Sanibel & Captiva Islands

Sanibel & Captiva Islands

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Sanibel & Captiva Islands: Off Season as Reviewed by a First Time Visitor/Tourist

Jun 28, 2011 (Updated Jul 3, 2011)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Nice beaches
laid back and slow...during off season
wildlife preserve

Cons:high traffic, so I heard, in season
OK shelling

The Bottom Line:

I can recommend spending time on Sanibel Island and Captiva Island. I liked the laid back "vibe" and good restaurants. The beaches are natural but shelling was weak. No snorkeling.


If you saw a guy in a flowered Hawaiian shirt wearing black knee socks up to his white short with a camera around his neck, a map in hand and donning a straw hat, you saw me somewhere at Sanibel and Captiva Islands.

I was there with my wife for the first time ever. Having traveled much of Florida's beaches in past years, this southwestern Florida coast was new to me. OK, my attire was a bit more laid back with shorts, a t-shirt and sandals and after experiencing it a few days, so was the island.

First Impression

Rip off! were my first words. Why do we have to pay such a hefty $6 charge every time I want to enter Sanibel and or Captiva Island. Two or three, OK, but $6,  unconscionable!

Once over we made the Chamber of Commerce visitor's center our first stop. It's a delightful and picturesque little place with helpful people inside who gave us good suggestions on where to go, what to do and choices for eating and dining.

I suggest spending ten minutes or so at this small visitors center. The people were helpful and the advice excellent. The maps and brochures helps one get acquainted with the islands too.

No Snorkeling On Sanibel/Captiva!

Shelling, Biking, Hiking, Swimming, Sunning, Fishing, Birding and Boating are favorite past times on Sanibel and Captiva due to the waterfront properties of these sister islands.

As an avid snorkeler who is always looking for that perfect reef, wreck or reason to don my mask and fins, I always wanted to know about snorkeling these islands too. I never read much about it.

I also thought it could be pretty cool looking for empty shells in deeper waters and free diving down to investigate any signs of them. Nope! Can't be done. In the five days I was checking out the Gulf waters there was never a day I could see anything with clarity past the 2' mark, Nothing!

The first day I thought it was due to strong winds kicking up the bottom but the next days were calm. It seems that the water movements effect the fine sands there and clouds up the waters. That was disappointing. Id did read about some man made reefs of Cayo Costa just north of Sanibel/Captiva but I don't see how it could be that much clearer. Not seeing any regularly timed, advertised excursions to that island I don't believe it's worth the time. We were going to make a day trip but opted out.

Taking To THE Road

We stayed at the Sanibel Inn that is just moments over THAT bridge. It was perfect for us with a pool, oceanfront beaches and clean cool room. This is near the eastern most side of the island. It's just another five minutes or so to the rusty ol' lighthouse that stands tall at the entrance of the body of water between Sanibel Island and Fort Meyers. The marina that offers many sports and relaxing days out, is also just minutes away.

Going West and kinda north is along one main road. There are a few small roads in the back but to get from one end of the island to the next and up to Captiva be prepared to be on a bunny hop line. It's one way in and one way out. We were there on the off season so travel was pretty good taking us 20 minutes or so to the end of Captiva island.

We passed many shops and stores and beautifully landscaped little shopping villages.  They were filled with boutiques and specialty stores. My wife did a little bit of successful shopping there. She also found the original Chico's a place she has enjoyed shopping in its many locations on the east coast that we know of.

These shops are neat, clean and with plenty of parking at no cost, unlike the public beaches on the island.

Public Beaches

All the beaches on Sanibel are public but you can't get to them unless your hotel is on a beach or you go to one of the five or six public beach parking lots. These collect money via times receipts. It was $2.00 for an hour. We went to three or four beaches and found something in each one that we enjoyed. Our favorite was Bowman's Beach. It's a longer walk, perhaps a quarter mile to the beach from the lot but the scenery you go through makes it worth it and we loved the beach and had a little bit of luck shelling there.

Shelling on Sanibel and Captiva Islands

The tides along the beaches of Sanibel and Captiva Island bring in shells from the Gulf of Mexico. Unfortunately it wasn't happening with larger more visible shells in the spring.

In talking with a fellow at our hotel he noted that the shelling for the past five years has not been what it was. It's also best during the winter months according to him.

My wife had a good time doing the "Sanibel Stoop" finding pretty little shells that are there by the millions!. It's the bigger shells that are more difficult to find. I learned the method of using my toes to find a bit of something along the surface and then digging in to find something worth taking home. No live shells are allowed to be taken!

Becoming One With Nature

No we didn't come home with any prizewinner shells, though we could have purchased some in the shell shops that grace the island but we did enjoy the solitude, even with some other people about.

The beaches are natural and picturesque. The tiny shells dominate  the shores and people sit at umbrellas at resorts or bring their own to the public beaches that offer facilities even if there is no food available. We went to the deli type places and had sandwiches made to bring beach side.

Walking up and down the sun-filled beaches is the way to enjoy the island. We also made our way to JN darling Wildlife Preserve. There's a charge to get in but go with a mind of a slow pace and discovery. By all means get to their Visitors Center. It's excellent in what it teaches and displays. We saw many water birds, took the Indian path on foot and spied an osprey with a large fish for dinner on a high sun bleached branch. Very cool!

Eatin' and Dining on The Islands

We were a little disappointed at the lack of waterside restaurants. We did find one, the Mucky Duck that has awesome sunsets in a great setting. I did have an incident there that left me feelin' bad but in my review  I chalk it up to a bad day of the gal servin' beer.

I was pleasantly surprised at my favorite restaurant the Island Cow. It's nothing to look at from the road and my wife had to drag me there but wow, its good!.. i also loved the Key Lime pie at the , wouldn't ya guess it, The Key Lime Bistro!

We made our way to a few other local restaurants that week and capped off one dinner with dessert at Pinocchio's known for homemade frozen treats. I can recommend it.

pops Last Thoughts of Sanibel and Captiva Island

We enjoyed our week stay and would return. We always have liked the feel of the Keys and the superior snorkeling there, but this was fine.  There was more than enough shopping available and the beaches, though tied to metered parking are worth the walks and the possible shelling. I liked the beaches and I liked the place where we stayed and its sister properties, part of the Sanibel Collection, where we spent time too. After talking with many people who have frequented the island andwith locals, I would never go in high season. Too crowded, arking probs at restaurants and slow moving traffic on the island. Late May, early June worked for us.

The National Wildlife Preserve was a draw for us too.

We noticed some lovely homes up in Captiva. It's apparently where the money is on these two islands. There's also less beach to get to up there though we did like the open expanses of Northern Captiva Beach .

I especially enjoy trying new places to eat and dine. We found a bit of both and they were very good even if there was a lack of waterside dining rooms and decks.

I can recommend Sanibel Island and Captiva Island.

This is an entry into the Celebrate America Write Off.



Things To Do on Sanibel and Captiva Islands


Captiva Public Beach

Bowman's Beach

JN "Darling" National Wildlife Preserve
Places we ate and dined in while on Sanibel and Captiva Island

Doc Fords Rum Bar and Grille

The Lighthouse Cafe

The Island Cow

Keylime Bistro

The Mucky Duck

Dessert at Pinocchio's Original Italian Ice Cream

Sanibel Inn, Where we stayed

Song of the Sea, A sister property right next door to the Sanibel Inn


Recommend this product? Yes


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