Running the free world can be an understandably taxing and stressing occupation. So where does the most powerful man in the world relax when he finally takes a well-deserved break? Why, The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel, of course. For more than a century, United States Presidents have sought out the serenity of our shores both during and after their time in office.
The first head of state to fall for the coastline of Southwest Florida was Theodore Roosevelt. Perhaps the most conservation-minded president, Roosevelt became instantly smitten with the untamed nature of Sanibel Island. He would spend his days vacationing on a houseboat in Pine Island Sound – something his secret service detail insisted on – fishing for manta rays and making stops on the island to explore. Because the waters of the sound are so shallow (the average depth is about five feet), ships navigate the area through several natural channels to avoid bottoming out. Today, Roosevelt Channel is a popular waterway for fishermen, cargo ships and offshore excursion companies.
Decades after Roosevelt left office, President Herbert Hoover began making regular trips to the area. Throughout his term, Hoover was known to visit his friends Henry Ford and Thomas Edison, who famously wintered at their sprawling estates just outside of downtown Fort Myers. One photograph from the time perfectly captures the amount of power and influence that gathered in our area during the early 20th century. In the picture, Hoover, Ford, Edison and Harvey Firestone (the tire mogul) stand shoulder to shoulder admiring one of the vibrant and diverse gardens on the Edison & Ford Estates.
More recently, our area’s presidential proclivity hasn’t worn off. Nestled between Useppa Island and Cayo Costa, the lush tropical island of Cabbage Key has known several famous visitors. At the revered Cabbage Key Inn Restaurant, hundreds if not thousands of dollar bills line the walls and ceiling, each baring the signature of a past patron. Among the names you’ll find Ernest Hemmingway, Jimmy Buffet, Simpsons creator Matt Groening, and even our nation’s 39th president, Jimmy Carter.
Just north of Cabbage Key, Boca Grande also counts a leader of the free world among its yearly visitors. For more than two decades, George H. W. Bush and his wife, Barbara, have counted on this luxurious island as a fail-safe vacation spot (as do George W. Bush and Laura!). George W. and Laura Bush often stay at the stately Gasparilla Inn, where the former president enjoys morning rounds of golf on the pristine course there while the former first lady can be found perusing the local studios and shops around town.
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