Geographical size by land area: 1,998 square miles
Median household income: $69,653
Median value of owner-occupied housing dwellings: $360,800
Mean commute time to work: 24.7 minutes
Incorporated cities: 3
(Source: U.S. Census, 2019 estimates)
Collier County is often touted as the largest county by geographical size in Florida, and what’s more impressive: 70 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 thrive 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 G. 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 known as Everglade was incorporated as Everglades and designated the county seat. It served as the base for Barron G. 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 tourists and commerce, as well as 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 and Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve. Its population of 400-plus 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 16,500-plus and a peak winter season population of 40,000, it features six miles of beach 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, natural resources, 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 bays 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 22,000 residents, Naples has long been a popular winter destination, boasting more than 300 sunny days per year, rich cultural amenities, affluent residents, and sophisticated dining and shopping.
Geographical size by land area: 784 square miles
Median household income: $57,832
Median value of owner-occupied dwellings: $224,800
Mean commute time to work: 27.5 minutes
Incorporated cities: 6
(Source: U.S. Census, 2019 estimates)
Created in 1887, Lee County is the place where the Caloosahatchee River, part of the Intercoastal Waterway, meets the Gulf of Mexico and connects with the Okeechobee Waterway. The river is 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 two Major League Baseball spring training facilities for 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 cities and communities:
Bonita Springs: Beachfront Paradise
Bonita Springs is an incorporated city in south Lee County with a population of 47,000-plus. It is home to the 1,616-acre Lovers Key State Park, stunning beachfront homes, plenty of public access to its Gulf shoreline, a large community park on the Imperial River, and a historic downtown.
Cape Coral: City of Canals
West of Fort Myers, Cape Coral is the largest city between Tampa and Miami with a population approaching 200,000 and 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: Along the River
Estero is a 25-square-mile village nestled between Fort Myers and Bonita Springs that became incorporated in 2014. It has long 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 82,250 residents living in the 40-square-mile city. Fort Myers is home to the Caloosahatchee River, famous 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 unique blend of architecture ranging from the early 1900s to modern gems, while apartment complexes and riverfront condos provide options.
Fort Myers Beach: Casual Coastal Community
At 6 square miles, Fort Myers Beach boasts a year-round population nearing 7,000, 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. Investors can get into the market through condotels or invest in vacation rental properties on the Gulf or back bay. The island lifestyle is casual and laid-back, with plenty of dining and live music, community activities, and events that draw visitors from throughout Southwest Florida.
Sanibel and Captiva Islands: Unique Gems
Sanibel and Captiva Islands have a unique natural beauty and commitment to environmental stewardship that has restricted both commercial and residential development. 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.