Last updated on December 1, 2022 by Wandering our World
Are you thinking about going to Florida for your next vacation but can’t decide between Fort Lauderdale and Fort Myers? You’re not the only one – we’ve been in that dilemma before.
That’s because even though both these destinations are studded with stunning beaches, have plenty of shopping malls, lively bars and nightclubs – as well as lots of activities to choose from – there are important differences that set Fort Lauderdale and Fort Myers apart.
For example, if you who want to experience some of the best nightlife in Florida, loads of activities on your doorstep and a lively beach city atmosphere, then Fort Lauderdale might be the best option for you.
Fort Myers on the other hand, has calmer waters, a more relaxed atmosphere and is perfect for those looking for a vacation that involves some nature as well as the bright lights of city life.
Luckily we now know these two places well, so right here we provide an in-depth – and honest – comparison of Fort Lauderdale and Fort Myers. All so you can figure out which is the best choice.
We’ll show you which city has better beaches, better nightlife, which is safer, what are the best attractions to visit and a whole lot more.
So read on to find out which is the perfect destination for you!
- How do the Beaches Compare
- How Do The Activities Compare
- Transport & Getting Around
- Which Has Better Nightlife
- How Does The Accommodation Compare
- Where To Stay According To Your Budget
- Which Is Safer
- Which Is Better For A Family Vacation
- Which Is Better For Couples
- How Does The Cuisine Compare
- Which Is More Affordable
How Do The Beaches Compare?
Both cities are situated on Florida’s southern tip, with Fort Lauderdale on the east side but Fort Myers on the west side. Because of that, you’ll find there are slight differences at the coast.
For example, as it’s located alongside the Gulf Coast, Fort Myers has very calm waters. In contrast, Fort Lauderdale offers visitors more fun waves – much better for surfing – as it’s on the Atlantic Ocean side of Florida.
However they both have that fantastic year-round sunny weather we all love, as well as miles of beaches, so both Fort Lauderdale and Fort Myers can be the perfect destination for a beach vacation. To make things even better, the majority of the beaches in these destinations are public and completely free of charge.
A trip to either isn’t just an opportunity to slow down and relax though. But also a chance to stay active playing volleyball, biking, paddle-boarding, kayaking and surfing.
Below we look at the beaches in-depth, showing you exactly what’s similar and different about each destination’s coastline.
However, one important thing to remember is that Fort Myers beaches are a little out of town and will require transport to get there from downtown. Whereas getting to the beach from downtown Fort Lauderdale is much quicker and easier.
Fort Lauderdale: The Beaches
Fort Lauderdale, sometimes referred to as Miami’s quieter, more elegant cousin – or even the ‘Venice of America’ – is rich with not only stunning beaches but also canals.
In fact, it is the only place in the state where you can go past a superyacht on a gondola yet also spend a sunny day on soft sandy beaches! Talk about picturesque.
The main beach here is…. you guessed it, Fort Lauderdale Beach! It offers seven miles of clean white sand and crystal-clear waters.
Visitors can take part in many aquatic activities there such as snorkeling, swimming and diving. Surfing is also popular thanks to the Atlantic Ocean waves.
Or for a more relaxed pace of life you can simply lounge on a beach chair soaking in the warm sun and sipping on a cocktail.
On top of that, separating the beach from the busy A1A Highway is a beautifully bricked path that’s perfect if you enjoy activities like running, skating or cycling. And after a long day by the beach, you can head straight to one of the many restaurants and cafes situated in the area.
That’s another difference between Fort Lauderdale and Fort Myers. You’ll find Fort Lauderdale has a much more developed coastline, so it’s easy to find bars and restaurants beside the beach. That also tends to make the beaches busier than the ones at Fort Myers too.
The one big downside to the beaches in Fort Lauderdale is the lack of restrooms, so you might have to plan a bathroom break while heading out for a bite.
And if you’re eager to experience even more white sand and turquoise water, just outside the city limits you’ll find “greater Fort Lauderdale” which has 23 miles of pristine beaches lined with tall waving palms. Perfect for long beach walks and picnics.
Fort Myers: The Beaches
Southwest Florida is known for its idyllic coastline that gently slopes towards the Gulf of Mexico. The water here is shallow – perfect for kids and families – and the gorgeous beaches offer a wide range of activities ensuring a good time for every beach lover.
Undoubtedly, the most well-known beach in the city is Fort Myers Beach and you can easily spend the whole day enjoying the beauty here. Swim in the sparkling calm waters of the bay, relax on the golden sands, test your sandcastle-building skills, and look for lots of beautiful seashells.
In our opinion, the beaches at Fort Myers may be the better choice for families due to all those reasons above, and the fact Fort Myers tends to be less busy and crowded than Fort Lauderdale.
Although part of the reason the coast is less busy is the fact beaches like Fort Myers Beach are actually a few miles from downtown. Although the upside of that is the fact those beaches are also less developed than the ones in Fort Lauderdale too.
If you want to explore Fort Myers Beach by kayaking or parasailing, that’s possible too. You also might want to walk to Fort Myers Beach Pier. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a leisurely stroll, take in beach views, watch friendly pelicans fly by or even do some fishing.
Another great beach to visit is the nearby Bunche Beach, which is situated in the marvelous San Carlos Bay. There you can enjoy all the usual beach activities such as swimming and sunbathing. And if you’re into kayaking, this is the place to go too.
The best way to experience kayaking on Bunche Beach is to start inland and paddle towards the bay. Along the way, you’ll see thriving mangroves, coastal and migratory birds as well as other wildlife. It’s a wonderful spot to enjoy nature.
In fact that’s another difference between the beaches in Fort Lauderdale and Fort Myers. Because the latter is less busy there’s definitely more nature on show in the coastal regions.
How Do The Activities Compare?
Neither of these cities are short of fun things to do, as they both have a range of activities, water sports, and attractions on offer.
Yet although both of them host museums, shopping centres and wonderful beaches, as Fort Myers is less populated you’ll find the nature and wildlife there remains more untouched than Fort Lauderdale.
While Fort Lauderdale, as the bigger city destination, tends to have more going on as well as more activities and options.
Fort Lauderdale: The Activities
With so much to do in this city, it can be difficult to choose which activities you want to experience at Fort Lauderdale.
However as per usual with big cities, there’s one street that’s especially notable and lively and that’s a good place to start! Las Olas Boulevard is a must visit as it has just about everything a tourist would want – museums, restaurants, places to shop and more.
One of the best Los Olas Boulevard’s attractions for art and culture lovers is the NSU Art Museum where you can see works that emphasize the beauty of South Florida and Cuba.
For a feel of wildlife head to Sawgrass Recreation Park which is located just 30 minutes outside downtown Fort Lauderdale. The park offers guided airboat rides through the wetlands of the Everglades. Visitors will be able to see wild animals such as alligators, pythons, and maybe even the highly endangered Florida panther.
If you want to stay on your own boat, then you have over 300 miles of inland canals to explore! That arguably makes Fort Lauderdale a better choice than Fort Myers if you are traveling with your own boat.
For those travellers who prefer to stay active – but on land – some great hiking trails can also be found in Tree Tops Park, Hugh Taylor Birch State Park and Secret Woods Nature Center.
Fort Myers: The Activities
As we mentioned before, Fort Myers is an especially great destination for wildlife and nature lovers as there’s plenty of nature to explore right on this city’s doorstep.
Besides a wonderful beach that’s open 365 days a year, Lovers Key State Park at Fort Myers offers over five miles of hiking trails ideal for admiring wildlife and nature. Keep your eyes open to spot turtles, herons or even the occasional manatee.
Another great place to go for a hike a bit further from the crowds is Bowditch Point Park. This is also the perfect spot for watching the sunset because, since the beach is a little further from the action of the resorts, you’ll be truly immersed in the natural beauty of this place.
Some other fun things to do in the area include heading out on a dolphin watching cruise, jet skiing along the coast, sailing at twilight or joining a ghost walking tour.
