home


    
 



































Family Vacation Guides:
Sanibel/Captiva

Where to Stay
Where to Eat
What to Do
Money $aving Tips

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.

BEACHES

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.

Where to Stay:

You'll have a wealth choices of accommodations on Sanibel and Captiva. There are no high rises on any of these islands, so you won't have to worry about that. What you'll find are a number of hotels and resorts, tons of condominiums, and many private homes for rent. If you come in-season, most of the condominiums and homes rent for a minimum of one week. Off-season, you'll be able to arrange for a long weekend stay. Here are some recommendations for you to check out:

SANIBEL ISLAND

Sundial Beach Resort ~ This condominium complex is a complete destination resort, with five pools, 13 tennis courts, jacuzzis and restaurants. It fronts the Gulf on a beautiful section of beach, and has an excellent children's activities program. Your kids will love the nature display (complete with hermit crabs for purchase!) and the touch-aquariums. Each day there are a variety of arts and crafts activities offered, and other fun events such as make-your-own-sundae parties and crab races. Kids Night Out programs are available on selected evenings. The condos are individually furnished, and the Gulf Front and Gulfview units are definitely the best. If you have small children, you may wish to be located close to the main complex which has the largest pool, the activities center, and the restaurants. For more information, call (800) 237- 4184 or (941) 472-4151.

Casa Ybel Resort ~ This beachfront resort resembles an old-fashioned Victorian beach community with lots of white wicker and latticed gazebos. Accommodations are in one- and two-bedroom villas featuring kitchens, screened-in porches, and attractive furnishings. The resort also offers a large pool, tennis center, a great gourmet restaurant, and a lovely stretch of beach. Children's programs with activities running year-round are also featured. For more information, call (800) 237-8906 or (941) 472-3145.

Shell Island Beach Club ~ This condominium complex of 3-story units on stilts is situated on 13 acres and is separated from the beach by a park-like area of sea grasses and boardwalks. It's located at the southern end of Sanibel near one of the best shelling beaches. The two-bedroom units are relatively small, but are tastefully done. There's also a pool on the premises, but you may want to spend most of your time on the great beach. For more information, call (941) 472-4497 or (800) 448-2736.

Song of the Sea ~ These hotel suites are beachfront in an old-world style, Mediterranean looking inn. The three-story complex features white stucco buildings with red-tile roofs in a subtropical setting. The units are relatively small with limited kitchen facilities, but they're well decorated and the pool is nice. For more information, call (941) 472-2220 or the South Seas Resorts Company at (800) 554-5454, ext. 33.

West Wind Inn ~ If you're only going to be staying in Sanibel for a few nights, or if you'd like a more budget-oriented property (and there aren't many around here!), the West Wind is a lovely choice. This beachfront motel is set on a lovely strip of sand, and is beautifully landscaped with a nice pool. For more information, call (941) 472-1541.

CAPTIVA ISLAND

South Seas Plantation ~ When you enter the gates of South Seas, you'll feel as though you've entered your own private world. In recent years, this resort has increased its security, limiting access only to registered guests. Often called "Florida's Tahiti", the resort features over 60 two and three-story buildings spread over 330 acres at the upper tip of Captiva Island. You'll find a wide range of accommodations, including hotel rooms, condominiums and villas. Units are located harborside, by the tennis courts, near the marina and on the beach. Trolley buses run throughout the resort, taking guests to the beach, the shops, and the main pool area. For families with small children, I would strongly recommend staying at the Beach Villas so you don't need to shuttle from place to place. The units are nice and the kitchens are generally well-equipped. The resort offers an excellent children's program for 5-12 year olds, teen activities, babysitting (although our experience suggests this needs to be arranged at least 24 hours in advance), Kids Nights Out, and lots and lots of amenities. The restaurants at the resort are generally excellent, and the tennis facilities are also superb. Limited golf is available. The beach is wide, and the sunsets are fantastic! For more information, call (941) 472-5111 or (800) 554-5454, ext. 33.

