Southwest Florida’s Gulf Coast has some incredible beaches, but there is so much more to do in Fort Myers and Sanibel than basking in the sun! In this guide to wheelchair accessible attractions in Fort Myers and Sanibel, I’ll share some of my favorite activities, including an amazing national wildlife refuge, the must-see Mound House and recommendations for the best local eats! At the end, I’ll even show you where to find the best craft beer (or seltzer!) in Fort Myers!
Tour the Thomas Edison & Henry Ford Winter Estates
In 1885, Thomas Edison visited Fort Myers, Florida for the first time and purchased property to build a winter retreat, which he referred to as the “Seminole Lodge.” Some years later, Edison’s friend Henry Ford followed, purchasing an adjacent property called “The Mangoes.” Together, the two historic homes comprise the Edison and Ford Winter Estates, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Fort Myers.
Visitors to the estates can move throughout the property on wheelchair accessible pathways (paved and hard-packed gravel), tour the multiple gardens and peer inside the homes themselves through the windows and doors. Even from the seat of a wheelchair, it is easy to take in all of the sights.
During my visit to the estates, I was led on a guided tour by the marketing and public relations coordinator. Guided tours are available daily to all visitors for an additional fee. In addition to the historic homes, there is also a museum, an automobile collection and the restored former laboratory of Thomas Edison, where he, Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone worked to develop a sustainable source of rubber that could be produced in the United States. In 2014, the Edison Botanic Research Laboratory was designated a National Historic Chemical Landmark.
The cost of admission to the Edison and Ford Winter Estates is $25 for adults, $20 for teens (ages 13-19) and $15 for children (ages 6-12). Children ages 5 and under receive free admission with an accompanying adult. For more information, see the Edison and Ford Winter Estates website.
Stroll through the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve
3,500 acres of wetland comprise the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve, which contains a circular 1.2 mile boardwalk trail through the wetland, marked by the distinctive cypress trees.
According to The not-for-profit Friends of Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve, “a myriad of animals like otters, alligators, turtles, wading birds, and more live at the Slough year-round.” I spotted many different birds and a baby alligator during my roll along the wheelchair accessible boardwalk trail. Visiting the preserve is free, but the cost of parking is $1 per hour up to $5 maximum per day. For more information on this Fort Myers treasure, visit the Friends of Six Mile Cypress Slough website.
Learn about Native American history and tour a shell mound excavation at the Mound House
As one of the must-see attractions in the Lee County area, the Mound House offers visitors a unique opportunity to learn about Native American history at a beautiful location in Fort Myers Beach. The William H. Case House, a restored relic of the 1920s, is built upon a 2,000-year-old shell mound built by the Calusa Indians.
Inside the home, which is wheelchair accessible and features an elevator, visitors will find a thoughtfully designed museum that tells the story of the Calusa tribe and displays valuable artifacts — all while maintaining the home’s own historic nature. Following a short paved pathway though the yard, visitors can enter an excavation of the shell mound itself, which remains a site of continuous discovery for archaeologists and students.
The cost of admission is $10 for adults, $8 for students and $5 for children (ages 6-12). There is no charge for children 5 and under. A number of guided tours are available for an additional fee. For more information, see the Mound House website and the Mound House accessibility guide.
Take a guided walking (or rolling) tour of Fort Myers’ historic downtown
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t participate in enough guided tours, but I’m glad that I took advantage of the opportunity in Fort Myers. The city’s peaceful and historic downtown is the perfect place to enjoy a leisurely walking (or rolling) tour with your friends and family, or even alone as part of the larger group!
I participated in a tour by True Tours Historical Walking Tours, which took me through the River District in downtown Fort Myers. At just $18 per person, the 90-minute tour is a great value! The tour guides, who are Fort Myers natives, describe how the city transformed from a dusty cattle town to a place of prosperity following World War II. The tour follows a relatively short route along wheelchair accessible sidewalks, through a couple of historic buildings, before concluding right at the heart of downtown — steps from restaurants, bars and shops.
To learn more about the tour or to book your spot, visit the True Tours website.
Visit the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum
Sanibel Island is one of the top locations for seashell collecting, with people coming from all around the world to hunt for prize shells. In honor of its status as America’s seashell capital, the island is home to the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum, which opened in 1995.
The museum contains a global collection of shells, as well as numerous exhibits containing living mollusks including the Giant Pacific Octopus, cuttlefish, sea hares, fighting conchs and more. Two touch pools allow visitors to have a live, hands-on experience well-suited for children and adults alike. The shell museum is a place of discovery, making it one of the ideal family-friendly activities on Sanibel Island.
Admission is priced at $23.95 for adults, $14.95 for youth (ages 12-17) and $8.95 for children (5-11). Children under 5 years old are free, and discounts are also available for seniors and members of AAA and AARP. For more information and to plan your visit, see the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum website.
