The shell-strewn beaches of Sanibel and Captiva Islands attract thousands of families each year. We are always part of that migration of visitors. Last December, our little merry band of travellers (KidTravel, husband Jim, and daughters Jenny and Katie) made our annual pilgrimage to these lovely islands.
These beaches are a mecca for families who love shells. Every day, from dawn to dusk (and during the night if that's when low tide arrives), you'll see hundreds of people walking the beaches in the "Sanibel Stoop", heads and shoulders bent ... eyes totally focused ... looking for treasures. If you wade into the water, you'll find beautiful starfish, sand dollars and live shells to show your children. There's nothing more wonderful than watching them stare wide-eyed as a nine-legged starfish attaches itself to their hands, or a live whelk walks up their arm. They're in kid-heaven! They'll love collecting buckets of shells (don't take the live ones!), swimming in the gentle Gulf waters, and meeting the many other children who are always gathered at the beach.
If you are into nature -- don't miss this place! In my opinion, it's one of the most unspoiled, fabulous beach destinations in the world. If you like a wide variety of activities, many shops, and a fair amount of nightlife, pick Sanibel over Captiva. The South Seas Plantation on Captiva offers the most activity up there. If your idea of fun is to get away from it all, stay in one of the homes at the North Captiva Island Club on North Captiva.
Before you go, you may wish to give the Sanibel/Captiva Chamber of Commerce a call at 941-472-1080. They can send you a complete island guidebook listing accommodations, restaurants, activities, and points of interest. It's free, and well worth the phone call.
If beaches are of great importance to you, you'll likely be very pleased with what you find on these islands. Because of the quantity of shells deposited here, the sand tends to be on the grainy/shelly side -- not the fine white sand you find at the beaches of Siesta Key or Destin, Florida. That kind of "sugar sand" doesn't turn up everywhere! Nonetheless, the beaches are absolutely gorgeous -- wide, white and palm-studded.
While great shelling is found everywhere, you may want to check out the park area around Lighthouse Point, Bowman's Beach, and near the Mucky Duck Restaurant on Captiva. Sunsets are particularly gorgeous at Bowman's Beach and Captiva Beach on Captiva. Other phenomenal shelling spots are North Captiva Island, Cayo Costa and Johnson Shoals, accessible only by boat. The beaches of North Captiva Island and Cayo Costa are absolutely gorgeous, shell laden and deserted.