Guide to Sanibel + Captiva: Florida’s Island Oasis

Guide to Sanibel + Captiva: Florida’s Island Oasis

On Florida’s west coast, just west of Fort Myers, lie the beautiful islands of Sanibel and Captiva. Long known for their magnificent shelling, white sand beaches and spectacular sunsets, these sister islands are more than just another pretty Florida destination. With miles of wildlife refuge conservation, beach shack bungalows and no high rises to speak of, the overall feel is laid-back and low-key. If you want to get away from it all, this is the place. 

As with any island destination, Sanibel and Captiva are a great romantic get-away, but they are also extremely family-friendly. Whether it be shelling the scenic beaches, biking around the islands, going for nature walks and looking for wildlife, water sports, or grabbing a slice of cake from the famous Bubble Room, there are plenty of activities beyond beach life. But we do love the beaches here and spend most of our time on them; they are some of Florida’s finest.

To get to the islands, there is the Sanibel Causeway, the bridge that connects the islands to the mainland. Be forewarned it can take a while to cross the bridge, depending on what time of day you go. So go early, early early to avoid the notorious traffic! But the bridge is a good thing, as you can make what you want out of the islands. If you want to go for a 1 or 2 week stay, you can, and if you want to plan a simple day trip, you can do that as well. Note, there is a $6 toll to cross the bridge. But once you are there, you are in your own oasis of island life.

So what are the main differences between Sanibel and Captiva? Sanibel is the first island you get to after crossing the causeway, and also the bigger of the two islands. Though both islands are famous for their shelling – some of the best in the world, with 15 miles of beach –Sanibel’s east-west orientation (unlike most north-west oriented islands) makes it easy for the shells to roll in and stay put. The shelling is unparalleled and people from all over flock here to look for shells.

Sanibel is also known for its abundance of nature trails and wildlife. The J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is here to walk around and explore. There is also the popular Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum. Simply put, Sanibel is a nature-lover’s paradise.

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Captiva is smaller and further away from the mainland, as you have to take a small bridge from island to island. This means less people, and less crowds. It is so narrow that at some points you can see water on both sides. This automatically lends itself to having a slightly more laid-back and relaxed feel, being that much further away from the mainland.

Dowtown Captiva is a funky mix of beach shack style houses and restaurants, with swirls of bright beachy colors. We love the vibe of Captiva and tend to spend more time here. Grab a drink from the outdoor bar at the Mucky Duck pub, set right on the beach in downtown Captiva, watch the sunset while your kids play around in the sand, and you’ll swear there’s nothing more peaceful. The famous South Seas Resort is also located on the northern tip of Captiva – occupying 300 acres, it has long been serving families who want an upscale retreat.

Whichever you prefer, both islands have beautiful, pristine beaches with an abundance of shells, including over 400 varieties. There is a reason people the world over come to visit. See a list below of the beaches to go to, all with their own flavor.

Beaches

Alison Hagerup Beach Park

Also known as Captiva Beach and said to be one of the most romantic beaches in the world. Concur completely! It’s breathtaking. There is a (very limited) parking lot adjacent to South Seas Resort. We tend to find parking elsewhere near the Bubble Room and Mucky Duck and enter there.

14790 Captiva Drive, Captiva Island

Bowman’s Beach Park

GREAT family-friendly beach with clean facilities and a playground. Miles of white sandy beach. Go on the early side to get a parking spot. $4 per hour.

1700 Bowman’s beach Road, Sanibel Island

 Lighthouse Beach

Located on the eastern tip of Sanibel with both Gulf of Mexico and Estero Bay views. Working lighthouse, boardwalk, nature trails. The shells are small, but there are many. Parking $4/hour.

1 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel Island

 Turner Beach

Located on the Southern tip of Captiva where Sanibel meets at Blind Pass Bridge (the beach on the Sanibel side is called Blind Pass Beach), this is a popular spot to go shelling and fishing. Beware of strong currents and swimming with the little ones.

