By CHELLE KOSTER WALTON
With more than 250 species of birds, over 100 miles of beaches and five major league baseball teams that spend their spring training days here every March, Southwest Florida spans a diverse range of attractions for visitors. That’s not to mention superb fishing, boating, golf, shopping, museums, theater and arts. Stretching from the Everglades in the south to the shores of Lake Okeechobee in the east, the Gulf of Mexico to the west and Sarasota-Bradenton in the north, the region retains a reputation for adventure and privilege.
A Day in...
Bradenton, Anna Maria Island, Longboat Key

Wake up in your charming beachfront cottage and head to Ginny’s and Jane E’s to indulge in their famous crème brûlée French toast. Visit Pine Avenue, the heart of Anna Maria Island, and paint a sand dollar keepsake at the Shiny Fish Emporium. Rent a bicycle from Beach Bums and tour the island. Visit Coquina Beach, voted best “island sand” in the U.S. by Condé Nast. Enjoy a picture-perfect sunset and watch dolphins at play while dining at the Sandbar Restaurant.

Fort Myers/Sanibel

Begin your day even before sunrise to find the best sea shells along the beach at the 1884 Sanibel Lighthouse. Then find out why the USA Today newspaper ranked the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island tops for birdwatching. After a coconut shrimp spinach salad lunch at The Island Cow, be amazed at one of the U.S.’s most-visited historical homes, the Thomas Edison & Henry Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers. Cap off your day with dinner at the exclusive Veranda restaurant or at Pinchers.

Naples/Marco Island

Take an early morning walk along Marco Island’s crescent-shaped white sand beach. Search for shells and birdwatch at Tigertail Beach on the island’s north end, a top spot on the Great Florida Birding & Wildlife Trail. Book a sightseeing cruise on board Pure Florida’s Double Sunshine departing from Tin City on the Old Naples Waterfront. Enjoy a grouper sandwich and slice of key lime pie at Pinchers Crab Shack next to the docks at Tin City. Explore the Smith Children’s Garden and the Naples Botanical Garden.

Sarasota

Start your day with a freshly brewed cup of coffee and pastries in downtown Sarasota before heading to Bayfront Island Park for a stroll alongside Sarasota Bay. Hop over to St. Armands Circle for retail therapy and lunch at al fresco dining spots. Then grab a paddle and kayak the mangrove tunnels on Lido Beach. Reserve your evening for a sunset on Siesta Beach, where the luxurious quartz-white sand is unmatched. Top off your day with cocktails and dinner at any of the delightful restaurants in Siesta Key Village.

ANNUAL EVENTS
JANUARY
  • Forks & Corks Food & Wine Festival, Sarasota
  • Mullet Festival, Goodland
FEBRUARY
  • Bradenton Area River Regatta
  • Cortez Fishing Festival
  • Edison Festival of Light, Fort Myers
  • Everglades Seafood Festival, Everglades City
  • Swamp Cabbage Festival, Labelle
MARCH
  • Clewiston Sugar Festival
  • Fort Myers Beach Shrimp Festival
  • Marco Island Seafood & Music Festival
  • Peace River National Art Festival, Punta Gorda
MARCH–APRIL
  • Sarasota Film Festival
APRIL
  • De Soto Heritage Festival, Bradenton
  • De Soto Seafood Festival, Bradenton
  • Shark’s Tooth Festival, Venice
APRIL-MAY
  • Stay in May Festival, Naples
MAY
  • Blues, Brews and BBQ, Anna Maria Island
  • Harvey Milk Festival, Sarasota
JUNE
  • Sarasota Music Festival
  • Spammy Jammy, Goodland
JUNE-JULY
  • Suncoast Powerboat Grand Prix, Sarasota
SEPTEMBER
  • Island Hopper Songwriter Fest, Fort Myers Beach and Captiva Island
OCTOBER
  • "Ding" Darling Days, Sanibel Island
  • Naples International Film Festival
  • Ringling International Arts Festival, Sarasota Sarasota Pride Festival
  • Stone Crab Festival, Naples
NOVEMBER
  • American Sand Sculpting Championship, Fort Myers Beach
  • Florida Panther Festival, Naples
  • Sarasota Chalk Festival, Venice
DECEMBER
  • Bradenton Blues Festival