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14 Memorable Outings in Southwest Florida

The most unforgettable things you can do during your time along the Gulfshore.

BY February 6, 2018


What makes something unforgettable? To start, we’d say it has to be unique. But it must also make your feet feel light and your heart sing, filling your senses and capturing your imagination. In short, an unforgettable is a treat, one that leaves an indelible imprint for days, weeks and maybe even years to come. Still, what good is such a treat if you can’t share it with one or two—hundred—of your favorite friends, neighbors and family members? That’s why we’ve rounded up some of the best Southwest Florida unforgettables—classic gems as well as new favorites—to send you on your memory-making way.

Most unforgettable way to get down:

Johnny and Lisa’s Sunset Dance Cruise, Naples Princess

OK, OK. We’ll admit that the first time we heard the words “dancing” and “boat” together in the same sentence, we felt a bit off-balance. But we quickly got our groove back once we learned a bit more about what is arguably the hottest ticket in social dancing: Johnny and Lisa Per Mar’s Sunset Dance Cruise aboard the Naples Princess. Held just twice a year, this is a sell-out event, and no wonder: The Per Mars, who oversee the dance program at the Naples Performing Arts Center, know a thing or two about what makes a great evening of toe-tapping. They bring in DJs to play a hot mix of current and classic dance favorites to satisfy all dancing styles, and outfit the Princess with not one but two dance floors—quite literally a ton and a half of dance space, Lisa Per Mar notes. There’s plenty of food to sustain all this physical activity, and adult libations, too. The next cruise will be held on Saturday, March 17, departing at 6 p.m. and returning at 10, giving dancers four solid hours of footloose fun. $100,

Most unforgettable way to wander:

Fort Myers Art Walk, downtown Fort Myers

First Street in downtown Fort Myers never lacks when it comes to evening amusements. The sheer number of restaurants and cultural offerings in that historic district—Florida Rep, we’re looking at you—make it a dynamic destination any night of the week. But on the first Friday of every month, Art Walk takes downtown Fort Myers just a step farther. Upward of 10 galleries swing their doors open, music spills out into the sidewalks; and artists enchant with live demonstrations of their work. It’s a fine opportunity to socialize with old friends and make new ones, too. And if you’re looking for a place to gather, try The 86 Room on Patio de Leon for a memorable, speakeasy-style imbibing experience. Finally, here’s an insider tip: Stop by Arts for Act at 2265 First St. in advance to pick up an Art Walk brochure, which will give you all the essentials, including a map, a list of which galleries are participating and—perhaps most importantly—the best places to park. Free,

Most unforgettable way to help those in need:

Redland Christian Migrants Association, Immokalee

To say Hurricane Irma was memorable is an understatement. Although much of the debris finally has been cleared away and our community is starting to resemble what it was before the September storm, there are still many of our neighbors who are struggling, especially in the hard-hit Immokalee area. Volunteer opportunities abound here, including with the Redlands Christian Migrants Association, which serves some 1,000 Immokalee families. After Irma, RCMA went to work in a variety of areas, including helping those displaced by the hurricane. The storm also put a spotlight on other areas where the community could use support, such as much-needed renovations at Farmer Worker’s Village, Collier County’s rental housing for farmworkers, and education on certain domestic issues, such as budgeting and nutrition. As Immokalee works to get back on its feet, volunteers are welcomed at the Immokalee Community School—RCMA’s charter school, serving 250 children—and diapers continue to be one of the top donation requests. 239-282-6540,

Most unforgettable place to make a splash:

Fakahatchee Strand Swamp Walk, Copeland

The Fakahatchee Strand is haunting and primeval, a place that seems transported from another time. Provided you’re prepared to get a little soggy—and it’s worth it—the Friends of the Fakahatchee will guide you on a three-hour tour to discover its secrets, leading you waist-deep into this 20-mile linear swamp, where you’ll uncover a treasure trove of native botanicals, including bromeliads and orchids, as well as other amazing natural sights. Your first steps into this gently flowing current might fill you with a bit of trepidation, but that quickly fades when you find the footing is firm, and the water around you is cool, clean and clear. The next thing you’re likely to notice is the sounds—bird songs, rustling trees and, yes, the way the water softly trickles by you. But no buzzing mosquitoes, since most pests are snapped up as a snack by the Strand’s hungry little mosquito fish. Be sure to book early, as swamp walks fill up quickly, and remember to take a change of dry clothes for the car ride home. Finally, if you’re not sure about taking the plunge, don’t worry; the Friends also offer boardwalk and tram tours, including an evening tram tour for those who want to see the swamp under the stars. $75,

