Sanibel and Captiva Islands: Travel Guide

I recently spent a week on Captiva Island, a tiny island on the Gulf Coast of Florida, which is about an hour drive from Fort Myers. Since I’m pregnant and because we were bringing my 3 year-old son, we decided that as much as we wanted to go to Hawaii, it was probably too far for us right now. We were on the hunt for a beachy, somewhat boho, vaca spot that would be a temporary Hawaii trip replacement, knowing full well that nothing compares to the Hawaiian Islands in terms of beauty, food, shopping, views and activities. Once we arrived and started to explore, my husband and I agreed that Captiva and its sister island, Sanibel, had a bit of that North Shore of Oahu vibe we were seeking, mixed with the feel of some of the Caribbean islands we have visited. A 3-hour direct flight from Boston to Fort Myers vs. a 13-hour flight (not including a layover) from Boston to Honolulu makes Captiva and/or Sanibel really good options if you’re in a similar situation and just want a beach escape. Here are my recommendations (and tips) for visiting Captiva and Sanibel:

Where to Stay:

While driving through Sanibel to Captiva, we realized that we preferred the island of Captiva a little bit better. The main drag heading to the tip of Captiva has beautiful pastel homes and we like the little “downtown” of Captiva, where there are a handful of restaurants and stores all in one area (right where The Island Store is located).

South Seas Island Resort (Captiva) – This is probably the best hotel out of your options on both islands. It’s gated and features traditional rooms, independently-owned condos for rent and luxury homes. There are dolphins swimming along the water’s edge, great pools for the kids and the beach area is quiet and beautiful. There’s also a kids’ game room, a yoga studio, a marina for boat excursions and a little shopping area by the entrance with a Starbucks, a convenient store and a few stores like J. McLaughlin and Everything But Water (this one had a fully-stocked selection of suits and cover-ups).

We stayed in the Harbourside Hotel room with a balcony, overlooking the marina. The rooms are moderate in terms of decor (could probably use a renovation) but totally clean and fine for our stay. The bathroom was huge, which was a plus. Our room was in the 1700s section…we had to ask to be moved from our first room because it was right next to the Harbourside Bar and Grill, which had a super loud generator going that would have been annoying. My friend had recommended the Harbourside area because of its close proximity to the pools…some of the condo rentals are further down and since they are rented out by owners, the quality can really fluctuate.

In terms of other places, Casa Ybel Resort (Sanibel) seems to have some good reviews but we drove over there (it’s next to the Sundial Resort) and I feel like it’s a bit too removed from the restaurants and other places you’ll want to explore during the day. The cottages at the ‘Tween Waters Inn (Captiva) look adorable and are right across the street from a beautiful beach.

Home rentals – It seems like a lot of people rent a place on either island. We explored a bunch of streets in case we want to rent next year and some of my favorites with a ton of rental signs in front of the homes were Andy Rosse Lane, Wightman Lane and Sunset Captiva Lane.

Where to Eat:

So the food options and lack of really cute boutiques were the biggest disappointments of our trip. Most of the restaurants serve bar-type food (think fried fish, fries and beer) and you can only eat so much of that on vacation. My husband and I both got a stomach bug during the trip (from two different spots) and we’re pretty sure we’ve identified the food places that were the culprits. Those places are not listed below!

Il Tesoro Ristorante (Sanibel) – We took Crew here for dinner (probably wouldn’t recommend bringing kids since the tables are pretty close together and the crowd is mostly older couples) and really enjoyed our meals. Super authentic Italian (the owner used to own a restaurant in Rome) and it’s a cute little colored cottage.

The Island Cow Sanibel Island Florida

The Island Cow (Sanibel) – An inexpensive, cute pit stop for a tasty breakfast plate filled with home fries, eggs, pancakes and more.

The Bubble Room (Captiva) – The place is Christmas themed year-round, which is totally fun. We only ordered their famous jumbo cake slices to go (the “White Christmas” coconut cake) and it was delicious. People rave about the Orange Crunch cake too. Heard the food was basic so you may just want to stop there for dessert and to enjoy the atmosphere.

Captiva Provision Company (Captiva, at South Seas) – Stop into this gourmet grocery store at the resort’s Chadwick’s Square Shopping area for the best breakfast sandwich you’ll ever taste.

The Sanibel Sprout Sanibel Island

The Sanibel Sprout (Sanibel) – Cute little vegan cafe in a strip mall, serving smoothies, coffee, sandwiches and more.

Beach Coverup South Seas Island Resort Captiva Brianne Johanson Blog

South Seas’ poolside lunch menu (Captiva) – We were pleasantly surprised with the meals we ordered poolside at our resort. Pretty good.

A few places that were recommended by people for being decent but we didn’t get a chance to go to were Cip’s Place (Sanibel), Mucky Duck (Captiva) and Lazy Flamingo (on Sanibel…the grouper sandwich was great, according to my friend, Bre).

What to Do:

Shelling at Bowman’s Beach (Sanibel) – One of the best beaches you’ll visit in your lifetime. Clean bathrooms, a park for the kids, picnic areas and a huge stretch of sand covered in shells that you’ve never seen anywhere else. Tip 1: Walk into to the water to the sandbars and there will be some shells that others haven’t found. Tip 2: If you plan to stay ’til dusk or later, bring bug spray or keep your legs and arms covered. I got eaten alive in the parking lot by no-see-ums and those bite marks last for weeks and itch. Awful.

Shell Bracelet Etsy

Visit the National Shell Museum (Sanibel) – Nothing fancy or huge but a good place to learn about the different shells you’ll see at the beaches and how they got there. Daily arts and crafts activities for kids too.

Free People Tunic Turner Beach Captiva Brianne Johanson

Water sports and boat tours – Lots of opportunities to watch dolphins, fish, paddleboard, etc.

Drive to Naples – We rented a car and took a day trip to Naples for some shopping, good restaurants and a visit to Naples Pier Beach. It was about a 1.5 hr drive. We also explored Marco Island but there’s not much there except hotels and condos along the beach.

Drive to JetBlue Park at Fenway South (Fort Myers) – It’s Fenway Park in Florida (very close to the airport if you want to stop before your flight home) and where the Boston Red Sox train before the season starts. If you are a Red Sox fan, you might enjoy a behind-the-scenes tour or catch a Spring Training game.

Thanks for reading and feel free to let me know what I missed in the comments, below.

What I packed for this trip:

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A brand marketing/PR exec and new mom based in Boston; sharing my thoughts on fave destinations, gift ideas, décor, style, beauty and more. Read More

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