The best Southwest Florida beaches for families

Find paradise at these Southwest Florida Beaches

Southwest Florida is a beach lover’s paradise. The soft white sand and the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico make this an ideal destination for families. Nature lovers will have plenty of opportunities to enjoy wildlife throughout the barrier islands and mangrove swamps! And last but not least, the sunsets! Southwest Florida Beaches mostly face to the west, making evenings the perfect time to grab a cool drink and watch the sky change colors over the horizon.

So pack your bags for the gulf coast and let me give you some ideas for your trip. Here are some of the best beaches in Southwest Florida.

Fort Myers Beach

Fort Myers Beach felt like a mix of Bob Marley and Bob Dole! Ha! The northern end of the island is home to numerous bars and restaurants that let you dine or drink beachside. The southern end of the island is mostly home to condos and quiet beaches. North or south, a sunset view is on the horizon (literally) and you’ll be glad to pull up a beach chair. 

While Sanibel gets noted for a sheller’s dream, I found numerous sand dollars on Fort Myers Beach, washed up on the shore. Beach access points are throughout the island but they do contain metered parking and it’s $2/hour. 

As a family traveler, I prefer the South Island of Fort Myers Beach. We stayed at the Gullwing Beach Resort on Estero Blvd. and had a really enjoyable stay in one of their 2-bedroom condos.

Interested in staying on Fort Myers Beach? Here’s my travel guide to Fort Myers.

Sunset on Fort Myers Beach

Lovers Key State Park

Lovers Key State Park is an island that received its name because it was so remote, only lovers would make the trek by boat. Now the drive to Lovers Key is just a quick jaunt south of Fort Myers Beach. There are so many things to do within the State Park: hiking, birding, and kayaking, just to name a few. Don’t miss some of the exquisite nature trails where you’ll have a chance to look for bald eagles, alligators, and manatees.

Lovers Key State Park charges an admission fee of $8 per car. From the main parking area, you can walk to mid-beach or you can take a tram to the south beach. Our family chose to take the 15-minute tram ride. The south beach contains a concession stand and restrooms. From there you can walk over 2 miles of unspoiled beach. 

Another entrance to the state park is to right off of Estero Blvd., just south of the Big Carlos Pass Bridge. This parking lot allows access to the Eagle Trail and the beach adjacent to the Big Carlos Pass. This is a fun place to watch kayakers and jet skis. We also found starfish in the calm waters of the pass!

The Eagle Trail is sandy path through natural vegetation. Make sure you bring plenty of water on a hot day!

Lovers Key State Park - great beaches of  Southwest Florida

Sanibel Island

Sanibel Island was listed in Patricia Schultz’s 1,000 Places to See Before You Die. Driving into Sanibel, you’ll quickly understand why. The island has strict zoning laws so it feels much more secluded than it is- couple that with white sand beaches and millions of seashells and you have a place that the entire family will enjoy- young or old. If you’re looking for a beach that is away from the high-rises and nightlife, you may consider staying on Sanibel Island!

Read my first-timers guide to Sanibel HERE

One public beach is located at Sanibel Lighthouse. This beach is nearly wave-free because of it’s protected bay, making it great for the little ones. This area also is home to a short fishing pier.

Bowman’s Beach was voted one of the best beaches in the world by U.S. News & World Reports! Bowman’s Beach has public parking that is $5/hour. There are nice public restrooms, outdoor showers, and a playground near the parking lot. Here’s my guide to things to do on Sanibel Island.

Bowman's Beach - one of the best beaches in southwest Florida.
Bowman’s Beach has white sand and beautiful clear water

Other beach access points are located throughout the island. For a great sunset view, consider driving just across the bridge to Captiva Island. Turner Beach is one of the Captiva Beaches with a small public parking area and a great view!

Looking for the perfect place for a picnic? The Sanibel Causeway is home to many places to pull over with picnic tables!

Sanibel Island Causeway

Tip:  The beaches at Sanibel are popular with seashell-hunters for a reason, but delicate feet may appreciate a pair of Crocs or swim shoes

Naples Beach

While Naples is known for its designer shopping outlets and historical fishing pier, it should also be known for its 7 miles of white sand beach. Naples is known for its wealth, and the well-kept beaches are a testimony to this.

There is public access at many different points, but entering at Lowdermilk Park gives you access to two playgrounds and sand volleyball courts, plus concession stands and restrooms. You’ll have to pay a meter, but your family will be happy to have more than just the beach available!

Little Hickory Island Beach Park

Little Hickory Island Beach Park is located near Bonita Springs. The parking fee is $2 per hour. Lee County Parking Stickers are accepted at this access. Accessible parking is available. Pets are not permitted. Our children enjoyed playing here for a few hours and had a homeschool lesson from the park’s signage. 😉

There are outside showers to rinse off before leaving.

Little Hickory Island Beach Park - beaches of Southwest Florida

What’s your family’s favorite beach in Southwest Florida?

Before you go: My Ultimate Florida Packing List


The best beaches Southwest Florida - Family-friendly beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel are great for families - here are some tips for when you visit.
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