A Guide to the Best Beaches on Sanibel Island

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If your ideal beach vibe is more wildlife than nightlife, you have to visit the beautiful beaches of Sanibel Island off the coast of Fort Myers.

Sanibel Lighthouse beach at dusk — the most picturesque time of day to visit

The barrier islands on Florida’s Gulf Coast are some of the most pristine and natural coastal environments in the state, with wide white sand beaches and calm, shallow water the color of aquamarine. If you’re a beach lover like me, you’ll love Florida’s Gulf Coast beaches — they have a uniquely different feel than the Atlantic coast. It’s just one of the reasons we call it home year round.

And the beaches on Sanibel island and Captiva — its twin sister island — are some of my favorite places in all of southwest Florida. It’s where we come to relax and unwind, amongst some of the most unspoiled natural settings and untrodden beaches in the region.

So as a local resident, let me introduce you to this little slice of paradise, and the 7 Dreamiest Sanibel Island beaches — where there’s much to see and do but it’s far from your typical Florida beach vacation.

About the Beaches on Sanibel and Captiva Islands

The islands of Sanibel Island and Captiva are unique. There are no fast food restaurants nor high-rise buildings so if you’re looking for that kind of vacay, you might wish to reconsider. In fact, the local building ordinance mandates that no structure on the island shall be built taller than a palm tree. Pretty great huh?

As you explore the island, you may think there’s not much there, since most of what you see is low-lying scrub, palm trees, and lush vegetation. There are lots of great shopping, dining, and lodging options but you won’t find the glitzy streets lined with designer shops like you will on 5th Avenue in nearby Naples. Many of the shops and restaurants here are still locally-owned. Even the lodging is more low-key. There are plenty of wonderful hotels from high-end beach resorts to smaller, more intimate Inns.

But my favorite places to stay are the cute, pastel-colored Sanibel beach cottages where you and your family can enjoy quality time and the kids can run around catching fireflies and beach combing at dusk. These beach bungalows also make for an unforgettable romantic getaway.

So grab your sunscreen and grab a copy of A Gift from the Sea before you arrive, one of those perfect reads for a Sanibel or Captiva holiday — author Anne Morrow Lindbergh actually wrote her novel here in the 1950’s while on a Captiva vacation!

Before we get to the beaches on Sanibel Island, a bit of history: Sanibel and Captiva Island are technically two separate islands, but they used to be one. A hurricane split them in two in 1921, though the two remain so close you could easily swim between them if the current weren’t so strong. All that separates them is a small two-lane bridge with some of the best shelling beaches on either side, but more on that later.

Getting to the Beaches of Sanibel and Captiva

Getting to the beaches of Sanibel and Captiva Islands couldn’t be easier. There are several ways of getting here but only one way on and off the island. Once you’re here, getting around is simple: walking, driving, or biking along any number of bike paths that criss-cross the island.

Fly and Drive

If you want the freedom to explore the islands at all hours of the day and night, if helps if you have a car. It’s certainly possible to fly into Ft. Myers International Airport known as Regional Southwest International (RSW) and take a private transfer to the island about 45 minutes away. Most visitors spend their days walking or biking the island so a car isn’t necessary. The island has an excellent network of bike trails which can take you from Lighthouse Beach to Blind Pass and everywhere in between. But a car will definitely give you more flexibility and allow you to get off island and enjoy Ft. Myers, Ft. Myers Beach, and other quaint getaways that make a fun day trip from Sanibel.

Road Trip

Sanibel and Captiva Islands make a perfect stop on any of the Florida road trips you can take in southwest Florida or throughout Florida. Explore the entire Lee County Coast around Ft. Myers and Ft. Myers Beach, or head north to Charlotte Harbor and explore the artsy village of Matlacha Island and Pine Island. Sanibel and Captiva are also an easy trip from Naples, Marco Island and the Everglades via the scenic route down through Ft. Myers Beach and Lovers Key. Or, hop on the highway (I-75) and you’ll be in Naples in 45 minutes.

Gifts from the Sea

Gifts from the Sea

You'll fall in love with the beaches on Sanibel!

You’ll fall in love with the beaches on Sanibel!

Which Sanibel Beach is Right For You?

If this is your first trip to southwest Florida, here are a few tips about the beaches of Sanibel Island to help you prepare for your trip. But which Sanibel beach is right for you? Whether you’re looking for pet-friendly beaches, the best shelling beaches, ones with shower and restroom facilities, or the best scenery, there’s a Sanibel beach just waiting for you!

