Lay of the Land: City Spotlight

Unique cities and communities thrive along the Southwest Florida coast


Collier County

Collier County is often touted as the largest county by geographical size in Florida, and what’s more impressive: More than 75 percent of the land is set aside for federal, state, and county parks and conservation. As a result, it is home to vast wildlands—swamp, prairie, marsh, and coastal ecosystems—along with rural and agricultural areas that flourish in the frost-free area. Collier County was one of the last frontiers in the American South, and it was named for advertising magnate Barron Gift Collier who, at one time, was the largest landowner in Florida and fueled the completion of the construction of the Tamiami Trail. Today it has three incorporated cities and many distinct communities throughout the unincorporated parts of the county. Here is a snapshot of the municipalities:

Everglades City: Coastal Outback

When Collier County was carved out of Lee County by the Florida legislature in 1923, this remote town was incorporated as Everglades and designated the county seat. (The county seat later moved to Naples.) The town served as the base for Barron Collier’s development of the Tamiami Trail, linking the east and west coasts of South Florida, which opened with national fanfare in 1928. Its arduous completion through muck, limestone, and swarms of mosquitoes unlocked the remote region for more efficient travel for tourism, commerce, and development.

Located on the edge of Chokoloskee Bay, the Everglades City area had previously been occupied for millennia by Native Americans, followed by Seminoles and white settlers after the Civil War.

Today, this remote incorporated city is renowned for fishing and its proximity to Everglades National Park, Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve, and Ten Thousand Islands. Its population of 400 residents is a hardy, tight-knit community still recovering from the direct impact of Hurricane Irma in 2017. Nearby, smaller towns include Chokoloskee, Plantation, Jerome, Copeland, and Ochopee.

Marco Island: Relaxed Oasis 

At 24 square miles, Marco Island lies 35 miles south of Naples and is the largest barrier island within the Ten Thousand Islands. With a permanent population of about 16,170 and a peak winter season population of 40,000, Marco Island features six miles of beaches and is crisscrossed with more than 100 miles of canals and waterways created when the city was developed in the 1960s. Marco Island is recognized for its high quality of life with a low crime rate, proximity to fantastic fishing, and casual atmosphere, and friendliness. While real estate is relatively expensive compared to many communities in Florida, there is a wide variety of price ranges for homes, condominiums, and vacation rentals.

Naples: Jewel on the Gulf

Upon its founding as a resort town in 1888, Naples was named for the romantic town in Italy because of its shimmering Naples Bay and location on the Gulf of Mexico. As the county seat of Collier County, it is home to both city and county government offices, law enforcement headquarters, and courts. It has ranked among the top 10 wealthiest cities in the United States. Home to about 20,000 residents, Naples has long been a popular winter destination, boasting more than 250 sunny days per year, rich cultural amenities, a strong philanthropic spirit, and sophisticated dining and shopping.

Sanibel Island
Sanibel Island

Lee County

The 67-mile-long Caloosahatchee River wends its way to the Gulf of Mexico through Lee County, which was created in 1887 after it was carved out of Monroe County. The river is part of the Western Gulf Intracoastal Waterway and Okeechobee Waterway, which connects the state’s west and east coasts by water inland. The Caloosahatchee is also a unique natural resource for the county seat, Fort Myers. Originally a military fort and then a cattle town, Fort Myers was selected by inventor Thomas A. Edison for his seasonal winter home, which is now a popular tourist destination. International travelers are also drawn to Sanibel and Captiva islands, Gasparilla Island, and the rich fishing grounds of Pine Island Sound and Charlotte Harbor. Lee County has Major League Baseball spring training facilities for both the Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins. There are six incorporated cities and many distinct communities throughout the unincorporated parts of the county. Here is a snapshot of the municipalities:

Bonita Springs: Beachfront Paradise

Bonita Springs is an incorporated city in south Lee County with a population of 56,370. It is home to the 1,616-acre Lovers Key State Park, stunning beachfront homes, public access to its gulf shoreline, a large community park on the Imperial River, and a historic downtown.

Cape Coral: City of Canals

Across the Caloosahatchee west of Fort Myers, Cape Coral is the largest city between Tampa and Miami with a population of 216,000. It is the seventh largest in the state. At 120 square miles, Cape Coral is the third largest city in Florida by land mass. Developed in the late 1950s, Cape Coral is one of the largest master-planned communities in the nation. It is known as the “City of Canals” for good reason: With 400 miles of navigable waterways, it has more canals than Venice, Italy. Cape Coral has a wide mix of residential options and plenty of vacant, developable lots; it is only 50 percent built out, so there are many commercial and industrial opportunities.

Village of Estero: Historic River Hamlet

Estero is a 25-square-mile village nestled between Fort Myers and Bonita Springs that became incorporated in 2014. Today, it hosts a population of 37,700. For more than a century, it has drawn visitors to the Koreshan State Historic Site and the Estero River. In recent decades, it has become home to Florida Gulf Coast University, Hertz Corporation’s headquarters, Coconut Point Mall, and the Hertz Arena. The arena attracts national concerts and hosts the Florida Everblades hockey team.

Fort Myers: Historic Hub

The county seat of Lee County, Fort Myers is a diverse community of 95,900 residents living in the 40-square-mile city. Fort Myers is home to the Caloosahatchee River, palm-tree-lined McGregor Boulevard, Dunbar community, the county’s central government offices, and Southwest Florida’s largest concentration of historic commercial buildings in the downtown River District. The residential neighborhoods feature a blend of architectural styles ranging from the early 1900s to modern gems. Many apartment complexes and riverfront condos provide options.

Fort Myers Beach: Casual Coastal Community

At six square miles, Fort Myers Beach has a year-round population of about 5,660, though it soars with seasonal visitors in the spring and winter months. Beachfront lovers can find a bungalow, condo, or multilevel mansion for full- or part-time living. The island lifestyle is casual and laid-back, with dining, live music, and community events that draw visitors from throughout the region.

Sanibel and Captiva Islands: Gulf Gems

Sanibel and Captiva Islands have a unique natural beauty and commitment to environmental stewardship that has restricted both commercial and residential development. These islands are home to about 6,400 residents. Their shores have drawn the world-famous for more than a century. Captiva consistently ranks among the most desirable beaches in the world, and Sanibel has a global reputation for unparalleled shelling and coastal recreation. Due to limited inventory, these island gems boast the highest price tags in the county.

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