Fort Myers is a fun small city that is perfect for families thanks to its numerous parks that are casual yet chic and historical. Tampa is a historical city best reserved for fun-loving people who are looking for more than just fun parties. Together, these cities make the gulf an even more interesting place to visit.
Perhaps one of the most laid-back cities in all of the US, Fort Myers is an underrated gem in a state of tourism giants. It may not have the usual highs of a big resort city but it is a star in its own right. The city is packed with history and brimming with curiosities that are perfect for the slow and relaxed traveler and small families.
What Makes Fort Myers Unique?
Fort Myers Beach
Other than their similar names, the city of Fort Myers and the beach town of Fort Myers Beach are closely intertwined. Separated and independent from each other, they’re usually partnered together. They both make an even more exciting Fort Myers itinerary. Their varying scenes constitute a contrast of experiences for eager visitors.
When you put Fort Myers and Fort Myers Beach together, you can easily get a combination of activities suitable for just about anyone. Located right on Estero Island, the town of Fort Myers Beach sits parallel along a golden-sand beach that stretches for seven miles (11.3 km).
The beach sports shallow, warm waters, safe for kids and families. It is perfect for a quick beach trip, especially as the town is famous for its swimming and dolphin-viewing opportunities.
A perfectly preserved jewel of the city’s past, the Historic Downtown isn’t just a draw in itself but the city’s most prized gem. Also called the Fort Myers River District, the area draws visitors and even locals as it offers glimpses of the city’s rich past.
You can find the largest concentration of old buildings, and other structures of historical value. It is said to be the biggest historical area in all of Southern Florida. Fort Myers District is a 540-acre (219 ha) expanse home to a slew of US historical landmarks.
The city’s quirky grid is full of many establishments for dining and entertainment. This is where you’ll find some of the city’s best food scenes, shopping, as well as entertainment.
You can also find lines of Art Deco structures in the Historic Downtown, reminiscent of Miami Beach’s South Beach.
There are many pedestrian lanes and patios perfect for eating, people-watching, and savoring your time feeling like a local.
Parks, Parks, and Even More Parks
Florida is packed with the most number of parks in all of the US. But Southern Florida boasts the biggest collection of natural parks and wildlife spaces in the entire state. You can easily find a rich roster of animal or wildlife centers, protected areas and preserves, and many more. Most of which are just a short drive away from the city.
Fort Myers, with its southern address, isn’t a stranger to these parks. In fact, it is one of the cities that boasts the most number of protected parks and preserves. Check out some of the most recommended entries:
Lakes Regional Park
A former gravel quarry, the Lakes Regional Park is now a hit among families because of its outdoorsy and family-friendly features. This 289-acre (117 ha) park offers tons of activities for families, and children of any age.
From its name, the park sports a large and spectacular man-made lake, leftover by the quarry business. You can rent a boat, fish, watch a fountain, or even trek your way through the park here.
J.N. Ding Darling National Refuge
This famous park is located just 45 minutes from downtown Fort Myers. The J.N. Ding Darling National Park is an important piece of the city’s commitment to wildlife preservation. Here, you can get a view of the wildlife and nature that make up the beauty of Southern Florida.
You can witness animals and how they behave in their natural habitat, not to mention the many ecosystems that thrive in the region. Various types of ecosystems can be found in the area, especially a mangrove habitat.
These habitats and ecosystems are also accessible. You can easily explore them via the many different activities available for everybody here. Enjoy canoeing, paddleboarding, and kayaking across the mangroves, or you can just fish or bird-watch.
Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve
The Six Mile Cypress Preserve is an expanse dedicated to preserving and protecting Florida wildlife. It has been designated as a preserve since the 70s. The preserve provides awareness and education about the importance of animal life and ecosystems. It features a wide variety of flora and fauna.
There is also a boardwalk that stretches for over a mile that takes you around the preserve. You can find informational kiosks around the boardwalk, as well as important facts about nature.
