10 Things To Do On Captiva and Sanibel Islands With Kids

Captiva And Sanibel Islands are just over an hour from Ft. Myers and relatively easy to get to, but feel like a tropical paradise. Sanibel is the larger and (slightly) more commercial of the two islands, while Captiva is more remote and private. Should you ever find yourself on Sanibel or Captiva Islands with kids, here are some things you must do…

1. Hit the big grocery stores in Fort Myers on your way. Food shopping on the islands is ridiculously expensive and you’ll kick yourself if you end up having to buy a week’s worth of food there. Trust me.

2. Go shelling. One of the main reasons I love coming here so much is for the shells. Little makes me happier than roaming the beach, looking for treasures. Find out when low tide is and hit the beach before anyone else can snatch up all the good stuff. Sanibel and Captiva have some different shells, so be sure to hit beaches on both islands.

3. Visit Cayo Costa Beach. You to get to the beach by boat, and it’s simply amazing. The shelling is the best and the kids love climbing all over the driftwood and making their way through the forest. It’s amazing!

4. Stuff your face at Island Cow. There is something for everyone on the menu and the servings are enormous. Kids can easily split a kids meal, especially if they fill up on the bottomless muffins that come first. And why wouldn’t they do that?

5. Eat at RC Otters. You can show up in a bathing suit and flip flops and get everything from salad to burgers to fried alligator. The french fries are really good. Don’t get suckered into ordering the “special” kids’ drink, though. It’s nothing more than a six dollar Shirley Temple with a plastic shark stuck in it.

6. Take a dolphin sight-seeing boat ride. It’s not cheap, but the kids will love it. So will you.

7. Get Dessert at The Bubble Room. This place claims to be “Florida’s most outrageous and award-winning restaurant.” Maybe it was back in 1980 when there weren’t Houlihan’s and Friday’s in every roadside town. Now? Not so much. Definitely skip dinner there, but head over for dessert and the photo opps outside.

8. Watch the sunset on the beach. Pick a beach, any beach, and head on over after dinner. Bring a bottle of wine and let the kids get their entire bodies feet wet. Don’t forget the camera — some of my best shots have come at this time.

9. Head to Matzaluna for some variety. This Italian restaurant on Sanibel isn’t the best thing ever, but after days of burgers, nachos and shellfish, it tastes like it is. They have a great kids menu, too, and are really patient with annoying children.

10. Leave the kids with your husband and get a massage at the ‘Tween Waters Inn. It’s a nice place to stay, but the spa is especially wonderful. And Lord knows you’ll need an hour of relaxation being away with your family.

Ever been to Captiva or Sanibel? What are your favorite spots?

About the writer


What started as an innocent on-line baby book to chronicle Jill Smokler’s stay-at-home days with her children, quickly transformed into a vibrant community of parents, brought together by a common theme: Parenting doesn’t have to be perfect. Welcome to Scary Mommy!


Fran 11 months ago

Check out Sanibel Sea School next time you’re in town – you can drop off your kids for marine science day camp and enjoy some me-time.

Jennifer 1 year ago

I absolutely LOVE LOVE Sanibel Island!!!!! Me snd my friend are shelters and even being 7 mo pregnant didn’t stop me from that bent over “sanibel stoop” position!!! A must see!!!!! One advice if ur going bring whatever u need the 7.00 toll adds up

kim 1 year ago

We are trying to book our spring break trip here with our 2 small children. Where do you recommend staying? We are leaning towards South Seas Island Resort? Any comments on this place????

Melissa 1 year ago

We always go to Sanibel for the month of June and for a week at Thanksgiving. Doc Ford’s is by far our favorite restaurant. The shrimp and grits and Banana Leaf Snapper are amazing and they have a fabulous kid’s menu. We also love the Island Cow and The Fish House If you are there in the summer be sure to enroll your kids in camp (full or half day) at the Sanibel Sea School. It’s amazing. The kids learn so much. My favorite was when they taught us to dive for Sand Dollars. Rent bikes at Billy’s as the entire island is 100% bikeable and it’s lots of fun for the kids. The Edison Estate, the butterfly gardens and the Children’s Museum are great spots to visit in Fort Myers. Blue Sushi in Fort Myers is the only decent place to get sushi.

