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13 miles S of Fort Myers; 28 miles N of Naples; 12 miles E of Sanibel Island

Often overshadowed by trendy Sanibel and Captiva islands to the northwest and by ritzy Naples to the south, down-to-earth Fort Myers Beach, which occupies all of skinny Estero Island, has just as much sun and sand as its affluent neighbors, both a half-hour drive away, but more moderate prices. For Jimmy Buffett-style slacking, Fort Myers Beach is where it's at.

Droves of families and young singles flock to the busy intersection of San Carlos Boulevard and Estero Boulevard, an area so packed with bars, beach-apparel shops, restaurants, and motels that the locals call it "Times Square." That Coney Island image doesn't apply to the rest of Estero Island, where old-fashioned beach cottages, condominiums, and quiet motels beckon couples and families in search of more sedate vacations. Promoters of the southern end of the island don't even say they're in Fort Myers Beach; rather, they're on Estero Island. It's their way of distinguishing their part of town from "Times Square."

Narrow Matanzas Pass leads into broad Estero Bay, which separates the island from the mainland. While the pass is the area's largest commercial fishing port, the bay is an official state aquatic preserve inhabited by a host of birds as well as manatees, dolphins, and other sea life. Nature cruises go forth onto this lovely protected bay, which is dotted with islands.

A few miles south of Fort Myers Beach, a chain of pristine barrier islands includes unspoiled Lovers Key, a state park where a tractor-pulled tram runs through a mangrove forest to one of Florida's best beaches.