Bird-watching is also ideal here, especially as you’ll see bird species such as blue herons, spoonbills, and ibises. The Six Mile Cypress Slough Reserve also protects many other animals. This includes amphibians, thus you’ll find the likes of alligators, turtles, and many other endangered species.
Edison and Ford’s Winter Escape
One of Fort Myers’ most iconic landmarks, the Edison and Ford Winter Estates are perhaps the most important Fort Myers rite of passage. These properties are located north of the Historic Downtown. The former winter homes of famous revolutionary Americans, Thomas Edison, and Henry Ford. Both are National Historic Landmarks, another addition to Southern Florida’s hefty collection.
The two innovators opted to live next to each other in Fort Myers in the late 1800s. Together, these estates span 21 acres (8 ha) fronting a beautiful coastline and are currently open to the public.
Henry Ford’s estate is called “The Mangoes”, while Thomas Edison’s is the Seminole Lodge. These homes offer a view of the old lives of these iconic Americans as well as a brief look into the city’s interesting history.
Admissions tend to be costly because of the value it holds, and the fame it gets. However, a tour around the grounds and the houses is worth it. You can visit laboratories with equipment dating back to the 1800s. Seven galleries also feature many personal items from Edison and Ford.
Not as big as its East Coast counterparts, Tampa is one of the gulf’s most jam-packed cities. From festivals to parks and centers, the city practically offers everything for everyone. Here you will always have something to celebrate no matter what month of what season you’re in. Tampa is best for big families and the fun-loving bunch.
What Makes Tampa Unique?
You can’t talk about Tampa without bringing up the legendary Ybor City, Tampa’s historic center. Founded by Spanish-born Vicente Martinez Ybor, a cigar baron who has made his success in Cuba and Key West before Tampa. He established a new cigar factory here which eventually became the largest manufacturer of cigars in the 1800s.
Back in the factory’s heyday, it had produced around 900,000 cigars every month with the help of its 4,000 migrant workers. Ybor City flourished as the cigar industry thrived. Soon, many of the migrant residents became business owners themselves. Some also work in many different industries around Tampa.
Inhabited by immigrants coming from Spain, Cuba, and Italy, Ybor City is thick with culture and diversity as well. Thanks to its cultural wealth, Ybor City is home to a collection of various quirky draws and spots that have remained to be iconic to this day.
Today, the legendary Ybor City is hailed as a Historical Landmark alluding to its historical and cultural wealth. It is one of Tampa’s most important pillars, not just of its history but of its identity as well. Back in its early days, the area was brimming with migrant workers coming to the US, today it is home to a large Latin American population.
Ybor City keeps on changing and developing, thanks to its history and cultural diversity. Now even more so with the influx of the Latin American population. The area has reinvented itself over and over again keeping up with the times. It may be historical but it sure is the most relevant and most happening place in all of Tampa.
It can feel old at first because of its classic charm and olden building facades, but it is the most jam-packed and interesting place in the city. Here, you can have the best nightlife scenes, entertainment, dining, shopping, what have you. If you’re visiting Tampa for the first time, chances are you’re itinerary should keep you coming back to Ybor City.
If you want to see its fabled classic and old-world appeal, head to the famous Seventh Avenue or La Septima. You can see an abundant roster of perfectly preserved old buildings, most of which hold great historical value. La Septima washes you over Tampa’s distant past and its fair share of controversies in its history.
Eager travelers searching for both culture and history likely also go for a historic city’s famed culinary scene. Ybor City is Tampa’s gastronomic center offering a variety of cooking coming from different parts of the world. You can sample the best of Asian, European, and yes, Latin American dishes here.
One of the most recommended places to munch down is the iconic Columbia Restaurant, a Spanish gem of an eatery. Here you can get a taste of Spain, along with an old-world interior style and some good live music.
And if you’re looking for some evening fun, Ybor City is the best place for experiencing Tampa’s nightlife. Riddled with bars and clubs, the area can offer you a sure 360 experience of Ybor City, and all of Tampa. If you want to dance in the best clubs, head to The Castle, and Club Prana. And bars such as the Ritz Ybor and Crowbar are best for more booze and less dancing.
