LEE COUNTY, Fla. (U.S.A.) – In addition to great, year-round weather, shell-drenched beaches and the sparkling Gulf of Mexico, The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel in Southwest Florida continues to provide its visitors with new experiences. For the latest vacation information, visit FortMyers-Sanibel.com.
Save the dates! 7th Annual Island Hopper Songwriter Fest
Returning Sept. 18-27, 2020, the award-winning event will include new artists and events. The festival takes place over 10 days and offers a range of star-studded performances by some of country music greatest singer-songwriters from Nashville and beyond. It kicks off on Captiva Island Sept. 18-20; moves to downtown Fort Myers Sept. 21-24; and ends on Fort Myers Beach Sept. 25-27.
Enjoy more than 80 artists and 100 shows. Most are free in small, intimate venues. Stay tuned for details: islandhopperfest.com.
Luminary Hotel & Co. opens summer 2020, downtown Fort Myers
Scheduled for opening in August 2020, the highly anticipated riverfront Luminary Hotel & Co. will soar 12 stories above downtown Fort Myers. With 243-rooms, the new property will be home to the signature Silver King Ocean Brasserie, Beacon Social Drinkery rooftop lounge, Ella Mae's Diner with a separate street level entrance, a coffee roastery located in the lobby, The Workshop culinary theater, an indoor and outdoor fitness facility, retail space and a pool area on the fourth floor overlooking the Caloosahatchee river. Luminary is the area’s first hotel in the prestigious Autograph Collection® of Marriott International. luminaryhotel.com.
Also opening in August with new hotel, the former Harborside Event Center will reopen as the Caloosa Sound Convention Center & Amphitheater. Adjacent to the Luminary, the fully renovated Caloosa Sound Convention Center will feature 40,000 square feet of function space, including a riverfront terrace. An additional 8,000 square feet of adaptable indoor and outdoor function space will be available at Luminary Hotel.
Renovations include updates to the interior and exterior of the building, including a new roof, windows and exterior walls. Public spaces throughout the venue have also been updated to improve accessibility, add more flexible and transformable spaces, and elevate design aspects. New to the center is a ground floor space that was reconfigured to add more boardrooms, administrative offices which have been added on the second floor, and a new riverfront terrace with a view of the Caloosahatchee River.
3x the celebrating in 2020
Three important anniversaries take place this year:
It’s hard to imagine this destination without J.N. “Ding” Darling’s vision to preserve the fragile wetlands of Sanibel Island. In 1945, with concern for the wildlife and wetlands that claimed most of Sanibel Island, Darling succeeded in petitioning for the creation of the Sanibel National Wildlife Refuge.
Sanibel National Wildlife Refuge later became J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. In his honor, and to celebrate its 75 years, the refuge will present a calendar full of special events leading up to the official anniversary date, Dec. 1, 2020.
Highlights of the anniversary season include a revamped exhibit that focuses on the important work of Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling, a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist and conservationist; Clyde Butcher photography exhibition; one-of-a-kind 75th logo and “Ding” cartoon items in the Refuge Nature Store; Project Refuge: A Couture Fashion Show Using Trash; and other unique programs. Check the full schedule at ding75.com
Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea
It was on Captiva Island that Anne Morrow Lindbergh enjoyed a break from the obligations of family and career. Like many of us, she found peace and solitude as she walked the shores on Captiva. Using the shells on the beach for inspiration, she reflected on the life of the American woman in the middle of the 20th century. Those same reflections resonate today.
A groundbreaking, best-selling work when it was originally published in 1955, Gift from the Sea continues to be discovered by new generations of readers. According to Publishers Weekly, the book was the top nonfiction bestseller in 1955, has sold 3 million copies and has been translated into 45 languages.
Cape Coral celebrates 50 years
The city of Cape Coral is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its incorporation in 1970. Throughout the year, Cape Coral and Cape Coral Historical Society and Museum will honor its unique history, diversity and those who laid the foundation for incorporation.
Area apps to enrich a visit
Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum reopens
The museum is still putting the finishing touches on its general construction, but is now open to visitors. The extensive renovation and expansion means more programs, exhibits, and activities than ever before, including a new exhibit, Coral Reefs: Nurseries of the Sea. Daily beach walks are available with reservations at 9 a.m. and begin at the Island Inn lobby. shellmuseum.org
Offshore Sailing launches Fast Track to Sailing
Offshore Sailing School is launching a new six-day/seven-night experiential course called Fast Track to Sailing that provides a bachelor of sailing certificate for new and returning sailors. The inaugural start date is June 7, 2020, at Offshore Sailing School’s Captiva Island location. Students will stay ashore each night at South Seas Island Resort. Taught on the school’s signature, award-winning Colgate 26 sailboats, the comprehensive course covers basic sailing, coastal navigation and advanced day sailing/cruising skills in 44 hours over six days. offshoresailing.com
Take a ride on a 1927 carousel in North Fort Myers
After a total refurbishment, this 1927 beauty has found a new home and popularity at the Shell Factory and Nature Park in North Fort Myers. Cost: $1 per person. Enjoy a nostalgic trip to a past era and then go for a bite at Capt’N Fishbone’s. shellfactory.com
Also at the Shell Factory…
Players Circle Theatre at the Shell Factory has opened and kicked off its inaugural season.
