Island-Hopping in Fort Myers


Climb into a boat to discover remote beaches and idyllic villages on an island-hopping tour from the Fort Myers area.

When you cross the bridge from the mainland onto an island, you’ll find life is a little different. Maybe it’s the salt water, or the music of the waves, but time seems to move slower. A different, more relaxed set of rules applies, from the time you should get out of bed to what you should wear to dinner. People laugh more. They’re not in a hurry.

That state of mind and way of life is what the beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel call “Islandology.” And one of the best ways celebrate that philosophy is to spend a glorious day hopping between islands like Cayo Costa, Cabbage Key  and Boca Grande, or exploring Pine Island Sound.

Hundreds of gorgeous islands are scattered throughout the Gulf waters of Southwest Florida, and while some can be reached by car, the only way to reach many of them is by boat. Here are some standouts:

Pine Island Personalities

Colorful and offbeat, 17-mile-long Pine Island is popular with kayakers, encompassing three aquatic preserves, the Matlacha Pass National Wildlife Refuge, and four towns: St. James City, Bokeelia, Pineland and Matlacha. Matlacha is nestled on its own tiny island, an artist’s enclave brimming with galleries and shops as well as fish markets and seafood restaurants.

An Appetite for Adventure

For a decidedly unique lunch you can’t do better than a boat trip to the 100-acre island of Cabbage Key, which features an open-air historic restaurant set atop an Indian shell mound, but no cars or paved roads. Enjoy sweeping views of Pine Island Sound while you nosh on stone crab claws or smoked salmon; the restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner 365 days a year. If you want to spend more time in this tropical escape, the island also offers an inn and rental cottages.

Shells Bells

The sister islands of Sanibel and Captiva are as famous for what they don’t have –  traffic lights, high rises and chain restaurants – as for what they do have. Sanibel and Captiva are particularly renowned for their world-class shelling and unspoiled beaches, eclectic restaurants and shops, and bountiful nature.

Park Yourself at the Beach

Accessible only by boat or kayak, Cayo Costa State Park promises nine miles of pristine beaches laden with sugar sand. Situated four nautical miles west of Pine Island, the island’s waters are a favorite with manatees, porpoises and sea turtles. This unspoiled retreat features swimming, snorkeling, shelling, fishing and birdwatching, as well as several hiking and bicycling trails. If you want the melody of the surf to lull you to sleep, campsites and cabins are available. A ferry service runs to the island from several mainland locations.

A Quiet Big Mouth

In Spanish, “Boca Grande” means “big mouth,” but the name of this carefully preserved island community  refers to the mouth of its waterway, Boca Grande Pass, not for any tendency to be loud. Famous for fishing, the tranquil seven-mile-long island is home to a cozy village complete with shops and eateries, the historic Port Boca Grande Lighthouse, and a street fringed with Banyan trees that are over 100 years-old.

Whatever Floats your Boat

Lee County boasts an astonishing 20 local marinas, where you can experience a variety of charter and sightseeing cruises on all kinds of vessels. Fish, snorkel, SCUBA dive, go shelling, or watch dolphins play – just choose the craft and the adventures –  that speak to you.