On the west coast of Florida, you can find some fun budget friendly & free things to do in Fort Myers, Pine Island, & Sanibel Island. This area is located south of the Tampa Bay area, but north of the Florida keys. Some of the most beautiful beaches are in this part of Florida, with flat seas coming in from the gulf. The Sanibel Island area, just off of Fort Myers, is famous for its shelling.
Fort Myers River District – FREE
The Fort Myers River District is their downtown historic area, boasting many buildings that have been there since the early 1900’s. If you are looking for a place to walk around and see the shops or grab a meal, this might be your place!
While you are strolling around the area, check out the riverfront views and take a break at Centennial Park. If you walk down the path along the river from Centennial Park, heading east, you will find the historic district “Look out” pier, where you can get an even better view of the water.
Run, walk, bike, or skate on this 6 mile multi-use trail. The trail is paved and is shady on the southern part of the trail. You can also bring your dog on a 6 foot leash! You can park at the Lee County Sports Complex to the south, or at John Yarbrough Linear Park right at the middle of the trail. View the map here.
Lee County Manatee Park – $2 per hour or $5 a day
This park is a natural refuge for manatees during the winter season! In January, February, or March, you can stop by this park for $2 a car (per hour) and see one of Florida’s most famous types of wildlife: manatees! If you want to get a close look, bring your own kayak or canoe. You can park for $5 for the day and head out on the water to see them up close. Also at this park is a butterfly garden, playground, and nature center. Pets not allowed.
Wicked Dolphin Rum Tours – FREE
Take a tour of the Wicked Dolphin Rum Distillery! Experience some local rum, made from Florida sugar and local ingredients. On Tuesdays, Thursday, and Saturdays, they offer a free tour, but book in advance because it’s limited to 20 people. The tour lasts about 45-60 min and includes a visit to their tasting room. Have kids? You can bring them as well (although for obvious reasons they are not permitted to do the tasting!)
Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve – $1 an hour for parking
This preserve is a boardwalk networked over an area of wetlands. If you are looking to see some wildlife while you are in the Fort Myers area, this is the spot that you want to check out. With no admission and a nominal fee for parking, you can get out in nature for a reasonable cost. They also have an interpretive nature center (which is closed currently due to Covid19, but check their website for updates).
Railroad Museum of South Florida – Donation Based
If you are a train enthusiast (or have a child who is one!) you will want to stop by this great museum with various displays of trains from around different periods of time. The museum’s purpose is to honor the history of the railroad. On display are many antiques, old toy train cars, and well put together toy railroad scenes. The museum is currently closed until September of 2020.
If you paddle, the Matanzas Pass Preserve is a spot you will not want to skip. This preserve is part of the Great Calusa Blueway Paddling Trail, a 190 mile marked paddling trail through Lee County. Click the link to find the maps to the paddling trails. At the preserve is also a 1 mile shaded hiking trail.
Pine Island – $8 and under
Pine Island is known as a place for fisherman! Stop by here to view a traditional fishing village. You will drive over the “The Fishingest Bridge in the World” to get into Pine Island and into the small eclectic town of Matlacha. Rent a kayak from one of the many shops, or bring your own, and take it through Pine Island Sound. While you here you can also window shop in Matlacha, or visit one of the best fishing piers in Florida, Bokeelia Fishing pier (pictured above). The pier is $8 a person and they have rods to rent if you don’t have your own.
Sanibel Island Beach– $5 an Hour
Sanibel has some of the best beaches on either coast of Florida, known for its shells. It’s a far drive if you are coming from the northern part of Florida or driving in from another state, but worth it. This island has gorgeous sand with tons of shells to find. There are several beaches that you can find parking, all with a fee.
Bowman’s Beach, Turner Beach, Tarpon Bay Road Beach, and Lighthouse Beach all have a $5 an hour fee. The best way to avoid this is to arrive after 6 when the meters are not running. The park up in Captiva called Alison Hagerup has a much steeper fee ($25 for two hours!). All of these places parking fills up early in the day, so expect a wait.
Learn more about everything you need to know about visiting Sanibel & Captiva Island by watching this video by Adventuring with Jeff & Tina:
That wraps it up for budget friendly and free things to do in Fort Myers & Sanibel Island! Join us for more activities in Florida by visiting our page on the east coast destination, Ft. Lauderdale and Hollywood Beach!