The Thrifty Traveler’s Guide to Fort Myers

August 19, 2021
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Hero image courtesy of @swflwave on Instagram

Ah, the Sunshine State—what’s not to love? Sandy beaches, crystal clear waters, palm trees swaying in the breeze… Florida has so many things going for it that it’s almost easy to forget that a trip there can quickly become a hefty expense. Luckily, we have some tips for thrifty traveling that won’t leave you in the red. 

Fort Myers is a Florida getaway that has plenty of options for some frugal fun in the sun. Keep reading to find out the best budget-friendly places to hit in this beautiful beach town! 

Free Fun in the City of Palms 

 


Mantatee Park 

See Mantatees Up Close in the Wild

10901 Palm Beach Boulevard | Lee County | www.leegov.com
A public park where you can watch wild manatees swim right before your eyes? Only in Florida! Image courtesy of @alexinwanderland on Instagram

Is too much of a generalization to say that most of us would pay good money to see manatees in their natural habitat? We didn’t think so. Nonetheless, Fort Myers’ Manatee Park allows visitors to view the loveable sea creatures as they swim through the local warm-watered canal, free of charge! 

The best time of year to see the manatees is November through March (January is peak manatee-spotting time!). But if you’re traveling to Fort Myers outside of that window, Manatee Park is definitely still worth a visit! It has walking trails, kayaking, a butterfly garden, and, of course, tons of information about manatees. 

“A quaint park but what it offers is nothing short of amazing. When I visited with a few friends, in late January, we came at the right time to spot quite a few manatees. We rented single kayaks and paddled right to where the manatees put on a show for us . . . If you follow the river, you'll witness a ton of wildlife, and if the weather is beautiful and the current isn't too loud, it's nice to just float down the river. ” -Brandon G. on Yelp.  


 

 

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Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve

Wetlands, Wildlife, and More

7751 Penzance Boulevard | Heritage Palms | www.sloughpreserve.org
Walk along boardwalk trails as you explore this 3,500-acre nature preserve. Image courtesy of @ftmyerssanibel on Instagram

Thanks to its reputation for boozy beaches, theme parks, and spring break, people often overlook the fact that Florida is a rich natural paradise with stunning scenery that goes far beyond shoreline sunsets (but don’t get us wrong—those are pretty amazing, too!). Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve is a testament to the complex ecosystems that can be found in Florida just a short distance from the city. 

This enchanting green space is the perfect way to spend some time outdoors and get acquainted with some of the wildlife that calls Florida home. A few of the creatures that can be found at the Slough (pronounced “sloo”) include otters, alligators, turtles, and various waterfowl. Admission is free—but you do have to pay for parking. 

“I just adore Six Mile Cypress Slough . . . This place is magical to me. It's an escape from the normal world of SWFL . . . Each time, we've seen different wild animals. It's like going to the zoo, but you never know what you'll see. It's about a 1-2 mile walk around the boardwalk to stop at all the different ponds. It's not a quick walk or a place for a workout, but a way to spend a leisurely day exploring SWFL.” -Molly R. on Yelp


 


 

Saturday GreenMarket at the Alliance for the Arts

Local Vendors, Free Outdoor Yoga, and More

10091 McGregor Boulevard | Carillon Woods | www.artinlee.org
Hosted by the Alliance for the Arts, this weekly event is free to the public and brimming with wholesome fun! Image courtesy of @buddhablendsft on Instagram

What’s better than a farmers market? How about a year-round farmers market with yoga, live music, and other complimentary activities! Join the Alliance for the Arts every Saturday from 9 am to 1 pm for an open-air market that features local vendors and sorts of things to do. 


Soak up some of that legendary Florida sun as you do downward dog outside on the Alliance for the Arts’ ten-acre campus. Then, peruse local offerings of fresh produce, artisanal baked goods, all-natural essential oils, specialty coffee, and more. 

“LOVE the GreenMarket!! We consistently meet so many wonderful people there. It's a very unique market with a big focus on health and community. There is FREE outdoor yoga there every week . . . Plus, we find loads of local produce there, such as organic veggies and wheatgrass, honey, artisanal french bread, acai bowls, and authentic Mexican food . . . Not to mention, there's live music, free cooking seminars, AND it’s dog-friendly.” -Caroline L. on Yelp


 

 

 

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Matanzas Pass Preserve 

Wander Through Pure Floridian Wilderness

199 Bay Road | Estero Bay | www.friendsofmatanzaspasspreserve.org
This 60-acre preserve gives visitors a glimpse at what Estero Bay was like before it became a heavily commercialized beach town. Image courtesy of @arnoldphotog on Instagram

This natural oasis is an unforgettable experience that’s only a short drive from Fort Myers. Stretch your legs, snap a few photos, and become utterly transfixed by your surroundings when you take the time to explore the Matanzas Pass Preserve in Estero Bay. 

This protected land is free to the public and is sure to take your breath away with its scenic (and untainted) foliage, different kinds of wildlife, and sparkling waters. You can also stop by the Preserve’s Historic Cottage and Nature Center to learn more about the Fort Myers area and the history behind it. 