'Tween Waters Inn ~ Years ago, Anne Morrow Lindbergh came to Captiva and stayed with her family at the 'Tween Waters Inn. The shells she found along the beaches inspired her to write her world-famous book, Gifts from the Sea. The 'Tween Waters is a collection of old cottages and apartment buildings located across the road from the main Captiva beach. Because the complex has been added to over the years, a wide variety of accommodations are available. Many families have been coming here for years and absolutely love the Inn's vintage charm. If you're looking for a modern resort with lots of amenities, however, this may not be the place for you. Some of the units are close to the road and can tend to be noisy -- others may not have the most up-to-date furnishings. When inquiring, ask details on each type of accommodation available. The Inn offers a large pool, boating, tennis, bicycling, a marina store, and a nice restaurant. For more information, call (941) 472-5161 or (800) 223-5865.

NORTH CAPTIVA ISLAND

Picked by the tony Harper's Hideaway Report as "Hideaway of the Year", this gem of an island is a special find. If you're looking for a nature-oriented retreat for you and your family, this may be the place for you. The majority of the island has been set aside as a state park and is totally undeveloped. Houses are located in several small communities at the northern end. Initially, we were concerned that this island might be too remote for us, since it's only accessible by boat. After one visit three years ago, however, we've been hooked! You'll take a 20-minute boat taxi from the mainland or from Jensen's Marina on Captiva and will arrive at the dock of the North Captiva Island Club, where you'll be shuttled to your island home. Both villas and 2-3 bedroom homes are available on the island. Each comes equipped with well-stocked kitchens, all linens, and a golf cart for getting around the island. My recommendation -- book a home south of mid-Safety Harbour or drive down near the park when you go to the beach. The beaches are much wider as you head south, and you'll avoid the current heading around the northern end of the island. Our kids love the "gulf cart", and riding in it is usually one of the highlights of their trip. The beach on North Captiva are beautiful, and if you walk down to the point at low tide you'll be rewarded with buckets of sand dollars and tons of shells. The North Captiva Island Club offers a pool, tennis courts, and a kids program on selected days. There are two small grocery stores on the island, several restaurants, stores and a marina. For more information, call the North Captiva Island Club at (800) 576-7343 or (941) 395-1001, or online North Captiva Island Club Resort write to them at P.O. Box 1000, Pineland, FL 33945.

RENTAL AGENCIES ~ BOTH ISLANDS

If you're interested in renting a condominium, villa, or private home on these two islands, you'll have a lot to choose from! While not appearing to be over-built or over-crowded ... to be honest, there doesn't appear to be any land to build anything new! The zoning laws have been well-enforced, so there are no high rises encroaching on the beach and lots of open spaces have been designated as park areas. These islands are magnets for snowbirds in the winter, so prices tend to be high from December 15 until mid-April or May 1. After that, prices drop dramatically -- sometimes by as much as 50% during the summer months. The agencies listed below appear to handle the bulk of the rentals on the island. Call around, and compare prices and availability.

Sanibel Accommodations ~ This rental agency offers a wide variety of homes and condominiums for rent on both Sanibel and Captiva. You'll find beachfront condominiums (sometimes including those at the major resort complexes), luxurious homes, and more budget-oriented properties available. For more information, call (941) 472-3191 or write to Sanibel Accommodations, 2427 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel, FL 33957.

Priscilla Murphy Rentals ~ Another rental agency offering a large selection of homes and condominiums on both islands. In addition to other condo complexes, this agency also rents a number of units at the Sundial. We've rented these from Priscilla Murphy before, and have been amazed at the savings! With over 1700 properties to choose from, you'll be able to find something in your price range that will meet your needs. For more information, call (941) 472-4113 or (800) 237-6008 or write to Priscilla Murphy Realty, 1177 Causeway Road, Sanibel, FL 33957.

