Gulf Coast, Florida

This part of your Florida road trip is from North Naples up to North Redington Beach, a 170 mile northerly drive. But take it slow because the Gulf Coast is filled with delightful towns, islands and beaches you’ll want to enjoy. Some bigger cities have dedicated galleries.

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1 How Men Spend Their Time at Vanderbilt Beach in North Naples, Florida

Look closely at these two men sitting on Vanderbilt Beach while you learn how much time they spend during their life on their current activities. A person typically sunbaths for 2,170 hours. They sleep for 26 years of their expected 78 year lifespan. And the average man, like this not so subtle guy in the sunglasses, admires women for 43 minutes a day or 11 months of his life.

9051 Gulf Shore Dr, Naples, FL 34108
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2 Ritz-Carlton at Vanderbilt Beach in North Naples, Florida

The Ritz-Carlton on Vanderbilt Beach is consistently rated the number one resort in Naples, in the top three in Florida and among the best in the world. The five-star hotel’s list of amenities and services seems endless. Perhaps the best feature is the balconies overlooking the three miles of beach and the Gulf of Mexico. There is no extra charge for the spectacular sunsets.

280 Vanderbilt Beach Rd, Naples, FL 34108
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3 Sand Dunes and Vegetation at Bonita Beach Park in Bonita Springs, Florida

There are several access points along Hickory Boulevard to Bonita Beach. Perhaps the best is called the Bonita Beach Park where Florida State Road 865 meets the Gulf of Mexico. Here you’ll find delightful white sand that is embraced with natural vegetation. Plus there are amenities such as restrooms, a pavilion, a playground, volleyball courts, picnic tables and grills.

27954 Hickory Blvd, Bonita Springs, FL 34134
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4 Timeless Fun for Kids at Bonita Beach Park in Bonita Springs, Florida

In this era of children relying on electronics for fun, it was delightful to watch a mom play patty cake with her son on the beach, a rhyme that dates back to 1698. Meanwhile, these two young girls wearing sunbonnets and not much else were racing towards the water with their inflatable plastic raft. Best of all was the classic sandcastle. Now this is how kids should enjoy a day at the beach.

27954 Hickory Blvd, Bonita Springs, FL 34134
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5 Woman Carrying Chair and Bag at Bonita Beach Park in Bonita Springs, Florida

All this woman needs for a perfect day in the Florida sun is a folding chair and her beach bag. She was walking with a hurried determination to find her favorite spot along the sand. The more active types enjoy Bonita Beach Park’s volleyball courts and then rent a sailboat or jet ski for a spin around the Gulf of Mexico. Still other tourists relax under an umbrella with a beer in hand at Doc’s Beach House.

27954 Hickory Blvd, Bonita Springs, FL 34134
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6 Little Hickory Island Beach Park in Bonita Springs, Florida

Little Hickory Island Beach Park is at the northern end of a very narrow key by the same name. On the west side of Hickory Boulevard is access to this popular sandy white beach that’s lined with condominiums … and people. You’ll find basic facilities here like restrooms and picnic tables. Just across the road are great views of the Broaduay Channel which is part of Estero Bay. And if you travel north along Estero Boulevard, also called SR 865, it will bring you by a series of small islands and state parks. It is a very scenic drive.

26000 Hickory Blvd Bonita Springs, FL 34134
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7 Matanzas Pass Bridge in Fort Myers Beach, Florida

One look at the Matanzas Pass Bridge and you can see why the locals call it the Sky Bridge. This 65 foot tall concrete girder bridge comes from the mainland, crosses over San Carlos Island in the background and then the Matanzas Harbor before entering Estero Island at Fort Myers Beach. If you travel this State Road 865 on a weekend, prepare to be patient. That couple in the tiny fishing boat is going much faster than you will.

1131 First St, Fort Myers Beach, FL 33931
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8 Fishing Pier in Fort Myers Beach, Florida

The town of Fort Myers Beach consists of 3.3 square miles of land on a small barrier key called Estero Island. It only has a population of about 6,200 yet it is extremely popular with tourists and locals, especially in the vicinity of the fishing pier. In addition to the obvious attraction of a white beach along the Gulf of Mexico, you can enjoy two large parks and countless shops, restaurants, bars and attractions at Times Square and along Old San Carlos Boulevard. Sound perfect? It is after you find a place to park.