1. Sanibel Island Public Beaches

Many of the beaches on the Sanibel are private property and reserved solely for hotel guests and those visitors staying in vacation rentals along those private stretches of beach. If you’re staying in one of these local resorts or beach properties, you’ll share the private beach with other guests and may even have the entire beach to yourself. However, there are many Sanibel Island public beaches that are free to use, including the 7 amazing beaches we list here. If you drive to one of the public beaches on Sanibel, there are parking lots with hourly rates around $5.00 per hour.

2. Are the Beaches on Sanibel Island Dog-Friendly?

The beaches of Sanibel are super pet-friendly and the wide sandy beaches are perfect for playtime with your best friend. Dogs are always welcome on Sanibel beaches as long as they’re on a leash no longer than 8 feet long. Keep pets close with you and do not let them wander into protected areas such as dune reconstruction areas, dune planting areas, and turtle nests. If you’re looking for another fun dog-friendly alternative on the island, the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island also welcomes dogs (on a leash no longer than six feet) on Wildlife Drive, the refuge’s public access road.

Sanibel beaches are perfectly natural

Sanibel beaches are perfectly natural

Sanibel beaches are shell and dog-friendly, and on a leash

Sanibel beaches are shell and dog-friendly, and on a leash

Parking on Sanibel beaches is around $5 per hour

Parking on Sanibel beaches is around $5 per hour

Always keep your dog on a leash on Sanibel beaches

Always keep your dog on a leash on Sanibel beaches

3. How is the Shelling on Sanibel?

In a word — spectacular! Sanibel is known as the Shelling Capital of the World! And while we can’t say for sure if that’s true, honestly — it’s that good. Shelling is one of the reasons you come to Sanibel. The precious gifts from the sea wash up on the shore by the tons, tickling your legs and feet as you stoop down to snatch them up.

It’s called the Sanibel Stoop which should tell you something about how good the shelling is here. There’s a name just for bending down to pick up shells! Before you know it, you’ll be a pro at knowing where to find them, the name of the shell, what the most common seashells are for a particular time of year, and how to best position yourself to find them. It’s fun, it’s free, and best of all it’s never-ending!

4. Are There Nude Beaches on Sanibel Island?

There are no nude beaches on the island. Many years ago, Bowman’s Beach on the north part of Sanibel Island was considered the unofficial nude beach. Its remote location and natural privacy made it a great location to go in the buff, but as the beach has increased in popularity the nudists are no longer around. If that’s what you’re looking for, consider renting a private beach house to enjoy the beach au natural.

5. Can I bring alcohol to the beaches of Sanibel?

Nope. Sorry, but there is no alcohol allowed on the beaches of Sanibel, and there’s a $500 fine for possession or consumption of alcohol on any city-owned beach or beach with paid public parking.

6. Are the Beaches on Sanibel Island Safe to Swim?

As with most beaches, it’s always better to be safe and take precautions when going in the water. Florida’s Gulf Coast beaches, especially those around Sanibel, tend to be good swimming beaches with gentle tides and soft sandy bottoms. Currents can be strong near Blind Pass but generally are manageable for a good swimmer, and waves tend to be small, except during a storm.

A word of caution however, when swimming on Sanibel beaches like Lighthouse Beach or any other popular fishing spot: fishing for small fish draws bigger fish like small Black Tip sharks (3-5’) and small stingrays. Even Tiger sharks inhabit these waters but generally don’t come in too close. If you’re going to swim, keep a safe distance from anyone fishing from the shore.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU GET STUNG by a STINGRAY?

Stingrays are everywhere in Florida waters. They especially love the flat sandy bottoms along the beaches of Sanibel and Captiva, where they can burrow in the sand and practically disappear from sight.

FOLLOW THIS TIP: Shuffle your feet in the water. The vibration will send them scurrying long before you ever arrive.

WHAT IF YOU DO GET STUNG? We know it sounds gross but PEE ON THE STING. That’s right, pee on yourself or have a friend do it.

There are many who say it doesn’t work but my husband did get some relief once, after years of shore fishing on Sanibel.

EWWW, right? What can we say? If your urine is acidic enough, it will provide some relief until you can get to a pharmacy for sting relief.

7 Dreamy Beaches on Sanibel Island

Causeway Islands Park

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First up on our list of Dreamy Beaches on Sanibel Island is the first string of beaches you’ll encounter on your way to Sanibel. Causeway Beach Park sits on the man-made spit of island that was built to support the causeway which connects Sanibel Island with Ft. Myers on the mainland. It’s not the most private with cars whizzing past on their way to the island, but if you love to fish, it’s a great place for that.

While it’s not the best beach for sunbathing, there are several narrow stretches of beach on the Causeway where you can plant a beach chair, have a family picnic, and swim in the shallow water.

The Causeway beaches are also a choice spot for windsurfing if you love skidding across the water. You just might end up on a sandbar where you can take a break, do a little shelling, and watch the world go by. It’s one of the best places to catch a sunset as well.

