ARTS ON STAGE. The Center for the Arts of Bonita Springs opened the Center for the Arts Moe Auditorium & Film Center in 2014, tucked behind the Living Waters Community Church. Professionals and amateurs alike can share the 450-seat space for concerts, musicals, theater classes and more.
BREAKFAST. Start your day off right. The Survey Café dishes up breakfast wraps, cheesy jalapeño grits and organic fair-trade coffee on a secluded deck. Trackside Donuts & Café (239-390-1400), a retro roadside stand, makes its baked goods from scratch daily, and Dolly’s Produce Patch (239-992-8939) is a country kitchen that serves up scrambled eggs and biscuits like grandma’s—plus, you can shop for fruits, veggies and Dolly’s famous pies.
CATCHING WAVES. Little Hickory Bay and Estero Bay separate the mainland from a myriad of tiny islands, so take heed from locals and explore by boat. Rent one for the day at Bay Water Boat Rentals or, if you’re an avid boater, secure a yearly membership at Destination Boat Clubs, which will offer you anytime access to its fleet at marinas and private clubs throughout the state.
DOCKSIDE DINING. Have your own boat? Partake in a Bonita tradition and pull up to one of the several waterside restaurants. Two favorites are Big Hickory Fishing Seafood Grille & Marina (239-992-0991), where Pinot Gris and lobster tail await, and The Fish House Restaurant, a flip-flop kind of place with a spicy blackened grouper sandwich.
ETHNIC FOOD. The town’s diverse population has brought a spate of storefronts serving delicacies from many a motherland. Zorba’s underwent a complete renovation in late 2012, and the decor is now as deserving of recognition as the Greek spinach pie and souvlaki. Maria’s Restaurant churns out Mexican regulars like tamales and enchiladas, plus old-school offerings like menudo (tripe stew). You can also toast Oktoberfest with steins and schnitzels year-round at Stephan’s German Bistro, and get your jerk (chicken) on under a tiki umbrella at Hot Caboose Island Grille (239-676-7997).
FINE CUISINE. The grande dame of finer options for sophisticated palates is Angelina’s Ristorante, where expertly done Italian mixes with classical service in a no-jeans atmosphere. Slightly less formal, but in no way less interesting from a culinary standpoint, are the Pacific fusion cuisine of A Table Apart and the modern American fare at Wylds Café. For a perfect pour with Provençal nibbles, head to C Level Bistro & Wine Bar.
GOLF. Private courses, like the five designed by Tom Fazio and Arthur Hills for Bonita Bay Club, as well as the new Raptor Bay Golf Academy formed by a Rick Smith protégé, give golfers a lot to smile about.
HOOTS AND HOWLS. Though its address is technically Naples, the 13,000 acres of Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary run alongside the city’s eastern boundary. The sanctuary deserves mention because it’s one of the top birding destinations in the entire country and the gateway to the Great Florida Birding South Trail. Look for glimpses of endangered wood storks, indigenous barred owls and stately bald eagles, as well as coyotes, black bears and Florida panthers.
ICE CREAM. No place has done the frozen treat better for the past 35 years in all of Southwest Florida than Royal Scoop. The old-timey outpost on Vanderbilt Drive serves up a seemingly endless selection of homemade flavors like Bonita Gator Tracks and Southern Pecan Cinnamon Delight.
JINGLE, JINGLE. Flesher Farm, a private ranch, strings up 3.5 million lights and opens its grounds each December to holiday revelers. Seafarers also get in the spirit by ringing their bells and decking their decks for the annual Christmas boat parade.
KIDS (AND KIDS AT HEART). A tradition for nearly half a century, the Sammy the Snook scavenger hunt in March is a citywide search to reel in the wooden mascot; Sammy the Snook was first created in the ’60s for the Tomato Snook Festival and evolved over the years to be a symbol for various festivals. For year-round fun, little Tony Hawk wannabes get their kicks at B3 Skate Park. Tykes love the easy Golf Safari Mini Golf, while families make an afternoon of putt-putt at the more challenging Congo River Golf. Another swinging experience is Disc Golf, a nine-“hole” Frisbee course.
LOVERS KEY STATE PARK. Once only accessible by boat—and therefore the preferred locale for a romantic rendezvous—the four barrier islands comprising this now navigable park are a must-see for locals and tourists alike. The approach alone is stunning, especially at sunset, with turquoise waters, powdery white sand and coastal hammock forest. Hikers, cyclists and kayakers love the five miles of land trails and maze of paddling routes where you can spot manatees, dolphins and ospreys. The park concession (239-765-7788) rents both bikes and kayaks; guided tours are also an option.
