Definitions of the region vary, though its boundaries are generally considered to put it south of the Tampa Bay area, west of Lake Okeechobee, and mostly north of the Everglades and to include Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte, Lee, and Collier counties. For some purposes, the inland counties of DeSoto, Glades, and Hendry, and the thinly populated mainland section of Monroe County, south of Collier, are also included.
The region includes four metropolitan areas: the North Port-Bradenton-Sarasota MSA (733,000 population) (sometimes alternately considered a part of the Tampa Bay Area to the north), the Cape Coral-Fort Myers MSA (660,000), the Naples-Marco Island MSA (340,000), and the Punta Gorda MSA (165,000). The most populous county in the region is Lee County (661,000 population), and the region's largest city is Cape Coral with a population of 165,831 as of 2013.
With no large cities in its early history, Southwest Florida was largely ignored by commercial developers until the late 1800s. As a result, the region lacks the heavier development present in other parts of Florida. In recent years however, there has been a major real estate boom focusing on downtown Fort Myers (high-rise residential condominiums); southern Lee County (commercial development and high-technology); eastern Collier County (residential development); and eastern parts of Bradenton. Numerous efforts in recent years have been made to reduce development and preserve open space and recreational areas.
Inland counties (DeSoto, Hendry and Glades Counties) are notably rural, with the primary economic driver being agriculture. Important products grown in this area include tomatoes, beef, sugarcane, and citrus products including oranges. Agricultural harvesting in Southwest Florida employs approximately 16,000 seasonal workers, 90 percent of which are thought to be migrants. 
Each county in the region has its own county government. Within each county, there are also self-governing cities, towns and villages. The remaining majority of land in each county is controlled directly by the county government. It is also very common for incorporated municipalities to contract county services in order to save costs and avoid redundancy. The region is designated as one of Florida's 4 districts for the Committee of Southern Historic Preservation (C-SHP). The district has been represented by Tommy Stolly since 2013.
Southwest Florida is served by several major highways, including the Tamiami Trail (U.S. 41) and the Interstate 75 freeway, both of which connect the area to Tampa to the north, and Greater Miami-Ft. Lauderdale to the east. Long-term cooperative infrastructure planning is coordinated by the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council (web site), and in heavily populated Lee County, the Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Southwest Florida International Airport, located in South Fort Myers, served over 7.42 million passengers in 2009  and offers non-stop flights to 3 cities in Europe and 2 in Canada, in addition to 36 domestic airports. The area's secondary airport, Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, served 1.34 million passengers in 2009.
The following table shows the airports that serve the Southwest Florida area with commercial flights:
|Tampa International Airport||TPA||TPA||Large hub||8,268,207||Southwest (5,186)|
|Southwest Florida International Airport (Fort Myers)||RSW||RSW||Medium hub||3,789,386||Delta (1,650)|
|Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport||SRQ||SRQ||Small hub||1,340,000||Delta (636)|
|St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport||PIE||PIE||Small hub||1,220,000||Allegiant (1,082)|
|Punta Gorda Airport (formerly Charlotte County Airport)||PGD||PGD||Small hub||836,000||Allegiant (830)|
The Port of Manatee provides a full range of port services for commercial, industrial and cruise ship purposes.
Tourism is a major economic driver in the area. The warm winter climate draws tourists from across the United States, Canada, and Europe.
Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) is a public university located just south of the Southwest Florida International Airport in South Fort Myers in Lee County, Florida. The university belongs to the 12-campus State University System of Florida. FGCU competes in the Atlantic Sun Conference in NCAA Division I sports. FGCU is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to award associate's, 51 different types of bachelor's, 29 different master's, and 6 types of doctoral degrees.
The following table shows the professional teams and major NCAA Division 1 teams that play in Southwest Florida.
|Florida Everblades||Estero||Ice hockey||ECHL||Minor league -- Third Tier||Germain Arena (7,100)|
|Fort Myers Miracle||S. Fort Myers||Baseball||Florida State League||Minor league -- Class A||Hammond Stadium (7,500)|
|Bradenton Marauders||Bradenton||Baseball||Florida State League||Minor league -- Class A||LECOM Park (8,500)|
|Charlotte Stone Crabs||Port Charlotte||Baseball||Florida State League||Minor league -- Class A||Charlotte Sports Park (7,000)|
|Gulf Coast League Red Sox||Fort Myers||Baseball||Gulf Coast League||Rookie league||JetBlue Park (10,823)|
|Florida Gulf Coast Eagles||Fort Myers||Basketball||Atlantic Sun Conference||NCAA Division I||Alico Arena (4,500)|
Florida is the traditional home for Major League Baseball spring training, with teams informally organized into the "Grapefruit League." As of 2004 , Southwest Florida hosts the following major league teams for spring training:
|County||County Seat||Pop. (2004 est.)||Pop. (2000)||Change (2000-2004)||Change (1990-2000)|
|Charlotte County||Punta Gorda||157,134||141,627||+10.9%||+27.6%|
|Collier County||East Naples||296,678||251,377||+18.0%||+65.3%|
|Glades County||Moore Haven||11,131||10,576||+5.2%||+39.3%|
|Lee County||Fort Myers||514,295||440,888||+16.6%||+31.6%|
|Florida - statewide||17,397,161||15,982,378||+8.8%||+23.5%|
Communities listed have a population greater than 30,000 according to the 2000 census.