Think ‘Florida’ and your mental Rolodex flips through certain images: white sands, blue waters beneath clear skies, lush greenery, golf courses and the Golden Girls, glitz, glamour and Miami Vice. In Southwest Florida, trade in whatever you think you know about America’s third-most populous state for the pure, quiet joys of plucking shells from the sand and watching egrets pick across tidal lagoons, as the sun dips brilliantly beyond the magnificent Gulf of Mexico, welcome to paradise. Are you looking for a family or couple’s vacation?
Let us show you where, when and why your next vacation should be on The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel. Already convinced and want to skip to the itineraries?
Sanibel & Captiva Islands
Removed, and only seemingly remote. There are no stoplights on Sanibel or Captiva, and there are no buildings taller than the tallest palm tree. Both serve as a reminder of what happens when we leave well enough alone. For generations, people have escaped over the three-mile causeway to a different pace of life – one that includes ungroomed white sand beaches filled with thousands of shells, great seafood restaurants, unmatched wildlife viewing and a family focused village atmosphere where only the absolutely necessary parts of civilization are included.
Fort Myers Beach
One of the world’s safest family beaches. Before bridges connected Estero Island to the mainland, Fort Myers Beach was a 7-mile stretch of coastline known for its shallow water, no undertow and little else. These days, the safe beaches remain, along with family-friendly resorts, charming Gulf-side seafood restaurants and nightlife that gets going just after yet another immaculate sunset. Where this island really shines is in the various recreation possibilities outdoor enthusiasts enjoy like Lovers Key State Park, where back bays and mangrove forests make for great kayaking and wildlife watching.
There’s never a dull moment in Southwest Florida. With something to entertain kids of every generation, a few days on our white-sand beaches and everywhere in-between brings you and your loved ones closer to nature, and to each other. Follow this day-by-day itinerary if you’re short on time, or use it as a starter if you plan a longer stay.
Day 1: Island Adventure
Start your trip by hopping to a secluded island paradise only accessible by boat. A charter cruise will carry you across the wide, blue waters of Pine Island Sound where the perfect conditions for dolphin watching attract thrilling acrobatics above your boat wake. Be sure the kids get a front row view! Look to the air for curious birds like hawkish osprey and even a majestic great white egret on your way to Cayo Costa, an island state park with a well-preserved natural environment for native wildlife. Be sure to bring beverages and a picnic basket for lunch before exploring the trails threading across this seven-mile long island, or watch the kids run along the white-sand shores to discover untouched shells like sand dollars, whelks and calico scallops. You can even go for a swim in the warm, Gulf of Mexico. Just don’t miss the boat back!
Day 2: Sanibel & Captiva Islands
The day begins with breakfast at RC Otters before heading to Bowman’s Beach, where a walk in bare feet through the sand uncovers the best shelling in the world. When your pockets are full of keepsakes, drive or bike through the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, where manatees, flocks of common to rare birds and even gators make their home. Re-energize with lunch at the Island Cow before getting hands-on at the Sanibel Sea School. This learning program for kids takes marine life from the barrier islands and puts it within arms’ reach. It’s perfect for your family’s budding young scientists. Wind down the day with a stop at the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum and see hundreds of shells from around the world before a rendezvous with over-the-top fun at the Bubble Room Restaurant on Captiva. The energetic atmosphere is home to food the kids will love, especially giant slices of cake, like the award-winning Orange Crunch.
Day 3: Cape Coral, Fort Myers & Fort Myers Beach
Grab a light breakfast on your way to Sun Splash Family Waterpark in Cape Coral. Cool slides, tunnels and pools keep you drenched in fun. Dry off and head to the Imaginarium Science Center, a dedicated hands-on children’s museum and aquarium with enough thrills, chills and animals (including touch tanks) to entertain your most energetic little family members. For a more transformative experience, The Butterfly Estates surrounds you with hundreds of delicate butterflies in their climate-controlled environment. See who in your family can identify the most. Finally, get outside and find more fun in the sun on the smooth sand of Fort Myers Beach. One of the world’s safest family beaches thanks to shallow waters and lack of undertow, take the kids swimming, paddle boarding and sandcastle-building without a care in the world. Continue planning your next trip to Southwest Florida by downloading our free Lonely Planet guidebook at FortMyers-Sanibel.com and sign up for monthly newsletter updates.
The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel: For Two
Set foot in Southwest Florida and the worries of home melt away. Our warm, relaxing beaches and nature help you slow down, but there’s a lot to see and do here if you choose to pick up the pace. Follow this day-by-day itinerary if you’re short on time, or use it as a starter if you plan a longer stay.
Day 1: Outer Islands
Start your trip on an island-hopping adventure to secluded islands only accessible by boat. A charter cruise will carry you across the wide, blue waters of Pine Island Sound where the perfect conditions for dolphin-watching attract thrilling acrobatics above your boat wake. Look to the air for curious birds like the hawkish osprey and even the majestic great white egret on your way to Cayo Costa, an island state park with a well-preserved natural environment for native wildlife. Explore the trails threading across the island, or stroll the white-sand beaches, collecting hundreds of untouched shells like sand dollars, whelks and calico scallops. After some secluded sun and sand, head to Cabbage Key, where a late lunch featuring the original cheeseburger in paradise always satisfies. Walk the quiet paths of this tiny island and get lost in the feeling of getting away from it all. As evening approaches, make your final stop at the docks of Useppa Island, where you’ll find a tradition of hospitality and Old Florida luxury. After drinks and a dinner of lobster at the Barron Collier Dining Room, stay the night in a suite at the historic Collier Inn.
Day 2: Sanibel & Captiva Islands
The day begins with breakfast at Sanibel Café before heading to Bowman’s Beach, where a walk in bare feet through the sand uncovers the best shelling in the world. When your pockets are full with keepsakes, drive or bike through the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, where manatees, flocks of common to rare birds and even gators make their home. Paddle a kayak through tunnels of red mangroves filled with perching birds like snowy egrets and great blue herons nestled along peaceful water trails. Lunch at the Island Cow re-energizes you before walking the shops on Periwinkle Way. Browse the many tiny, independent stores along the main drag surrounded by Sanibel’s laid-back island atmosphere. A casual dinner at the Mucky Duck Pub on Captiva Island leads to wide-open Captiva Beach and a frame-worthy Gulf sunset. Join the wave of onlookers staring toward the horizon for a glimpse of the sun’s elusive Green Flash.
Day 3: Fort Myers & Fort Myers Beach
Rise and shine with a maple-bacon donut and coffee at Bennett’s Fresh Roast. Then, drive down palm tree–lined McGregor Boulevard to the Edison & Ford Winter Estates. Walk the same gardens and laboratory as two of our greatest American inventors did a century ago. Take your pick of lunch spots in historic downtown Fort Myers with its quaint restaurants lining red brick streets. Looking for something new to wear? Try the fashionable River District boutiques before continuing the search at the Miromar Outlets, where more than 140 retailers offer outlet rates on brand name apparel. Wind down the day exploring the shops and restaurants of Fort Myers Beach Times Square. Then, enjoy a walk hand in hand down the Fort Myers Beach pier and watch another immaculate sunset. Continue planning your next trip to Southwest Florida by downloading our free Lonely Planet guidebook at FortMyers-Sanibel.com and sign up for monthly newsletter updates.