With stretches of beautiful white sand beaches, reptile-filled swamplands, and lush gardens and parks with splash pads, Southwest Florida is an excellent place to visit with the family. But although the area can be pricy, there are plenty of fun wallet-friendly things to do with kids. Whether you want to spend some time outside in the sun and sand to search for seashells or stay cool at an indoor playground or museum, you’ll want to take note of these ways to do Southwest Florida on a budget while with the family.
Budget-Friendly Southwest Florida
Our family has been on a tight budget for years, but that has never kept us from taking advantage of all the fun family activities that Southwest Florida has to offer. We live in Naples, and constantly take day trips to take advantage of all the fabulous kid friendly activities. I’ve put together this list of kid friendly activities that are within a 45-minute drive of the Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers.
Best Beaches to Visit
My favorite way to entertain our boys in Southwest Florida is to get to the beach. It’s just as much fun for my 10-month-old as it is for my 2-and-a-half-year-old. Sand is the original sensory activity! No need for a sensory bin at home when you have an entire beach full of sand. Other than the cost of parking at around $8 a day, this can be a relatively cheap experience for the whole family. My boys love to do some beachcombing. They are just as happy finding seaweed as they are starfish. Here are a few of my favorite Florida beaches:
Lynn Hall Memorial Park in Fort Myers
The beach is set up like a time square with restaurants, public bathrooms with a washhouse, and a pier. Make sure to get there early in the day as parking is tough to find during peak hours.
Vanderbilt Beach in Naples
It has plenty of parking inside a large parking garage. There also are public bathrooms and a couple of restaurants within walking distance.
Sanibel Island and Captiva Island
This is the place if you’re looking for a more secluded beach spot. But it will cost you a bit more money. Just getting to Sanibel Island involves paying for parking in addition to the $6 bridge toll. But it’s well worth it if you are into collecting shells and watching wildlife. Check out these three things to do if you have only one day in Sanibel Island.
Finding a Swamp
While in Southwest Florida, you’ve got to check out a real swamp! The best place to do this is Corkscrew Sanctuary. Admission is $14 a person. Children under 6 are free. There is a 2.2-mile boardwalk that is perfect for strollers. As you can see, it’s also perfect for toddlers to climb! It’s a great place for the kids to learn about wildlife. My toddler could look at the alligators and snakes for hours. Do all boys love reptiles as much as mine?
The parks are also great for free entertainment. The parks in this area are the best I’ve ever seen, and there are so many different ones to choose from. You can even find free splash pads at most of them! Just make sure to bring a change of clothes, even if you aren’t planning to play in the splash pads. I can’t tell you how many times my toddler has pushed the splash pad buttons even when I’ve told him not to! My favorites include Lakes Park in Fort Myers and Cambier Park in downtown Naples. My kids would be happy swinging for hours at a park. Don’t you love that kind of free entertainment?
The Naples Zoo at The Caribbean Gardens is another favorite of ours. The gardens make it one of the prettiest zoos to visit. The play areas are fun for the kids too. Make sure to go in the morning or late afternoon. Even in the winter, it can be too hot to walk around the zoo from 11-3. For an extra $5 you can even feed the giraffes! TravelingMom Expert tip: The giraffes are fed by the trainers at 10, so it’s best to wait until after 11 to feed them. Otherwise they aren’t hungry. Kids under 3 are free. Adults are $19.95, and kids are $14.95; save $2 per ticket if you buy online before heading to the zoo.
Best Indoor Activities
It can get overwhelmingly hot in the summer in Southwest Florida. It’s good to get the kids inside during the hottest hours of the day. The Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples and the Imaginarium in Fort Myers are very entertaining. Maybe too entertaining. I still haven’t figured out how to get my son to leave without a full blown tantrum. The Children’s Museum is $10 for ages 1 and up. The Imaginarium is $8 for kids 2-13, and $12 for ages 13 and up. If you already have a membership to a zoo or Children’s museum at home, you can usually save up to 50% off admission. This has definitely come in handy while we have been on vacation.
There are plenty of indoor playgrounds and bounce places too. Our favorite is Whiz Kids in Naples. It even has a swing for the babies. At $12 a day + $8 for siblings, this is a great rainy day activity. There is a Sky Zone Trampoline Park in Fort Myers that starts at $11.99.
Want to shop while on vacation without boring the kids? Be sure to take advantage of the free play areas in the Naples Coastland Center Mall as well as Miramar Outlets in Estero. To me, there is nothing better than grabbing Starbucks after a shopping trip and sitting down to watch the kids play at the mall play center.