Okay, so maybe my last post about the Burrowing Owl Festival didn’t appeal to you…how about a different kind of activity for this weekend?
On Sunday, March 1 Cape Coral will host the Annual Taste of the Cape festival. This free event will be held at another of the city’s fine parks—Four Freedoms–which is located off from Cape Coral Parkway behind the SunTrust Bank. (Parking is available at Capital Bank, the empty lots in the 400-block of Cape Coral Parkway, Club Square, Veteran’s Museum, and Big John’s Plaza.) This celebration runs from 12:00-6:00 and includes food, drinks, and entertainment. You can sample great food from over 20 local restaurants along with a variety of craft beers, margaritas, and wine. You can pay to sample as many or as few as you’d like! You can feel good about your participating in the sampling because 100% of the proceeds go directly to local student scholarships and music outreach programs in the community. Be sure to bring along your lawn chair to be able to relax with your samples while enjoying performances by local school groups as well as the grand finale, a performance by the Gulf Coast Symphony which will begin at 4:30. The symphony is Southwest Florida’s premier community orchestra and is celebrating its 19th season.
So, if burrowing owls and other wildlife didn’t excite you on Saturday, be sure to give this event a try on Sunday! Or, you can always attend both and get a great cross section of life in beautiful Cape Coral!
If you’ve ever driven around the city of Cape Coral and noticed small wooded cross-like stakes driven into what seem to be random areas on lawns or vacant lots and wondered what they were all about, this weekend’s festival is for you!
Saturday, February 28th is the Annual Burrowing Owl Festival! The burrowing owl, which makes its home in the ground, is a species of special concern in Florida and is protected. There are more burrowing owls in Cape Coral than any other place in the world and they became the city’s official bird in 2005. These very small birds build their nests underground and nest from late February through July. The Burrowing Owl Festival is a way to celebrate the beginning of the birds’ nesting season and to learn more about the owls and some of the other wildlife our area has to offer. The Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife group has been looking after these small Cape Coral residents for about 10 years and holds the festival as a way of increasing awareness of the species as well as funds for the care of the nearly 2800 documented burrows in the city. Thousands of area residents now attend the festival each year.
If you’d like to attend, the festivities are held at Rotary Park (on the corner of Pelican and El Dorado Blvds.) from 10-4. The festival includes informational displays about the burrowing owl as well as other wildlife in the area, conservation, and ecology. The Park is also home to a Butterfly House. In addition, there are crafts for both kids and adults, live music, and of course, food. The festival also includes bus tours to see the owls in their natural habitat around the city. If you want to see even more wildlife, there is a tour to see manatees, bald eagles, osprey, scrub jays, and other natural inhabitants of Cape Coral.
Looking for something to do this weekend? Want to learn more about those seemingly random stakes you see in the ground? Check out Cape Coral’s Burrowing Owl Festival—just one more example of all that Cape Coral has to offer!
For more information, check Cape Coral events guide
Many of Cape Coral’s year-round residents are people who have moved here from the North for retirement. Why, you might ask, would someone move to the Cape to retire? I’m glad you asked that!
Perhaps one of the most important reasons why anyone would choose to live here—regardless of age—is that the Cape is a safe community. According to the Economic Development Office, Cape Coral is the 2nd safest city of its size in Florida. That is pretty impressive and certainly gives one some peace of mind in this society. One of the chief reasons why I chose to relocate here from Chicago is because I wanted my kids to live in an area where it was safer for them to grow up.
Another reason why so many people choose to retire here is because of the affordability of the housing market. This is one of those communities where many people who never thought they’d be able to can even afford a home on the water. Of course during the recent housing down-turn many homes were foreclosed on or available by short sale and prospective retirees who wanted to move here were able to purchase the homes of their dreams. Housing prices here in the Cape, even with the rebound of the economy, are much friendlier for buyers than those of Ft. Myers or even Naples.
The whole cost of living is lower here than in many of the northern states, as well. Many times I have heard people say that groceries, fuel, and taxes are much less than what they were paying in their northern homes. That is a great way to stretch retirement dollars!