Explore the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service manages the National Wildlife Refuge System, which contains more than 500 refuges that comprise more than 150 million acres. Shockingly, I believe the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is actually the first of these protected lands that I have visited (to my knowledge), and it’s a great one!
The refuge, located on Sanibel Island, is 5,200 acres in size and is named in honor of the cartoonist Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling, who is credited with initiating the Federal Duck Stamp program, which funds the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund. Naturally, the museum at the Darling NWR contains an exhibit on the Duck Stamp program, as well as numerous other exhibits of interest concerning wildlife and natural habitats.
Outdoors, the refuge contains a wheelchair accessible trail with a wooden boardwalk — a feature, I was told, that will soon be extended. The varied habitats along the trail expose visitors to the beauty of Florida’s forests and wetlands, and provide a unique learning experience for all.
The cost of admission to the refuge is $10 per vehicle or $1 per pedestrian or bicyclist. Free entry is available to those who hold the National Park Service Access Pass for disabled people. To learn more or plan your visit, see the refuge website.
See the Sanibel Lighthouse and Use a Free Beach Wheelchair at Lighthouse Beach Park
The Sanibel Lighthouse, constructed in 1884, is located on the southern tip of Sanibel Island. The adjacent beaches offer accessible parking, ADA accessible restroom facilities, and beach mats which provide access to the back edge of the sandy shore.
Free beach wheelchairs, which can be used to access other areas of the beach and to get closer to the water, are available free-of-charge with 24-hours of notice to the City of Sanibel Police Department Dispatch, which can be reached via telephone at +1 (239) 472-3111. Additional information is provided on The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel website.
Relax at Bunche Beach Preserve
Located on San Carlos Bay, the Bunche Beach Preserve is a protected wetlands and beach habitat with an accessible boardwalk and a beach mat to the edge of the beach (but not to the water’s edge).
The cost of parking at the preserve and beach is $2 per hour. More information is available on the Lee County Parks website. As an aside, the preserve is located at 18201 John Morris 😉 Road in Fort Myers.
Visit Lakes Park, a popular public park
Built atop a former rock quarry, Lakes Park is a 279-acre public park featuring 158 acres of man-made freshwater lakes. It has become a popular area for recreation and relaxation in Fort Myers, and serves as a testament to the value of reclaimed or repurposed land.
The park features a paved trail that loops around the park and its largest lake, a boardwalk, community garden and more. Although it was closed during my visit, the park is home to an intriguing Railroad Museum of Southwest Florida. If you’ve been, let me know what you think! For more information on Lakes Park, visit the Lee County Parks and Recreation website.
Explore the Caloosahatchee Creeks Preserve
The Caloosahatchee Creeks Preserve measures 1,307 acres and features a 1.5-mile long boardwalk and paved trail through what is described as “wetland, hammock, and pine flatwood ecosystems.”
The preserve, one of many in Lee County, was especially beautiful due to the prevalence of bird life and the peace that could be found in nature. While Caloosahatchee Creeks resembled many of the other preserves I visited, I never grew tired of exploring a new trail or park. To learn more about the preserve, visit the Lee County Parks website.
Stroll around, shop and stop for a cocktail at Times Square in Fort Myers Beach
Times Square is at the heart of Estero Island in Fort Myers Beach, with shops, restaurants, bars, live music and more. The area surrounds a large fishing pier, as well as beach access points with ramps leading across the sand dunes and to the beach’s edge.
If you’re looking for a night out that will be exposed to the sea breeze, Times Square in Fort Myers Beach is a fantastic choice. I enjoyed dinner nearby, followed by some cocktails and live music performances (including a karaoke!) for a truly memorable night. To learn more, see the Fort Myers Beach website.
Dine at the best restaurants in Fort Myers and Sanibel
Are you hungry? I hope so, because Fort Myers, Sanibel Island and Fort Myers Beach really have some fantastic places to eat!
In Lee County, you’ll find top-rated meals, freshly caught seafood, Grade-A steaks and delicious BBQ at some of the most popular restaurants in the area. To get the full scoop, check out my article listing the Top 5 Places to Eat in Fort Myers, Florida.
Enjoy a top-rated craft brew (or seltzer) at the Fort Myers Brewing Co.
During my trip to Southwest Florida, I had the chance to stop by Fort Myers Brewing Company, one of Florida’s top craft breweries that happens to be owned by a friend of a friend.
What started as a home brew hobby has blossomed into a professional and ever-expanding operation and I have to say — the beer and a new line of seltzers really is delicious! To learn more about this Florida craft brewery, check them out online at www.fmbrew.com.
Featured image courtesy The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel.
Some photos by Chris Tilley for The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel.