What’s new outdoors from The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel

J.N. "Ding" Darling Days, fishing tournaments, sailing, free summer programs and more outdoor fun!

LEE COUNTY, FL – There is a lot of news to report as the upcoming months are filled with outdoor activities that visitors will not want to miss.  For more information on planning a vacation at The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel in Southwest Florida, visit www.fortmyers-sanibel.com.

Walk on the wild side (it’s all free)

Wildlife wonders talks, weekly walks, and nature crafts highlight the free summer programming offered through Aug. 6 at the J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island. Pre-registration is not necessary and programming includes an Indigo Trail hike, family beach walk, wildlife wonders program and reading at the refuge. For a schedule and details, call 239-472-1100 ext. 236 or visit www.dingdarlingsociety.org/summer-programming


Fishing tournaments

12th Annual Flats Invitational Charity Event, Cape Coral

Sept. 2-3, 2016

The 12th Annual Flats Invitational Redfish Challenge benefits the Ronald McDonald Charities of Southwest Florida and the Charter School Foundation.  First place prize is $10,000. For lodging, registration details and activities: 239-424-8060 or www.mcflats.com (website due to go live soon).


Fifth Annual Tails & Tailgating Catch and Release Fishing Tournament,
Downtown Fort Myers

November 2016

This fifth annual fishing tournament includes a chili cook-off and shrimp boil. Tournament prizes will be awarded, plus families enjoy games and activities. Details: www.fortmyers.org or 239-332-2930.


6th Annual "Ding" Darling & Doc Ford's Tarpon Tournament, Fort Myers Beach 
May 19-20, 2017

Fundraising efforts from tournament sponsorships, donations, and a silent auction benefit the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge and its wildlife and conservation education.  For details: www.dingdarlingsociety.org/tarpon-tourney


34th World's Richest Tarpon Tournament, Boca Grande

May 25-26, 2017



Encouraging conservation, education and sportsmanship, this two-day tournament includes up to four anglers per team who will be competing for thousands in cash and prizes. Competitors will follow procedures designed for quick releases and the post-release welfare of all tarpon. Winners will be determined by the highest total number of tarpon successfully released.  While competition heats up in Boca Grande Pass and the Gulf of Mexico, there will be plenty of family-friendly fun and excitement in downtown Boca Grande for Tarpon Festival Weekend, May 26-27. Sponsors exhibit their products and conduct demonstrations and promotions, along with art vendors, live music performances, entertaining and educational lectures by some of today’s leading fishing experts and scientists, plus food and beverages.



Turtle nesting season

Each summer, loggerhead sea turtles travel hundreds of miles, to return to Southwest Florida coastline beaches. Most adult loggerheads nest every year, laying several clutches of eggs. Turtle nesting and hatching season begins each 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 the area’s 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 www.turtletime.org.


Everglades Wonder Gardensin Bonita Springs

Opening in 1936, this historic attraction offers a piece of Florida history to visitors who tour one of the state's original roadside attractions. Wander the newly-created paths, see pink flamingos, alligators, a swinging bridge and a butterfly garden. The park also includes landscape photography in John Brady's Everglades Gallery and a picnic area. The park, located at 27180 Old U.S. 41 in Bonita Springs, is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Call 239-992-2591 or visit www.evergladeswondergardens.com.


Sanibel Sea School, Sanibel Island and Captiva Island

Every day is a field trip at the Sanibel Sea School, dedicated to vibrantly teaching children and adults about marine ecosystems using the unique habitat of Sanibel and Captiva islands. The Sea  School provides a friendly setting to touch, feel, and understand the many elements that make up the Southwest Florida marine ecosystem.  Experiences are offered for families and groups, adults, and weekly camps.

It’s always an adventure and every week has a different theme. Details: www.sanibelseaschool.org orcall 239-472-8585 on Sanibel Island; 239-579-1476 on Captiva Island; 239-395-7235 at the Sundial Beach Resort on Sanibel Island.


      Apps enhance visitor experience

      INature Trail is first of its kind at J. N. ‘Ding’ Darling National Wildlife Refuge

If you have a smart phone that downloads apps, you’re ready to experience the latest innovation at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island. Designed to get techies outside, the Refuge iNature Trail along Wildlife Drive has two components, one for kids and one for adults. This is the first interactive trail of its kind in the 550-plus national wildlife refuge system.  www.fws.gov/dingdarling

The Florida Park Service launched a PocketRanger® mobile app for iPhones and Androids. The interactive guide allows visitors to plan their next adventure in local state parks, including Cayo Costa State Park, Estero Bay Preserve State Park, Koreshan State Historic Site, Lovers Key State Park, and Mound Key State Archaeological State Park. It features photos, maps, park information, activity, and location search tools. 850-245-2112 or www.floridastateparks.org


Field & Stream editorsnamed Pine Island among the 25 hottest American fishing destinations. Editors selected top fishing destinations based on “their beauty, diversity and unique personalities.”