The Cape’s location is another reason why so many people decide to relocate here. It is only a day’s trip to so many other areas of interest in FL. I told you in an earlier post about my friend Jim who takes his dive students to the east coast for their open water dives; he can be at the dive boat in a place like Pompano Beach in only 2 hours! A visit to Key West can be done in a weekend! Not to mention obvious tourist attractions in Orlando that can be reached in only 3 hours. The closest international airport—for those who want to travel further—is just across the river in Ft. Myers. If the many amenities of Cape Coral aren’t enough for you, a short trip can expand your horizons!
But with all of the things to do and see in Cape Coral it should be awhile before anyone could feel the need to travel…especially with the perfect weather of this area! Who can beat the beautiful, clear blue skies that entice anyone and everyone to get outside and do something…or to relax and do nothing? Whether it’s boating, a biking adventure, visiting a local park, or attending one of the many city events, there is always something to do in Cape Coral. The slower pace of living and the relaxed attitude of residents make this a wonderful place to live; this is true regardless of your age!
In a recent post I wrote about the Tour de Cape—the annual biking event here in Cape Coral that highlights the many miles of biking trails that the city has to offer. Many people—young, old, and families—participate in the Tour as well as enjoy year round biking here. There is another kind of biking that is paid tribute to here in the Cape as well…motorcycles!
Cape Coral Bike Night
Cape Coral Bike Nights are another event sponsored by the Cape Coral’s Parks and Recreation Dept.. These nights are an opportunity for motorcycle enthusiasts to get together in downtown Cape Coral. Those who attend are able to listen to live bands, eat great food, and just have fun with others who enjoy motorcycles. There are 4 different bike nights held throughout the year—the second Saturday of October, December, February & April…that means that if you are still looking for something to do with your Valentine, you can attend bike night as the next one is scheduled for February 14th!
Owning your own bike is not a prerequisite to having fun at this special event. Admission is free and it’s just a great way to get together with old friends or meet new friends. Several blocks of SE 47th Terrace are blocked off so that bikers can line the street with their bikes. Bikers and non-bikers can walk the street to see all of the greatest and latest makes and models. All kinds of food are available at the event or you can also take advantage of the many restaurants in this area of the Cape. In addition, many vendors set up displays for those who may be interested in buying gear or just want to browse.
With or without a motorcycle, think about joining the fun in downtown Cape Coral to enjoy an evening of live country music along with about 12,000 other people from all over the area. Cape Coral’s Bike Night is touted to be the best bike night in SWFL…can 12,000 people be wrong? Check it out for yourself!
Another great recreational activity in the Cape Coral area is scuba diving. Though the Cape itself doesn’t have areas for diving, it is a good central location to get you started on a diving adventure. My friend Jim is a PADI Dive Instructor in the area. He works for Dean’s Dive Center in Ft. Myers which offers a large variety of dive classes for the beginner and the more advanced diver. The classes are held in Ft. Myers, but for the open water “check out” dives there are different options that are available. Some groups travel to Lake Denton (about 2 hours NE of the Cape). This location is good for beginning divers, especially those who may have difficulty equalizing. Some beginner groups travel to Duck Key in the Florida Keys. The most common option for the “check out” dives for both the beginner and advanced diver is Pompano Beach on Florida’s east coast. This site is also about 2 hours away from the Cape. The reason it’s difficult to do these last dives in the Cape is that the water doesn’t get deep enough for divers until one is quite far out in the Gulf. It seems to make more sense to travel 2 hours by car to a location for diving than over 2 hours by boat to get to an area where there is enough depth for a good beginning dive.
Once you’ve become a certified diver, however, you may want to try diving in some of the areas closer to the Cape. One popular site is the USS Mohawk wreck site. The USS Mohawk was a Coast Guard Cutter that was sunk on July 2, 2012 to form the Veterans Memorial Reef. It is located 28 nautical miles off Captiva Island. In addition to being a great wreck for diving, the Mohawk was also once the site of an art exhibit. Photographer and diver Andreas Franke photographed the ship after it was sunk and then superimposed onto the photos pictures of models dressed as they would have looked during WW 11. Then, a crew of 75 divers helped to hang the steel-framed Plexiglas photos with magnets to the side of the ship. The photographs remained on the ship for 4 months before being removed and placed on exhibit at the Alliance for the Arts in Ft. Myers. Many divers took advantage of those 4 months to visit the rare underwater art exhibit!
