The Fort Myers area is full of famous attractions and many of them are very affordable. But forking over a few dollars here and there eventually adds up. Don’t worry, there are plenty of things to do that wont cost you a dime, while providing hours of enjoyment. The beach is considered and generally assumed to be a free activity, so that is why none are mentioned on this 10Best list. There are lots of public beaches that won’t cost anything but a little effort to walk through the sand; and possibly parking.
Here you will find family friendly activities like Art Walk in downtown Fort Myers, the first Friday of each month. Galleries stay open late and provide entertainment along with special exhibits. For free fun in the great outdoors, don’t miss Lee County's Manatee Park. At this spot you can see the gentle marine giants gathering in the warm waters produced by a nearby, former power plant. The best time to see the most sea cows is between November and March.
In fact these months host lots of free events as they are considered the area’s “high season” for tourists wanting to escape the cold. That being said, there enough freebies year round to keep you and the family entertained in Fort Myers.
You don't need to go to a zoo or an aquarium to get an up-close look at manatees; see them for free at Lee County's Manatee Park. Between the months of November and March, manatees swim into the canal of this 17-acre park to escape the cooler Gulf temperatures. The animals are drawn to the warm-water discharged from a former power plant. The water is also shallow, making it perfect for viewing the creatures in their entirety. The park offers free, guided walks and lots of educational activities like Manatee Bingo. Kids can enjoy a playground and the entire family can check out the butterfly garden. Pack a lunch as there are picnic facilities, but leave you dog at home when visiting this park.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: It's the best place to get an up-close look at the fascinating, giant Manatees when they seek shelter from cooler waters.
Gina's expert tip: Consider renting a kayak or canoe to get even closer to the manatees
Located on Estero Island, Matanzas Pass Preserve is one of the few natural habitats left on the island that is also home to Fort Myers Beach. Not only is it free to the public but also home to 1.25 miles of trails that wind through mangroves, and an oak hammock along the Estero Bay. This 60-acre unspoiled sanctuary offers the perfect escape from the area's well-populated tourist scene. Take time to hike and explore, and be on the lookout for diverse wildlife, including raccoons, rabbits, hawks, owls and turtles. This park is a sanctuary for native plants and a designated site on Great Florida Birding Trail. There is free parking but it is limited.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: An unspoiled 60-acre sanctuary offering trails through dense mangroves and lots of opportunities for wildlife sightings.
Gina's expert tip: Bring bug spray.
Each year, on the first weekend in February, ArtFest is held on the riverfront in downtown Fort Myers. It has grown to become one of the most respected art events in the area, with some 70,000 people participating in the three-day festival. Most of the 200 artists booths line Bay Street, parallel to the Caloosahatchee River and Centennial Park. The park is the perfect backdrop for food vendors and performance stages. The award winning festival uses profits to promote art in local schools year round. There are young artists tents and an Art Yard; an area for your kids to create a masterpiece of their own, while you shop for that perfect new sculpture or painting.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: This has become one of the most renowned art shows in the area with lots of entertainment and kids activities.
Gina's expert tip: Free Trolleys run from parking sites on MLK and McGregor Blvds.
Walking the 2.5 miles of paved and unpaved paths at Lakes Park is free and there are fitness stations scattered around the water for your workout. The small water park is free for kids to cool off and concessions are available, however the boats come with a fee. Check out the Miniature Railroad that offers a 15 minute ride by a small scale village. Look for exotic vegetation and the occasional alligator in the 158 acres of freshwater quarry lakes; fishing is allowed. You'll be able to spot birds like the Ibis and Heron, enjoy the fragrance garden, a seasonal community garden and rest in the gazebo or the many covered picnic areas. The park is also home to many cultural and music festivals and a seasonal Farmers Market on Friday.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: A fun place for the family to spend the entire day with lots of trails, wildlife, concessions and water activities.
Gina's expert tip: Great paths for a safe morning run or bike ride.
Few things are more sacred in Southwest Florida than the sunset. The Sunset Celebration at the Cape Coral Yacht Club has grown to become quite a popular place to be the first Wednesday of each month. The Yacht Club Beach offers several pavilions for live entertainment and vendors; some 40-50 local artists and entrepreneurs. Food trucks are also on hand, so once you find a place to park, you can stay for hours. Be sure to pack a beach chair or blanket, stretch out on the sand and enjoy the beautiful view of the Caloosahatchee River as it stretches to the Gulf of Mexico. The hours for this free event change with the seasons, roughly; 4-7 November-March; 5-8 April-June and October, with time off July-September.