First-timers guide to Sanibel Island

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 is RSW- Southwest Florida, which is 25 miles and 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.

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.

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.

Sanibel Island public beaches

Sanibel & Captiva Island have 6 public beaches.  We stopped at three of them and they all offered foot 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.

We found Turner Pass, just over the bridge on Captiva Island, to be a great place to capture the sunset.  

Purchase the hat (similar)

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.

Travel guide to Sanibel Island.  First-timers guide to visiting Sanibel and Captiva.  Things to know before visiting Sanibel.

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!

Seashells of Sanibel

Sanibel is known for it’s “Sanibel stoop,” as most visitors walk the island with their eyes fixed to the seashells deposited on the beach. 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!

First timers guide to Sanibel Island. Things to know before visiting Sanibel Island.

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.

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!

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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First-timers guide to Sanibel Island.  Things to know before staying on Sanibel Island.  Budgeting tips for Sanibel Island.

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