Must-Do Activities When Visiting Fort Myers and Sanibel Island With Kids

Jul 26, 2019

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The first thing that comes to mind when families plan vacations to the Fort Myers/Sanibel Island region? Beaches. Sandy beaches, beaches with lots of shells, beaches where the sun shines nearly every day. The beaches are indeed great, but they are just one of the area’s best-known attractions.

Sanibel Island, recognized as an early leader in ecotourism, offers numerous outdoor learning opportunities. There are historic and cultural attractions, not to mention sports — for both spectators and participants. Having lived 30 years in the Fort Myers area with my own family, here’s our “locals list” of favorite things to do:

Plan the perfect family beach vacation to Fort Myers and Sanibel Island with TPG’s tips for how to get there, when to visit and where to stay on points.

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Family Fun on the Cheap in Fort Myers

Sanibel Island Beaches

Sanibel beach
Photo by Chelle Koster Walton

Although Sanibel Island has a $6 toll to enter and a reputation for being a costly place to visit, its two biggest draws are inexpensive-to-free. Technically, the beaches are free, if you walk or ride a bicycle to get there. Parking generally costs $5 an hour, but the beaches along the Causeway Islands Park have no parking fees. Tip: With small children, avoid swimming from the beaches at either end of the island, where currents can be more treacherous.

J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge

Ding Darling trail family
Photo by Chelle Koster Walton

The island’s other main draw, “Ding” Darling has a free, hands-on Visitor & Education Center. Don’t miss its Learning Lavatories — artful, educational restrooms that won America’s Best Restroom Award in 2018. Admission to the refuge’s Wildlife Drive and its trails is only $5 per vehicle, or $1 per pedestrian or cyclist age 15 and older.

Tip: Download the free Discover Ding game and social media app.

Lynn Hall Memorial Beach Park

On Fort Myers Beach, parking costs $2 an hour. The most popular with families, Lynn Hall Beach has a playground, a free fishing pier and is close to inexpensive places to eat and shop.

Educational Fun in Fort Myers

When visiting museums and amusement parks, use a credit card that rewards for entertainment spending to maximize the rewards.

Edison and Ford Winter Estates

Edison and Ford Winter Estates. (Photo by Romrodphoto / Shutterstock)
Edison and Ford Winter Estates. (Photo by Romrodphoto / Shutterstock)

Celebrated as the home of two American geniuses, Fort Myers’ most-visited historic attraction is the Edison and Ford Winter Estates. The riverside grounds hold the twin homes that inventor Thomas A. Edison built and Henry Ford’s place next door, plus the gardens Edison planted for his experiments, his laboratory, a museum and special kids programs. In the museum, the hands-on Smithsonian Spark!Lab appeals to families’ inventive nature. The popular guided tour costs $18 for ages 6–12, $25 for ages 13–19, $30 adults.

Imag History & Science Center

Imag History & Science Center. (Photo courtesy of Imag History & Science Center / Facebook)
Imag History & Science Center. (Photo courtesy of Imag History & Science Center / Facebook)

Imag History & Science Center has interactive exhibits that teach the fundamentals of science and local history. Some highlights include live animals and animal demonstrations, aquariums and tanks, a virtual history experience, 3-D kids movies and special Friday night and summer camp programs for kids. Admission is $10 for children and students ages 3 and older, $14 for adults.

Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum

Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum
Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum. (Photo by EQRoy / Shutterstock)

When your family becomes obsessed with all the shells on Sanibel Island beaches, take your collecting to the next level at the shell museum. Currently expanding to add live-mollusk aquaria, Sanibel’s shell museum is one of a kind, putting shells in the context of living creatures, history, culture, religion and art. Kids have their own hands-on learning room, and staff members conduct daily beach walks. Admission is $7 for kids ages 5–11, $9 for ages 12–17, $15 for adults. (Beach walk extra.)

Splurges in Fort Myers

Shell Factory & Nature Park

Shell Factory Nature Park. (Photo courtesy of Shell Factory Nature Park / Facebook)
Shell Factory Nature Park. (Photo courtesy of Shell Factory Nature Park / Facebook)

Hardly competition with the big-name parks in Orlando, there are a few smaller amusement parks in Fort Myers that are less bank-busting. The biggest and oldest, the Shell Factory in North Fort Myers blends old-fashioned bumper boats and mini-golf with a new-fashioned Nature Park zoo and zip line, all within a shopping center where seashells are the main attraction. The activities are priced a la carte, but you can buy packages starting at $25 each and including admission to the Nature Park, where the petting farm and gator slough are big draws for families.

