8 Must Do Experiences in Southwest Florida

By Gillian Birch

There’s more to Florida than sunshine, sand, and golf – although they are all great reasons to visit! Why not add one of these must-do experiences to your trip and take home some amazing memories?

1. Ride an Airboat

There’s nothing more exciting than zipping across the Everglades “River of Grass” on an airboat safari or ecotour. These air-driven boats zip over the water, barely disturbing the wildlife, yet they can spin through 180 degrees to go back and check a sighting of a basking gator or a nesting osprey. The Everglades National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and as such, it deserves a visit. See wading herons, bald eagles, fish, turtles, and spot some of the thousands of alligators that call this swampy ecosystem home.

There’s nothing more exciting than zipping across the Everglades “River of Grass” on an airboat safari or ecotour. #florida #wildlife #vacation #airboat #tours

Must Do Visitor Guides archive photo

2. Celebrate a Sunset

Florida’s Gulf coast is famous for producing flaming red, pink, and orange skies at sunset. For uninterrupted views, book a romantic sunset cruise for an unforgettable evening on the water. Book a Sarasota sunset cruise. Fort Myers and Sanibel sunset cruise options. Naples and Marco Island sunset cruises.

8 Southwest Florida Must Do Experiences include Florida’s gulf coast which is famous for producing flaming red, pink, and orange skies at sunset. Photo by Debi Pittman Wilkey. #sunset #florida #vacation #beaches

Photo credit Debi Pittman Wilkey

3. Go Fishing

Southwest Florida is known as a fisherman’s paradise. From shore fishing and backwater fishing to offshore fishing charters and sport fishing in the warm Gulf waters, there are plenty of opportunities for rewarding fishing experiences. The fishing pier on Sanibel is a popular place to catch tarpon, spotted sea trout, snook, and redfish while the waters around Boca Grande have earned it the nickname “Tarpon Capital of the World”. The ultimate fishing charter is in the Ten Thousand Islands area for those wanting to hook redfish, shark, snapper, kingfish, snook, bonita, barracuda, and tarpon.

4. Embrace Local Culture and History

Southwest Florida has some amazing historic homes to visit, from circus history at The Ringling’s Circus Museum to the Edison and Ford Winter Estates, the former winter homes of inventor Thomas Edison and motor legend Henry Ford in Fort Myers. Naples has several fascinating museums of settler history at the Collier County Museum and Naples Depot Museum while classic car enthusiasts will find plenty of motor history at the Sarasota Classic Car Museum and Punta Gorda’s Muscle Car City Museum. World-class art collections can be enjoyed at Naples’ Baker Museum, the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art and the Marietta Museum of Art and Whimsy. With local theatres, state parks, botanical gardens, and historic homes, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

Sarasota Classic Car Museum is the second oldest continuously operating museum of antique cars in the USA. The museum has an ever-changing selection of exhibits including antique, exotic, American, European, and one-of-a-kind cars you are unlikely to see on the roads today. Photo by Jennifer Brinkman.

Photo credit Jennifer Brinkman

5. Take a Wildlife Spotting Boat Trip

Southwest Florida is teeming with wildlife, both on land and in the water. Getting out on the water and exploring the area on a guided boat tour will provide up-close sightings of Florida’s wildlife. See dolphins leaping in the warm Gulf waters, learn about the mangroves, stingrays, turtles, and reptiles that inhibit this area. Sarasota, Sanibel, and Marco Island, Florida are a winter haven for many migratory birds as well as herons, egrets, roseate spoonbills, shorebirds, and raptors. Keep your eyes peeled for tracks and sightings of mammals such as raccoons, opossums, bobcats, wild boar, and rare Florida panthers and black bears. You’ll be surprised at just how much a one-hour boat trip or guided land tour can deliver!

Getting out on the water and exploring Southwest Florida on a guided boat tour will provide up-close sightings of Florida’s wildlife including dolphins. Photo by Mary Carol Fitzgerald #wildlife #florida #vacation #dolphins

Photo credit Mary Carol Fitzgerald

6. Get hands-on with Florida wildlife

If you want to get closer to some of Florida’s wildlife, there are several wildlife sanctuaries and attractions that offer excellent opportunities. You can handfeed a giraffe at the Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens, feed flamingos at Sarasota Jungle Gardens, touch a stingray or feed a shark at the Mote Marine Aquarium, or handle sea urchins and sea stars at the new IMAG History and Science Center in Fort Myers. There are two butterfly gardens along the Lester Finley Barrier-Free Nature Trail in Osprey and many other opportunities to see butterflies and birds on the trails at the Oscar Scherer State Park. You can even be photographed holding a baby gator at Wooten’s Everglades attraction. How cool is that!

If you want to get closer to some of Florida’s wildlife, there are several wildlife sanctuaries and attractions that offer excellent opportunities including hand-feeding flamingos at Sarasota Jungle Gardens! Photo by Elizabeth Barnett. #wildlife #vacation #florida #flamingo

Photo credit Elizabeth Barnett

7. Spot an Endangered Manatee

Manatees are a protected and threatened species, but there are places you can see these gentle giants. The best time to see them is during the winter when they seek warm water in rivers and springs. Head to the Lee County Manatee Park where you can rent kayaks and get up-close, or take a guaranteed manatee spotting boat tour from Naples and Marco Island with knowledgeable captains. Visit Mote Marine Aquarium in Sarasota or the Parker Manatee Aquarium in Bradenton is home to three adult manatees with underwater viewing windows for the best sightings.

Beachcombing provides unique souvenirs of Florida’s wildlife treasures. Photo by Mary Carol Fitzgerald. #shelling #florida #beaches #vacation

Photo credit Mary Carol Fitzgerald

8. Go Beachcombing

Beachcombing provides unique souvenirs of Florida’s wildlife treasures. Sanibel Island and uninhabited islands around Marco Island are famous for shelling, but most Gulf beaches have plenty of pretty shells just waiting to be collected. Caspersen Beach near Venice Beach is a top place to discover fossilized shark’s teeth if you sift the sand at the water’s edge.

So which of these must-do activities in Southwest Florida will make it onto your bucket list? No doubt you’ll want to do them all!

Written by: Gillian Birch | Author Website

Gillian Birch is a freelance travel writer and, whenever possible between trips, she enjoys life in Florida. As the wife of a Master Mariner, she has traveled extensively and lived in some exotic locations all over the world, including the Far East and the Republic of Panama. Describing herself as having "endless itchy feet and an insatiable wanderlust", she continues to explore Florida and further afield, writing about her experiences with wonderful clarity and attention to detail. With a diploma in Journalism from the BCJ, she has published several travel books and ebooks, all available on Amazon under her name. Formerly the Florida Editor for BellaOnline from 2011-13, Gillian is an active member of the International Travel Writers' Alliance and the Gulf Coast Writers' Association, and an enthusiastic guest blogger for Must Do Visitor Guides. Learn more about her writing as YourTravelGirl at: www.gillianbirch.com and follow her blog around the world at https://gillianbirch.wordpress.com/

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