Most unforgettable way to get centered:

Yoga at the Happehatchee Center, Estero

You know that yoga class you go to, the one where the music is thumping and the thermostat is set to “boil everyone alive”? If you’re ready for a break from all that—and quite honestly, who isn’t?—then we suggest a visit to the Happehatchee Center. Located in the middle of quickly growing Estero, this nonprofit is an unexpected oasis of tranquility tucked beside the gentle Estero River and beneath a delicate canopy of tall trees. Yoga classes of all levels (including some for children) are held in the screened-in Peace Pavilion, meaning the occasional bird chirp, frog croak or cool breeze may punctuate your practice. It’s an excellent way to unwind mid-week or keep your weekend from turning too hectic. Downward dog has never felt so natural—or so right. $10,

Most unforgettable alternative to your daily spin class:

The Naples Pubcycle, Naples

It’s a bicycle built for 15—and their beers—and we think it’s just what Southwest Florida has been lacking. The Naples Pubcycle rolled out in July and already has two Naples pub crawl routes: one in East Naples that visits Naples Beach Brewery, and one in North Naples that stops along Vanderbilt Beach Road. A new route will open in Cape Coral soon, too. It’s a fun, funky and eco-friendly way to toast a frosty beverage with friends, and you’re sure to have some tales to tell after it’s over. The Pubcycle runs seven days a week, and each tour is two hours. You can also book the cycle for private events, such as bachelor and bachelorette parties. Reservations required, and each tour must have a minimum of eight people; that’s how many pairs of legs it takes get the cycle spinning. Participants bring their own beer, and all tours serving alcohol are limited to passengers 21 and older. Tours without alcohol are available to those 18 and up. Pubcrawl tours $35-$40, private tours $350-$400,

Most unforgettable place to people-watch:

Sundays at Stan’s Idle Hour, Goodland

If the question of how, exactly, a buzzard dances—and why—is one that keeps you up at night, then don’t waste another moment. Get the answer you need by heading to Goodland, a small community near Marco Island that has long and lovingly referred to itself as “a fishing village with a drinking problem,” and spend a Sunday afternoon at Stan’s Idle Hour. It’s also the only place (that we know of) where you can see the Buzzard Lope, a dance created by Stan’s cherished late founder, Stan Gober, that’s meant to mimic the movement of a buzzard as it bobs, weaves and prepares to feast on something it found lying by the side of the road. We know it sounds strange, but trust us: It’s charming. So, too, is Stan’s on Sunday afternoons, when it seems as though people from every corner of the world and all walks of life descend upon the open-air bar to enjoy the live music, ice-cold beer and a laid-back atmosphere. Sundays at Stan’s is people-watching—and bird-watching—at its finest.

Most unforgettable—and only—place to see penguins:

Animal Encounters at the Naples Zoo, Naples

Yes, that’s right. We said penguins, those little birds in the black and white tuxedos, the ones who wobble when they walk and are always sliding down icebergs in Brit-narrated nature documentaries. They’re in Naples, but only until April 15 as part of the Naples Zoo’s Penguins in Paradise exhibit. These four particular penguins hail from South Africa—hence their ability to handle our balmy climate—and you can get up close and personal with them as part of the zoo’s new Animal Encounters program. But these penguins aren’t the only animals you can meet. The zoo’s honey badger and giant anteater are also part of the program, as is Uno, the zoo’s well-known and beloved Florida panther. The encounters give participants a chance to meet the zoo caretakers who work closely with the animals, and discover more about the animals’ diets, their daily lives and the zoo’s conservation efforts. Closed-toed shoes are required, and reservations must be made in advance. Register online or in-person at the zoo.

Most unforgettable way to see history come alive:

The Revs Institute, Naples

You don’t have to be an automotive aficionado to enjoy The Revs Institute. This sprawling building on South Horseshoe Drive houses the Collier Collection of some 100 vehicles built between 1898 and 1995, cars rich with historical and cultural significance. Stroll through the museum and it’s easy to envision actor Gary Cooper tooling around Hollywood in his 1935 Duesenberg SSJ, or be wowed by the first Ferrari imported to the United States; the Revs has both. This collection isn’t solely about flash, though, as many of the pieces tell a more humble story, including a 1989 Trabbant, manufactured in East Germany to be an equivalent to the Volkswagen Beetle. But we can’t blame you if you’re drawn to the showstoppers. We can’t forget the 1937 Delahaye, a French roadster so elegant it appears to have been constructed not of metal, but of moonlight and champagne. After all, there’s a reason The New York Times pronounced The Revs the finest car collection in the country. It’s open Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and advance reservations are required.