Huffington Post called Sanibel Island one of six Florida islands better than the Caribbean, With no chain stores, no stoplights and a population of just about 7,000 people, this place is pure, quiet island bliss. Hunt for seashells on the beach, or chow down on chicken wings at the Lazy Flamingo.”  www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/6-florida-islands-that-are-better-and-usually-cheaper-than-the-caribbean_553e97f9e4b0e7f8b0f9ec5f

The New York Times featured Fort Myers and Sanibel Island in the article 20 Family-Friendly Travel Ideas to Get You Going. The round-up of the family-friendly locales and experiences showcases nature. “Around Fort Myers, learn a little about the Gulf Coast ecosystem between swims and sand castle construction sessions. Hit the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum on Sanibel Island for a weekly beach walk with a marine naturalist. Stay at the nearby Pink Shell Beach Resort & Marina on Fort Myers Beach, which employs a naturalist to lead morning wildlife walks and answer midday questions at the pool about the local flora and fauna.”

Fodors.comfeatured Sanibel and Captiva islands in a roundup of America’s Most Beautiful Barrier Islands, where writer Andrea Rotondo notes: “Sanibel epitomizes Old Florida. You won’t find a single traffic light on the island . . .  J.N. ‘Ding’ Darling National Wildlife Refuge is the place to go to spy roseate spoonbills, snowy egrets, cormorants, and other birds as well as

alligators, bobcats, river otters, and manatees. Vacations here are all about swimming, walking, biking, kayaking, fishing, and boating. Captiva is connected to Sanibel’s West End by a bridge over Blind Pass at Turner Beach, a terrific spot for shelling and fishing. For the quintessential sunset experience, visit Captiva Beach at South Seas Island Resort or at the end of Andy Rosse Lane . . . It’s common for dolphins to put on quite a show offshore as the sun goes down.”

Captiva Island’s beach was ranked among the 10 Best Beaches for Families in 2016by www.FamilyVacationCritic.com stating, “Captiva Beach isn't for those seeking a go-go-go vacation -- it's for families who truly want to disconnect and unwind at the beach. In fact, the most popular thing to do is walk the beach and collect shells, including conch and sand dollars. The island offers shelling tours, with one hotel (South Seas Island Resort) even featuring a designated shelling concierge!”


Outdoor events

Island Hopper Songwriter Fest: plan ahead for fall and save the date!

The Island Hopper Songwriter Fest brings music back to the beach Sept. 23-Oct. 2 when the free festival returns for 10 consecutive days on the area’s most beautiful barrier islands with a range of star-studded performers. The festival kicks off on Captiva Island, Sept. 23-25 and wraps up Sept. 30-Oct. 2 on Fort Myers Beach. Historic downtown Fort Myers will also feature mid-week performances again. The event is presented by BMI, the largest music rights organization in the U.S., along with iHeartMedia. 

The first major headliner is Nashville songwriter Maren Morris. She has soared to the top of the Billboard Country Albums chart with her debut album, HERO. Morris has joined Keith Urban’s ripCORD tour and when she performs on Fort Myers Beach on Oct. 2, you will hear her belt out her smash hit “My Church.” Check it out atwww.youtube.com/watch?v=ouWQ25O-Mcg.

Sixty songwriters are confirmed thus far for the event. The festival brings back fan favorites Bob DiPiero (“Southern Voice”) recorded by Tim McGraw, Even Stevens (“I love a Rainy Night”) recorded by Eddie Rabbit and Frank Myers (“I Swear”) recorded by John Michael Montgomery. New artists include Helen Darling (“Bring on the Rain”) recorded by Jo Dee Messina and Tim McGraw.

Visit www.islandhopperfest.com for more information and schedule of performances. Once the line-up is announced, tickets will be available to special performances. Follow the festival #islandhopper on Twitter.


Annual River Romp Sailing Regatta, North Fort Myers

Oct. 15-16, 2016


Youth sailors from around the country will compete in the annual River Romp Sailing Regatta.

The multi-class regatta is a Junior Olympic competition sanctioned by the U.S. Sailing

Association. Members of the Edison Sailing Center (ESC) in Fort Myers will represent

Lee County in the competition, which begins on the shores of North Shore Park (Yankee Beach) on the north side at the foot of the Caloosahatchee Bridge. The regatta is free and open to spectators.  Sailing is visible from Centennial Park in Fort Myers.  For more information, visit www.edisonsailingcenter.org.


27th Annual J.N. "Ding" Darling Days, Sanibel Island

Oct. 16-22, 2016
The event honors National Wildlife Refuge Week and celebrates the 140th birthday of the refuge’s namesake. Family Fun Day kicks off the weeklong birding and eco festival with free activities, including narrated refuge tram tours, live wildlife presentations, kids nature crafts, a touch tank, a butterfly house, and archery lessons. The festival celebrates the birthday of the refuge's namesake, conservationist and Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist, Jay N. “Ding” Darling. 


30th Annual American Sand Sculpting Championship, Fort Myers Beach 
Nov. 18-27, 2016

Come and join the fun on Fort Myers Beach for the 30th Annual American Sand Sculpting Championship and Beach Festival. Sponsored by the Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce, this fun-filled event will include world-class master sand sculptors, a state championship contest, an amateur contest, sand sculpting demonstrations and lessons, and much more. With more than 1,000 tons of sand, master sand sculptors are returning to Fort Myers Beach forming the largest sand sculpting event in the state, plying their craft and showcasing their artistry in what USA

Today and CNN Travel have named a “must-see” and one of the 10 best sand sculpting competitions in the world.

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, Lehigh Acres. For media assistance on the destination, please visit www.fortmyers-sanibel.com/media-central/. Outdoor-themed images available upon request.



Francesca Donlan