Other than the historic Ybor City, Tampa’s Riverwalk is yet another one of the city’s unmissable icons. It is one of the most jam-packed and exciting riverwalks in all of the US, and it is also one of Tampa’s best cultural and cosmopolitan centers.
The walk extends around 2.4 miles (3.9 km) straddling the Hillsborough River. It is full of several features that are fun, interesting, and even hunger-satisfying. It also has a multipurpose path where you can bike, skate, walk and stroll at any time of the day.
Traversing the riverside charms of Hillsborough, you can choose to experience it in many ways. From biking to boating, you’ll find an abundance of rental shops eager to offer you the fabled Tampa Riverwalk experience. You can explore the many features the walk has to offer no matter what you choose.
For kids, you can find many ways to enjoy your time together from the seven parks, playgrounds, and dog parks you can find along the riverwalk. And as for both entertainment and education, you can surely enjoy one or all of the eight museums and attractions as well. This includes the Florida Aquarium, the Tampa Museum of Art, and the Tampa History Center.
Surely, you’ll be naturally curious about the dining and drinking scene of this gem. As cultural and cosmopolitan as it is, you can also find an abundance of 25 bars and restaurants along Hillsborough. The Sparkman Wharf is a perfect end to the famous riverwalk with all its curious dining options. You can easily experience world-class cuisine here, or even craft cocktails and more.
A Festival Capital
With the colorful and vibrant festivals of Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and even Fort Myers, it is safe to say that Florida is one big festival capital in the US. And of course, Tampa isn’t an exception, especially with all its interesting history and culture. The city is brimming with things to commemorate.
Tampa has more than 10 festivals to celebrate, held at different seasons and in different areas in the city. You can be sure that no matter what month you’ll visit, Tampa is always celebrating something. To experience its fabled highs, here are some of the most famous ones:
Gasparilla Pirate Festival
Coastal Southern Florida’s history has always had an association with pirates and has made its way into many of the cities’ traditions. Tampa may take one of these pirate festivals up a notch with the famous Gasparilla Festival, perhaps the biggest one in the city. It is usually held in early February, where smaller celebrations last for a couple of months.
The festival commemorates the invasion of the famous pirate Jose Gaspar. He was known to terrorize the coasts of Western Florida in the 18th century. The festival officially started in 1904. It involves an interesting dramatization of the historic invasion. Which happens along the Hillsborough, leading to the downtown area.
When the Krewe of Gasparilla reaches downtown, they will demand the key from the mayor and the official celebration starts after that. A long procession takes place along the Riverwalk as the pirate celebrates their victory. Many other events, especially parties take place after the procession until the next morning.
Sant’Yago Illuminated Knight Parade
January to March is perhaps the best time for visiting Tampa as two festivals are on the calendar. After the rowdy and fun, Gasparilla Festival follows the bright and colorful Sant’Yago Illuminated Knight Parade. It is a monumental celebration, dedicated to honoring the city’s Latino culture, as well as its cultural diversity.
The festival is hosted by the Krewe of the Knights of Sant’Yago. An organization dedicated to the preservation and celebration of the city’s Latin heritage. It first took place in 1974 and has been part of Tampa’s tradition since.
Bright lights and vibrant colors define the Sant’Yago Illuminated Knight Parade. You can witness a slew of illuminated floats representing the city’s diverse cultures. The parade usually begins on Ybor City’s Seventh Avenue. These floats are built by different groups in the city.
Parks and Recreation Center
With a dramatic number of parks found all across its different cities, Florida is no doubt the country’s capital of parks and recreation centers. Head to the southern cities of the Sunshine State to see the largest concentration of parks. Tampa boasts the most diverse range of attractions.
Many of the bay city’s parks offer both education, and entertainment, perfect for families, and young-at-heart adults. From theme parks filled with thrills to zoos dedicated to preserving wildlife, you can find everything on offer in Tampa.
Perfect for families with kids of different ages, Busch Gardens is a hit among thrill-seeking and curious guests. It is a 335-acre (136 ha) park that features several draws that are designed to entertain. You can enjoy live music, thrilling rides, a variety of animal species, and educational tours.
