Can't make it to Hawaii this year for Spring Break? Is the Caribbean just out of reach? Guess what? There's a tropical paradise closer than both of those. And in most cases, cheaper too.
Where am I talking about? Southwest Florida. Home to Fort Myers (NOT Meyers! *Sigh* Feels good to get that off my chest), Fort Myers Beach, Cape Coral, Captiva Island, Sanibel Island, Estero, Naples, and Marco Island, just to name a few. A place I called home for three years. A place where you can find some of the nicest beaches in the country. A place where the average high temperature in December is 77° and in January is 75°. A place that is too often overlooked as a destination for a tropical getaway.
SWFL is about two hours south of Tampa and two hours west of Miami. The area does have its own airport that you can fly into. Southwest Florida International Airport has direct flights to/from many major cities including the likes of Chicago, Dallas, and Atlanta.
I moved there in 2010 and lived in the city of Fort Myers. My place was about 10-15 minutes from the beach (without traffic). Southwest Florida is a great place to go to for a vacation. And the best part - there is something for everyone.
Fort Myers Beach: This is where you go for the party. It's a popular spring break destination and where most families go - if they're staying in Fort Myers (yes, Fort Myers Beach is actually the name of a town. Completely separate from Fort Myers). The town is on Estero Island. It's the only town on the island and you'll find a different atmosphere depending on where you are on it. At certain parts of the island, the beach has a party atmosphere. Other parts have more of a family atmosphere. The southern part of the island has more of a relaxed feel. If you plan on spending a lot of time in FMB, I'd recommend staying there because traffic can be a pain to deal with going to the island.
Fort Myers: Believe it or not Fort Myers really doesn't have a legit beach. They have a downtown that is slowly becoming a destination in-and-of itself. The downtown area is on the shores of the Caloosahatchee River. It's a great place for young professionals to gather for a drink after work. If you're in the area for vacation, it's worth heading there for a night but not worth staying there. You don't go on vacation in SWFL for downtown Fort Myers. Sorry. You just don't. Just south of downtown are the winter estates of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Think of the estates as one outdoor museum. I went there several times and enjoyed it each time. Springtime is when it really picks up in the area. The city hosts two MLB teams for Spring Training. The Boston Red Sox and the Minnesota Twins.
Sanibel Island: There is one bridge (or causeway) from the mainland to Sanibel Island. That bridge is snuggled just south of Fort Myers and north of Fort Myers Beach. There are plenty of beaches that you can go to. These beaches are typically less crowded than those in FMB. A big reason for that is because Sanibel just isn't as commercialized. So if you're in the mood for a quieter getaway this may a good place to consider. Sanibel also has (hands down) the best beach I've ever been to - to watch the sunset. It's called Bowman's Beach and I highly recommend you go check it out if you're in the area.
Captiva Island: This is more of an isolated place to go on vacation. I'd imagine a big part of that is the fact that you have to drive through Sanibel to get there. I would consider it a good place for a romantic getaway. It's a popular place for destination weddings as well as honeymoons. There are a few hotels and resorts on the island. Two of the bigger ones include South Seas Island Resort and 'Tween Waters Inn Resort & Spa.
Naples: When I think of Naples, ritzy comes to mind. It is a very ritzy area with a lot of money and a ton of huge mansions that you can stare at for days. 5th Avenue in Naples is the main drag in town where there is a lot of great dining and shopping. It is also walking distance to the beach. I remember their beaches mainly because of how blue the water was when I saw it. Very blue. Not quite like the clear water you have in the Bahamas but still very picturesque. Expect the hotels in this area to be ritzy, just like most of the city.
This is just a short list. There are several other places I'd recommend checking out too - like Estero, a relatively young town, and Marco Island, which is just south of Naples. Another place I'd recommend checking out is Everglades City where there are probably more alligators than people. If you're looking for an airboat ride - I'd head there. SWFL has plenty to do for all ages and should certainly be added to your list of vacation destinations.