10 Old San Carlos Blvd, Fort Myers Beach, FL 33931
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9 Couple Walking in Times Square Fort Myers Beach, Florida

This young couple was having a romantic afternoon walking hand-in-hand along the pedestrian-only area called Times Square at Fort Myers Beach, Florida. Now don’t go thinking about the NYC version. This district is only a few blocks long but it is lined with quaint shops, restaurants and a very active nightlife. You will probably also be entertained by street performers in strange outfits and talented musicians. And if you get too warm then the surf is only a few steps away.

1021 Estero Blvd, Fort Myers Beach, FL 33931
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10 Booty Shaking Contest in Fort Myers Beach, Florida

Spring Break is alive and well in Florida, at least at Fort Myers Beach where this booty shaking contest attracted the cheers of every male college student within miles. When the winner was chosen by popular vote then the crowd dispersed. Some sat back in their beach chairs but most headed towards the local bars with names like Nemo’s, Mermaid, Hurricane Tina’s and Hooters.

1400 Estero Blvd, Fort Myers Beach, FL 33931
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11 Couple Strolling Beach in Fort Myers Beach, Florida

This young couple ignored the boisterous crowd of college students partying nearby. Instead, they were totally enjoying the moment with each other as they held hands and strolled romantically along the sand in Fort Myers Beach, Florida. And I’m sure the Gulf of Mexico looked much better than the mounds of snow back home.

1400 Estero Blvd, Fort Myers Beach, FL 33931
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12 Footprint on the Beach on Sanibel Island, Florida

Walking a beach, putting a toe in the water, smelling the salt air and hearing the sounds of waves and gulls are part of a great vacation. But, alas, it’s a fleeting thrill as described by the anonymous quote, “Our memories of the ocean will linger on long after our footprints in the sand are gone.” My footprint on Sanibel Island, Florida, is long gone. However, when I get old and senile I will still have plenty of digital photos to jog my memory.

1451 Middle Gulf Dr, Sanibel, FL 33957
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13 Seminole Lodge at Edison and Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers, Florida

During Thomas Edison’s career as an inventor, he was awarded nearly 1,100 patients including ones for the electric light, sound recording and movies. Two years after his first wife died, he married again in 1886 and gave Mino two wedding gifts: a home in New Jersey and this winter retreat in Fort Myers called Seminole Lodge. The family enjoyed this Florida retreat for over 60 years until she donated it to the city in 1947. The complex of buildings and gardens are now part of a popular attraction called the Edison and Ford Winter Estates.

Edison & Ford Winter Estates 2350 McGregor Blvd, Fort Myers, FL 33901
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14 Henry Ford Statue at Edison and Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers, Florida

Henry Ford is best known for mass producing the Model T automobile that changed transportation forever. Little known is that he started his career in 1891 as an engineer at the Edison Illuminating Company where he invented his first car, the ethanol powered quadricycle. In 1896, he met the company’s president, Thomas Edison, who encouraged him to build a second car. After finishing that in 1898, he soon resigned to start an automobile company. That one failed, but the second try in 1901 was the Ford Motor Company. The two men remained friends and became neighbors in Fort Myers, Florida in 1916. This statue of Henry Ford by artist D. J. Wilkins stands on the edge of the two properties at the Edison and Ford Winter Estates.

Edison & Ford Winter Estates 2350 McGregor Blvd, Fort Myers, FL 33901
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15 The Mangoes at Edison and Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers, Florida

In 1914, Thomas Edison invited Henry Ford to his winter retreat in Fort Myers. Two years later when the neighbor’s property was for sale, the founder of The Ford Motor Company bought this 1911 bungalow called The Mangoes as his vacation home. Seventy seven years later, it was purchased by the City of Fort Myers, added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and became part of the attraction known as the Edison and Ford Winter Estates.

Edison & Ford Winter Estates 2350 McGregor Blvd, Fort Myers, FL 33901
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16 Vintage Ford Vehicles at Edison and Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers, Florida

Of course you would expect to find a garage filled with cars in any home of Henry Ford and, sure enough, these two are on display at his former winter estate in Fort Myers called The Mangoes. On the left is a 1917 Ford Model TT Truck, the first in a long line of heavy-duty commercial vehicles. On the right is a 1929 Ford Model A which replaced the original Model T. It reached a top speed of 60 mph. Both of these classic vehicles are exhibited at the Edison and Ford Winter Estates.

