“Tourist trap” doesn’t have a negative connotation when used in relation to the World’s Largest Shell Factory and Nature Park in Fort Myers. This behemoth gift shop (68-thousand square feet, to be exact) has been peddling in Florida kitsch since the early days of the state’s tourism industry.
The Shell Factory name is a little misleading. Sure, there are lots of varieties of shells for purchase here. But it’s anything but your run-of-the-mill shell shop.
Anyone who attempts to describe this place always falls short. That’s because it’s impossible.
Inside, you’ll find the normal tacky t-shirts and souvenirs available at every beach gift shop in the state. But as you move down the aisles, it becomes clear this place has a bigger mission to entertain and even educate.
There are mini-museums on everything from pirates and fossils to exhibits about the military, the JFK assassination and exotic animals. One room called the Museum of Natural History contains nearly 200 taxidermied animals, a collection valued at $6 million.
On the grounds outside is a Nature Park with live animals like zebras, camels and lemurs. There’s also a dinosaur exhibit, reptile exhibit, walk-thru aviary, petting farm and eco lab.
It’s almost like a miniature Busch Gardens, minus the big coasters! Kids of all ages can ride the bumper boats, paddle boats and zip line or play a round of miniature golf.
Food options run the gamut from a full-service restaurant to homemade fudge and even a Subway.
The owners say the Shell Factory is always evolving; that changes will never be complete. It’s hard to imagine what the place will look like in 5 or 10 years. But I’m excited to return!