Best Sanibel-Captiva Beaches
Sanibel is internationally famous for its natural beauty and for its reputation for protecting its plant and animal life. There is no other island like Sanibel anywhere in Florida. Sanibel Island and Captiva Island are connected at Blind Pass on Sanibel's northern tip, and can almost be considered as one island. In addition to many other outstanding features attractive to visitors, both islands have fabulous beaches. Check out my recommendations below. I've lived on the west coast of Florida for 45 years, and I've literally written the book on Gulf Coast Beaches. You will love Sanibel Island.
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St. Pete Beach
Lighthouse Park - Sanibel Island
Lighthouse Park is the most easily accessible beach on the island, since it is just a short drive from where the causeway connects to the island. It is also a very scenic beach, offering sweeping views of San Carlos Bay, the Gulf of Mexico, and on the eastern horizon the condominiums and hotels of Fort Myers Beach can be seen. The high-rise condominiums of Naples are visible on the southern horizon on a clear day.
The beach is wide and flat, and the water is shallow, but the currents can be a bit strong here, so be careful. This beach is popular with windsurfers, and everyone else too. On weekends, holidays, and during visitor season you need to arrive before 10am to get a parking spot ($2.00 per hour).
It's a short walk to the beach. Most of the beach at Lighthouse Park faces south, so it enjoys protection from the coldest northern winds. You might find this beach to be a warm sunny spot when the other beaches are a bit too windy and cool to be comfortable in a bathing suit during winter cold snaps. This south facing orientation makes Lighthouse Park one of the best shelling beaches on Sanibel Island. However, this facing south prevents Lighthouse Park beach from being a good place to watch the sunset. The best sunset beaches are Blind Pass Beach and Captiva Beach.
If you feel like exploring, take advantage of the nature trails that meander through the forest above the beach. Go fishing at the short pier that extends into San Carlos Bay. The pier has its own access road and parking lot. And of course, have a close-up look at the lighthouse.
Algiers Beach / Gulfside City Park
Named after the Algiers, a steamship, that was converted into a home on this spot, Algiers Beach is adjacent to a portion of nature preserve that keeps this beach from being infringed upon by condominiums and resorts. The steamship home was removed more than 20 years ago, and today a park with picnic tables sits in its place. The park has public restrooms.
As with most of the beaches on Sanibel, this beach lacks shade, thanks to hurricane Charlie knocking down the tall Australian pines back in 2004. Algiers Beach faces south, so shelling is excellent here on this wide, flat beach. The water is shallow and is excellent for swimming on calm days (which is most every day).
This beach is a little harder to find than most. Drive north on Periwinkle way and make a left on Casa Ybell Road (which later curves into Gulf Drive). Turn west on Algiers Lane and follow a winding shell road back to the parking area. Parking is $2.00 per hour from 7am to 7pm. Parking is free after 7pm.
Without a doubt, Bowman's Beach is one of the finest beaches in Florida and in my opinion it is the best beach on Sanibel. This beach has no homes, condominiums, hotels, or resorts nearby. The area above the beach is thickly wooded and there is a trail that parallels the beach for about a mile, leading to the north. The beach is wide near the parking area, but gradually narrows as one walks north.
Plenty of parking is provided at the usual $2.00 per hour rate (parking is free after 7pm). It is a fairly long walk to the beach along a trail through the picnic tables, past the restrooms and the outdoor shower, across a footbridge, through more woods, and finally through the grass-covered dunes and onto the beach. Bowman's Beach is very popular and draws a steady, but not overwhelming crowd. This beach is located further north on Sanibel, but still faces toward the southwest. Sunsets can be seen from this beach, but the sun does not set directly in front of you.
Take Periwinkle Way north to Sanibel-Captiva Road and continue north, just past the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge to Bowman's Beach Road (marked with a sign). Turn west on Bowman's Beach Road and follow it a quarter-mile back to the wooded and unpaved parking area. Be sure to take water and snacks to the beach, there is no food or drink sold here. Use a backpack or something with wheels because its a 10 minute walk to the beach.
Turners Beach / Blind Pass
Although any beach on Sanibel or Captiva could fall into the "most romantic" category, Blind Pass beach, at the now filled-in pass that once separated Sanibel from Captiva gets my vote for several reasons. First, it is all the way at the north end of the island, which is a long way from anywhere and gives a feeling of truly being away-from-it-all.
Second, parking is very limited at this beach, so crowds are kept to a minimum. There are no other public accesses nearby, and not much on the beach as far as buildings are concerned, so it's a pretty quiet beach--great for long walks.
Third, there are a number of small cottages on the beach here with that Old-Florida charm--perfect for a romantic getaway or a quiet honeymoon.
Fourth, there are several charming restaurants in this tiny little beach resort community that are just perfect for couples wanting time to themselves.
Fifth, you are just a short drive from Captiva. You have to spend at least one day walking around Captiva and enjoying the most unique island experience in Florida. If you really want a quiet get-away without having to "rough it," come during September, after Labor Day Weekend. You'll feel like you have the place all to yourself.
When you drive north across the bridge at Blind Pass (Turner's Beach) you enter Captiva Island. The entirety of Captiva is like a tropical jungle with homes secluded behind greenery. The road twists and turns and finally winds its way through the South Sea Islands Plantation, a resort of considerable fame. Drive past the entrance to the South Seas and you will soon come to the end of the public road. A small pay-and-park lot provides visitors with access to the beach. There isn't room for many cars here so you'd better get here early. It's just a few feet to the beach where you can walk north or south as far as you care to. To the north you can see North Captiva Island across Redfish Pass, cloaked in greenery and accessible only by boat.
You can easily spend the entire day enjoying Captiva, even though it is a small island. If you are not staying in one of the vacation homes here or at the South Seas, my advice is to arrive around 9am and park at the Captiva Beach lot. Pay for the day and then head for the beach.
When you're hungry, take a stroll through Captiva and take your pick of the many fine casual restaurants and cafe's here. Have a cool drink. Enjoy some ice cream and walk through all of the quirky shops that sell artsy island crafts. Enjoy one of the most tropical and scenic family islands in Florida. Then head back to the beach for an afternoon swim. Perhaps try a different restaurant for dinner, then head back to the beach for the sunset before returning home. The best way to enjoy Captiva is on foot.
Captiva beach faces west, so it's a great spot to watch the sunset. You can have dinner at the Mucky Duck restaurant right on the beach while you watch the sun go down. If you can stay on Captiva for a few days, you will really have it made. It's one of the best places in Florida.
Florida Beaches: Finding Your Paradise on the Lower Gulf Coast
After a lifetime of enjoying the beaches of Florida, and after 10 years of weekly trips to all the beaches on the lower Gulf Coast of Florida, I decided to write a book to help other people discover and enjoy the beautiful beaches that I've come to love. The response has been inspiring.
If you think a detailed and comparative look at more than 96 Florida Gulf Coast beaches is something that would interest you, click on the book cover at left to find out more about my one-of-a-kind book. Where else can you get all this information in one place, from a Florida native who has spent his whole life on the beaches?
I couldn't find this information anywhere else, that's why I wrote it. Sure, you could dig around on the internet for hundreds of hours and maybe find a third of what's in here, but why?
Copyright 2005 David McRee--Beachhunter.net--on Best Sanibel-Captiva Beaches