Edison & Ford Winter Estates 2350 McGregor Blvd, Fort Myers, FL 33901
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17 Mysore Fig Roots at Edison and Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers, Florida

These dramatic, above ground roots are at the base of an enormous Mysore Fig tree on the property of Henry Ford’s former winter home in Fort Myers. It is the largest one in the United States at over 105 feet tall. And if you like horticulture then you’ll love visiting the Edison and Ford Winter Estates. The 20 acre garden is filled with trees including grapefruit, orange, mangoes, lemons, limes and coconuts. You’ll also want to see the grove of rubber trees that were planted on the property as a joint research effort by Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and Harvey Firestone.

Edison & Ford Winter Estates 2350 McGregor Blvd, Fort Myers, FL 33901
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18 Hammond Stadium Facade in Fort Myers, Florida

In 1991, Hammond Stadium opened in Fort Myers as the home of spring training for the Minnesota Twins. That was the same year the baseball team won their second World Series. As a native Minnesotan, I can tell you that was a very exciting championship. But it was also exciting to take this photo on March 3, 2015, the day the park’s extensive renovation was completed. Among the improvements made to the CenturyLink Sports Complex was an increase in capacity from 7,500 to 9,300 seats. Go Twins!

14100 6 Mile Cypress Pkwy Fort Myers, FL 33912
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19 Water Fountain at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, Florida

Since the 1920s, baseball has been called “America’s Favorite Pastime.” Although some may say that distinction now belongs to football, or maybe even watching TV and playing video games, there is no doubt that in early spring true fans are excited when their favorite players report to training. Florida now hosts 15 Major League Baseball teams for this annual ritual and the pre-season games attract over 1.5 million people. This is Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers where the Minnesota Twins play their Grapefruit League games.

14100 6 Mile Cypress Pkwy Fort Myers, FL 33912
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20 End of the Line Mural in Punta Gorda, Florida

In 1884, Colonel Isaac Trabue declared his 30 acres along the Charlotte Harbor to be the Town of Trabue. He then negotiated with the Florida Southern Railway to end their rail expansion along Florida’s Gulf Coast near his property so he could build a luxury hotel. The first train arrived in 1886, the town was renamed Punta Gorda in 1887 and the hotel opened in 1888. This mural of the founding father was first painted by Richard Currier in 1997 and was restored in 2009. Off camera to his left is a portrait of Henry Plant who built the railroad.

103 W Marion Ave, Punta Gorda, FL 33950
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21 Punta Gorda Hotel Mural in Punta Gorda, Florida

When the Hotel Punta Gorda was opened on the shore of Charlotte Harbor by Isaac Trabue in 1888, it was the largest luxury resort along Florida’s Gulf Coast. This 48 by 33 foot mural by Charles Peck celebrates just a few of the hotel’s famous guests including Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and Andrew Mellon. Surprisingly missing from this ensemble are Theodore Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. This 2011 painting replaced a 1995 version that was destroyed by Hurricane Charley in 2004.

150 Harborside Ave Punta Gorda, FL 33950
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22 Charlotte Harbor Conference Center in Punta Gorda, Florida

In a town of less than 17,000 residents, it is a bit surprising to see that Punta Gorda has a convention complex with 44,000 square feet. The Charlotte Harbor Event and Conference Center was built in 2009. This beautiful building along the downtown waterfront is operated by SMG, a company that provides management services to over 200 similar facilities in the U.S. and internationally.

75 Taylor St, Punta Gorda, FL 33950
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23 City Hall in Punta Gorda, Florida

Punta Gorda was devastated by a fire in 1905 that wiped out its downtown. So several of its current landmarks were built using brick, including the City Hall which opened in 1926. The biggest development occurred during the 1920s when the Florida land boom was in full swing, land prices were skyrocketing and droves of tourists arrived by rail and then by car when the Tamiami Trail reached Charlotte County in 1928. However, all of this dramatic growth came to an abrupt end after the 1929 stock market crash. The City Hall on West Marion Avenue still serves as the government office for Punta Gorda.

326 W Marion Ave, Punta Gorda, FL 33950
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24 Fishermen’s Village in Punta Gorda, Florida

I normally don’t like places designed to attract tourist dollars but Fishermen’s Village in Punta Gorda is a delightful exception. Upscale boutique stores line an open air esplanade that lets you hear and smell the adjoining harbor as you shop. There are also a few dining options with terrific view of the boats sailing around Charlotte Harbor. And if you are having so much fun that you never want to leave then just check into their resort.

