Pack your beach towel, sunscreen, umbrella and stay awhile: Southwest Florida beaches have something for everyone. Whether you’re basking in the summer sun (safely), shelling or staying active, our beaches offer visitors some of America’s favorite family vacation destinations, and locals the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the working week. Ready? Let’s go — the water’s just fine!
Sanibel and Captiva Island
Because of its geography that curls east-west instead of north-south like most other islands, Sanibel is known as the “Shelling Capital of the World.” Home to over 250 species of shells, common sightings on both Sanibel and Captiva include lightning whelks, conchs, banded tulips and limpets. Rare shells are the junonia and alphabet cone — and if you’re lucky enough to find one, you may just get your picture in one of the papers on the island. Locals will share that some of the best spots for shelling are Lighthouse Beach on Sanibel’s east end (and home to the island’s 130-year-old beacon) and Bowman’s Beach (a mid-island must-do for families and fisherman), as well as Blind Pass at the threshold to Captiva Island. Want to end your day with a Captiva sunset, called the “most romantic in America” by Travelocity? Park at Alison Hagerup Beach at the north end of Captiva (where the road ends) for one of the best views anywhere. The bridge toll to the islands is $6 per car, with beach parking on Sanibel and Captiva is $5 per hour. www.sanibel-captiva.org.
Fort Myers Beach
Earlier this year, TripAdvisor named Fort Myers Beach a top beach destination and it’s easy to see why: Like many beaches along Southwest Florida, Fort Myers Beach boasts breathtaking sunsets, bleached white sand beaches and calm, shallow waters. For those looking to do a little more than just work a tan, Fort Myers Beach offers ample opportunities for adventure, You can get up close and personal with nature at Matanzas Pass Preserve, go back in time by planning a trip to the historical Mound House or take a sightseeing cruise. And don’t forget to enjoy a walk on the Fort Myers Beach pier to end your perfect sugar-sand day. www.fortmyersbeach.org.
Lovers Key State Park
Lovers Key State Park is just one of the four barrier islands six miles south of Fort Myers Beach. The dreamy name is an ode to a legend of lovers who secretly escaped to the island by boat before roadways were built in 1965. The park, which is nestled between Estero Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, is made up of 712 acres and an almost amazing two-mile-stretch of unspoiled beaches. A concession stand on the island allows beachgoers to rent kayaks, canoes, paddleboards, beach chairs and umbrellas. The entrance fee for the park is $8. www.fortmyersbeach.org.
Just a few miles south of Lovers Key State Park, you’ll find Bonita Beach. Bonita Beach features sparkling waters, sand dunes and coastal vegetation. The beach features a canoe and kayak launch, volleyball nets, jet skiing and parasailing, a playground for the little ones and picnic areas. A bus and trolley service is also available to beach-goers. Parking is $2 per hour. www.bonitaspringschamber.com.
Cayo Costa State Park
For those seeking seashells, sun and solitude, Cayo Costa State Park is a beach lover’s dream come true. The only way to get to this state park — located between North Captiva Island and Boca Grande — is by water, be it personal boat or tour. The remote island is made up of 2,426 acres and nine miles of pristine beaches making it the perfect place to enjoy fishing, bird watching, hiking, snorkeling or just to relax. Want to stay longer than the day? No problem. Cayo Costa State Park offers nightly cabin rentals and camping sites. Entrance to the park is only $2. www.floridastateparks.org/park/Cayo-Costa.
Located on Gasparilla Island on the far north of Lee County, Boca Grande features five beaches and offers guests a small town charm. From April to August, tarpon fishing calls anglers from around the world. After a beach picnic, make sure to plan a trip to the newly restored Gasparilla Island Lighthouse which guests are now able to climb. The lighthouse is located at 220 Gulf Boulevard. There is a $6 causeway toll to access Boca Grande. www.bocagrandechamber.com.
— Story by Ashley Goodman
— Photography Courtesy Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau