Posts Tagged ‘Bonita Springs’

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We were leaving Charlotte County on US 41 last time. You’re about to re-enter Lee County now. From here on, you’re not going to see anymore "nature" on US 41 until you get out of Naples. Then you’ll see nothing but nature until you reach Miami.

First you’ll reach North Fort Myers. Take a right onto Pine Island Road and you’ll get to the old J. Colin English School. Like most schools, you’ll have better parking options if you visit on the weekend. Plus you can get pictures of the buildings without all those annoying kids in the way.

The next few spots are way west on Pine Island. I’ve not seen a one of them, so can’t say whether they’re worth the trip or not. You’ll have to get to the north end of the island to catch a boat to Cayo Costa State Park. So if you want to see that, you can always check out some of the other things along the way. (see Google map)

South on US 41 again, you’ll encounter another big bridge. This one crosses the Caloosahatchee River, whose start you may have seen if you did the Lake Okeechobee circumnavigation. You’ll also be going over the Caloosahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, which is a small island in the middle of the river. You may feel a bit deja vu, because once again you’ll be in a historic district on the other side. But this time you’re in Fort Myers, and the district is a bit smaller.

Like Punta Gorda, I’m going to the outer limits to the east first. In fact, so far out you might consider coming from the other direction. I have, via LaBelle once and Arcadia another time.

This next several miles will be educational in more ways than one, since you’ll see four old schools. All are still in use, but not all are schools now.

We’ll start in Alva. Don’t know if the name of the town has anything to do with one of the most famous winter residents of the area, Thomas Edison. Bit of a coincidence if it didn’t. On the north side of Okeechobee Waterway are the Alva Consolidated Schools. They remind me of the old Clewiston Schools, in that they are two different styled buildings next to each other. Cross the Waterway and visit the Eden Vineyards & Winery. No, not been there yet, but hope to. Next are the Olga School and the Buckingham School, both of which are now community centers.

After that, you’re out of the suburbs and in Fort Myers, or close to. You’ll pass the old Merge-Hansen Marina, the last old school (Tice Grammer), and the Terry Park Ballfield. Which was full up when I stopped there. (see Google map)

Further in are some historical houses and museums. Oh, and a couple more historic schools. I think Lee County may have more schools on the NRHP than any other county, now that I think of it. (see Google map)

Next are a number of older homes, some of specific interest. My favorite is the Murphy-Burroughs House. It’s somehow palatial and casual at the same time. Plus behind it you can get an amazing view of the two US 41 bridges. (see Google map)

Finally back in the historic district. It’s roughly a square mile, so it’s very walkable. If you can park in the middle, that’s ideal. But if the streets are filled up, you should park at two of the opposite sides, which works almost as well. It seems like most of the buildings here are historic, but they may have building codes set so new construction has to blend in. However they did it, they did it right.

Just outside the district limits is the Towles House, which looks like it was built a year ago. Another great job of upkeep. If only more cities had the resources to do the same, or the will. (see Google map)

  • Fort Myers Downtown Commercial District (Roughly bounded by Bay and Lee Streets, Anderson Avenue and Monroe Street) (NRHP)
  • Earnhardt Building (2258 1st St) (AGFHA)
  • First National Bank (2248 1st St) (AGFHA)
  • Old Lee County Bank (1534 Hendry St) (AGFHA)
  • Richards Building (1615 Hendry St) (AGFHA)
  • Robby and Stucky Building (1625 Hendry St) (AGFHA)
  • Lee County Courthouse (2120 Main Street) (NRHP)
  • US Courthouse and Federal Building (2110 1st Street ) (NRHP)
  • William H. Towles House (2050 McGregor Boulevard) (NRHP)

Last but perhaps most are three houses, all in a row. Well, two of them. The third, Casa Rio, is nice, from what I could see through the gate. But next to it are the winter estates of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Didja know they both lived here and were neighbors, back in the day? I did, thanks to my NRHP obsession. It’ll cost you twenty bucks to get past the fence and see the houses up close. I didn’t feel like laying that much out the last time I was there, so I took shots from the sidewalk. Easy, since it’s a low picket fence. Next time I’m there, I think I’ll actually go in. Hmm, I’m putting together an itinerary to revisit down there, ain’t I? (see Google map)

The next two locales I’d suggest going to on the weekend, ’cause the road (CR 869) that gets to both is busy, especially during weekday rush hours.

