Location: 26811 South Tamiami Trail | Bonita Springs, FL 34134
There are few things that are more quintessentially Southwest Florida than the Fort Myers Beach Lions Club Shrimp Festival. For two days in March, locals and visitors visit Fort Myers Beach to enjoy the parade, meet the Shrimp Festival Queen, and participate in arts and crafts, the shrimp-eating contest and the iconic shrimp boil and dinner. Last year, 30,000 people came out to the Fort Myers Beach Shrimp Festival and parade and festival attendees consumed about 13,000 pounds of shrimp. This is the ultimate event for seafood lovers.
The Fort Myers Beach Shrimp Festival began as the Blessing of the Shrimp Fleet more than 50 years ago. Now it is a major celebration. Shrimp is known as “pink gold” to locals, and in the early days the shrimp industry was one of the things that helped put Fort Myers Beach on the map. Come enjoy a Southwest Florida tradition since 1959. Meet new people, enjoy the weather, try some shrimp and other seafood dishes, watch the parade, visit more than 100 arts and crafts vendors, watch live entertainment, meet the Shrimp Queen, or try to take home the title of the winner of the shrimp-eating competition. The Fort Myers Beach Shrimp Festival is an excuse to get out, eat a delicious meal, participate in some Southwest Florida culture and have a fun day on the beach.
It’s come a long way in 62 years. Today the Fort Myers Beach Shrimp Festival raises tens of thousands of dollars for charities that provide assistance for services like eye surgeries, the Florida Lions Eye Bank, Southeast Guide Dogs, scholarships for area students, Little League and Youth Soccer, large print books for the local library, and Beach Elementary and Cypress Lakes High School students’ needs.
Lions Club secretary, Shelby Stites, is in charge of the parade float and shrimp-eating contest.
She says her favorite part of the event is the 10 a.m. parade on Saturday.
“You get to ride on the float and throw out candy. That ties it all together for me,” said Stites, who is a third generation Lions Club member.
She also loves seeing the festival come together.
“We work really hard and get lost in all that happens and forget the fun it creates for the community and what a big deal it is for them,” Stites said. “We work so hard. To take a step back and see the faces in the crowd and how much fun it creates for them and the camaraderie of the community, it hones in on why we do it in the first place.”
The March 14 and March 15, 2020, festival is from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on both days. The free event is open to kids and adults and there’s something for the entire family to enjoy.
The Shrimp Festival grounds are located at Lynn Hall Memorial Park at 950 Estero Blvd., Fort Myers Beach, 33931.
Some people opt to leave their cars off-island and take the LeeTran trolley to the festival. There is plenty of parking at LeeTran’s Beach Park and Ride facility at the corner of Summerlin Square Drive and Pine Ridge Road. The LeeTran trolley takes you to Fort Myers Beach. Once on the island, a free tram service runs continuously to help you get from point A to point B.
Keep in mind that the Matanzas Pass Bridge will be closed from 9 a.m. to noon for the Saturday morning parade. If you’d like to access the beach from San Carlos Boulevard you should arrive before 8 a.m. The only bridge open to Estero Island during the parade is from Bonita Springs, about 16 miles south.
If you choose to park on the beach, there is a pay lot you can use on the north side of the island. From the south, you can park at Santini Plaza in the 7200 block of Estero Boulevard, or at Lovers Key State Park.
The parade of the season begins at 10 a.m. on Saturday, March 14. The one-and-a-half-mile-long route runs down the main street of town, Estero Boulevard. Many people get there early to claim a prime viewing spot, so if you want first dibs, prepare to get there by 9 a.m. The parade starts near Fort Myers Beach Elementary School and ends at Lynn Hall Park next to Times Square. It has run the same route for 60 years and it’s a piece of Southwest Florida history. To watch it live visit, http://cam1.fortmyersbeachfl.gov/view/view.shtml?id=16327&imagepath=%2Fmjpg%2Fvideo.mjpg&size=1.
For more than 50 years, the Fort Myers Beach Lions have been serving delicious Gulf shrimp to festival attendees. In fact, many festival goers attend the event just for the delicious pink shrimp dinner. The secrets of the perfectly cooked peel and eat shrimp have been in the Lions family for generations, passed down throughout the years from boil master to boil master. The Lions also use their secret recipe for cocktail sauce. This is a dinner fit for a king or queen. The shrimp comes straight from the Fort Myers Beach shrimp boat fleet. It’s a whole operation. The Lions boil shrimp for two days, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. They make it a priority for festival goers to experience the goodness that is shrimp directly from the Gulf of Mexico.
The shrimp-eating contest has become a new island tradition. Ten sponsored contestants compete to eat as many pounds of cooked and peeled shrimp as they can in eight minutes. They are distributed to contestants in pre-weighed portions. Whoever eats the most wins! Will Fort Myers Beach firefighter, Joel, be crowned the Shrimp King yet again or will a newcomer outlast him?
The Shrimp Run 5k, presented by the Cypress Lake High School Athletic Booster Club and Cypress Lake High School, is back. It’ll twice take over the Matanzas Pass Bridge while thousands of onlookers cheer the runners on! It starts and ends at Doc Ford’s restaurant.
There is also a run for kids. The Kids Shrimp Run is a one-mile run on the beach sand and it takes place on the first Saturday in March. Each participant gets a T-shirt and accolades will be awarded to the top-three finishers for each gender per grade, Kindergarten through fifth grade. The free race will begin at the beach access on Gulf Beach Road. Each grade will be released separately and the race begins at 8 a.m.
Before the first Shrimp Festival was held in 1959, there was an event called Beach Day. St Raphael’s Episcopal Church sponsored the Blessing of the Shrimp Fleet, which was held on the Beach Pier. Shrimp rolls were sold in the county park.
“We started it from the beginning,” Stites said.
But at first, instead of shrimp, the Lions sold barbeque chicken dinners.
“Someone asked why we were selling chicken dinners at a shrimp festival and we stopped that and got local shrimp from shrimp boats, and turned it into a shrimp festival with shrimp from local shrimp boats,” Stites said.
And they haven’t looked back since.
“We’ve got some new members this year and they’ve reminded us that some people move down to the beach after experiencing the Shrimp Festival because they’ve decided this is where they want to be,” Stites said. “It brings everyone together. They (locals) consider it a holiday. For the community, it’s a way to get together. It’s all about the local pink shrimp.”
It also gives the local economy a boost.
“Everyone is slam jam-packed,” Stites said.
And every dollar raised goes back to the local community.
Stites says the Lions raise more than $60,000 in two days.
“We distribute funds we raise to local food pantries, students at the Beach School, help families in need, and all sorts of other efforts,” she said. “We can’t keep any of the money for ourselves. One-hundred percent of the money we raise goes back to the community.”
Come visit us on the beach and check out the Fort Myers Beach Shrimp Festival. Soak up the warm Southwest Florida sunshine, mingle with the locals, try some freshly boiled peel-and-eat shrimp and take advantage of this local tradition. If you’d like to dip your toes into the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico or take in one of our famous sunsets, any of our Vacation Planning Advisers will be happy to help you book a vacation in paradise. We have all sorts of rentals available, whether you’re looking for something to accommodate a large family or a romantic vacation for two. Call us today and let us know how we can help. Creating lasting memories is what we do best!