Sanibel & Captiva Travel Guide
We just returned from a week at Sanibel Island and it was the perfect destination for a family beach vacation! However, before visiting Sanibel Island, I couldn’t find much information telling me what to expect during our first stay on the island. Being budget travelers, I wanted to know where the best grocery stores were, how much the bridge tolls cost, and more. Without further ado, here is your guide to a first-time trip to Sanibel Island.
Getting to the Sanibel Island
The closest major airport to Sanibel Island is RSW- Southwest International Airport, which is 25 miles or 40 minutes away. We used this airport on a past trip to Fort Myers while using our Southwest Airlines Companion Pass.
If you’re willing to fly a budget airline, Allegiant offers service to Punta Gorda Airport, which is 50 miles from Sanibel.
Rental cars can be obtained from both airports. Check rates with Kayak.
Approaching Sanibel, you’ll want to make sure you have cash because the toll bridge fee can only be paid by cash. It is $6 per vehicle to cross into Sanibel. This cost is roundtrip, so you won’t pay when leaving the island. The Sanibel Causeway Bridge is 3 miles long.
Where to buy groceries for your stay
We like to save money on travel whenever possible, so planning to cook in our vacation rental played a big part in budgeting for this trip. The most inexpensive places to stock-up on groceries are off of the island. The closest to the bridge is Publix, then ALDI, then WalMart. I chose ALDI to do most of our shopping, as their prices were very competitive to what I’m used to paying at home.
On the island, Jerry’s Market is a full-service grocery store with a deli and coffee shop. The setting itself is worth a visit, as the outdoor garden has a seating area and cages with parrots! If you’re looking for great steaks or fresh items, this is a great place to shop, but the prices are considerably higher than the other stores.
Bailey’s General Store is also on the island and offers groceries, beach supplies, and a coffee bar. We enjoyed trying their many donuts – and they were nice enough to offer our kids free cookies!
Sanibel Island public beaches
Sanibel & Captiva Island have 6 public beaches. We have been to four of them and they all offer outside showers, restrooms, and parking. Parking costs $5/hour. The parking meter machines take cash or credit card, but no change is offered if paying by cash.
Bowman’s Beach was once voted one of the best beaches in the world by U. S. News Travel. It’s easy to see why this powdery sand and crystal clear water is so popular! It is quite a walk from the parking to the beach, so if you have a wagon or beach-friendly stroller, it’s best to bring it along. If you have young children, there is a playground for kids aged 2-7 that’s in the shade away from the beach.
We found Turner Pass, just over the bridge on Captiva Island, to be a great place to capture the sunset.
There are also two causeway beaches which are located just off the bridges on the way to the island. They do not charge for parking. We had a picnic at Causeway B and it was an ideal place to have lunch! (Shell-themed picnic blanket on Amazon). We noticed that this is also a popular place to watch the sunset.
Kid-friendly resort Sanibel Island
We stayed at Loggerhead Cay, which is a condo development on the south end of Sanibel Island, near the bridge. The 2-bedroom condo offered a full kitchen, a screened-in patio, and a washer and dryer. Loggerhead Cay had direct beach access and a large swimming pool. I booked our stay through Airbnb – 433 Loggerhead Cay. If you’ve never booked with Airbnb, here is my link to save $20 off of your first stay!
What is the Sanibel Stoop?
Sanibel is known for its “Sanibel stoop,” because most visitors walk the beaches with their heads down and eyes fixed on the seashells. We had a fun time looking for seashells throughout the island. I didn’t find one beach to be better than another, as the shells are prevalent everywhere! We found the most in the evening (near sunset) when it was also low tide.
Wading in shallow water allowed us to see the ocean floor and find some of the best! By shuffling your feet, you’ll easily find live sand dollars. We enjoyed looking at them with our children and then putting them back. Don’t forget – there is a $500 fine for live shelling!
More tips for Sanibel & Captiva
Make sure you visit the J.N. “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge. The Visitor Center offers interactive displays that are engaging for kids and adults. The driving tour is worth the $5/car entry fee as you’ll spot numerous kinds of wildlife! You can read more about Southwest Florida wildlife adventures HERE.
I hope these tips help you have a fantastic trip to Sanibel Island! It is the perfect place to create lasting family memories!
**This post contains affiliate links**