Check for details and calendar. playerscircletheater.com
Kitchen Social offers cooking classes
With a social twist on the cooking experience, Kitchen Social offers hands-on cooking classes that focus on having fun while learning new skills in the kitchen. Open to all skill levels, each cooking class is led by a culinary instructor who guides participants through the step-by-step process of preparing a meal. Classes feature a variety of cuisines, from international flavors and techniques to hometown favorites. KitchenSocial.com
Glimpse into shrimp industry with waterfront tour
The shrimp fleet of San Carlos Island delivers more Florida pinks than any other fleet in Florida, according to a study by the University of Florida. Learn more about this fascinating industry with a three-hour tour of the area’s working waterfront. For reservations and details: ostegobay.org/waterfront-tours
BIG ARTS reopens with big changes
Just in time for its 41st season, BIG ARTS has reopened with bigger shows, a bigger stage and a new $14 million building for the Sanibel Island arts center.
The new BIG ARTS performance hall, with 410 seats, boosts a larger stage, a hydraulic lift seat section offering additional orchestra room and expanded stage space, state-of-the-art sound system, clear sight lines, comfortable seats and an “invisible” heating and cooling system delivering perfect, balanced temperatures at all times. bigarts.org
It’s a favorite activity this time of year. Area markets are the best way to get fresh produce and handmade crafts. There’s something new to see almost every day of the week at these free and friendly farmers markets. Dates can vary, so be sure to check each website or Facebook page before visiting.
IN THE NEWS
Gallup ranks area No. 6 for well-being
Cape Coral-Fort Myers metro area was ranked No. 6 out of 156 U.S. metropolitan areas as part of the Gallup National Health and Well-Being Index. Five elements were considered in the ranking: Career, social, financial, community and physical. news.gallup.com/poll/248834/naples-florida-metro-tops-wellbeing-fourth-time.aspx?version=print
Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW) plans $175 million expansion
Plans are underway for terminal expansions, improved security checkpoints and TSA lines, improved rental car facilities, gate and concourse additions, improved curbside capacity, increased number of flights and more.
RSW served nearly 9.4 million passengers in 2018 and is one of the top 50 U.S. airports for passenger traffic.
The terminal expansion design is planned to be an integration of the land and sea, a neutral color palette that reflects the influences found throughout the region and where the boardwalk meets the water's edge. The interior of the facility also will get a new look with up-to-date flooring, walls and paint, all designed to fit the theme. Construction is expected to begin summer 2020. flylcpa.com
Shangri-La Springs in downtown Bonita Springs
The historic property has opened Harvest & Wisdom, a farm-to-table restaurant specializing in fresh, organic cuisine. Seasonal ingredients from the property’s nearly five-acre organic, no-till garden; grass fed, pastured-raised protein delivered from nearby Circle C Farm, and organic spices are crafted into innovative and delectable dishes.
Culinary creations will be led by Michelin-starred Executive Chef Allen Fisher, competitor on Food Network’s Chopped. The 86-seat restaurant is currently open for lunch. ShangriLaSprings.com
New brewery and a family farm experience
Southern Fresh Farms in Fort Myers has partnered with the new Crazy Dingo Brewing Company. It’s a unique combination with fun for the whole family. This small estate farm includes fresh produce, hydroponic fish farming and vertical farming to maximize space.
There’s also a farmers market and a playground for the kids. A barnyard petting zoo (all rescue critters) includes cows, goats, chickens, a turkey and a mini donkey named Murphy. Visitors are invited to take a tour of the farm. southernfresh.farm
Southern Fresh Farms is one of the southern-most hop producers, making Crazy Dingo one of the only craft breweries in the state of Florida that uses hops grown on site in the brewing of some of their beers. Currently only open on Friday evenings and Saturdays, the small batch brewer creates delicious ales made with fresh fruits and spices, many of which are grown on the farm. crazydingobrewing.com
Planning ahead: Turtle nesting season
Each summer, loggerhead sea turtles travel hundreds of miles to return to our Florida coastline beaches. Most adult loggerheads nest every year, laying several clutches of eggs. Turtle nesting and hatching season begins May 1 and lasts through Oct. 31. Unfortunately due to human actions, coastal development, loss of habitat, pollution, artificial lights, shrimp nets or boating related accidents, sea turtles are facing extinction. Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau and Turtle Time, Inc. are committed to protecting our endangered marine turtles. Help protect our sea turtles by following a few basic turtle-friendly rules. For a complete list of rules and more sea turtle information, visit turtletime.org.
Sanibel Island celebrates status as Bicycle Friendly Community
Sanibel Island is celebrating its recently elevated Gold Status as a Bicycle Friendly Community.The League of American Bicyclists raised the previous Silver Status to Gold Status in recognition of recent extensions and improvements to its 26-mile shared use path. It is one of only two communities in Florida to have achieved top status. The wide, paved trail covers the island from one end to the other along Periwinkle Way and Sanibel-Captiva Road, and also takes interesting turns along Gulf Drive and Rabbit Road. The newest extension connects Sanibel-Captiva Road’s path to Bowman’s Beach. mysanibel.com
J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island
The Bailey Tract has been restored to its historic marsh status and visitors are now seeing more birds than ever, including some not seen in 40 years. In addition, the wildlife refuge has gone solar. A new solar kiosk informs visitors about its solar conversion and the energy and dollar savings that have resulted.
Coming soon: In late 2019, the refuge celebrates its 75th anniversary. Beginning in November, a three-month Clyde Butcher exhibit, programs and commemorative events run through 2020. fws.gov/refuge/jn_ding_darling
Editor’s note: The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel in Southwest Florida includes Sanibel Island, Captiva Island, Fort Myers Beach, Fort Myers, Bonita Springs, Estero, Cape Coral, Pine Island, Boca Grande & Outer Islands, North Fort Myers and Lehigh Acres. For media assistance, visit fortmyers-sanibel.com/media-central/