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148 miles NW of Miami; 142 miles S of Tampa; 42 miles N of Naples

Historic Fort Myers has a dual mindset that perhaps can be likened to the two schools of martini drinkers -- one has students who consider themselves shaken-not-stirred purists and the other has students who believe in candy-colored cocktails, the brighter and sweeter, the better. The purists usually shudder at the candy-cocktailers, and vice versa. Now replace those opposing martini camps with fans of technological progress and those who believe things were just fine the way they were, and you'll understand the dual mindset of Fort Myers. You see, inventor Thomas Alva Edison came here in 1885 to regain his health after years of incessant toil and the death of his first wife. But unlike most new arrivals, he didn't just merge quietly into the population. Rather, his presence turned the city into one big light bulb: The cows didn't know what hit 'em. Some regret the light bulb ever making its way into Fort Myers. Others couldn't care less.

Today, however, the debate is moot, and the city's prime attractions are the homes built by Edison and Henry Ford on the banks of the Caloosahatchee. Edison planted lush tropical gardens around the two homes and royal palms in front of the properties along McGregor Boulevard, once a cow trail leading from town to the docks at Punta Rassa. If Edison and Ford had never showed up, Fort Myers would probably have been yet another Denny's-lined truck stop. Instead, trees now line McGregor Boulevard for miles and give Fort Myers its nickname: the City of Palms.

After you've seen the Edison and Ford homes, you'll want to hightail it to the sands of nearby Fort Myers Beach or Sanibel or Captiva islands. You also can venture inland and observe incredible amounts of wildlife in river and swamp habitats, including those at the Babcock Ranch, largest of the surviving cattle producers and now a major game preserve.