Top 10 Tricks for Planning a Sanibel Island Vacation on a Budget

Top 10 Sanibel Vacation Tips
Learn my top tips and tricks for having a memorable island vacation on a budget.
Top 10 Sanibel Vacation Tips
Learn my top tips and tricks for having a memorable island vacation on a budget.

Last updated 9/22/2022 Sanibel Island is one of the most unique islands on the Florida coast. Well known for having the world’s best shelling beaches, Sanibel also has a reputation for being extremely expensive. Sanibel Island is not cheap during high season, but if you know where to look you can score some fantastic deals.

10.  Stop at a grocery store before crossing the causeway

The grocery stores on the island, Bailey’s General Store ( and Jerry’s Market (, are fantastic but expensive.  If you stop at a grocery store like Publix in Fort Myers on your way to Sanibel and get the basics you can save a LOT of money.  This Publix is right off the road that runs to the Sanibel Causeway and is really convenient! Google Map to Summerlin Rd. Publix

9.  Use Happy Hours as a way to experience the fantastic restaurants of Sanibel without breaking the bank

Most Sanibel Island restaurants offer a happy hour menu.  Check out our list of the best Sanibel Island Happy Hours here  Some of the best I’ve found are at The Sandbar, Il Cielo, and Timbers Restaurant and Fishmarket.  Those 3 restaurants are also 3 of the most popular restaurants on the island, so not only can you save money by going early for happy hour, you can also afford dessert.

8.  Visit Sanibel in Off Peak Seasons

December through March is the busy season for much of Florida, and Sanibel is no exception.  Planning a stay around these times can be an absolute bargain, especially on house rentals.  I’ve booked house rentals during the Florida’s early summer (May) for as little as a third of the price in January.  This is without a doubt the easiest way to cut a huge chunk out of your costs.

7.  Rent Bikes or Kayaks for a week, not hours or a day

The big bike rental companies on Sanibel Island like Billy’s Rentals will often times have much better deals when you rent by the week.  Check out Billy’s rental price sheet:  You can rent a single speed bike for $40 a week or pay $15 for 4 hours.  It’s a no brainer.  They will drop the bike off wherever you are staying and pick it up when you leave.  It doesn’t get much easier than that!

6.  Go to the Sanibel Island weekly Farmer’s Market

Sanibel has a fantastic farmer’s market with some of the most unique and delicious items that I’ve ever seen at a small market like this one.  There are loads of vendors selling food to eat at the market as well as produce and seafood to take home and cook.  You can easily make this a stop for a cheap and delicious lunch. The market runs October through the end of May every Sunday.

5.  Avoid Outrageous Parking Fees

Parking at all city owned beach lots on Sanibel is $5 and you can count on getting a ticket if you go over and don’t reload the meter in time.  It doesn’t sound like much but if you were to pay to park at a paid beach all day every day for your vacation it would really add up.  Choosing a place to stay on Sanibel that is in close proximity to the beach can save a ton in parking fees.  I want to stress that while paying for parking every day isn’t probably the way to go, it is an absolute must to spend AT LEAST an hour each at Blind Pass, Bowman’s Beach, and Lighthouse Point.

4.  Have Beach Picnics

I’ve always loved having dinner on the beach, for me it is an essential piece of any Sanibel Island vacation.  This is especially useful during the busy season.  The main road on Sanibel (Periwinkle) gets so busy during dinner hours that you end up spending most of the evening driving or waiting in traffic.  Simply bringing your own picnic to the beach can make the most of your time on the island.  You wouldn’t want to miss a gorgeous Sanibel Florida sunset waiting in traffic would you?  Didn’t think so!

3. Plan Driving Around Busy Times of the Day

Another tip that has to do with traffic, spotting a trend?  While Sanibel is a fairly large island, it is still relatively narrow.  Because of this there is one main road that runs the length of the island, Periwinkle.  This road gets absolutely packed in the morning from 7AM to 8AM and again from about 4PM to 6PM.  There are a large number of people who work on the island but live on the mainland that use the roads during this time, so it gets busy quickly.  When you add the dinner crowd to this, the road can move about as quickly as the Los Angeles 405 during rush hour.  Your Sanibel Island vacation will be more enjoyable if you make a point to avoid Periwinkle during these times.  Trust me on this one.

2.  Explore the Natural Beauty of the Island

While a vacation to Sanibel Island might not be considered cheap, there are so many things to do on the island that are cheap or free.  Use that bike you rented for a week to your advantage!  There are so many trails and beachfronts to explore, its impossible to do it all.  Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge is one of the best trails for biking/driving and wildlife viewing in the United States.  You can get a year pass at the pay booth for the same cost as 2 trips through the refuge.  The views in this refuge are priceless, and for $10 you can’t go wrong.

1. Rent a House or Condo through VRBO

Check out our post on the top 5 Sanibel Island condo rental complexes here:  If you’ve never rented a house or condo through VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner) this is absolutely the time to do it.  Most VRBO rentals are rented by the week but there are a few who rent by the day.  If you have a large family or are planning to visit Sanibel with friends you can save a TON of money by renting a whole house or condo.  There aren’t any chain hotels on the island, they are all locally owned.  These small beachside hotels aren’t a bad choice if you are staying less than a week.  You can expect to pay between $200-400 a night for a room at these hotels.  But heres an example of how VRBO can change how you vacation:

Sanibel Island VRBO Rental
A view to remember, for way less than you would think.

I found this condo through a quick search on VRBO, you can view the rental page here:

You will see you can book this amazing 3 bedroom Sanibel Island condo on the beach for a little over $200 a night in early summer.  This condo sleeps 6 people, so it would be a fantastic alternative to multiple hotel rooms, and much cheaper.  Having a full kitchen on vacation really comes in handy, you avoid having to eat out for every single meal. Staying at a Sanibel Island vacation rental is the best way to save money on your trip.  If this condo isn’t available you can check all of VRBO’s available rentals in Sanibel by visiting this link: Available Sanibel Island Rentals




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