The ongoing efforts to revive the area have not stopped, and there’s still plenty to do
Hurricane Ian hit Fort Myers, FL, a year ago, and while the popular vacation destination took a devastating hit to beachfront homes and attractions, with determination and resilience, residents and business owners have worked hard to bring the idyllic spot back to its glory. We had a chance to visit the beach town this summer, and even with the ongoing work to re-open the main strip of property hardest hit by the storm, there were so many fun things to do in Fort Myers and in the surrounding areas that we were honestly surprised that we didn’t miss (too much) the long days in the sand and sun.
The beaches are open, as are restaurants farther off the main strip (like in Bonita Springs and surrounding areas) and family attractions like animal sanctuaries, fun parks, and science centers. The water has cleared up, and there’s nothing quite like the ocean in Southwest Florida. If you’re looking to support a hardworking community while enjoying a relaxing family adventure, Fort Myers is the place for you.
I was lucky enough to spend a few days in the area, and even with the ongoing efforts to revive the area, there are plenty of fun things to do in Fort Myers, FL, with kids.
Explore Bonita Springs
This quintessential Florida town is just four miles from the beach, and the downtown area is filled with unique restaurants and shops. You can ride your bike along the main strip and enjoy attractions perfect for families.
A must is the Wonder Gardens, a botanical garden and refuge for over 300 rescued and rehabilitated birds and reptiles. It’s in the heart of Bonita Springs and is the perfect space for younger kids. Admire the Macaws and Peacocks, talk with a Cockatoo, and check out the conservatory that feels like it belongs in the garden of a Victorian mansion.
After your time there, walk over to Survey Cafe. One of our favorite meals was at this cozy French cafe. Housed in a former cottage that reminds you of Old Florida, we admired the patio shaded by oak trees and Spanish moss. A family-owned establishment, there’s a crepe option for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and the Eggs Benedict was perfection. We wanted to come back for lunch to try the smoked salmon, the Ruben sandwich, and the veggie burger wrap, but we ran out of time. The next time we visit the area, Survey Cafe is at the top of the list.
Another fun dining spot is Waffle Monkey. If you plan on eating here on the weekend, be prepared to wait or get there early! The line at this modern breakfast eatery was out the door but worth the wait. As the name suggests, it’s all about the Belgian waffles here. However you want your waffle served, there’s probably an option. Think classic waffles served with syrup and powdered sugar, waffles topped with eggs and bacon, waffles loaded with banana, coconut, and honey, a waffled smothered in Nutella and peanut butter, and much more. The freshly roasted coffee will perk you up after one of these delicious concoctions.
One restaurant we were thrilled to see open is the iconic Coconut Jack’s Waterfront Grill. Located a couple blocks from the beach, this legendary spot is known for its menu featuring local seafood. We started with the famous coconut shrimp and BBQ pulled pork nachos, which my son loved. The clam chowder was delicious, and although we didn’t try the grouper bites, we had serious food envy when we saw an order come out. The Mahi tacos are also a customer favorite; don’t forget to check out their fun cocktail options.
One of the best aspects of this spot is the experience. It is on the water, the wait staff is excellent, and the vibe is relaxed and fun. They also offer a free valet service, as the parking lot is cramped. Do not miss this spot while vacationing here.
Find Hands-On Entertainment
We loved hanging out at PopStroke for the afternoon. This open-concept restaurant has two 18-hole putting green courses designed by Tiger Woods. Fun for kids and adults alike, there’s not just the course but also a playground, an ice cream counter, ping pong, and corn hole. This location is one large patio with plenty of seating overlooking the golf area. The menu offers a variety of options from everything from fantastic hamburgers to baby back ribs, giant pretzels, quinoa salads, and a fun assortment of kids’ bites like mac and cheese, sliders, corn dogs, and, of course, the ever-popular chicken tenders.
A Southwest Florida staple for over 80 years, The Shell Factory should be at the top of your to-do list. Besides the world-famous gift shop that sells the largest selection of (you guessed it) seashells in the world, kids will love the fun park with zip lines, bumper boats, a climbing pole, mini golf, and much more.
They also have fun seasonal events, and the restaurant serves plenty of snacks for the family (adult beverages, too!). You’ll also find a newly renovated arcade room and a year-round Christmas shop, and the Nature Park is home to over 400 animals, a dinosaur park, and an outdoor playground.
One fun thing to do in Fort Myers with kids is spend a day at the IMAG History & Science Center. With 60 exhibits, you’ll need to take a family vote on what everyone wants to do. Check out the Living Lab, which includes a 3,600-gallon tank home to tropical fish and a replica of the USS Mohawk. The Sea-to-See Exhibit has twice-daily feedings and hourly demonstrations with sea urchins, sea stars, sea horses, and stingrays. For budding meteorologists, a visit to the Weather Lab, with exhibits like the IMAG TV studio, Science on a Sphere, and the Google Earth Wall will be irresistible.
In the Hands-On Hall, little ones will love the Imagination Playground filled with those fantastic big blue blocks that can be used to engineer creative structures, and thrill-seekers can explore the concepts of gravity and velocity in the Rollercoaster Builder area.
Another fun thing to do in Fort Myers, FL, is check out the Calusa Nature Center & Planetarium. Explore the stars at one of two daily shows, visit the Raptor Aviary, or wander around on the trails that cover the 100-acre space.
Hang by the Pool (& Fireside)
There are a few lodging features that create the perfect vacation equation whenever my kids and I take a trip. Pool? Check. Lawn games and fire pits? Check. On-site restaurants for every age and palate? Check. Comfy beds and friendly staff? Check and check!
When we arrived at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort, we were excited to see that every box was checked. Not only does the resort top our list of the best resorts in Florida with water parks, but the lawn spans from patio steps to the sand pit and climbing wall, and the massive fire pits welcome ten or more guests at a time. Choose from multiple dining options like Cool Beans, featuring a candy bar, to-go beverages, s’mores kits, and snacks, or Tarpon Springs, where guests dine on oysters, lobster, salmon, and other coastal favorites.
Events and activities vary, but there will often be live music and fun games for kids: limbo, relay races, 3-legged races, and even a craft or two.
Be Closer to the Beach
A year after the storm, many resorts closer to the beaches in Fort Myers are open. The legendary Pink Shell Beach resort is taking reservations and most amenities have re-opened. DiamondHead Beach Resort is also open with beach access, and Margaritaville Resort Fort Myers Beach is taking reservations starting in Jan. 2024.
The Fort Myers community is strong, and our trip put into perspective not only that this area of Southwest Florida will return bigger and better than ever, but even as they continue to build, a trip there will be one the whole family can enjoy.
Editor’s note: This trip was paid for by Visit Florida, but all opinions belong to the writer.