If you wake up early for a sunrise walk on the beaches of Captiva Island, don’t expect to have the shoreline all to yourself!
You might see parents clutching their coffees while their kids scoop up handfuls of shells, couples enjoying a romantic stroll and friendly locals using shell shovels. This enthusiasm for nature and being outdoors is what keeps drawing families back to Fort Myers, Sanibel and Captiva Island, year after year.
This region of Florida is so much more than beaches, though. If your family is itching to ditch the electronics and soak in the fresh air and sunshine, you’ll find plenty to do here.
Where to Stay
South Seas Island Resort is the prime spot for families to park themselves for an island vacation. It’s located on Captiva Island and offers multiple options for those with multiple kids or even larger groups. You can choose from two- and three-bedroom villas, vacation rental homes or a more traditional guestroom or suite at the Harbourside Hotel.
Spend a moment observing and you’ll find parents wheeling red wagons full of groceries up to their rooms, and families making their way to the pool via the on-site trolley that whisks guests around the 2-and-a-half-mile property.
Bring your kids to the buffet brunch at Harbourside Bar and Grille where they can get creative at the donut-making station. Make yourself comfortable on the patio for a stunning view of the harbor while you sip your coffee and enjoy your breakfast.
Another great dining spot on the resort’s property is Doc Ford’s Rum Bar and Grill, which serves up mouth-watering Caribbean flavors and fresh seafood.
Just a short drive away from the hotel is the quirky and charming Mad Hatter Restaurant. It’s a more romantic dining option, so find a baby sitter and make a reservation to go through the looking glass and indulge in the creations of Chef Kurt and Michelle Jarvis. Dining here is truly an unforgettable experience.
Ostego Bay Foundation
For unrivaled knowledge and passion about the local ecosystems, schedule a visit to the Ostego Bay Foundation Marine Science Center. Nestled on San Carlos Island in Fort Myers Beach, the “best-kept secret in Lee County” is dedicated to conservation through education.
Kids can participate in labs with live specimen from the ocean, touch a stingray or observe marine life during feeding time. Join a working waterfront tour for the inside scoop on the shrimping industry. It’s fascinating to learn about how pink shrimp, or “pink gold,” has fueled the local economy as a plentiful renewable resource in the area thanks to conservation efforts.
Dixie Fish Company
The 3-hour waterfront tour will leave you feeling famished. Head across the bay for a taste of that pink shrimp you just learned about at Dixie Fish Company in Fort Myers Beach.
The open-air waterfront restaurant serves the freshest seafood around. Try your shrimp or fish the “Dixie Way” with garlic butter for a mouthwatering meal as you watch the shrimp boats, yachts and pirate ships float by. Make sure to order the homemade key lime pie for dessert. The crust is out of this world!
Museums can be a great way to learn about history, but it’s another thing entirely to walk in the footsteps and use the tools of ancient people. At the Mound House in Estero Bay, you’ll learn all about the Calusa Indians, a fierce and powerful civilization that dwelled in Southwest Florida around 2,000 years ago.
Known as “The Shell Indians,” they used seashells to create tools and weapons and to form mounds when mixed with mud and clay. They would dwell on top of these mounds near the shore where they could fish and hunt.
Enjoy a guided tour of the property where you can get some hands-on experience with a conch hammer or an atlatl or spear thrower. Kids and adults alike will enjoy learning what life was like for the Calusa, seeing the archaeological dig site of an early mound and touring the oldest structure on Estero Island.
Fort Myers Beach
Naturally, you’ll want to relax and soak up the sun while in the Fort Myers, Sanibel and Captiva area. Times Square in Fort Myers Beach is the perfect spot to unwind. Rent an umbrella and a few lounge chairs for quality beach time, peruse the surf shops and let the kids get their wiggles out on the playground at Lynn Hall Memorial Park. The calm Gulf waters and the powdery white sand are perfect for families with young children.
Southwest Florida is full of fascinating ecosystems, and one of the best ways to learn about them is by island hopping on a chartered boat. Captain Ryan Kane of Southern Instinct charters will use his extensive knowledge of the area to introduce you to uninhabited islands or the beautiful Cabbage Key, a 100-acre island with no paved roads and an abundance of cabbage palm trees.
The Cabbage Key Inn and Restaurant is a popular spot for boaters to stop for a meal that’s rumored to have inspired Jimmy Buffet’s “Cheeseburger in Paradise.” Make sure to bring a dollar bill to tape to the walls!
Because of the east-west orientation and curved shape of the islands, both Sanibel and Captiva are optimum spots for collecting unique shells. Bring a net bag along on your trip and hit the beaches early in the morning or at low tide.
To learn more about the ecology and lifespan of seashells, visit the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum on Sanibel Island. Kids will love the Children’s Learning Lab and the Record Breaking Sized Shells exhibit in the museum. Your family might also enjoy adding on a beach walk experience where scientists will share their knowledge on a guided outing.
Fort Myers, Sanibel and Captiva for Families
Even as a Florida resident myself, I felt like I was escaping to another world on Sanibel and Captiva. It’s a place where kids can be free to roam outdoors and adults can let go of their stress and relax. With no high rises to ruin the view and so many opportunities to interact with nature, this is the peaceful family beach vacation you’ve been searching for.
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