17200 Captiva Drive, Captiva Drive, Captiva Island

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Beyond beach life there are sports activities, shopping and dining.

Popular Restaurants

The Mucky Duck

A Captiva classic, this beachside pub has been operating since the 1970’s. The pub fair is good but nothing special, however the setting is very special. If you don’t want to wait the long 1-2 hour wait for food, grab a drink from the beachside bar, or you can even order apps off a special menu inside and your name will be called, thus foregoing the lines.

11546 Andy Rosse Lane, Captiva, 239.472.3434

The Bubble Room

“It’s always Christmas at the Bubble Room” is their motto at this quirky, colorful restaurant. Known for their insanely delicious cakes and pies.

15001 Captiva Drive, Captiva, 239.472.5558

Doc Ford’s Rum Bar and Grille

This local seafood chain is widely popular and they make great mojitos. Locations in both Sanibel and Captiva.

975 Rabbit Road, Sanibel. 5400 S. Seas Plantation Road, Captiva

Keylime Bistro

It’s all about the ambience at this beachy outdoor restaurant with good food and excellent keylime pie.

11509 Andy Rosse Lane, Captiva, 239.395.4000

The Green Flash

Popular waterside restaurant with beautiful views.

15183 Captiva Drive, Captiva, 239. 472.3337

 

As for places to stay, both Sanibel and Captiva have an assortment of hotels, b & b’s, motels, resorts, house rentals, etc. To see a full list, and for other noteworthy pieces of information such as activities and shopping, see the Sanibel-Captiva website here .

To read more about Florida, see my posts Top Things to See and Do in Naples and Dining and Shopping in Naples.

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Guide to Sanibel and Captiva

 

 

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37 Comments

  1. May 14, 2016 / 12:24 pm

    Love this post!! Im on Sanibel this wknd!! 🙂

      • May 14, 2016 / 12:31 pm

        Its one of my favorite places!! Thx! <3

  2. Lyn Cook
    May 14, 2016 / 1:20 pm

    We used to go to Captiva with our kids for day trips and loved it.

    • May 14, 2016 / 1:38 pm

      Never found the driftwood this time..

  3. May 14, 2016 / 1:37 pm

    Loved this post!! We go to Florida every year in October and try to explore somewhere different each time. These will definitely be going on the list, love the sound of both and those shells look incredible, just the problem of getting them home on the plane with already full suitcases!! Loving the sound of all the bars and restaurants too.

    • May 14, 2016 / 1:41 pm

      Yes put these on the list Joy! A little slice of heaven and off the beaten path. Love that you go to FL every October. It’s so easy we return every year too. You’ll have to let me know where you decide..

  4. May 14, 2016 / 2:17 pm

    Lovely post! I wish I could be at the beach right now. Thanks a lot for taking us on a virtual tour 🙂 The photos are stunning.

    • May 14, 2016 / 3:31 pm

      Thank you! The photos take care of themselves in such a beautiful spot:).

  5. May 14, 2016 / 3:19 pm

    Lovely to see you writing again. Shell beach is stunning and I like the sound of the Bubble Room, great novelty.

    • May 14, 2016 / 3:33 pm

      Thanks – and thanks for your writing comment. Starting to feel more on the up and things getting easier so I’m hoping this is a turn:).

  6. May 14, 2016 / 6:03 pm

    Captiva sounds like the island for me! Those beaches look absolutely incredible. I love your photos and I really love the sound of the laid-back feel of these islands.

    • May 15, 2016 / 12:59 pm

      Thanks Clare – yes they’re so relaxing. And only a 3 hour flight from NYC – thank goodness for FL in my neck of the woods – not sure I’d otherwise get through a winter!

  7. May 14, 2016 / 9:58 pm

    OH lordy that’s beautiful! You’ve just fuelled my vacation fantasies.