Some fantastic remote and deeper wrecks perfect for advanced divers include Captiva Blue Hole, Pegasus, ARC Towers, Edison Reef, and 240 Ledge. There are also other sites that are great for the novice diver. The year-round warm water temps make this a great dive destination for the one who wants to become certified and the diver who is already trained.
So far I have talked about the canals of Cape Coral and the many boating opportunities in the area. Some of the fun here takes place on land, too! In addition to the many parks I wrote about in my last post, Cape Coral is also home to over 90 miles of bike routes. Biking in Cape Coral can be real fun, these bike routes provide many variations for your riding pleasure. The various routes can take you by nature preserves, scenic canals, marinas, and golf courses, etc. You can choose a route based on a whim or with a specific destination in mind, including shops and restaurants. One of the routes goes around the 49 mile perimeter of the city! What if you ride too far and are too tired to ride back home? Don’t worry! Our public buses are equipped with bike racks! Along the routes you will also find informational maps and kiosks showing some of the landmarks, facilities, and recreational activities that you can check out.
The Tour de Cape
It only makes sense that a city that is so well-designed for biking would host a big biking event. Every January Cape Coral holds the Tour de Cape. This weekend event includes a 5k run as well as 15, 30, 60, & 100 mile bike rides. The routes are flat and safe so that families can participate as well. The Tour de Cape is not meant to be a race; rather, it’s a way for casual and serious bikers to get out and ride together through this beautiful area. People from all over the world participate in this annual event that takes advantage of the great biking routes and weather that Cape Coral has to offer. People who don’t bike go out to cheer on the riders. Some young citizens of the Cape set up cold drink stands to earn some money! This past weekend my wife and I participated in the 24th Annual event. We rode the 15 mile route with our two children. It was a wonderful way to spend the day as a family. My son, though only 3, was really into the spirit of things and kept yelling at me to ride faster! I guess he didn’t get the part about it not being a race!
In the past few posts I have been writing about the canal system that is part of what draws people to Cape Coral. There are a lot of other reasons why people chose to call the Cape home. Another of the city’s attributes is its parks. I have lived in Cape Coral for a few years now and I still haven’t visited all of the parks that the city has to offer. A quick Google search shows that there are 39 sites in the city that are part of the recreation programs offered.
One of the Cape Coral parks that I have visited is Four Freedoms Park, located on Tarpon Court overlooking Bimini Basin. This park offers playground equipment for different ages, a large grassy area, picnic tables, and a “sunbathing only” beach. Much of the play area is shaded so it’s a great place to visit on one of those warmer days! This is also the location of the Christmas boat parade and the Cardboard Boat Regatta.
Another park I’ve visited is Rotary Park, located on Rose Garden Rd. This park also has a playground and large grassy areas. This is a great park to go to if you like nature and enjoy bird watching. There are nature trails that go through the area that is mostly salt marsh and mangrove wetlands. Young kids love to play explorer as they lead your family through the “wilderness” on these trails. Let them chose which turn to take as your family enjoys the time outside. There is one walking path that has fitness stations along the way. Part of the walkway system is even wheelchair accessible. When you are done walking the trails you can visit the Butterfly House or take your dog into the dog park. This park is the host site for the annual Burrowing Owl Festival.
The third park I’ve visited is Jaycee Park. Though this is supposed to be one of the city’s most popular parks, I’m sad to say that I’ve only been there once. My visit was to pay respects at the traveling exhibit of the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial. I said then that I need to go back. This waterfront park is a beautiful place. Like other parks in the city, there is a walking path and fitness stations. There is playground equipment for all ages and picnic areas overlooking the water. A great place for a family outing! I haven’t been back yet, but I certainly need to go; perhaps for a short visit with the kids to play on the playground or maybe we’ll pack a lunch and make a day of it as there are plenty of activities for everyone to enjoy.
Some of the city’s parks also offer boat ramps so if you don’t have access to a dock at your house, you can come enjoy time at a park and then launch your boat to enjoy the waterfront for a while. The city certainly offers lots of opportunities for outdoor play! My favorite place to play is the Yacht Club area. More about that in another post!