Most unforgettable way to hear hot local sounds:

El Gato Solea and the Flamenco Fusion, Naples

There are many places and ways to hear live music in Southwest Florida. In the warmest months, we can look forward to SummerJazz on the Gulf at The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club. In March, the 12th annual Bonita Blues Festival returns to Riverside Park. And in September, the Island Hopper Songwriter Fest draws hit-making singer-songwriters to Sanibel Island and Fort Myers Beach. But there’s still nothing quite as unforgettable as strolling into your favorite neighborhood restaurant and hearing local musicians playing music that makes you want to move. For that, we give you El Gato Solea and the Flamenco Fusion. The band is high-energy, with lively and passionate instrumental guitar and percussion that’s almost impossible to resist. Don’t believe us? Catch one of their shows at various Naples locations Wednesday through Sunday—but come prepared to boogie.

Most unforgettable place for romance:

Lovers Key State Park, Fort Myers Beach

Was there ever going to be any other competition in this category? The name alone should clinch it, but even without such a slightly seductive edge, Lovers Key State Park would have our hearts pumping. There’s a reason it’s always landing on those “Best Beaches” lists, and we’re certain it has something to do with its more than 2 miles of practically pristine sands, which are perfect for indulging in a little quiet time with your sweetheart. Or, if a secluded walk with your special someone is more your style, the park also offers about 5 miles of multi-use trails. And don’t forget your picnic basket—Lovers Key has ample spots to enjoy a romantic meal al fresco. Don’t want to bother packing your beach chair or umbrella? No problem. Just rent one from the park’s concession. They also rent bikes, kayaks, canoes and paddleboards. $8 per vehicle,

Most unforgettable way to raise a glass:

Wicked Dolphin Rum Distillery Tour, Cape Coral

In the past several years, Southwest Florida has experienced a boom in craft breweries, much to the delight of the hopheads among us. But for those of us who savor the flavor of small-batch spirits, there is Wicked Dolphin Rum Distillery in Cape Coral. Founded in 2012, Wicked Dolphin is already racking up plenty of industry awards for its rums, which are handcrafted using the largest American copper pot still in South Florida, and then aged in American White Oak bourbon barrels. The distillery also serves up its own rumshine, a 100-proof concoction of rum enlivened with fresh local fruit, such as strawberries and blueberries. Tours of this sweet spot are held Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and conclude with a delicious stop in the tasting room. Registration is required. Free,

Most unforgettable place to find your next beach read:

Gene’s Bookstore, Sanibel Island

For the bookworms of Southwest Florida, Gene’s is an oasis, a shop comprised of three separate buildings where you can wander stacks that stretch from the floor to the ceiling in search of your new favorite author or series. But it’s not the volume of volumes that makes Gene’s so unforgettable—or, at least, it’s not only that. Rather, it’s the chance to connect with other readers, an opportunity that sometimes seems increasingly rare as more and more of our book buying is done online. Gene’s staff is both friendly and knowledgeable, and if you’ve grown weary of an anonymous algorithm telling you what to read next, Gene’s has the remedy. It also has more than enough mysteries to keep your whodunit craving satisfied, and if you’re in search of a classic, visit the “Middle Earth” building. Gene’s, which is open seven days a week, specializes in movies and music, too. 239-472-1446

Most unforgettable way to get a taste of Southwest Florida:

Food trucks, various locations

Not that long ago, the prospect of finding a food truck anywhere in Southwest Florida was a dim one. Then, in 2010, along came Fort Myers’ Nosh Truck, and other food trucks soon followed. Now, it’s hard not to find a food truck—they show up at workplaces, farmers markets, weddings, breweries, charitable events, and even have food truck-devoted festivals and rallies to showcase their mobile delights. But if you’re still searching for the right way to embrace the food truck trend, we have a few suggestions. Pioneering Nosh Truck is still chugging along, serving its always-popular Korean barbecue pork sliders, while Naples’ Sizzle Truck specializes in sandwiches. For those with a hankering for tacos and other Mexican fare, Cape Coral’s Red Roc Cravings has acquired legions of fans. Got a sweet tooth? Check out Coasting Donuts, which serves up mini doughnuts and other sugary wonders, such as fried Oreos. Find each truck’s location, hours of service, pricing and menus on their Facebook pages.


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