    • May 15, 2016 / 1:06 pm

      Put it on the list! You’ll love it!

  8. May 16, 2016 / 12:19 pm

    Oh my. Sanibel and Captiva looks beautiful. I seriously have travel envy. When we eventually get to Florida I want to make time to go there!

    • May 17, 2016 / 5:05 pm

      Yes put it on the list – hope you make it to FL soon you will love it!

  9. May 17, 2016 / 11:19 am

    Great post! It looks beautiful, I’m having serious beach-envy at the moment 🙂 Definitely one for my next trip to Florida 🙂

    • May 17, 2016 / 5:09 pm

      I think we’re all always having beach envy! Hope you make it there some day, thanks for reading:).

  10. May 17, 2016 / 5:44 pm

    I don’t like a busy beach so I’d be heading for Captiva these days. I think I may briefly have visited Sanibel many years ago but can’t be certain. The old memory banks are getting dim 🙂 🙂 Excellent guide, Corey.

    • May 18, 2016 / 5:54 pm

      Thanks so much Jo – please, I can’t remember yesterday from the day before ;).

  11. May 17, 2016 / 8:37 pm

    Sanibel really looks amazing. This was one of the places I had hoped to visit, when I was in Florida a couple of years ago, but unfortunately, I didn’t have the time. Next time I’ll definitely go:) PS: love how bright and cheerful that Green Flash restaurant looks:)

    • May 18, 2016 / 5:56 pm

      That’s actually a photo of the Bubble Room..but realize perhaps poorly placed..there’s so many options in FL – next time;).

    • May 18, 2016 / 5:57 pm

      You would love it Amy bc I know what a beach girl you are;).

      • May 18, 2016 / 6:00 pm

        Haha! I’ll cheers to a good beach day! And my kids would be all over the shells. I’m still surprised at how peaceful it can be, we tend to picture Florida beaches like a movie scene 😉

  12. bavariansojourn
    May 23, 2016 / 6:37 pm

    I am lucky in that my in-laws live not too far away and had a boat a few years ago so we visited both. So stunning! I will happily travel anywhere for KeyLime Pie too! 😀 #mondayescapes

    • May 24, 2016 / 2:16 pm

      I am a huge fan of key lime pie too – only have it when in FL – the best. So nice your in laws live so close!

  13. Ruth
    May 24, 2016 / 2:47 am

    These beaches are gorgeous! It would be happy sitting in the sand admiring the sea. I like the colorful restaurants too.

    • May 24, 2016 / 2:18 pm

      Thanks Ruth – yes part of the reason I love it so much there is all the beachy architecture with fun colors. Just a great vibe all around.

  14. May 25, 2016 / 7:58 pm

    Amazing photos. I love shell beaches, could spend all day sifting through them! #Mondayescapes

    • May 26, 2016 / 11:35 am

      Thanks Christine! I know I love shelling too.

  15. June 3, 2016 / 1:48 pm

    Such wonderful islands!! I would love to visit both. I love when the beach is not crowded, so different than the European ones, which are always crowded when it’s warm enough to go!
    Great tips too, as always 😀

    Happy to have you on #MondayEscapes, have a great weekend!

    • June 5, 2016 / 2:57 pm

      Thanks Allane, hope you had a good weekend too!

  16. aandj8804
    July 27, 2016 / 6:00 pm

    Wow! So much information on the two islands! My neighbors growing up had a dog named Sanibel after the Sanibel beaches that they would visit every summer. I don’t live too far away (Atlanta), but still I’ve never been to visit. After reading your post, I think I should take some time to visit. It’s amazing that all of those shells are on the island! I was beginning to feel like shells were something you could only find on “foreign” beaches and not in the US.

  17. October 18, 2016 / 6:35 pm

    I live just north of this beautiful destination, yet I’ve never visited. I think I need to change that. Time for a family road trip! Thanks for the great ideas.

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