Lee county is chock-full of history for you to revisit—but it’s certainly not behind the times. Sample the area’s rich past and while you’re at it, experience its up-and-coming modern culture.
Saturday, 9 a.m.
The Garden Café
They say that breakfast is the best way to start the day, and it certainly is when The Garden Café is your early morning stop. And, yes, there is a garden. The outdoor patio area is hedged by an abundant variety of lush tropical leaves and fronds that afford you with the feeling of a more private meal. The café offers both breakfast and lunch options, but since breakfast beckons for the purpose of this piece, consider their spicy Southwest breakfast burrito ($11) or fried chicken and waffles ($13.50) to start your day off on the right foot. But if neither of those options tickle your fancy, then
maybe some good old-fashioned pancakes and eggs will do the trick.
The Garden Café offers a broad selection of vegetarian options. And each menu item that’s considered a local favorite is marked by a small heart. We can feel the love—and we’re sure you will, too.
Note: Most of the seating is outdoors, so we would recommend getting there early in the day to beat the heat.
Address: 24850 Old 41 Road, Suite 12, Bonita Springs
Hours: 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday. Closed Monday.
Edison and Ford Winter Estates
If you have ever wanted to get into the head of a renowned genius, this is your opportunity. The estates are not only home to the warm winter escape of these brilliant inventors, but they provide a generous glimpse into the lives the men led out of the spotlight. A visit here will lead you into lush gardens of tropical fruit trees, thick banyan trees, ficus and palms that Thomas Edison and Henry Ford planted with the help of their mutual friend Harvey Firestone (yes, the very same!).
Edison’s laboratory is a must-see, built by the same three men following the launch of the Edison Botanic Research Corporation, which was a group project undertaken in Edison’s effort to locally source rubber. You’ll see a machine shop and a chemical processing area so intact that it’ll seem as if Edison merely walked away for lunch and is expected to be right back.
The museum features several of Ford’s early automobiles, including the 1916 Model T given to Edison for his birthday from his dear friend Ford. The remainder of the museum houses a timeline of their inventions, supplemented by documents and artifacts. A variety of tours are available, so you can get a closer look at whichever part of the estates best burns the lightbulb in your head.
Address: 2350 McGregor Blvd., Fort Myers
Hours: 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday through Sunday.
Price: Varies based on tour packages.
you’ll likely work up an appetite after roaming the grounds of the Edison and Ford Estates, so consider making the 25-minute drive down to Artisan Eatery in South Fort Myers. It’s a mom-and-pop café manned by former Naples Grande Beach Resort sous chef Timothy Yoa and his wife, Healy. The duo collaborates with local organizations and farmers to bring only the freshest items to the table. In an atmosphere that resembles a warm and cozy kitchen, Artisan Eatery serves up a menu that includes pancakes, eggs benedict, waffles, breakfast burritos and European pastries for breakfast, as well as several fresh craft sandwiches, flatbreads and paninis for lunch and dinner.
Address: 8951 Daniels Parkway, Fort Myers
Hours: 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Sunday.
Historic Downtown Fort Myers
Finish off your day in Lee County in the historic district of downtown Fort Myers. This gritty town did indeed house a fort to serve as a military base during the Seminole Wars in the early 19th century. The fort was eventually disassembled, and the remnants were used as building materials in the burgeoning town.
Much of Fort Myers’ history is still intact, such as the Florida Repertory Theatre, built in 1915 and presenting shows to this day. But the best way to experience the area is by allowing yourself to simply stroll down First Street and break off onto any side streets as you see fit.
You won’t miss the Sidney and Berne Davis Art Center—a gargantuan building built out of sea shells and limestone and anchored by thick neoclassical columns. What began as a post office in the 1930s evolved into a federal courthouse mid-20th century, and after several years of abandonment became the modern home of provocative monthly exhibitions. It’s open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, with a $1 donation entry fee.
Not all of Fort Myers’ treasures will be quite as noticeable as the art center. Keep your eyes peeled for the historic arcade halls and zany boutiques, like The Franklin Shops or Joe’s Record Exchange. The Franklin Shops resemble a high-end flea market: It’s a culmination of nearly 100 different shops under one roof selling clothing, jewelry, tea, skincare, quirky home décor and more. There’s also an art gallery upstairs, for you cultured folk. This quirky little piece of downtown is open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Wednesday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday; and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sunday.
Further down First Street is Joe’s Record Exchange. True to the name, Joe’s sells new and used vinyl, comic books, movie posters and other pop-culture memorabilia. It’s a throwback to the past in a fun and lighthearted atmosphere. To get your own little taste of nostalgia, stop in Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., or Sunday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.
If you’re wary of exploring the entirety of downtown by yourself, or you just want to get to the good parts, True Tours offers a River District History Tour that will guide you through the city’s treasures while narrating the stories of its rich history. Or you can get an even more peculiar taste of the history by doing the Fort Myers Haunted History Tour. Whether or not you see something paranormal, you won’t be disappointed.
Ice cream parlors, coffee shops and cozy dinner nooks are wedged along the streets of downtown if you’re hankering for a late-night treat. If you do opt for dinner, The Lodge is exceptional. It adopts a ski-lodge concept, complete with thick log paneling on the walls and ceiling, a view of the Colorado Rockies spanning an entire wall and faux skiers on a scenic lift along one side of the restaurant. Talk about feeling transported. The restaurant offers a self-tap with 12 craft beers, perfect for pairing with their selection of slow-smoked meats or barbecue options. If your stomach isn’t stretched to its maximum capacity by the end of your meal, make some room for dessert—the Amish bread pudding ($6.95) is delightful.
Address: 2278 First St., Fort Myers
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 12 a.m., Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday.
Laboratory Theater of Florida
Just around the corner from the downtown strip is the Laboratory Theater of Florida, one of the only theater houses in Southwest Florida that hosts a summer season (thankfully for us). They are putting on several performances that you can’t afford to miss, like The Legend of Georgia McBride, which The New York Times has called “full of sass and good spirits.” The show runs from June 7 through June 30, at select dates and times.
The Legend of Georgia McBride is followed by a 2017 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, titled The Wolves, and then D.M.V. A woman preparing to retire from the D.M.V. after 30 years faces the prospect of losing her job and pension. You can see for yourself if she succeeds in her battles with the county officials between August 9 and 25, during select dates and times.
Address: 1634 Woodford Ave., Fort Myers
Price: $28 for adults, $25 for seniors and $10 for students at the door.