As part of its educational feature, Busch Gardens offers a fulfilling safari tour. The activity features different animal species. These residents are put in enclosures that resemble their natural habitat, giving you a feel of the African wilderness.
Busch Gardens also offers other animal interaction programs such as visiting the Animal Care Center. It offers a view of how injured or sick animals are being taken care of.
Other than its animal and wildlife features, what put Busch Gardens on the map is its thrilling roller coaster ride. You can take a ride on the Cheetah Hunt, taking you to ridiculous heights at incredible speeds. For daredevil guests, you can also check out Falcon Fury, a ride where it suddenly drops you from an interesting height.
ZooTampa at Lowry Park
Housing over 2,000 species of animals from different parts of the world, ZooTampa should be a Tampa itinerary must-have. You can check out exotic animals here that are endemic in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and even ones from Florida itself. They’re kept in special enclosures that resemble their natural habitats. You can find areas such as primate enclosures, aviaries, and an African Safari.
You can even check out many famous animal species here. You’ll see rhinos, orangutans, elephants and penguins, and the native Florida manatee. You can easily get around their enclosures via the many tours on offer.
Apart from tours around the enclosures and area, ZooTampa also offers many other programs for families and their kids. You can check out fitness classes, and variety shows such as comedy shows and cooking shows. It’s easy to fill your day out with everything ZooTampa at Lowery Park can offer.
Is Tampa or Fort Myers Better?
If you’re looking for a more jam-packed city field with history, culture, and yes, even a town of cosmopolitan charms, Tampa is the better option. It doesn’t only have several attractions, but it holds an interesting history and culture that is worth visiting. Not to mention, the city also holds more than 10 festivals each year, easily making it a more fun option.
But that doesn’t say Fort Myers isn’t worth a visit. It only has fewer thrills compared to other Southwestern Florida cities. Fort Myers’s specialty is more around the “small town” feel, more laid-back and quieter. The city can be a perfect option for those wanting a more relaxed and slower pace of traveling.
Is Tampa Cheaper Than Fort Myers?
When it comes to overall estimates on costs, Fort Myers is actually 3.9% cheaper than Fort Myers. This is perhaps due to Tampa being more of a cosmopolitan city with a larger population and a more famous tourist demand.
Tampa vs. Fort Myers Weather
Situated south of Florida, both facing the Gulf of Mexico, you can expect Tampa and Fort Myers to have brighter days. They constantly experience sunny skies and warmer days for the majority of the year.
However, Fort Myers is hotter during the summer months with an average high of 92 F (33 C), compared to Tampa’s 90.3 F (32 C). Both cities also see the same fair amount of rain and zero snow during the winter months.
Tampa or Fort Myers for Beaches
When it comes to beaches, both Fort Myers doesn’t have decent beaches around their vicinity. The nearest beach you can get around Tampa are Clearwater Beach and St. Peter, both are not within the city and may take less than an hour to drive.
Fort Myers also doesn’t have its own beach but is famously associated with Fort Myers Beach. It is a town situated an hour south of the city.
But if you have to choose, Tampa has better options, not to mention they’re close as well.
How Far Is Tampa From Fort Myers?
Tampa is approximately 99 miles (160 km) north of Fort Myers, directly.
How Do I Get From Fort Myers to Tampa Without a Car?
The best alternative, and also the most famous option to get to Tampa from Fort Myers is by taking a bus. A one-way fare usually costs around 21 to 30 USD and typically takes less than four hours.
Is There a Train From Tampa to Fort Myers?
You can take a train from Tampa to Fort Myers, however, there are no available direct routes. Connecting routes will take you to a station that offers another trip with a direct route.
Is It Cheaper to Fly Into Tampa or Fort Myers?
A flight from Tampa to Fort Myers costs more than a one-way bus trip between the cities.
Is Tampa or Fort Myers Closer to Sarasota?
Tampa is closer to Sarasota with a 42-mile distance (68 km), compared to Fort Myers’ 65 miles (105 km).