Firstly, Fort Myers Beach. It’s a 30-35 mph speed limit through the developed area, so don’t expect to zoom through. The old school and the Mound House are pretty close together, the state park about five miles down. It has two entrances. If you want a park passport stamp, go to the southern one. You can also see Mound Key to the north from here. If you have a boat, this is one of the places to get there. (see Google map)

Return to CR 869 and head west to Sanibel. I’d heard about the place, but wasn’t prepared for how wildly popular it was. The downswing in the economy doesn’t seem to have hurt them much, if the massive traffic when I visited is any indication. There’s just one land route, which has a toll bridge. Six dollars later and you’ll be on the island.

A good part of the island is a National Wildlife Refuge, but the rest is developed and then some. The high rises are closer to the beach, with the small touristy buildings near the bridge. I like the old lighthouse on the east end of the island, even with the two dollar parking fee. There’s a very new NRHP there, the ‘Tween Waters Inn. I hadn’t planned on going back, but I guess I’ll have to brave a return visit. Still, if I go on a weekend next time, perhaps I’ll enjoy it more. (see Google map)

There are a few bits left around the edges. Like the Calusa Nature Center and Planetarium, which appears to be surrounded by a golf course. And the Railroad Museum of South Florida, not to be confused with the Southwest Florida Museum of History housed in an old railroad depot. (see Google map)

Time to go to Naples. But along the way is a state park that made me break my 30 minute rule. One of my top ten favorites, Koreshan Unity Settlement Historic District. It was the home of an odd cult (yep, Florida). They’re not around anymore, since celibacy was part of their religion, and they didn’t get that many converts. There’s a shocker. But most of the wooden buildings they constructed remain, after over 100 years. It’s right on US 41, so it’s easy to find and not a diversion at all.

Oh, the 30 minute rule? Well, I wanted to visit all 150+ state parks in a reasonable amount of time. Especially since I was trying to visit all 1600 or so NRHPs as well. So I decided early on to only spend a half hour in each state park. If I liked what I saw, I could always come back in the future and spend more time. There were only a few state parks that tempted me into staying longer during the first visit, like Koreshan. That it’s on the NRHP as well was a factor, but I’m also a sucker for the bizarre. And Koreshanity? Pretty bizarre. (see Google map)

There you are, southwest Florida. I shan’t be doing a Naples post for a few weeks, unless there’s a-clamoring. So many places, doncha know. See you on the road!

Route length: 230 miles

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Mom’s E.T. in the hotel bed

Looking out the hotel window, towards downtown Naples

Even with all the curtains closed, I still woke up at 7:30. So much for long sleep, but it did help.

The room bill was slipped under the door, so I could leave the key in the room and not have to go to the front desk to formally check out. Which was just like the hotel in Clewiston. Maybe it’s a new trend. If so, I’m liking it.

The Weather Channel had said the weather would be nice, and gazing out the hotel window, it looked that way. Once I started loading up the car, I discovered it was cool and breezy like the day before. Even knowing it wouldn’t last until noon, it’s always nice to start a day of travel like that.

It was rather strange to be jaunting about on a Monday. Haven’t done that since the two week hurricane evasion trip with Mom back in late 2004, when I was still working for WebMD. I will have to recount that trip here at a later date. Down side is, that one was pre-digital camera, so the pictures aren’t as good. But Street View will help, and I can find other photos to supplement the postings.

While flipping around on the radio, I stumbled across the Bob and Sheri Show. I forgot about them completely. I used to love listening to them. They don’t play on any stations in Ocala. Might have to see about podcasts and such.

Almost within walking distance of the hotel was the first thing on my Naples list, the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad Depot. I think it’s a museum now. It wasn’t open, which was nice in a way, since it meant the parking lot was empty and I could get shots unobstructed by cars.

I got to the historic district (street view) shortly after. I parked in the shopping part, coincidentally in front of one of the buildings specifically listed in A Guide to Florida’s Historic Architecture, the Naples Mercantile Building (now a restaurant). The area is very upscale and schmantzy. There was at least one sign with a map indicating where all the businesses were. It made the place feel like an outdoor mall. Got an espresso at Bad Ass Coffee, and that jolted me into further wakefulness.

Back in the car and drove over to the Palm Cottage (not be confused with the one in Miami), finding a spot pretty close to it. I saw a tour group ride by on Segways, how modern. The Cottage is run by the Naples Historical Society. It wasn’t open, but even with all the trees around it, I was able to get decent enough shots.

Looking towards Naples from the end of the Pier

Then I strolled over to the Naples Pier (photos). Now that is a landmark. The thing’s 700 feet long! And there were tons of people there. Why weren’t they all at work on a Monday? I strolled all the way to the end of the pier and back. It mayn’t have been high on my priority list, but it was one of the more fun things I got to see. Then I walked around the residential section of the district. Nice houses, but not gaudy or grandiose. Maybe ‘cause they’re so close to the beach.

