  

For sleepy towns, you’ll find out-of-the-mainstream, small-town settings in Captiva Island, Boca Grande, Matlacha and downtown old Bonita Springs. Set your film in an old-time community where you can find historic churches, a riverside park, funky buildings and main street vistas. The built environment includes shops, restaurants, galleries, seafood markets, and historic buildings.   

Pineland, located on Pine Island, is the site of Calusa Indian shell mounds and artifacts. Illustrated plaques can be found along the naturally landscaped Calusa Heritage trail. Bird and wildlife viewing abound. In addition, there’s the historic Tarpon Lodge, a golf course and a marina. Indian mounds offer subject matter for shooting the remnants of ancient cultures. The waterfront village also has a historic lodge and golf course. The built environment includes Pine Island’s oldest and smallest post office (built in 1927), Randell Research Center, signage, restrooms and pavilion, golf course, and historic Tarpon Lodge. Find more.  

Fort Myers Beach is a fun, youthful beach town where families and couples find watersports, shopping, restaurants and one of the nation’s largest shrimping fleets. Shrimp boats bob in the harbor, boat traffic and dolphin ply the bay, and folks play day and night on the beach and its waterfront restaurants and clubs. The built environment includes fishing pier, resorts, restaurants, shops, beach homes, historic Mound House, historic cottage, marine science center and high bridge. Find more.  

Along Fort Myers’ McGregor Boulevard, royal palms and gracious old homes line the way, with occasional churches, the Edison & Ford Estates, and other vintage commercial buildings mixed in. An authentic community scene with joggers, dog-walkers and others milling about along with views of the Caloosahatchee River. A flank of stately royal palms makes an uncommon frame for shots in this neighborhood. Add river vistas, Edison’s unusual gardens and vintage homes framed with oleander, Poinciana and other blossoms for a perfect shot. The built environment includes homes, churches, country club and golf course, shops and restaurants.   Scattered throughout the area, art galleries cluster in a number of charming settings, like bright, colorful cottages in Matlacha, Sanibel Island, downtown Fort Myers and old fishing cottages along the river in Bonita Springs. Artists are typically working or demonstrating at many of the galleries. The revitalized fish houses of Bonita Springs’ Riverside Park are particularly charming. The built environment includes galleries and art centers.   

From ultra-casual seafood shacks to linen-and-candlelight dining rooms, the region’s dining scene offers restaurant settings as tasteful as the food. In true Southwest Florida style, diners arrive for dinner by boat. Many of the waterfront restaurants have a funky, Old Florida personality. The built environment includes restaurants and docks.  

For riverfront high-rises, downtown Fort Myers is developing a dramatic skyline as condo towers join a high-rise resort along with government and commercial buildings. Shot from the river, downtown’s skyline includes bridges and boat masts. The built environment includes high-rise buildings and resorts.   For shopping districts, malls and boutiques, highlights include the Gulf Coast Town Center and Coconut Point mall in Estero, Miromar Design Center in Estero, Bell Tower Shops in Fort Myers, Promenade Shops in Bonita Springs, Periwinkle Place on Sanibel Island, Sanibel’s shell shops, Captiva Island, Matlacha, Boca Grande, two factory outlet malls and downtown Fort Myers’ antiques shops. Unique to Florida, Sanibel’s plethora of shell shops display piles of shells and magnificent showcase specimens. Shopping venues range from main street scenes and lushly landscaped Periwinkle Place and Bell Tower to the polish and glamour of International Design. The built environment includes malls, shopping centers and downtown shops.