And if you’re travelling with family, consider going on a themed pirate cruise where the kids will be able to get their faces painted, look for treasure chests and much more.
For history buffs, check out the fully restored botanical laboratory at Edison and Ford which is the place where Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and Harvey Firestone used to work together in real life. The estates also host a 15,000-square-foot museum dedicated to the work of these famous American inventors and a beautiful botanical garden.
Activities wise these destinations are hard to separate. Both have lots of beach and watersport opportunities, but if you’re looking for more lively city activities then Fort Lauderdale will likely be the better choice. However if you want more nature and exploring, then Fort Myers may be the better choice.
Transport & Getting Around
While there are other ways to get to these destinations, the most convenient way is by air and luckily both have airports located extremely close to them.
The main airport in the Fort Myers area is Southwest Florida International Airport, whereas the closest airport to Fort Lauderdale is Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport which is only a 5-mile drive south of downtown Fort Lauderdale.
In order to get to Fort Lauderdale you can also make use of the Miami International Airport which is located a bit further away, about 30 miles south of downtown Fort Lauderdale.
As both Floridian cities are modern and their infrastructure is excellent, getting around them is easy.
However there are still differences between these two when it comes to transport and ease of getting around:
Getting Around Fort Lauderdale
Even though Fort Lauderdale has an extensive number of waterways, the best way to get around the city is by car. There are two main airports you can fly in to in the area, and both of them have car rental services available. One thing to note if you’re new to driving in the city is that in general “avenues” run north-south and “streets” run east-west.
If you want to soak in the views while getting from one point to another, consider renting a bicycle. That costs USD 5 per 30 minutes or USD 50 per day.
There’s also a free community shuttle available which has five routes that link destinations around the city and are connected to the larger transit network.
Of course, you can also make use of ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft or call a taxi.
Getting Around Fort Myers
As per usual, a rental car is the most convenient way to get from one point to another. But if you don’t wish to rent a car and plan to stay mainly in one area and only occasionally travel further distances, calling a taxi or an Uber might be the best option.
If you decide to make use of the public transport system, a fun, easy and affordable way to get around is the Fort Myers Beach Trolley, which will only cost you USD 0.75 per ride!
Some areas like Downtown Fort Myers are also pretty compact, so you might even prefer walking around to see more of the city and the beach.
That’s another way these destinations differ – smaller Fort Myers is an easier destination to walk around, compared to bigger Fort Lauderdale. Although you will need a car or transport to get from downtown Fort Myers to Fort Myers Beach,
Which Has Better Nightlife?
If you’re looking for a fun time then both Fort Lauderdale and Fort Myers are the place for you, as they offer some of the best nightlife in Southwest Florida and a lively party scene.
However one is a little more lively than the other:
Fort Lauderdale: The Nightlife
If there’s one place that’s made for partying in Florida, it’s Fort Lauderdale.
The entertainment on offer here includes dancing, bars, restaurants, clubbing and plenty of live music. In fact you’ll find one of the most famous party beaches in all of Florida here. The area is known for its Entertainment District and a variety of nightclubs to choose from. To make things even better, Fort Lauderdale’s nightlife is much more affordable compared to nearby Florida beach cities.
With that the case, if your priority is fun when the sun goes down, Fort Lauderdale will likely be a better choice than Fort Myers.
One of the most famous clubs is “Off the Hookah”. It’s an eclectic bar and lounge serving delicious Mediterranean and Japanese cuisine in an exotic atmosphere. The bar is renowned for some of the best belly dancers in the world and skilled bartenders. It’s a must visit.
Other Hotspot Hubs in the city are Las Olas Boulevard, River Front and Hard Rock Seminole Hotel Complex.
Recommended: A Local’s Guide to Fort Lauderdale Nightlife
If you happen to visit Fort Lauderdale during the months of March or October, you might just catch one of the main music and party events of the year – Langerado Music Festival or Tortuga Music Festival.