1200 W Retta Esplanade, Punta Gorda, FL 33950
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25 Fishermen’s Village Marina in Punta Gorda, Florida

If you are looking for the freshest of fresh shrimp, then watch for Captain Bill Damour as he floats into Charlotte Harbor and tethers his shrimp trawler called the Iron Ox at the Fishermen’s Village Marina. He is a part of a long tradition of fishermen dating back to 1929 when this was the site of the Maud Street City Docks. Surrounding him today are 100 slips that can accommodate just about any boat up to 60 feet.

1200 W Retta Esplanade, Punta Gorda, FL 33950
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26 Great Horned Owl in Punta Gorda, Florida

Since 1978, the Peace River Wildlife Center has been a non-profit organization dedicated to wildlife rehabilitation in Punta Gorda. Each year the PRWC rescues and treats about 2,000 birds and animals. Most of them are returned to the wild. However, some become permanent residents like Annie, a Common Great Horned Owl. Admission to their facility at Ponce de Leon Park is free. The way this raptor stared at me with those enormous and acute yellow eyes was a real hoot.

3400 Ponce de Leon Pkwy, Punta Gorda, FL 33950
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27 Two Senior Women on Beach in Englewood Beach, Florida

These two women are enjoying a friendly chat on the sand at Englewood Beach. Many seniors rent a beach house for a week or two of vacation. Others are part-time residents who spend their winters here. In total, only about 1,300 people live on Manasota Key which is an 11 mile barrier island in southwestern Florida along the Gulf of Mexico. The medium age is 67 so the environment tends to be as relaxed and reserved as it is beautiful.

2440 N Beach Rd Englewood, FL 34223
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28 Looking For Sharks Teeth in Englewood Beach, Florida

When you arrive at Englewood Beach you will notice something a bit odd: most people are bent over as they walk along the sand. They are looking for sharks teeth which are brown or gray and shaped like a chevron. As a novice, I didn’t find many. But my son’s in-laws taught my wife a few tricks of the trade and in no time she collected a pocketful. The expert treasury hunters use metal scoopers and other paraphernalia and then drop their finds in plastic bags by size, color and quality. This beach is also a haven for fossils and seashell collectors.

2380 N Beach Rd Englewood, FL 34223
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29 Park Picnic Pavilion in Englewood Beach, Florida

More locals than tourists go to Englewood Beach Park so its beach tends not be very crowded yet it is just as beautiful as others along Florida’s Gulf Coast. It also offers easy access to Lemon Bay which is on the other side of North Beach Road. And there is plenty to do when you get off the water including playing a game of basketball, horseshoes or volleyball. You can also use the public picnic tables with grills, restrooms and showers. Or you can just stand around the pavilion and boardwalk while talking with your neighbors.

2000 N Beach Rd Englewood, FL 34223
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30 Young Romantic Couple at Englewood Beach, Florida

Especially during the winter months, Floridian beaches tend to be crowded with a flurry of people who are swimming, walking, playing or sunbathing and the sand can be filled with chairs, umbrellas, watercraft, toys and sandcastles. And then sometimes you spot a young couple who is oblivious to all of that as they sit side-by-side in total infatuation with each other. Now that is a fun day at the beach.

2000 N Beach Rd Englewood, FL 34223
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31 Great Heron on Beach in North Redington Beach, Florida

The Great Heron is a joy to watch as they patiently stand three to four feet tall in shallow water and then take long, measured strides before lashing out towards an aquatic prey. There seems to be considerable debate, particularly in Florida, if the Great Blue Heron and the Great White Heron are the same bird with just a morph in color or if they are separate species. There are several organizations, such as the Florida Shorebird Alliance, that tags and then reports on bird activities and migrations. The silver tag on this bird’s right leg is an example.

16850 Gulf Blvd, North Redington Beach, FL 33708
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32 Blue Sun Umbrellas along Gulf in North Redington Beach in Florida

I think wearing a bathing suit and suntan lotion is a requirement in North Redington Beach, Florida. Most of the properties along the white sands of Boca Ciega Bay are homes and condos. 70% of the 1,500 population is over 45. And the few hotels have umbrellas over their comfortable lounge chairs so it’s easy to read your Kindle while listening to the waves.

17120 Gulf Blvd, North Redington Beach, FL 33708
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