“Matanzas Pass Preserve is one of the few undeveloped places on the island . . . There are over a mile of trails that go through the mangroves, informational signs, and a beautiful view of the Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve, which was designated Florida's first aquatic preserve in 1966. If you're lucky, you'll see some wildlife, including raccoons, rabbits, hawks, owls, turtles, herons and songbirds. We saw several deer nearby last night. There's also a paddle craft landing if you want to paddle in.” -Amber E. on Yelp


Affordable Food in Fort Myers 


Marko’s Diner

Diner Fare at a Fair Price

16305 San Carlos Boulevard | Harlem Heights | www.facebook.com/MarkosDiner

This local greasy spoon serves up Greek dishes in addition to diner classics. Image courtesy of @my_food_journal on Instagram

If you’re looking for somewhere to grab a quick breakfast or lunch, Marko’s is the place to go. With cheap eats, a diverse menu, and a casual atmosphere, this family-run diner is the ideal spot to enjoy good food at can’t-beat prices. 

Image courtesy of @glitterglamgal65 on Instagram

Image courtesy of @seanslunch on Instagram

Image courtesy of @jozetta333 on Instagram

Marko’s is the kind of place that locals love and visitors are thrilled to have stumbled upon. Most of the items on the menu on under $10, and Anna, the diner’s general manager, makes a personal guarantee that you’ll enjoy your food. 


“Drove past this gem wanting breakfast, and so glad we stopped. Greek family-run and operated that makes you feel like home at your kitchen table. Food portions were great and delicious. Be sure and stop by here for a delish breakfast while in town!” -Eddie H. on Yelp




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Downtown House of Pizza

Slices, Subs, Brews, and More

1520 Hendry Street | Downtown | www.downtownhouseofpizza.com
Eat in or carry out—either way, you’ll see right away why everyone in Fort Myers loves this pizza joint! Image courtesy of @downtown.house.of.pizza on Instagram

Florida isn’t exactly known for its pizza, but Downtown House of Pizza doesn’t shy away from the challenge—and they definitely come out on top. The menu has a wide variety of pizzas, including vegan and gluten-free, with specialty flavors like chicken bacon ranch, BBQ Hawaiian, and lasagna pizza. 

Image courtesy of @downtown.house.of.pizza on Instagram

Image courtesy of @downtown.house.of.pizza on Instagram

Image courtesy of @downtown.house.of.pizza on Instagram

Don’t see the kind of pizza you were hoping for? Not to worry—you can build your own. Besides pizza, you’ll also find wings, calzones, strombolis, hot and cold subs, salads, and cannoli on the menu—oh, yeah, and beer. 


“I'm a bit of a pizza snob, and DHOP did not disappoint.  Huge pies, excellent crust, fabulous flavor. This, my friends, is pizza as it should be. Deviate from the norm of plain cheese or pepperoni. Try some of their specialty pies. You will not be disappointed. You will, however, be very full, as DHOP does not skimp on toppings . .  . So worth the drive to get here from where we were staying in Bonita Springs.” -Mary V. on Yelp



Oasis Restaurant

Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner Done Right

2260 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard | Downtown | www.facebook.com/Oasis
From waffles and omelets to burgers and sandwiches, the menu at Oasis will satisfy any craving that you have. Image courtesy of @oasisfortmyers on Facebook

No matter what meal you’re looking to fill, Oasis has your back. Open most days from 6:30 am to 8:00 pm, this beloved diner won’t leave you hanging when you’re hungry and don’t know where to go. 

Image courtesy of @potratzphillip on Instagram

Image courtesy of @bucketlistforfoodies on Instagram

Image courtesy of @anitramrlatinatastes on Instagram

Oasis is a no-frills restaurant that specializes in good food at reasonable prices. Conveniently located in Downtown Fort Myers, the only problem you’ll run into at Oasis is that you’ll want to come back for every day for the remainder of your trip. 


“Traditional American diner food at its best. The menu is filled with melts, burgers, clubs, and salads. The breakfast menu will transport you back to when Grandma cooked a meal for the whole family. The value is also great for your dollar. When we visit, I've never had to wait for a seat or have to ask for a refill. The waiters are friendly and attentive. I would recommend the classic burger or having breakfast for lunch.” -Garrett M. on Yelp







Bennett’s Fresh Roast

The Best Donuts and Coffee in Town

2011 Bayside Parkway | West 1st Street | www.bennettsfreshroast.com
If you’re looking for an Instagrammable breakfast, then Bennet’s is definitely the place (and we have the posts to prove it!). Image courtesy of @smallwerm on Instagram

Whether you’re someone who can’t say no to a fresh-roasted cuppa joe or just a caffeine addict looking for your fix, Bennett’s Fresh Roast is the answer to your prayers. In terms of food, you’ll find made-from-scratch donuts, beignets, oatmeal, breakfast sandwiches, and strata. 

Image courtesy of @sarahdawnross on Instagram

Image courtesy of @orussellmegan on Instagram

Image courtesy of @toritewis on Instagram

Bennet’s might have a trendy coffee shop aesthetic, but its character is rooted in pure, old-fashioned business—which means state-of-the-art quality and customer service. In fact, Bennet’s pledges to make full refunds for any kind of dissatisfaction with a purchase. 

“If you are looking for the best donuts and pastry, as well as some of the best coffee, in the area, you need to look no farther. Nobody even comes close to the great food and service at Bennett's. You may have to wait in line, but that should tell you how amazing this place is. Don't miss it!” -Philip P. on Yelp


Frugal in Fort Myers

The only thing we love more than Florida? Saving money! You might be tempted to turn a blind eye to some of the prices that you see in the City of Palms, but don’t let yourself be led astray—there are plenty of ways to save in Fort Myers. After all, being frugal just means having more money to travel in the long run!


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