Fort Myers: The Nightlife
Similar to Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers offers partiers a wide range of options. The top party spot here can be found in downtown Fort Myers where the brick streets are lined with bars, clubs and pubs.
While we think Fort Myers nightlife isn’t as big or bold as Fort Lauderdale, what it does have is options for everyone – whether you’re looking for a party, or just classy cocktails at the beach.
One top area is Gulf Coast Town Center which is especially popular among college students. But as the area hosts everything from tequila bars and wild nightclubs to piano bars, visitors of different ages and tastes will be able to find something suitable for them.
For those who would like to stay on the beach not only during the day but also until late night hours, check out the Cottage Beach Bar. Situated right on the beach with live music every night, you’re bound to have a good time if visiting.
Recommended: A Local’s Guide to Fort Myers Nightlife
How Does The Accommodation Compare?
Both cities have plenty of accommodation options on offer, ranging from downtown Airbnbs to luxurious stays right on the beach overlooking the turquoise waters.
On top of that, accommodation is actually quite affordable in both compared to other Floridian destinations like Miami.
Fort Lauderdale: Accommodation
Fort Lauderdale is slightly more expensive than Fort Myers accommodation wise, but still quite affordable as a hotel room for two people averages about USD 100 per night. Obviously if you want to stay in an upmarket spot, that average will be much higher.
The best areas to search for a place to stay are: Downtown Fort Lauderdale for those who want to be in the epi-center of the action and close to all the main attractions; Fort Lauderdale Beach for the best views and most accommodation options; and Dania Beach or Lauderdale-By-The-Sea for a taste of ‘Old Florida’ and a quieter more private access to the beach.
Fort Myers: Accommodation
There are plenty of places in Fort Myers where a two-person hotel room costs under USD 100 per night, so this is the more budget-friendly destination.
If you want to enjoy a more luxurious stay, the top resorts are located on Fort Myers Beach with the prime rooms facing the beach to the west.
They cost a lot more, but you will be able to can sip your coffee and dolphin watch in the mornings while also soaking in the amazing sunsets in the evenings. These full-service resorts provide everything needed for a great vacation, as well as convenient access to mainland Fort Myers attractions.
Where To Stay According To Your Budget
Budget: The Hotel Maren Fort Lauderdale Beach is a gorgeous beachside property that boasts some of the best views in the city. Right beside the beach and many restaurants, the location is perfect, and it’s made even better by the resort’s own swimming pool. See photos and rates right here!
Luxury: For celebrity treatment in a luxurious setting, it’s hard to beat Conrad Fort Lauderdale Beach. Sat right beside the beach with exceptional views, gorgeous furnishings, and possibly the best pool in the city, this is a place we all want to stay in at least once in our lifetime. See photos and rates right here!
Budget: With a view of boats bobbing on the water, a heated outdoor pool, as well as free kayaks, paddleboards, pedal boats and bikes to use, you’ll likely never get bored at the pretty – and affordable – Latitude 26 Waterfront Boutique Resort. See photos and rates right here!
Luxury: Marriott Sanibel Harbour Resort & Spa sits right on the sea facing Sanibel and Captiva Islands, has a spa with jacuzzi, sauna, a tennis court and four swimming pools! If you’re looking for a hotel to relax and enjoy in luxury, this is the place for you. See photos and rates right here!
Which Is Safer?
Unfortunately, despite its wonderful beaches and upscale restaurants Fort Lauderdale is one of the least safe cities in the entire country.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t visit, just be aware that crime exists and take precautions to avoid becoming a target. For example, keep your belongings attended and research the safety of the area you’re planning to stay in. Locals generally consider the southwest part of the city to be the safest.
Fort Myers on the other hand while not the safest city in the US, is considered safer than Fort Lauderdale. The area that’s considered to be the safest by locals is the western part of the city.
Which Is Better For A Family Vacation?
Both destinations offer plenty of attractions for families with kids, as well as some wonderful beaches.
The waters on the Gulf side of Florida at Fort Myers are much calmer though, so they may be better for younger kids if you’re concerned about their safety. Fort Myers is also regarded as a safer city, and is less busy.
