Visiting Estero Island Cottage Museum and Matanzas Pass Preserve

By Gillian Birch

Matanzas Pass Preserve is an out-of-the-way sanctuary just a mile south of Matanzas Pass Bridge on Estero Island. Home of a rare maritime tropical hammock, it’s not as remote as it sounds being part of Fort Myers Beach. Open daily from 7 a.m. to dusk, the park includes a historic building known simply as “The Cottage” which houses a local museum and gift shop.

Estero Island Cottage Museum & Matanzas Pass Preserve Must Do Visitor Guides blog article.

Estero Island Cottage Museum

Now owned and managed by Lee County, the Cottage Museum is open on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon. Better known locally as the Davison Cottage, the building was constructed by the Harry K. Davison family and is now the home of the Estero Island Historic Society. The cottage was built in 1921 and was actually on the beachfront at that time. It now sits behind the library on land overlooking Matanzas Pass.

The Historic Society restored the cottage (it was covered in asbestos shingles) and now use it to host student groups. It was moved to its present position in 1995 and now sits alongside a second historic cottage and a rain barrel. The museum has displays, archives, and a collection of old photos showing the island’s original cottages and bridges. The gift shop sells a unique souvenir–sea grape jelly from the island’s fruits.

Estero Island Cottage Museum is at the entrance to Matanzas Pass Preserve and houses a great collection of photographs, memorabilia, and artifacts of life on Fort Myers Beach (Estero Island) Florida. Must Do Visitor Guides, Photo by Nita Ettinger

Photo credit Nita Ettinger

Matanzas Pass Preserve History and Info

Matanzas Pass Preserve is an area of 57 acres on the barrier island of Estero close to Mound House archaeological site. In 1974, local resident and wildlife photographer John Dunning purchased land as part of the Martha Redd estate and donated some 22 acres to the Nature Conservancy. Along with further land, the Conservancy donated the land to the county in 1994. The Friends of Matanzas Pass later formed to protect and preserve this habitat which has four wetland ecosystems as well as the last remaining maritime oak hammock.

Estero Island Cottage Museum is at the entrance to Matanzas Pass Preserve and houses a great collection of photographs, memorabilia, and artifacts of life on Fort Myers Beach (Estero Island) Florida. Must Do Visitor Guides, Photo by Nita Ettinger

Photo credit Nita Ettinger

If you want to explore by yourself, the preserve has 1.25 miles of trails and boardwalks that wind through the shady mangroves and oaks. There are interpretive stations along the way telling you more about the plants and wildlife. A well-placed pavilion offers a place to rest with views of Estero Bay.

The preserve has a landing area suitable for kayaks and canoes. It is part of the Great Calusa Blueway Paddling Trail that is enjoyed by many non-motor craft including stand-up paddleboarders. The preserve is also part of the Great Florida Birding Trail, so bring your binoculars and look out for unusual migratory birds, particularly in winter.

Naturalist Led Matanzas Pass Preserve Guided Walks

The Matanzas Pass Preserve in Fort Myers, Florida an unspoiled refuge. The best way to learn more about it is by joining one of the free guided walks offered by a Florida Master Naturalist in conjunction with Lee County Beaches.

The guided walks take place through the cooler months, ending late March or early April. Details can be found on the Lee County Website. On Wednesdays, the guided talks run from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. and cover the historical importance of native plants that can still be found growing in the preserve. Calusa Indians and early settlers used many indigenous plants for food, shelter, or medicine. They include the Heart of Palm from the Sabal Palmetto and Coontie roots which were ground and made into flour.

Thursday’s walks (also from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m.) take you on an educational walk through the mangroves. Discover the plants, animals, and birds that can be found in this maritime oak hammock and learn how the mangroves provide an essential ecosystem to marine life and the preservation of the barrier island itself.

Matanzas Pass Preserve is well equipped with toilets, picnic tables, playground, grills, food concessions, and a fishing pier. A saltwater shoreline fishing license is required for shore fishing but there is no charge for Florida residents.

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 and follow her blog around the world at