Got all I needed in about an hour and was on my way. All in all, I rather like Naples. There’s a few spots I didn’t get nearby, so I look forward to returning.

Let me mention a great trio of books about out of the way Florida. They’re the Best Backroads of Florida series by Douglas Waitley. Wherever I go in the state, I usually have the one covering the area I’m visiting. In this case, it was Volume 2 (Coasts, Glades, and Groves). He recommends avoiding US 41 for a while, and continuing up Gulf Shore Boulevard. Doug’s rarely steered me wrong, so I tried it. The upscaliness increased. All too soon it gave way to high-rises. Reminded me too much of how overdeveloped Miami Beach got. And that was over twenty years ago; to think of what it must be like now. Anyway, the roads got twisty and I wasn’t sure where I was going at this point. But I figured as long as I was heading generally north and east, I’d find Tamiami Trail.

And so I did. Fortunately, only a bit south of my next stop, the Holocaust Museum of Southwest Florida (above), which wasn’t open because it’s closed on Mondays. You know, I’ve never seen a museum in an office plaza, but that’s where this was. A cute 2-story one. Better than no space at all. It was still breezy, maybe more so than earlier. Not complaining at all; made it much more comfortable.

Now the next stop floored me, even though I was warned. It was the Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park. I’d read it was popular, but crikeys! There was a line of cars before I even got to the entrance. I didn’t check my watch as to my exact arrival time, but I know it took me at least a half-hour to get in. On a Monday, around noon! I wondered previously at all the folks at the Naples Pier. Well, that was deserted compared to this. It seemed like everyone in the area had decided to take Monday off. At first I couldn’t figure why the cars moved so slowly. As I got closer, I realized they were only letting a car in when another one left the park. Once I was in and to the ranger station, I commented how they must support the whole state park system almost singlehandedly. They said they were one of the top 10. I think they’re five of them all by themselves.

Was it worth it? Yes and no. Got the stamp for the park in my state park passport. The main attraction was the beach. The sand was brilliant white, and the waters were the turquoise I saw at the panhandle beaches, which surprised me. But I’m not a beachy guy, so I didn’t enjoy it as much as others might. I also spent less time in the park than waiting to get in. Another thing that bugged me was that, with all the waiting, there were at least half-a-dozen empty parking spots. They could have let a few more cars in. Maybe they don’t want to fill it to capacity in case people have to get out fast?

As I was leaving, I swear I saw a lovebug. In the beginning of April? I wondered how bad they’d be come the end of May. It looks as though I worried needlessly, as I’ve seen hardly any since. Usually Memorial Day weekend is swarming season, but I haven’t seen a sign of the cursed things, thank goodness.

I was completely out of Naples not long after leaving, and with only a smidge of dificulty found Bonita Springs School (photos). And don’t think this was the last one; far from it. It was 12:30 and closed, so spring break must’ve been this week. After getting pictures, I called my cousin Lynn for my mid-morning check-in. By the time we were done, it was 1 o’clock and time for lunch.

On the way to the school I’d noticed a building that looked like an old-style ice-cream place, but remember seeing a sign indicating it was a restaurant. I thought I’d try it, and it was a food highlight of the trip. The name of the place was Taqueria San Julian (street view). Not a big place, but nice enough. They had a menu written on the wall, and one of the first things I noticed on it was tripe. I’m not a big tripe fan. I made pepper pot soup (a Pennsylvania Dutch sort of menudo) years ago and it was OK, yet I wouldn’t go out of the way to get it. The thing is, them having tripe on the menu (and tongue!) indicated to me that it wasn’t your typical fast-food generic Mexican restaurant.

I will say the one atypical thing was the service was slow, which I’ve not had happen in a Mexican restaurant. It might have been my invisibity curse acting up, or just my day to get slow service. I obtained a regular type menu, and saw they had four locations, one of them back in LaBelle. After eating at this one, I’ll remember to look for the others if I’m in the area.

What’d I get? A pork taco, which was like a mini-burrito. And speaking of burritos, I got a shrimp burrito, which I’ve never had. I’ve also never had it cut in half, which made it even easier to eat. Neither was huge, but then the prices were very inexpensive. Altogether it was around 7 bucks, which is insane for food that good.

Oh, and did I forget to mention the hot sauces? Three of them, served in a metal container like you’d find in a fancy restaurant. Here’s a more extensive description, with pictures of the salsa purveyor and some of the food. It’s about the one in Fort Myers, but equally applies to the one in Bonita Springs. I left before 2 PM, which wasn’t too horrid, time-wise.

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