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The green waters of Southwest Florida feel like a warm embrace. Seriously – on most days the sea-sized Gulf of Mexico near Fort Myers is as balmy and tranquil as a bath. Enjoying this area means exploring a serene, sun-dappled sub-tropical paradise peppered with nature reserves and white sand.

The city of Fort Myers, which boasts a manicured downtown that evokes Spanish revival charm, is your entry point for the region. Drive west to nearby Sanibel and Captiva Islands, where strict zoning laws prohibit high-rise buildings and large condo and resort developments. The J.N. Ding Darling Wildlife Reserve on Sanibel is a perfect escape into the quiet, tide-lapped Florida wilderness. Locals and visitors love to watch for sunsets and find perfect seashells, which wash up here in abundance.

Fort Myers Beach is a more down-to-earth town of bars, t-shirt shops and miles of sand. If you want to get really wild, the alligator-rich waterways of the Everglades are only 80 minutes away.