MADE IN BONITA. The actual incorporated city of Bonita Springs may be young, but the area’s history as a fishing settlement is rich. Headquartered in the renovated Liles Hotel building (now a modern civic center) is the Bonita Springs Historical Society. Inquisitive visitors can stop by weekdays to browse displays, and a docent leads tours Thursdays from 1 to 3 p.m.
NATURE LOVERS. Directly south of Bonita Beach Road tucked away towards the water is the beautiful Barefoot Beach Preserve. Aside from the pristine shores, it’s a nature lover’s dream. The varied vegetation includes an aquatic butterfly garden, cactus garden and the one-mile Saylor Nature Trail, plus there’s a Nature Center with a bevy of ranger-run programs like canoe trips, walks and lectures.
ON THE HOOK. Anglers can reel in a big kahuna (well, actually, snook or trout) from any perch on or off the shore, but the backwater is best trawled with a captain like Rob Modys. His company, SoulMate Charters, leads excursions in Estero Bay, and when he’s not sinking lines, Modys hosts a fishing show on ESPN Radio.
PINTS AND PITCHES. The casual hangouts of Bonita have got you covered on game day. Baseball fanatics gravitate towards Lansdowne Street, a Boston-themed gastropub with delicious lobster rolls—plus darts and a nice patio to boot. Buffalo Chips, a cramped wood-paneled hideout known for its wings, boasts an NFL Ticket package and bluegrass nights. Beer enthusiasts and serious jocks flock to the gigantic Johnny Malloy’s for its 97 brew selections and flat screens lining the perimeter. Karaoke Fridays are also a draw.
QUIET SHORES. Barefoot Beach and Lovers Key are tranquil compared to the bustle at Bonita Beach Park at the end of Bonita Beach Road; for true solitude, boat up to one of the many islands or check out the 10 access points on Hickory Boulevard between the park’s northern boundary and the tip of Little Hickory Island (leeparks.org).
RIVERSIDE PARK. Monthly movie nights and weekly live music keep the party going at this central spot along the Imperial River, but the biggest draws are the annual Taste of Bonita food fest in November and the city’s Celebrate Bonita birthday extravaganza in April with carnival games, good eats and marquee bands.
SCENIC DRIVE. The seven-mile stretch of Bonita Beach Road, from where it becomes one lane in each direction and curves northward to traverse the barrier islands and Big Carlos Pass, offers some of the quaintest scenery around. Multi-story pastel homes exude coastal charm, and bridges over boat-dotted azure waters interspersed with mangrove thickets imbue even more character.
TOP TENNIS. Each February former world champions and Grand Slam winners descend upon the Bonita Bay Club for a weekend of exhibition games, clinics and match play—between them and you! Anyone can participate, and ticket sales for the Finemark Tour Players Tennis Classic directly benefit Barbara’s Friends, a group that raises money to help cancer patients at the Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida.
UP-AND-COMING SHOPPING. Offbeat hidden gems are a mainstay, like Pottery As Art with its rainbow of imported garden urns, and The Violin Shop, which recently added a 40-seat recital space for concerts. But the real news is the Promenade at Bonita Bay. The waterfall-lined development has undergone a renaissance of sorts with new stores setting up shop. Last year it launched To the Moon—a chic boutique with luxurious yet youthful looks from New York, L.A. and Paris designers—as well as Epic 31 with artsy jewels and Kay’s on the Beach with ladies’ apparel. This summer DeRomo’s Gourmet Market & Restaurant is expected to debut.
VISUAL ARTS. The Center for the Arts of Bonita Springs has an extensive class roster for adults and children, offering everything from jewelry design to still-life painting. Purchase pieces from local artists by strolling the line of working studios in Riverside Park—most are open Sundays when musical acts enliven the grounds. Last, don’t skip the popular wintertime series of the Bonita Springs National Arts Festival.
WATER SPORTS. Doc’s Beach House, the spot for brewskis on the sand, is also home to a rental company for jet skis, stand-up paddleboards, Hobie Cats, kayaks and parasailing.
XHALE. Breathe easy at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort & Spa during a pampering staycation or a day of tranquility with hot stone massages or water shiatsu. Shangri-La Springs, the site of the town’s namesake natural spring and a historic 1920s hotel, was reborn as a New Age wellness center.
YAPS AND LAPS. The only place in all of Southwest Florida where you can unleash Fido and swim with him side-by-side is the aptly named Dog Beach. It’s just south of the entrance to Lovers Key, west of New Pass Bridge. We love the doggie shower station and recommend visiting at low tide for calmer currents.
ZOOLOGICAL WONDER. Since 1936 the lush (and delightfully kitschy) Everglades Wonder Gardens has enticed with alligators, flamingos, snakes, peacocks and more—which is why many were elated when local photographer John Brady decided to reopen the site just weeks after it had been shuttered in 2013. The gardens recently made the transition into a nonprofit, and Brady hopes to unroll more advances and events to engender interest among the next generation.