Location: On the Sanibel Causeway

Details:

  • Causeway Beach Park has free parking unlike most public beaches on Sanibel Island, but it can get crowded during the season (December through April).

  • Much of the parking is pull-off parking and not individual spaces.

  • Dog-friendly — The beach is dog-friendly, although they must be kept on a leash.

  • Alcohol is not permitted at Causeway Beach Park.

Arriving on the Sanibel Causeway

Arriving on the Sanibel Causeway

Beach day on the Sanibel Causeway

Beach day on the Sanibel Causeway

Sanibel Causeway toward Ft. Myers

Sanibel Causeway toward Ft. Myers

Turner Beach, Captiva

Remember the hurricane I mentioned above, the one that cut Sanibel and Captiva Islands in two back in 1921? That cut is what separates Turner Beach on Captiva Island from Blind Pass Beach on Sanibel Island by a small two-lane bridge. Turner Beach is actually located on Captiva just a stone’s throw across the bridge from Sanibel, at the western end of the island. The parking lot is small at Turner Beach, but the beach is very nice and good for shelling!

NOTE: September 2020 — Turner Beach may be undergoing beach reconstruction due to erosion. Call ahead to check current status or park at Blind Pass Beach.

Location: 17200 Captiva Drive, Captiva

Details:

  • Restrooms

  • 24 parking spaces

  • $5.00 per hour parking fee

  • Handicapped accessible (free handicapped parking)

  • Outside showers

  • Drinking fountain

A great blue heron fishing at Blind Pass beach

A great blue heron fishing at Blind Pass beach

Blind Pass, one of the best beaches on Sanibel

Blind Pass, one of the best beaches on Sanibel

Mounds of shells wash on the beaches on Sanibel

Mounds of shells wash on the beaches on Sanibel

Blind Pass, Sanibel

Blind Pass beach, Sanibel

Blind Pass beach, Sanibel

 

Blind Pass is the wide arching beach located just south/east of the bridge that connects Sanibel and Captiva. Go slowly to see the small parking area (if you cross the bridge you went too far).

As with Turner Beach, parking is limited at Blind Pass , but we highly recommend a visit if you love shelling —psst it’s one of THE best Sanibel beaches for shelling!

Walking on the beach here means sinking into the mountain of shells that wash up from the current cutting through the Pass. There are restrooms and showers on the Turner Beach side only so you can walk across the bridge to use them if you want.

Blind Pass Beach is also popular with anglers who cast into the strong current for snook, catfish and other saltwater species. And surfers are known to catch waves here especially during a storm or before a hurricane. Blind Pass is one of our favorite spots to catch sunset and look for the Green Flash!

CAUTION: After Blind Pass was dredged back in 2009, the tidal currents here can be extremely wicked and swift-moving. I’ve gotten caught in them when the shelling is good, and it’s tempting to wander out further into the channel. PLEASE DON’T DO IT!

Enjoy the shelling here up to your knees, or go in the water waist deep at the most. And be aware of the current!.

Location: 6497 Sanibel-Captiva Road

Details:

  • 1.5 acres

  • 27 parking spaces

  • $5.00 per hour parking fee

  • Handicapped accessible (free handicapped parking)

Sanibel Lighthouse Beach

Perhaps everyone’s favorite island photo op, Sanibel Lighthouse Beach and Pier is one our favorites for the multitude of activities, and of course the famous Sanibel Lighthouse is the crowning jewel. The historic and functioning lighthouse is a favorite backdrop for wedding pics, engagement photos, and the white shirts and blue jeans family photo, and it just adds a beautiful element to your beach pics. You’ll find new lighting and interesting scenery around every corner on the tip of the island. There’s also a boardwalk nature trail, the fishing pier (also great for photo ops looking over to Ft. Myers Beach), and beautiful stretches of beach. The park has plenty of amenities including restrooms and outdoor showers.

Lighthouse Beach is one of the premier shelling and swimming beaches on Sanibel. Night shelling is a popular pastime, and fishing is also good at the Pier and from the beach.

 

Night shelling at Lighthouse Beach, Sanibel

Mother of Pearl shell, Lighthouse Beachl

Shelling the tide pools on Lighthouse Beach

Location: 110-153 Periwinkle Way

Details:

  • 32 acre Park

  • Parking – 170 spaces

  • Fishing Pier (on Bay Side)

  • Shell Information kiosk

  • Drinking fountain

  • Bike racks, barbecue grills, picnic areas and a shade pavilion

  • Restrooms and Outside showers

  • $5.00 per hour parking fee

  • Handicapped accessible (free handicapped parking)

Bowman’s Beach Sanibel

The most secluded of our 7 Dreamy Beaches, Bowman’s Beach Sanibel has everything a beach lover could want — soft white sand on a nice wide beach in a rustic natural environment, beautiful wildlife sightings from the boardwalk, changing rooms, and restrooms. It’s not plush but that’s kind of the point — Sanibel’s natural beauty is on full display. Located toward the west end of the island, Bowman’s Beach has grown in popularity but it’s still private and secluded. There are no hotels lining the beach, or concessions selling snacks. Just the wide open beach as far as you can see.

