Sanibel and Captiva Island Beaches

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Visiting Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge

Sanibel and Captiva Islands

If I had a week to spend anywhere in Florida with my family and had to choose one area, I would choose Sanibel and Captiva, two "sister" islands west of Ft. Myers, Florida. These islands are very special places and have so much to offer. Sanibel makes a powerful statement about itself by setting aside nearly one-third of the island as a wildlife preserve.

Sunrise on Sanibel Island beach.

Sanibel is a large island--twelve miles long and, in some places, three miles wide. Captiva is a separate island, just north of Sanibel, and is about five miles long and much narrower than Sanibel.

North Captiva is another, separate island north of Captiva Island that can be reached only by boat or airplane.

Sanibel is about more than just the beach. It is an island experience completely unique to Sanibel. Despite the large population of visitors that vacation on the island, there is still a very strong sense of community. And the community is dedicated to preserving the natural beauty of the island.

Nature is Everywhere on Sanibel

There are no tall condominiums on these islands, no fast food chains, no large discount captiva_island_scene.jpgshopping centers or malls. Development has been strictly controlled. Even in the areas with small-scale shopping and restaurants on Periwinkle Way, plenty of green space has been left and the foliage is beautiful. One third of the island is a wildlife refuge called Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge.

There are grocery and other food stores on the island, including a health-food store. There are 5 gas stations on Sanibel, including Amoco, Hess, and Shell. Excellent medical care is available on the island. An outstanding selection of restaurants is available, and island artists are well represented in the many art and craft shops.

Easy Access to the Islands

Despite the fact that Sanibel and Captiva are located three miles out in the Gulf of Mexico, the 3 bridges and long causeway (originally built in 1963 and recently replaced) that connects them to Ft. Myers make access easy. The islands are so popular between January and April that traffic can be very congested and slow. But between May and December, life and traffic on the islands are much slower. In fact, August through November, the islands are very quiet and traffic is extremely light.

Everyone wants the Sanibel Lifestyle

Sanibel's "permanent" residents are mostly well-to-do retirees who only live on the island from sanibel_beach_bikes.jpgNovember through April. Because they are affluent, and because the demand for second homes located on the beach in Florida is so high, home prices in Sanibel are generally in the half-million dollar range and above. On Captiva the prices are even higher. Still, there is a small population of families and long-time residents who grew up on Sanibel. There are schools here and activities for children. I really envy anyone who had the chance to grow up on Sanibel.

Sanibel and Captiva are the most romantic places on the Gulf coast to have a wedding and honeymoon. No question about that. Beachfront accommodations can be pricey, but you can find some good prices--even right on the beach, especially during the summer and fall. It is possible to find a condo on the beach for less than $100 per day, though most generally have a one week minimum stay.

Sanibel beaches are a great place to relax. The hustle and bustle of Fort Myers Beach is far in the distance across San Carlos Bay.

What to Do on Sanibel?

By far the largest attractions on Sanibel are the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge, the beaches, and the water in general for boating and fishing. Here is a list of ideas for things to do on Sanibel:

Get the idea? Plenty to do, lots to see. You'll hate to leave, and you'll be back next year.

PARKING FEES ON SANIBEL / CAPTIVA: Parking Fees on Sanibel Island beaches are $2.00 per hour.  The parking meters accept credit cards. Parking at the beaches is FREE after 7pm. The bridge toll is $6.00 for cars.

You probably already know that Sanibel Island is one of the most famous beaches in the world for shelling. If you want to maximize your chances to find the best shells on Sanibel you'll need to get up before the sun rises or the beach will have already been picked over by the early birds! Here is someone's informal collection of shells for the day.

Sanibel is an awesome place to watch sunrises and sunsets. Because of the unusual shape of the island, some spots are better than others. Find out the best places on Sanibel and Captiva to watch the sunset and sunrise. The above photo is a sunrise. The buildings are high-rise hotels and condos on Fort Myers Beach on the other side of San Carlos Bay.

Sanibel Island vacation rentals come in all shapes and sizes. We stayed in a condo during our honeymoon, but next time maybe we'll try a beach cottage or choose a "Superior Small Lodging" property.

Sanibel Island is a birding hot-spot, with much birding taking place in the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge. The island has a tremendous variety of birds of all kinds. This White Ibis was easy to approach on the gulf beach.

Sanibel has bike paths all over the island. We love to ride the bike paths through Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge because we don't have to deal with cars.

It's easy to overeat when you are on vacation. Sanibel has some great restaurants to enjoy and after 10 days we figured out which were our favorite Sanibel restaurants. We didn't have time to try them all though, so there's plenty more for us to discover next time we go back.

Sanibel Island is a romantic island to get married on. This is a photo from our 2009 Sanibel wedding.

Just because you are vacationing on Sanibel doesn't mean you have to stay on the island all the time. We enjoy taking the day cruise to Cabbage Key aboard the Lady Chadwick that sails out of Captiva.

Sanibel and the waters of Charlotte Harbor are some of the most productive fishing waters in Florida. Shore fishing, pier fishing, wade fishing, flats fishing, you name it, it's available.

A typical Sanibel Island trail to the beach through the sea grapes, coconut palms and sea oats.

Most Sanibel beaches rarely get crowded. This is a typical morning beach scene.

Unlike most of the beaches in southwest Florida, Sanibel allows leashed dogs on the beach.

BeachHunter's helpful Sanibel links: For information on Sanibel camping, this site is the only game in town. City of Sanibel website. Unusually useful, considering it is a local government website. Jerry's will deliver your groceries to you upon your arrival on the island! This site is a MUST if you are seriously interested in Sanibel and Captiva! Comprehensive and updated information. A message board for dreamers and doers, sponsored by What a great resource!

Copyright: David McRee,