The Vacation Shoppe ~ As you can tell, there are a number of rental agencies on this island. Many families prefer to vacation in a condo or private home, since they can spread out and cook their own meals. This firm manages units in 14 beach resorts on Sanibel and Captiva Islands, ranging from fully-furnished studio suites to spacious 3 bedroom, 2 bath units. For more information, call (800) 237-7370, ext. 101 or fax them at (941) 454-0333.

Where to Eat

With all the families visiting Sanibel and Captiva, there are some great kid-friendly restaurants for you to check out! Here are a few of our favorites:

The Hungry Heron ~ This incredibly family-friendly restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. When we dropped in, the two strategically-placed TV's were showing "The Lion King", and our friendly waiter dropped off some neat menus with crayons to keep the kids busy. Several moments later, a magician stopped by to show us some neat tricks. Aside from all the kids' stuff, the menu is huge (186 items plus drinks) and the food was great. There's fresh fish, pasta, burgers, chicken, and a wide variety of sandwiches and salads. You won't find a puny kids' menu here -- they have over 20 meals to choose from. Most are $2.99 and under, some of the larger meals are $4.99. The Hungry Heron is located mid-island in the Palm Ridge Shopping Center on Sanibel. For more information, call (941) 395-2300.

Chadwick's Restaurant ~ If you like incredible buffets, drop by Chadwick's at the South Seas Plantation on Captiva. Their all-you-can-eat Seafood Buffet on Friday nights is fantastic. A "Festival of American Foods" buffet is also available on Wednesdays. Chadwick's is very kid-friendly, and a special kids menu is available. For more information, call (941) 472- 5111.

Jerry's Restaurant ~ This is a great place to go while you're food shopping on Sanibel, as it's actually located in one of the major grocery stores. They're open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The food is inexpensive and good. For more information, call Jerry's at (941) 472- 9300.

Mc T's Shrimp Houses ~ This Sanibel restaurant is famous for its all-you-can-eat shrimp and crab platters and their fabulous "Mud Pie". They have early-bird specials and a kids menu. If you're into shrimp, this is the place to go. For more information, call (941) 472-3161.

Pippin's ~ You'll have lots of choices at Pippin's, which features lots of fresh local seafood, steaks, pastas, chicken and great ribs. An expansive fruit and salad bar is also featured. Kids love the special coloring menus, and if you crave chocolate, don't miss the choco-holic's dream dessert: "Death By Chocolate". The restaurant is located mid-island on Sanibel. For more information, call (941) 395-2676.

The Timber's Restaurant And Fish Market ~ Winner of the Taste of The Islands' "Best Seafood" and "Best Steaks" awards every year since 1983, this restaurant is a fabulous place to go for fresh fish. A kids' menu is also offered. There is a retail fish market on the premises, in case you're cooking in and need something for dinner.

Windows On The Water ~ This beautiful restaurant is right on the Gulf overlooking the beach and the swaying palm trees. If you're staying at the Sundial, try to eat here one night. Their Sunday Brunch is fantastic! For more information, call (941) 472-4151.

Barnacle Phil's ~ If you're staying on North Captiva and would like to venture out for a meal, check out this casual place. You can eat outside on the picnic tables or inside in the "Chic Shack" atmosphere. The food is great -- Henry Winkler liked their black beans 'n rice so much he had some flown to Hollywood! For more information, call (941) 472-6394.

What to Do

There are a wide variety of activities available on Sanibel and Captiva. Here are a few we think are particularly special:

DING DARLING WILDLIFE REFUGE ~ This 5000+ acre refuge is a must-see on your trip. Drive through the refuge early in the morning or late in the afternoon to see a huge variety of birds and wildlife, including those ever-popular alligators. On one of our trips, we saw Roseate Spoonbills (also called "those pink birds"), a number of White Ibis, Snowy Egrets, a Great Blue Heron, and several Anhinga, not to mention the usual assortment of pelicans and osprey. If you have an active family, you might enjoy taking a canoe through the mangrove creeks. The Refuge is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on every day but Friday. For more information, call (941) 472-1100.