There’s plenty of parking, but you’ll have to walk a bit to get to the beach, through the mangroves on a boardwalk. So if you have a beach cart or little red wagon, now is the time to bring it! The Park itself is over 50 acres, and there’s lots to explore for nature lovers including a long nature trail above the beach and place to launch kayaks to glide through the mangroves.

But what we really love about Bowman’s Beach is (what else) the shelling!

 

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Location: 1700 Bowman’s Beach Road

Details:

  • 50+ acre Park to enjoy

  • Restrooms, outside changing rooms and showers

  • Drinking fountains and a soda machine

  • Barbecue grills , picnic areas, playground, and shade pavilion

  • Fitness trail

  • Shell Information kiosk

  • Kayak Launch

  • Parking: 218 parking spaces, $5.00 per hour parking fee

  • Handicapped accessible (free handicapped parking)

Tarpon Bay Beach

Tarpon-Bay-Beach-Sanibel-Island-Florida.jpg

If you’re looking for a quiet beach hardly anyone goes to, Tarpon Bay Beach is a small mid-island beach off a remote access road with easy parking.

Park at the Trost Parking Lot for public beach parking (located at 205 Tarpon Bay Road) and take the short hike to the beach. It’s scenic and quiet — and depending on the time of day and year, you’ll practically have the whole beach to yourself. How cool is that!

Location: 111 Tarpon Bay Road

Details:

  • Bike racks

  • Drinking fountain and picnic areas

  • Parking: 76 spaces, $5.00 per hour parking fee

  • Restrooms and outside showers

  • Handicapped accessible (free handicapped parking)

Gulfside City Beach Park (Algiers Beach)

Algiers Beach is perfect for dog-lovers!

Algiers Beach is perfect for dog-lovers!

 

This 27-acre mid-island Park located on Algiers Lane off of Casa Ybel Road goes by two names, Gulfside City Park and also Algiers Beach after the road it’s on.

It’s a quiet, pet-friendly beach park with plenty of space for kids to run around and pets to play, but it’s also one of our favorite beaches on Sanibel for sunbathing because of its private feel.

There are plenty of nature trails that skirt the Gulf, with views that go on forever. Perhaps because of its more secluded setting, Gulfside Park draws lots of sea turtles during nesting season, and in particular Loggerhead turtles, who frequently nest here.

Keep an eye out for nests roped off with yellow CAUTION tape. This means there’s an active nest and visitors should avoid walking near or disturbing the nest.

 

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Location: 2001 Algiers Lane

Details:

  • (Located Off Casa Ybel Road – Midsection of Island) (City Owned and Maintained)

  • Acreages = 27.5

  • Bike racks and Drinking fountain

  • Outside showers and Restrooms

  • Picnic Areas with barbecue grills and Shade Pavilion

  • 46 parking spaces – $5.00 per hour parking fee

  • Handicapped accessible (free handicapped parking)

SEA TURTLE TIPS:

Turtle Nesting Season in Florida is May through October.

Always respect the turtle population by knocking down sandcastles and filling in holes in the sand at the end of the day.

Turn off any lights or use a red or green light filter for night beach walks!

To experience more of Sanibel’s wildlife, take an excursion to the J.N. Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge just north of the beach.

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The Best Beaches of Sanibel Island AT A GLANCE

Best Beaches on Sanibel Island for Shelling

We love the beaches at Blind Pass for some of the island’s best shelling!

What Are the Best Beaches on Sanibel Island for Kids and Families?

Bowman’s Beach is perfect for families with children — lots of room to run around and perfect white sandy beaches!

Best Beach for a Romantic Getaway?

If it’s romance you’re after, there’s no better place on the island than the Sanibel Lighthouse Beach — sunset pics with the pretty Sanibel Lighthouse as a backdrop can’t get much dreamier!

Have you been to Sanibel and Captiva Islands or Florida’s southwest coast? What are your favorite beaches on Sanibel Island?

Lori Sorrentino
"Lori Sorrentino is the Editor and Photographer for Travlinmad, a food and travel blog specializing in slow travel and local food experiences. She caught the photography bug as a kid, and started traveling soon thereafter, a combination that eventually led to a career in tourism and destination marketing. She hails from New Jersey but now calls Florida home, and she travels full-time making local connections, discovering new food experiences, and photographing the colors, details and textures wherever she goes."
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