Canals of Cape Coral Florida

Explore the canals of Cape Coral. (Photo: Getty Images)

Weekend Getaways

Spend a Long Weekend on the Water in Cape Coral, Florida

Southwest Florida may be famous for its Gulf Coast beaches, but there’s more to the region, especially in Cape Coral, where outdoorsy visitors will find lots of reasons to stay active. Conveniently located near Fort Myers and Sanibel Island, Cape Coral is home to a vast network of beautiful canals that are ideal for boating, fishing, kayaking and nature watching.

Though Cape Coral can sometimes be overlooked, there’s plenty to love here on the banks of the Caloosahatchee River, including golf courses, nature preserves, dockside restaurants and even a local rum distillery.

As always, check for travel restrictions and closures before planning your trip.

Friday: Go Kayaking, Then Sip Local Brews

The first thing you’ll notice about Cape Coral is its striking system of canals and inland tributaries, which fan out over 120 square miles around the city. Begin your weekend dockside to get a feel for this Gulf Coast locale, where daily life for most folks revolves around the water.

Begin the day with an espresso and a ham and cheese croissant at the French Press, a friendly coffee shop that also serves smoothies and gluten-free crêpes, both sweet and savory. Afterward, stroll around Cape Harbour to soak up the marina views.

Woman kayaking in Florida
Hop in a kayak and take in a new view of the city. (Photo: Getty Images)

Get up close and eye-to-eye with Florida wildlife on a kayaking excursion into Sirenia Vista Park, which offers popular kayak routes to the Calusa Blueway, a 190-mile canoe and kayak trail, and Matlacha Pass Aquatic Preserve.

You’ll be able to observe blue herons, dolphins, even manatees as you paddle along oyster bars, mangrove swamps and peaceful seagrass flats — and get acquainted with the wilder side of Florida.

After your paddle adventure, head back to Cape Coral for lunch and some local craft brews at Big Storm Brewing Company. Grab a table in the large taproom or the shady outdoor patio. Try the Cuban sandwiches or blackened grouper with tasting pours of Big Storm’s brews, including the Key Lime Sunshine, a bright shandy-style offering.

Once you’re fortified, get back out on the water. Rent a SUP or connect with Nauti Hooker Watersports for a thrilling guided Jet Ski trip through Hemp Key, a mangrove forest around Sanibel and Pine Island. While there’s no controlling Mother Nature, you’re likely to encounter herons, manatees, turtles, maybe even giant cownose rays.

Later, continue your introduction to Cape Coral in Marina Village. This upscale area is known for its river views, boutiques, spa and waterside bars. Settle in at Marker 92 Waterfront Bar & Bistro for an evening of cocktails and fresh seafood overlooking the Tarpon Point Marina and Caloosahatchee River.

Saturday: Charter a Boat

Rub elbows with the locals at the weekly Cape Coral Farmers Market. In addition to fresh fruits and veggies, this market has developed a reputation for its baked goods (grab your breakfast here), plus culinary treats like jams, pickles and local honey, worthy of taking home as souvenirs.

Get to know another Cape Coral tradition by signing up for a fishing charter with Captain Paul’s Yacht Charters, who will book a private day of fishing, swimming and snorkeling on his 44-foot yacht, called the Boadicea.

After your fishing excursion, visit a local rum distillery for a tour. Sign up in advance for a distillery tour at Wicked Dolphin (reservations highly recommended). Learn about how the distillers source ingredients and how they produce their rums. The tour includes a visit to the barrel room and tastings.

Round out your impression of Cape Coral with an afternoon immersion in the local art scene. Visit the Cape Coral Art Center, founded in 1977, and explore its fine art gallery, featuring two rotating exhibits of sculptures, drawings and paintings from local artists.

Pop into the gift shop to browse goods crafted by the center’s students and teachers, and if you’re so inclined, their art supplies store. This center also offers classes on painting, pottery, silversmithing, stained glass and more.

Orange cocktail in glass with garnish
Raise a glass to a great trip! (Photo: Marriott International)

Sunset is a daily event in Cape Coral. Book a 90-minute sunset dolphin cruise with Banana Bay Tour Co. You’ll ply the waters of San Carlos Bay, just behind nearby Sanibel Island, as you watch dolphins play while the sun slips below the horizon.

Afterward, raise a frozen drink to Mother Nature at the Nauti Mermaid Dockside Bar & Grill. Top off the day with a fresh seafood dinner (think conch fritters, fried grouper nuggets and buttery crab legs) at local institution Pinchers Crab Shack in nearby Fort Myers Beach.

Sunday: Go Beyond Cape Coral

Fuel up for the day with a stop at Perk & Brew, a coffee shop known for the local art they display as well as their breakfast burritos and made-to-order egg sandwiches.

Mangroves in the Everglades
Spend a day in the Everglades. (Photo: Getty Images)

Explore the seagrass flats and hardwood hammocks of Florida’s largest national park during an Everglades Day Safari.

Departing from Fort Myers, the scenic airboat tours are led by experienced guides who will point out natural landmarks and make sure you catch sight of the alligators, turtles and beautiful birds, such as roseate spoonbills, anhingas, egrets and great blue herons, that call this beautiful and endangered area home.

Grab a late lunch at Izzy’s Fish & Oyster in Fort Myers. There’s plenty of outdoor seating at the unpretentious eatery, which offers all things seafood — steaming bowls of clam chowder, oysters Rockefeller, blackened mahi-mahi and crispy fried coconut shrimp — plus great craft cocktails and frozen drinks.

Get some exercise after lunch with a visit to Lovers Key State Park. Home to a 2-mile stretch of sandy beach, the park also offers shady boardwalk trails through the mangroves, where you can also find bike, canoe, kayak or stand-up paddleboard rentals.

You can book a guided tour to explore the park’s canals and lagoons, a favorite grazing spot for manatees and shorebirds. And don’t be surprised if you see a happy couple exchanging vows on the powdery white sand, as the park is a popular spot for tying the knot.

Wrap up the weekend back in Cape Coral at Bubba’s Roadhouse & Saloon, a lively, casual local spot serving up burgers, barbecue and fried seafood platters.