In a previous post I mentioned the “no wake” zone of the canals. This regulation is to protect the manatees that call the SWFL area their home. In the cooler winter months the manatees often travel up the canals seeking warmer water and to forage for food. The props on boats are documented dangers to these wonderful animals; hence, the “no wake” zones so that boats are going slow enough to hopefully avoid hitting a manatee. It’s important to be on the lookout for these animals as you travel through the canals. If you fail to heed this regulation, be prepared to be yelled at by property owners with canal front lots! You should also be aware that the Cape Coral police regularly patrol the canals and may ticket you for an unsafe speed. Out of respect for the manatees, property owners, and other boaters, please drive responsibly!
Boating slowly through the canals is beneficial in other ways, too. There is abundant wildlife along the banks of the canals as well as in the canals themselves. In addition to manatees, you may see crabs, turtles, alligators, stingrays or dolphins frolicking along. The dolphins tend to be closer to the river end of the canals, but you never know when they might surprise you! Birdwatchers will love the different species that can be seen along the banks and rushes of the canals. Blue herons and ducks, in addition to many songbirds, are frequently sighted. Not being a birdwatcher myself I’m not really sure of the names of all of the birds that can be seen!
The canals are also home to lots of fish and it’s not unusual to see people trolling through the canals in hopes of a big catch. Mullet, jacks, snook, sheepshead, and mangrove snapper are some of the varieties you are likely to catch; that is, they are in the water—that doesn’t mean that you are actually going to catch one! Be sure to study the fishing regulations for the area, however, as you don’t want to be caught with the wrong kind or size of fish! Some fishermen like to anchor in the larger parts of the canals (called “lakes”) and try their luck with the rod there. If you decide to troll through the canals you need to watch for other people fishing from their docks—sometimes all you might catch is someone else’s line! I can’t imagine how I know about that…
In an earlier post I told you about how tranquil and relaxing it can be to explore the canals here in the Cape. The canals can also be a way to venture further from home. A typical day on the water for me might be spent with my friend Jim and his wife. We start out in their boat at about 9:00 or 9:30 and head for the river. Their dock is about 45 minutes from the river through the “no wake” zone (more on that later!). Some people might look at this as an agonizing way to start a day on the water, but Jim’s family has learned to appreciate the peace and beauty of that 45 minutes. They enjoy checking out the landscapes around them, the many birds along the waterway, and might even drop a fishing line behind the boat (more on that later, too!).
After 45 minutes we hit the river and have lots of options of places to go. One of our favorites is to head for Ft. Myers Beach. Now Jim has a chance to go faster than the “no wake” zone of the canals will allow! It’s great to see so many other boaters out on the water just enjoying the beautiful weather that SWFL has to offer. There are always all kinds of vessels out there—from very small skiffs to power race boats to luxury yachts. The size of the boat doesn’t seem to affect the amount of enjoyment that the people are having. Everyone always looks like they’re having a good time!
If we plan it just right, we are able to pull up to the dock at Nervous Nellie’s Restaurant just as they are opening. Marine dockage is available and easy to access. Both inside and waterfront dining are available in this casual, family fun restaurant that offers live music. We prefer to dine outside to watch what’s happening on the waterfront! After lunch we can head back home or do some more boating in the area.
This winter we have been trying different restaurants that are accessible by boat. So far we have visited Pincher’s Crab Shack at the Marina at Edison Ford and The Waterfront Restaurant and Marina on the southern tip of Pine Island, in addition to Nervous Nellie’s. We know that there are many more to visit! It’s a true testament to how “water centered” Cape Coral is when you can get in the boat to go out to eat!
To me, one of the most unique things about Cape Coral is the canal system upon which the city is built. Cape Coral, sometimes called the “Waterfront Wonderland,” has 400 miles of navigable waterways—more than any other city in the world. Imagine going out into your backyard, getting in your boat, and traveling to a restaurant, a friend’s house, or just exploring the area.
On a recent Sunday afternoon, when the Gulf seas were a bit too high for the timid, I spent about 3 ½ hours just trolling through the canals. It is so enjoyable and relaxing to motor through the waterways enjoying a part of the Cape that not everyone gets to see. Given that it was the holiday season, many people had their backyards and docks decorated for Christmas. It was nice to see this side of things and made me wish it were night time so that I could have enjoyed the lights, too. Many residents were outside doing yard work or just relaxing on their docks. Everyone had time for a friendly wave or a “How are you today?” This is really a chance to enjoy the much slower pace of life that is available here.
Of course, the canals offer the opportunity to travel to other places in the area and to participate in other activities as well. More on that in future posts!