Sanibel & Captiva Travel Guide
Sanibel Island is the perfect destination for a family beach vacation! However, before visiting Sanibel Island for the first time, 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.
How to get to 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.
Can you drive to Sanibel Island? Yes!
Approaching Sanibel, you will need to cross a toll bridge. It is $6 per vehicle, plus a $3 service fee. This cost is roundtrip, so you won’t pay when leaving the island. The Sanibel Causeway Bridge is 3 miles long.
The tolls are managed by the LeeWay service center, so it will take a photo of your license plate and send you a bill when you return home.
Rental cars can be obtained from both airports. Check rates with Kayak.
Where to buy groceries while staying on Sanibel Island
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 (but you’ll have to factor in that $9 fee to leave the island and return). 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 with what I’m used to paying at home.
Sanibel Island has two grocery stores. 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 has 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.
More family-friendly beaches of Southwest Florida
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. – 433 Loggerhead Cay.
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
CLICK HERE TO SEE MY FULL GUIDE OF THINGS TO DO ON SANIBEL.
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.
If you or your children have sensitive feet, you may want to purchase some Crocs or water shoes before visiting. The shell-filled beaches can be hard on your feet!
Looking for kayaking tours or a safari cruise? Check out these tours.
Have some time to explore Fort Myers?
Here is my family guide to visiting Fort Myers.
I hope these tips help you have a fantastic trip to Sanibel Island! It is the perfect place to create lasting family memories!
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16 thoughts on “First-timers guide to Sanibel Island”
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We were looking to rent a house on Captiva, but the literature said you could only bring on cooler and one suitcase on the Ferry. Is this true? If so, how to families get more of their clothes and groceries on the Island?
Are you staying on Captiva or North Captiva? Captiva can be reached via bridge from Sanibel.
Loved your first timer take. We’ve been going there for 20 years and will be building our retirement home near Blind Pass. Love San-Cap!
Thank you! How lucky you are – it’s one of our favorite places!
Just came across your blog post. Great review of Sanibel! I hope you you make it back again!
How long is the bridge from Fort Myers to Sannibal Island?
The bridge and causeway is about 3 miles long.
Looking to stay at a condo, located in the historical district. We plan on driving but is it worth a 15 hour drive? And, since we’ll have our car, can we load up on groceries or is this area one that has to take a ferry to get to? Thanks for the interesting tid bits on your blog!
Hi BJ! I’m not sure what you mean by the historical district? On Sanibel Island? I recommend searching on Airbnb or VRBO and zoning in on the area you really want. Sanibel Island is reached by bridge, and I linked to the closest grocery stores.
Do you have to come super early to find parking?
Are you talking about Bowman’s Beach or the other access points? We’ve been there in September and May and had no problem finding parking. I think around Spring Break in March/April it could be dicey and I’d get there early!
Can you suggest which places to stay that have walk out to private beach access in Sanibel? My husband is disabled so his walk to the beach needs to be almost out the door and there’s the beach. Thank you.
Hi Elaine! I’d check Airbnb and VRBO listings for those specifics. Here is an example of one at Loggerhead Cay. Thanks.
Does it make sense to Uber to SI from RSW Airport? There’s two of us (adults) who cannot seem to find a rental car situation that doesn’t require renting for the week as you can only return cars to the same airport. Thoughts?? TYIA
Stephen in Pittsburgh
If you’re staying on the east side of the island, near the bridge, you could probably survive without a car, but renting a bike would be helpful. The island is 12 miles long, so a car would definitely be helpful if you plan to hit up restaurants or need to get groceries. We’ve always rented a car from RSW. Usually ok to return to another location, you’ll just need to pay extra.