Sanibel and Captiva are barrier Islands just 30 min from Ft. Myers on the Gulf Coast of Florida. With only about 7,000 residents these sleepy Islands still have a small town feel. You will not find any big chain establishments or any high rises to impede your views. You will find 15 miles of pristine beaches world class shelling, great fishing and a myriad of restaurants and activities. So how do you pick a beach to spend the day in? Here is a quick guide to help you select the perfect spot for you and if you read to the end I will reward you with the best kept secret of the Island.
Parking at the public beaches in Sanibel and Captiva can get very expensive with rates of about $4 p/hr you can see how this quickly becomes an expensive proposition. If you are looking to save money on parking then spending the day on one of the Causeway Islands is the way to go.
The Causeway Islands are 2 spoil islands built to link the mainland to Sanibel. As you travel from the mainland towards Sanibel you will cross over a “sky” bridge and arrive on Island A which has parking only. Then you cross another “flat” bridge to Island B which has parking and facilities like restrooms and picnic tables. You will still pay the toll to cross the bridge but parking at both Islands is free.
Sanibel is an eclectic mix of nature, wildlife conservation land, shopping and restaurants, tourist destination and local homes. It is also the home of breathtaking white sand beaches with beautiful clear blue water and tons and tons of shells. You can see young and old walking along its shores with heads down shuffling along with buckets or nets collecting shells. This phenomenon is lovingly called the “Sanibel Stoop”. You can spend the day at one of these beaches:
Lighthouse Beach & Fishing Pier
This is the sight of the still functioning historic lighthouse. It is a popular spot and the first beach you will find once you cross the bridges into Sanibel. It can become a bit crowded during season but you will find a boardwalk nature trail, restrooms and showers, fishing pier and lighthouse. There is RV parking available at this location.
Parking is $4 p/hr and there are about 153 spaces.
Gulfside Beach (Algiers)
This beach is located almost at the mid island point. It has a smaller parking lot which will make this location a bit less crowded. Algiers has restrooms and showers picnic tables and BBQ grills and is 5 min drive to the shops at Periwinkle Place.
Parking: $4 p/hr and 47 spaces.
Even though this beach has the largest parking facilities there are no hotels nearby so you can definitely find a peaceful spot just for you on this beautiful beach. You will have to walk from the parking over a bridge and onto the beach. However the location has amazing facilities including restrooms, changing rooms and showers. Picnic tables BBQ grills and a kids park. You can also enjoy nature trails and there is canoe and kayak launching.
Parking: $4 p/hr and 218 spaces.
While Sanibel is not busy by mainland standards, Captiva manages to be even more laid back. You will find many upscale homes and there is not much available for public beach access. The South Seas Resort dominates the northern tip of the Island and the property is not accessible unless you are staying overnight. So here are your options on Captiva:
Turner Beach (Blind Pass)
This beach is just past the bridge to Captiva. The beach itself is called Turner Beach but the waterway that separates Sanibel from Captiva is called Blind Pass. So as you can see this beach is actually on both Sanibel and Captiva. Great beach for shelling and beautiful sunsets. There are no restrooms on the Sanibel side and the currents tend to be strong here so there are signs cautioning against swimming.
Parking: $4 p/hr and 28 spaces.
Captiva North End Beach
There is a small lot at the end of Captiva Drive near the South Seas Beach Resort. You can park your car here and enjoy the sunsets on Captiva. There is not much here for facilities only a few portable toilets but it is secluded and the views are amazing.
Parking: Min 2 hrs for $5
Best kept secret on the Island
The best kept secret of the Island is Tween Waters Inn. You can purchase a day pass for this resort for $45. This fee entitles you to $25 to be used on food/beverage or beach rentals, parking and use of their facilities including a very nice pool area. This day pass is only available if the resort has available parking. So you must call at 7 am the day of your planned trip to inquire about availability and reserve your spot. But if you are lucky enough to snag one then you can enjoy a full day with the best Captiva has to offer all in one spot for a very reasonable price.
Other important things to know:
- If you are bringing a pet they must be leashed at all times and you must clean up after him/her.
- No alcoholic beverage allowed on the beach between November and May.
- No Open fires allowed.
- All beaches have handicap parking although spaces are limited. Some handicap parking is free.
- Parking tickets are about $75 so remember to pay the meter to avoid this fee.
- Collecting shells is allowed but you must NOT take home any live shells.
- It is best to shell at low tide and after a storm.
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Hope this guide serves you well when you plan your next beach getaway to Sanibel and Captiva Island. For more information on what to do and where to eat while you visit click here (coming soon).