Conjure the most iconic visuals of southwest Florida’s Gulf Coast—a mosaic of sparkling inland waterways, lush mangroves and old-expansion forests, secluded homes with boat docks for garages—and you’ve captured Fort Myers and Sanibel.
And whilst that mental photo on your own may well have you googling flights or highway trip routes already, 2020 arrives with a bonus prompt: the seventy fifth anniversary of Sanibel Island’s J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. For more on that—and six other pure wonders that await—read on.
J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge
Let’s begin with a backgrounder on the area this refuge phone calls residence. One of a kind amongst neighborhood barrier islands, Sanibel has an east-west orientation that outcomes in famous sandy shorelines and a track record as one of the very best shell searching places on earth. Driving from Fort Myers, you get your to start with taste of what awaits as you traverse a three-mile causeway that splits a glistening bay. You then access the island by means of a pine- and palm-canopied two-lane highway, the seeming result of a person dropping Nantucket into the Gulf of Mexico. Conspicuously absent: high-rises, site visitors lights and chain dining places.
Arguably the island’s pièce de résistance, the six,four hundred-acre wildlife refuge is named for Pulitzer Prize–winning Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling, who’s responsible for its protected status. Anticipating what would happen if the land had been turned over to developers, in 1945, he led the struggle to safeguard the fragile wetlands that rank amongst the country’s major undeveloped mangrove ecosystems. Nowadays, Ding Darling is a sanctuary for migratory birds—and the January-April migratory time is a especially great time to location them. But anytime you go, you’re very likely to see the refuge’s unofficial avian mascot: the appropriately pink—and severely adorable—Roseate Spoonbill.
To rejoice the seventy fifth anniversary, the spot will host activities through 2020—and the variety may well shock you: There will be almost everything from artwork and photography exhibits, to stand up paddling clinics to a manner clearly show (designers are charged with creating wearable parts out of would-be landfill).
But whatever’s on the exclusive activities calendar, really do not go away the refuge with out having at minimum one lap by the mangroves in a kayak. Tarpon Bay Explorers, the licensed concession at the refuge, delivers naturalist-guided tours so you can understand about the estuary’s abundant ecosystem as you gawk at manatees, dolphins, fish and, of system, birds. Whilst there’s much better visibility by day, the evening cruises come with the outstanding Gulf Coast sunsets that Instagram was invented for. Attempt to capture small tide, when the uncovered grass and mud flats come to be buffets for brown pelicans, herons, egrets, ibis, cormorants, osprey and some others. An additional perk of small tides? Manatees and dolphins are less difficult to location.
Six Mile Cypress Slough Maintain
Of system, the neighborhood wildlife observing is hardly limited to the islands. Back again on the mainland, Fort Myers’ Six Mile Cypress Slough Maintain boasts a three,500-acre wetland ecosystem, a 1.2-mile accessible boardwalk path and a LEED-licensed interpretive center. As you hike by the dark cypress strand—with a tutorial or on your own—you truly feel like you’re coming into a primeval forest where yr-spherical citizens include things like otters, alligators, turtles and scads of wading birds, and wintertime site visitors include things like migratory butterflies and birds that prevent to feed or nest listed here.
A shimmering, wildlife-abundant protect, this bay makes for exquisite boating, as you’ll discover on the Estero Bay Specific from Fish Tale Marina on Fort Myers Seaside. As the forty-foot accessible boat glides by the pristine waters, guides continue to keep an eye out for dolphins, manatees, osprey, pelicans and those trademark roseate spoonbills.
If you’re lucky, another regular star of your social accounts will be the endlessly lovable, faintly bovine manatee (thus the “sea cow” nickname). Yet—fun fact—manatees are actually similar to elephants. 1 of the very best places for sightings, especially from December to February, is Fort Myers’ aptly named Manatee Park, where you’ll want to rent a canoe or kayak for your expedition. Be absolutely sure to prevent into the butterfly backyard for bonus wildlife viewing ahead of you head out.
Randell Study Middle
Portion of the Florida Museum of Organic Historical past, Pine Island’s Randell Study Middle is worthy of visiting for the pure backdrop on your own: The Pineland archaeological site is a series of shell mounds extending more than a hundred acres from the mangrove coastline. But over and above the backdrop, there’s a whole lot to acquire in listed here: The shell mounds are relics of the after impressive indigenous Calusa tribe, whose abundant society you’ll understand about along the center’s Calusa Heritage Path.
End one: Echo International Farm, whose mission is to lower hunger and aid compact-scale farmers worldwide. On the guided strolling tour, you’ll see models of efficient farming solutions that (amongst other points) will very likely go away you hungry.
Enter prevent two: Rosy Tomorrows Heritage Farm, a North Fort Myers farm-to-table restaurant owned by the spouse-and-spouse crew of Gary and Rose O’Dell King. Their back-to-the-land inspiration stems in section from their stint residing on a sheep farm in England, where they uncovered about hormone-, steroid- and antibiotic-cost-free agriculture.
The result? An additional farm you are going to absolutely want to see: It’s residence to most of the elements in just about every dish you’ll test. (A small record features papayas, plantains, nasturtiums, honey and artisanal garlic.) There are also a hundred-furthermore cost-free-variety, heritage-breed chickens, a few dozen turkeys, a hundred-per cent grass-fed Longhorn cows, pastured Red Wattle and guinea hogs.
As for the table conclude of the farm-to-table equation, you have Rose to thank for whichever you’re feasting on. She’s a classically experienced chef and licensed sommelier. And if you want a small some thing to go after your meal (you will), you can shop for the likes of 24-hour fermented yogurt and fresh-baked sourdough.
Intercontinental Dim Sky -Selected Parks
In our age of seemingly inescapable light air pollution, an Intercontinental Dim Sky Designation is a exceptional and coveted honor—and one that’s been bestowed on Boca Grande’s Gasparilla Island State Park, a need to-take a look at for severe stargazing. Following a day put in character-bingeing, there’s no conclude more fitting—or dazzling.