BICYCLING ~ Sanibel is uniquely suited for family biking trips, with over 20 miles of paved bike paths throughout much of the islands. Stop by Finnimore's on Periwinkle Way to rent bikes, or see your resort's activities director. Finnimore's has a particularly good selection of adult and children's bikes, and also offers child carriers, joggers and child trailers. For more information, give them a call at (941) 472-5577. On Captiva, check out Jim's Bike and Skate Shop on Andy Rosse Lane.

VISIT THE BAILLEY ~ MATTHEWS SHELL MUSEUM ~ This brand new Shell Museum just opened this year, and features a staggering array of shells. If your kids would like to see what you can find on Sanibel -- or just dream about what their collection might look like someday -- definitely take them here!

CRUISE TO USEPPA OR CABBAGE KEY ~ Visit some of the other islands aboard the "Lady Chadwick" or the "Andy Rosse" with Captiva Cruises. These large boats will take you to one of these islands for lunch and back. Every time we've done this, we've been entertained by dolphins playing close to the boat on our return. Call (941) 472-5300 for information and reservations.

POWER A BOAT TO NORTH CAPTIVA OR CAYO COSTA ~ Play Gilligan for the day, and make your way to a deserted island. You'll find empty beaches, clear waters, and tons of shells on these islands. On Cayo Costa, you may even see some wild boar -- they trained for the Bay of Pigs invasion here! There are numerous marinas and boat rental facilities, but remember, this is a popular activity! Call ahead to make reservations. If you don't want to drive up on your own, have the folks at Jensen's Marina drop you off and pick you up. Call Jensen's at (941) 472-5800. Here are a few ideas to help you save money on your trip:

* Consider staying at a condo, especially during the summer months when the rates come down. You'll save a lot of money on meals, and your family will enjoy the extra space.

* If you're thinking of staying at one of the resorts such as the Sundial or South Seas Plantation, call a few of the rental agencies and see if they have any units available at these properties. You'll be surprised how much money you can save over the resort's nightly rate. Be aware, however, that you may not have access to - or may have to pay more for - some of the amenities. If certain amenities are important to you, make sure to ask the reservationist about their availability when you call. * If you're planning on dining out, call the restaurants to find out about their early-bird specials. Many restaurants offer specials before 6 or 6:30, and you can save a great deal of money by eating before that time.

* Grab the local "Sanibel-Captiva Shopper's Guide" and clip coupons. There are often savings offered on dining, bicycle rentals, and other activities. The guide is usually available at grocery stores, rental agencies, and local shops.

Money $aving Tips

Here are a few ideas to help you save money on your trip:

* Consider staying at a condo, especially during the summer months when the rates come down. You'll save a lot of money on meals, and your family will enjoy the extra space.

* If you're thinking of staying at one of the resorts such as the Sundial or South Seas Plantation, call a few of the rental agencies and see if they have any units available at these properties. You'll be surprised how much money you can save over the resort's nightly rate. Be aware, however, that you may not have access to - or may have to pay more for - some of the amenities. If certain amenities are important to you, make sure to ask the reservationist about their availability when you call.

* If you're planning on dining out, call the restaurants to find out about their early-bird specials. Many restaurants offer specials before 6 or 6:30, and you can save a great deal of money by eating before that time.

* Grab the local "Sanibel-Captiva Shopper's Guide" and clip coupons. There are often savings offered on dining, bicycle rentals, and other activities. The guide is usually available at grocery stores, rental agencies, and local shops.



© 2017 Beacon Group Holdings, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Site by Doghouse Technologies, Inc.


Atlanta

Bermuda

Boston

Denver/Boulder

Colonial Williamsburg

Hawaii

Jacksonville

Las Vegas

Memphis

Miami

Nassau

New York City

Oahu

Phoenix

San Francisco

Sanibel/Captiva

Seattle

Tampa

Vancouver

Washington D.C.

Walt Disney World