Sunsplash Family Waterpark

Sunsplash Family Waterpark. (Photo courtesy of Sunsplash Family Waterpark / Facebook)
Sunsplash Family Waterpark. (Photo courtesy of Sunsplash Family Waterpark / Facebook)

The area’s only public water park, Sunsplash in Cape Coral offers 14 acres of tam water features for tots to scary slides for the daring. Children ages 2 to 12 pay $18; adults $20, parking starts at $5.

Tip: Come after 5pm on select summer Saturdays for discounted admission until 8:30.

Professional Baseball

Fort Myers hosts two Major League Baseball teams for spring training in March: the Minnesota Twins at CenturyLink Sports Complex and the Boston Red Sox at JetBlue Park Fenway South. Tickets range from $5–$44. Usually you can watch team practices for free. Through the summer, the Twins’ affiliate team, the Fort Myers Miracle, plays at CenturyLink, offering special summer promotions such as fireworks and Dog Days. Tickets are $7.50 to $12, plus parking.

Salty Sam’s Pirate Cruise

Salty Sam’s Pirate Cruise. (Photo courtesy of Salty Sam’s Pirate Cruise / Facebook)
Salty Sam’s Pirate Cruise. (Photo courtesy of Salty Sam’s Pirate Cruise / Facebook)

Whether you want to search out dolphins, make like a pirate or cruise and dine, Fort Myers has a boating excursion for your family. One of the most popular with small tykes, the Salty Sam’s Pirate Cruise sails under the skull and crossbones aboard a ship that fills 90 minutes with games, cannon blasts, face painting and buccaneer pageantry. Prices start at $25 each.

Restaurants Kids Will Love

Almost all of the area’s restaurants cater to kids and families. Here are a few suggestions for every budget and occasion.

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Lazy Flamingo

lazy flamingo kids meal
Photo by Chelle Koster Walton

It started on Sanibel Island, where there are now two Lazy Flamingos. There’s also one in Fort Myers. Ultra-casual and nautical in design, its kids menu lists a number of dishes for $8–$10 that come served in a Lazy Flamingo Frisbee to keep, along with a souvenir drink cup. The regular menu consists of wings, grouper sandwiches, burgers and other casual eats.

Ford’s Garage

Ford
Photo by Chelle Koster Walton

Another independent restaurant that has grown into a chain, the first Ford’s Garage downtown Fort Myers appeals to the automobile lover of all ages, with a Model T hanging over the bar and other memorabilia relating to one of the city’s most famous historical figures. Known for its craft burgers ($9–$13.50), comfort food and craft beers, the indoor-outdoor restaurant pleases families with kids meals for $7.

Poppy’s Pizza & Pub

Poppy’s wins hearts with its stellar New York-style pizza, outdoor seating and full selection of well-executed pasta (we love the gnocchi appetizer) and other entrees. Pizza starts at $10 for a 12-inch cheese. Entrees range from $14 for pasta dishes to $42 for a filet mignon with shrimp and Gorgonzola demi-glaze.

Bubble Room

Bubble Room exterior
Photo by Chelle Koster Walton

For kids, the Bubble Room‘s big attraction is the toys. Retro toys fill glass-topped tables. Electric trains run around the roof line. Nostalgic, colorful kitsch fills every nook and cranny. And then there’s the cake. Huge wedges of homemade cake can easily be shared by two, even three. Despite its casual air, the prices here are in the “special occasion” category. On the coloring-sheet kids menu, dishes such as Chicken Little range from $8 to $13. Open for lunch and dinner, entrees on the adult evening menu include seafood, pasta and steak.

Bottom Line

The Fort Myers area offers your family an immense variety of vacation options, from funky Old Florida to cultural downtown and watery playgrounds.

Looking for more Florida vacation ideas? Try these:

Featured photo of Fort Myers Beach pier by lightkey / Getty Images.

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