Like taking you metal detector to the beach? Forget it. This type of treasure is easy to find with the naked eye and unabashed sifting through the sand with your fingers. It turns out that this region's east-west topography makes it an ideal final resting place for an amazing variety of shells – 400 varieties in all, rolling onshore by the thousands every day. Horse conches, jingle shells, giant cockles, calico scallops – take your pick. The junonia is a locals' favorite. North Captiva and Cayo Costa offer great shelling.
See Matlacha, Skip the Caribbean
It's pronounced Mat-luh-SHAY. This is the crowning jewel of Pine Island – an islet connected by a bridge – that's home to a charming, eclectic blend of homegrown galleries and shops, funky eateries and buzzing fish markets. Kayakers and cyclists, this is your playground. And there are a handful of quaint inns and vacation rentals to choose from. But don't rush your visit here; island time prevails and the mood is decidedly "laid back, like being in the Caribbean," says Mrs. Pigott.
Visit a Historic Home, Feed your Hunger
Historic homes are a tourist draw here; in Ft. Myers, the Murphy-Burroughs House, dating back to 1901 and known as the town's first luxury home, offers living history tours while the Edison & Ford Estates – winter getaways for Thomas Edison and Henry Ford – are open for tours daily. But at The Veranda, you're visiting history while savoring one of the best meals in town. Two homes, built in 1902, were joined by Peter Pulitzer (son of the publishing magnate) in the 1970s and, within a few years, were transformed into a fine-dining restaurant. The turn-of-the-century setting is charming, while the food – plenty of fresh surf-and-turf options – garners acclaim and awards.
Explore the Sky, Not Just the Water
The Planetarium at the Calusa Nature Center is the only one in Southwest Florida, and the only one west of Miami. A high-tech digital projector plays jaw-dropping shows that encompass the entire 44-foot dome, and twice-daily presentations focus on stargazing, tracking the planets and introducing guests to the wonders of the telescope. After your galactic visit, stick around and explore the rest of the 105-acre site, which features a butterfly aviary, several hiking trails, a museum, resident critters – from a fox to a skunk – and a bird display that houses permanently injured eagles, hawks and owls.
Gabe Saglie is Senior Editor for Travelzoo, which features hotel, airfare and a bevy of local deals in Ft. Myers/Sanibel.