Fort Lauderdale, on the other hand, is bigger so provides more activity options to enjoy together with children of all ages. That in itself is a bonus if you have kids that need lots of entertainment options!
Which Is Better For Couples?
Since Fort Myers is slightly quieter than Fort Lauderdale, it might be the better choice for a romantic couple’s getaway. As the city is less populated, it also provides a more laid-back atmosphere.
Fort Myers also has a lot of amazing restaurants, where you can enjoy a romantic dinner with a glass of wine. You can stay in a romantic beachfront accommodation there, stroll along the coast during the sunset without huge crowds, and still take part in fun activities, such as diving or hiking during the day.
But if your idea of a couple’s vacation is doing more activities together and less laid-back one-on-one time, then Fort Lauderdale could be the better choice.
How Does The Cuisine Compare?
Both Fort Lauderdale and Fort Myers are the perfect destinations for foodies, as they host tons of restaurants to choose from!
Visitors can try everything starting from the Floridian staple, seafood, as well as international favorites like French and Italian cuisine.
The wide range of eateries also ensures that you’ll be able to find just the right spot for your budget. Keep on reading to discover a little more about the food culture in both destinations, and a few of the locals’ favorites!
Fort Lauderdale: Food & Restaurants
You’ll have no problem finding classic Floridian seafood dishes here, such as shrimp, fish tacos, scallop risotto and sea bass.
For a casual spot to enjoy delicious seafood or a steak while watching the sunset, head to Coconuts Waterside Grill. And if you visit on a Sunday, you’ll be able to catch a boat show featuring extravagant and luxurious yachts of all kinds.
If instead of seafood you would rather have a bite of a juicy burger, check out Gilbert’s 17th Street Grill or Hardy Park Bistro.
Whilst if you’re craving a sweet French pastry, La Crepe is the place to go. Take your pick from the raspberry-passion fruit or the pistachio chocolate layer cake, or try the crispy almond croissants generously dusted with powdered sugar.
Lastly, for a taste of Italian cuisine, visit La Dolce Vita who serve fresh handmade pasta with a glass of obligatory wine!
Fort Myers: Food & Restaurants
Restaurants in Fort Myers have much more to offer than just seafood. You can try food from pretty much any place in the world you can think of here.
In order to enjoy authentic Italian cuisine head to Osteria Celli. The menu here is inspired by traditional Italian music and the restaurant’s chef was born and raised in Milan.
For a twist on the classic American fare, check out Harold’s in Plymouth & Regal Plaza.
Cape Cod Fish Company is the top casual dinner and lunch spot to eat yummy local specials. Here guests will have the opportunity to try New England-style dishes, such as Fish and Chips and Clam Chowder.
For a taste of Indian head just around 15 minutes away from Fort Myers to Cape Coral where you’ll find Masala Mantra Indian Bistro.
To enjoy a relaxing afternoon, visit Wisteria Tea Room & Café for a huge assortment of English tea, an array of mini desserts and a fresh scone.
Which Is More Affordable?
Overall, both of these destinations are quite affordable, especially compared to the average costs of other Floridian cities like Miami.
However, Fort Lauderdale tends to be slightly more expensive than Fort Myers, especially when it comes to accommodation.
Fort Lauderdale vs Fort Myers: Which Is The Better Choice?
It’s impossible to pick only one winner, as both destinations provide plenty of spectacular beaches, restaurants, different types of accommodation and tons of fun things to do.
However for those of you who want to experience some of the best nightlife in Florida, loads of activities on their doorstep, and a lively beach city atmosphere, then Fort Lauderdale might be the best option.
Fort Myers on the other hand, has calmer waters and a more relaxed atmosphere while still providing visitors with hiking trails and other fun activities. That may make it better for couples, families, or those looking for a vacation that involves some nature as well as the bright lights of city life.
In the end the decision comes down to what you’re looking for from your visit. And if you’re still split between the two destinations remember that they aren’t that far apart, so if you have enough time, you might even be able to visit both!