Located on the banks of the Caloosahatchee River, Fort Myers has a rich past and an equally flourishing present. Built in the early 1900s, downtown Fort Myers retains a charming ambience with its Beaux Arts and Neo-Classical architecture, public artworks, historic arcade theater and al fresco dining. A great way to learn about the city’s development and historical landmarks is by taking one of the historian-led True Tours through the backstreets of the Downtown River District.
Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and other prominent late-19th century industrialist had a huge influence on the city, which can still be seen today. Thomas and Mina Edison were responsible for lining the streets of this “City of Palms” with royal palms, and the Edison & Ford Winter Estates are one of the city’s main attractions, along with Burroughs Home and Gardens, which can all be toured.
Downtown Fort Myers has come a long way since 1984 when the historic district was redeveloped with brick paved streets, an expanded marina and the restoration of many shops and office buildings as part of a huge regeneration project. It’s hard to imagine this lovely area as an urban wasteland. It now buzzes with the vibe of thousands of local visitors, augmented by snowbirds and tourists.
Events in Downtown Fort Myers River District
First Fridays in the month are dedicated to the Art Walk with 11 local galleries offering “Meet the Artist” experiences, walking tours and live art demonstrations around the river district. Every third Friday the monthly Music Walk is another excuse to head to the Fort Myers River District for live music on the streets from dozens of participating venues. Jazz, blues, rock and pop – there’s something for all tastes.
Central to the local arts scene is the Sidney and Berne Davis Art Center which occupies the former post office building on First Street. It hosts an ongoing program of arts exhibitions and events, along with the Harborside Event Center. Annual events that draw thousands of visitors include the Edison Festival of Light, ArtFest, Fort Myers Film Festival and the Southwest Florida Reading Festival.
Along the waterfront there are many opportunities to take boat trips up the Caloosahatchee River or learn to sail at the Edison Sailing Center. Pure Florida, located at The Marina at Edison Ford offer river cruises, nature tours, and sunset cruises with the chance to learn more about the wildlife and history of Fort Myers River District. Pure Florida also offer fishing charters and boat rentals.
Dining Out in Downtown Fort Myers
There are dozens of excellent restaurants in Downtown Fort Myers, ranging from the Veranda Restaurant in a historic home and courtyard garden setting to the 86 Room, a modern Speakeasy famous for its cocktails. For sunset views it’s hard to beat the rooftop terrace at the Hotel Indigo, or the Martini and Sky bars above the Firestone Grille. After drinks head downstairs to the Firestone Grille with its tire-themed restaurant (the Firestones had a winter home here too) and excellent cuisine. For something a little simpler, try Ford’s garage on First Street. There’s an old Ford suspended above the bar, petrol pump handles on the doors and oil rag napkins! The menu is mostly burgers, but they are particularly tasty.
Other places to dine in downtown Fort Myers include Los Cabos Cantina for a taste of Mexican heat, the United Café which features British favorites, or Capone’s for coal-fired pizza. Sit out on the sidewalk and enjoy people watching from these First Street locations before browsing the delightful gift shops such as Savvy for handmade gifts and The Nest for upscale home accents and local books.
Gillian Birch is the published author of the guide book Days Out Around Fort Myers