IF YOU’VE SURVIVED 2016, you deserve a beach vacation. It’s time to shut off from the world for a bit — time to log off Facebook, ignore those work emails, and focus on the relationship between you and your beach towel. In other words, treat yourself.

But don’t run for Cancun or Cozumel just yet — there’s a spot in the continental 48 that’s just off the beaten path enough that you can hang your hammock on your own empty beach between breaks for world-class seafood and conversations with the manatees. That’s life on The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel.

1

A little starfish inspiration

Welcome to The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel, Florida. And yes, it's okay if this is all you do on your vacation.
Photo: The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel

2

SUPing in Port Sanibel Marina

These bright blue waters can be found in the Port Sanibel Marina, on the southern tip of Sanibel Island, right on the Gulf Coast. SUPing is growing increasingly popular here, and boating, kayaking, and fishing are big, too. Pro tip? Stop in at Gramma Dot's for some super fresh seafood when you inevitably need to refuel.
Photo: The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel

3

The dolphins of Sanibel

If you had fins, you'd probably want to live here, too. Dolphins are a pretty common sight around Pine Island Sound, and you're likely to spot manatees, loggerhead turtles, and plenty of birds as well. Both Adventures in Paradise (pictured above) and Captiva Cruises go out daily, and fishing and shelling tours are also offered.
Photo: The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel

4

The gardens at the Edison & Ford Winter Estates

Back in the day, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford must have found Fort Myers so beautiful that they picked up and moved. Adjacent to their estates is a massive garden—full of roses, bamboo, and orchids—that meets up with the Caloosahatchee River. Their homes and grounds are now open for touring, and these 20-some acres see more than 250,000 visitors each year.
Photo: The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel

5

Setting sun over Fort Myers

Here, the beach is king. The city is always close enough when you need it—which isn't as often as you think.
Photo: The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel

6

The views continue at night

Look at a map of the region and you'll see plenty of green—that's protected area, and it means a good portion of The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel remains wild. It also means you can find some stunning night-sky views just a short drive out of the city.
Photo: The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel

7

Times Square, Fort Myers Beach Pier

The other Times Square might get more hype, but this one has way better views (and much better weather). Here, you'll find boutiques, souvenirs, and an infinite number of options for a drink on the beach. Try Pierside Grill & Famous Blowfish Bar, Mango Rita's, or Sunset Beach Tropical Grill when you're ready for a beachside sunset (and a cold one).
Photo: The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel

8

Boca Grande Lighthouse

First lit up in 1890, the Boca Grande lighthouse has seen a lot. Half a century ago, Port Boca Grande was one of Florida's busiest ports, but by the 1970s, the coast had started eroding away, leaving the lighthouse in jeopardy. It's thanks to local citizens and government action that the original structure survives. Today, it's the Port Boca Grande Lighthouse Museum—a place that's as beautiful as it is educational, diving deep into Florida's thousands of years of history.
Photo: The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel

9

Fishing on Pine Island

There are all kinds of water activities available in The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel—and "fishing" is a whole category unto itself. You can fish the flats, the mangroves from a kayak, the deep water on a charter, or right from the beach. Each season brings with it a bounty of potential catches: grouper, snapper, redfish, tarpon, amberjack, mackerel, snook, and trout. The possibilities feel endless.
Photo: The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel

10

The galleries at Matlacha

What do fishing communities become when they no longer fish? In Southwest Florida, the answer is artist communities, and popular ones at that. Matlacha (pronounced mat-la-shay) lies just between the mainland and Little Pine Island, and judging by this picture, it's clearly full of color, art, and its own funkiness.
Photo: The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel

11

Sunset over the Gulf of Mexico

And the best part? It's free.
Photo: The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel

12

A view for the birds

There are hundreds of species of birds in this part of Southwest Florida. This shot was captured at Point Ybel on Sanibel Island, but the big-time birders head farther west on Sanibel to the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
Photo: The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel

13

Lovers Key State Park

This two-mile-long beach is also a state park, and it's pretty epic for all things beach—swimming, picnicking, boating, canoeing, kayaking, you name it. There are also miles of hiking and biking trails, and while that may not sound remarkable on its own, remember this is Southwest Florida—everywhere is covered with wildlife. Definitely bring your camera for this one.
Photo: The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel

14

Kayaking along the Estero River

Stepping in from the beaches, Southwest Florida is a maze of intricate waterways worthy of exploration. The mangroves along the Estero River are particularly full of wildlife—kayaking here, you're bound to run into egrets, herons, cranes, and even the occasional alligator.
Photo: The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel

15

Sanibel Island Lighthouse

It may look like just another lighthouse, but this is actually one of the first built in the area—it dates all the way back to 1884. It still operates today, resting firmly on the National Register of Historic Places. Lighthouse tour by wave runner? Add it to the list.
Photo: The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel

16

A crowded beach

You may not have to share your towel or umbrella, but you might have to contend with the local wildlife. These pelicans aren't looking to budge any time soon.
Photo: The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel

17

Golden sky, golden waters

Do your sunsets look like this? Because they could.
Photo: The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel

This post is proudly produced in partnership with The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel.