Fort Myers Beach: More than sand and shells By Kristin OMeara / August 10, 2005 Share 1 -- Room Key: Diamondhead Beach ResortAddress: 2000 Estero Blvd., Fort Myers Beach, Fla. Reservations: (888) 765-5002Web:www.diamondheadfl.comE-mail:email@example.comRates: $190 to $230 through Dec. 22; $200 to $400 from Dec. 23 to April 22. Rates are per room, double; $10 extra for the third or fourth adult; children under 18 stay free.Commission: 10%Facilities: Heated swimming pool; two whirlpools; fitness room; valet service; beachfront cabana rentals; water sports rentals; trolley service; two onsite restaurants; 10,000 square feet of meetings space. Golf, tennis, shopping nearby. Walking distance to Main Street entertainment district.Noteworthy: Proximity to beach, dining and recreation.Not worthy: Poolside restaurant servers are slow and snarky.FORT MYERS BEACH, Fla. -Years ago, I broke ranks with my college girlfriends who headed to the Florida coast in lemming-like fashion in search of wild times each year. But the strangest thing happened a few light-years later: Florida seemed like a great place to travel on a different sort of girls-only trip, as the lone grown-up with my 7-year-old daughter.There was something appealing about the idea of Floridas Gulf Coast, powdery sand, seashells galore and low-glam lodgings that provided enough comfort and simple conveniences as a framework for a vacation without a relentless roster of activity.And it was a quick, one-flight hop from New York.At the ripe old age of 39 (again), I was finally a spring-breaker.Before flying south, Id learned that the cab ride from the airport to the hotel would cost about $40 each way, and as Id planned to do some exploring, it was more cost-effective to rent a car instead. Set loose on the roads of Fort Myers in my ubiquitous white midsize sedan, I did my New York best to drive fast.I covered the short and well-marked distance from Southwest Florida Airport in Fort Myers to Estero Island, home of Fort Myers Beach, in just under an hour and endured just two are we there yets during our journey.As we drove over Matanzas Pass Bridge onto the island, the Main Street entertainment area announced our arrival in vacationland (see sidebar below).Sophie easily spotted the 12-story DiamondHead Beach Resort, which is fronted by a long, flat, white beach.In another 20 minutes, we were in bathing suits on the beach with our feet in the gulf. A box of beach toys provided by the property offered the necessary inspiration for an hours worth of digging and hunting for beach critters.The nearby heated pool came with a priceless commodity -- a herd of playmates.Sophie quickly networked her way into a group of kids, frolicked until dark, drank the first of many virgin strawberry margaritas served poolside and, after a room-service dinner, conked out face down on the king-size bed while I snoozed on the pullout sofa of our waterview, one-bedroom suite.Both the hotel and Fort Myers Beach seemed uncrowded, and the bellman later explained that a large convention had just left town. Although the areas reputation called for crowds, our stay was delightfully quiet.Fringed by a mix of private homes, businesses and unglitzy, mostly low-rise hotels, the atmosphere was laid back and child-friendly.With the exception of one particularly stormy day, the gulfs flat-as-glass water was very safe for smaller children, and the wide beach was fine for shelling and exploring. Two teens we met said theyd explored the beach independently and prowled Main Street to escape the gravitational force of their parents.We spotted families at DiamondHead carrying bags of groceries -- to take full advantage of their well-equipped kitchenettes to prepare quick meals and snacks.Convenience stores were within walking distance, but I opted to make a 10-minute drive to one of several nearby grocery stores for better goodies.By night, the town fairly hummed with activity, with lots of tourists exploring on foot. We spotted some fellow guests downtown at Main Street, hoofing around the surf shops, restaurants and ice-cream parlors.For adults who wanted a bit more nightlife, there seemed to be a fair amount of traffic in and out of the open-air bars and restaurants that dot Estero Boulevard, but after our early dinners, Sophie and I took the slow lane instead.We witnessed dolphins breaching offshore from our screened balcony as the sun set, walked on the beach and, after much splashing and diving and playing outdoors all day, welcomed an early bedtime.This had been a spring break I could tell my Mom about.To contact the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.Renting a car widens road to discoveryThere is plenty to see and do close by in Fort Myers as well as a little farther afield. We did both. Here are some suggestions:Main Street: This splashy, colorful tourist shopping and dining district is within walking distance of many hotels, and trolley service plies Estero Boulevard for those whod rather not drive. Our hands-down favorite place to eat was Wahoo Willies and the Billfish Bar, a fun, super-casual outdoor spot that serves vast portions of freshly grilled and fried fish. Dinner for one adult and one child cost under $30. Try the onion rings.Imaginarium: Take the hours drive to the Imaginarium in Fort Myers for some hands-on, kidcentric fun. We surrounded ourselves in giant soap-bubble tunnels, got windblown by a man-made storm at the Hurricane Experience and visited with Eelvis, the resident eel. Admission: $7 for adults, $5 for ages 3 to 12. Call (239) 337-3332 or visit www.cityftmyers.com/attractions/imaginarium.htm.Edison & Ford Winter Estates: The adjoining winter homes of Thomas Edison and his good friend Henry Ford are two of the most visited historic dwellings in the U.S. The estates are being remodeled as part of an $8 million restoration project slated for completion in November. Open daily, a combined ticket for both homes costs $16 for adults (13 and older) and $8.50 for kids ages 6 to 12. Boat rides, botanical tours and group rates are offered. Call (239) 461-2687 or visit www.edison-ford-estate.com. -- K.O.