Nicole 2 years ago

I have gone to Sanibel every summer since I was an infant and sometimes more than once a year, many of these I agree with..

1. Yes- agree. Supermarkets on the island are expensive- so hit the last Publix before the toll bridge for groceries if you stay at a condo instead of hotel.

2. Yes, shelling is a must. Amazing sea life to be found as well. Just don’t kill live shells though :( Many species of live sea life are not harmful and really one of the most awesome things about Sanibel! As a Florida native, I have not been to any beach in the state with as much sea life as Sanibel.

3. Yes! Agree!

4. Yes, island cow is pretty good, not awesome, but good.

5) RC otters- can’t remember if they are good or not.

6. Waste of money. If you are from Florida or familiar with boating, this is a waste of money.

7. The Bubble Room is way overrated.. If you are a genuine food lover, avoid the Bubble Room.

8. Yes. Yes. Yes. Walking the beach at low tide during sunset is THE BEST.

9. & 10. Never been, so can’t say.

Karaleen 2 years ago

How do most of you book your hotels and plane tickets? Through a travel agent? Any experience with priceline.com or expedia.com etc.? We checked with a travel agent who told us the company they go through has no available motels the weekend we want to go to Sanible Island, but when I look on the websites it says there are a couple hotels available. Wondering if it’s better to just make direct reservations with a hotel, or save stress and book through a travel agent.

Rebecca Adams Wojtecki 2 years ago

Thinking of going to Captiva with our 16month old…are there things to do other than the beach and going out to eat? Thinking bike rentals, a resort that we could visit that had a wading pool, any wildlife sanctuaries, etc? Just thinking we can't do the beach everyday with our little girl…
Also, found some nice beach house (beach access) rentals on Captiva…are we better off on Sanibel or is Captiva fine? Thanks for the tips!

Michelle Petty Mittlestadt 2 years ago

Try renting a beach house…that is what we have chosen to do for our trip next week. You can really find some great deals, and, if you don't enjoy crowds, it's the way to go!

Karen MacKay Chiaradonna 2 years ago

Is there a resort you would recommend staying in? I have 3 kids ranging from 9 months to 5 years old. Would love to walk out to a beach….

Magdalena Battles 3 years ago

We love Traditions too! Great food and atmosphere.

Magdalena Battles 3 years ago

We love Traditions too! Great food and atmosphere.

Kara Stone 3 years ago

We live on Sanibel. Doc Fords is an excellent, kid-friendly restaurant located on Sanibel and also on Captive (new). Gramma Dots at the Sanibel Marina near the lighthouse on Sanibel is fabulous for lunch- grouper sandwich:) Pinocchio's Ice Cream is great, too… also near the lighthouse. Zebra Frozen Yogurt is fun and yummy- located in same complex as Bailey's Grocery Store. Traditions On the Beach Restaurant is located on the Gulf at the Island Inn. The owner/operator is Italian and usually sings a song on Friday and Saturday nights. They have live music and dancing. Excellent service and good food… and great people watching! Farmers Market on Sunday mornings near the City Hall is great, too. Rent bikes from Billy's or Finnimore's. Buy Key Lime Pie from Jerry's… it is one of the best. Sanibel Steakhouse has excellent food, as does Sweet Melissa's. We love their service. Trader's is also an excellent restaurant. You need reservations at most restaurants during "season," although some do not take them. Catch a movie at the newly remodeled Sanibel Cinema next to Bailey's on a rainy day. Sunset across the street from the Lazy Flamingo on Captiva is the best.

Alyson Rennick Herzig 3 years ago

There is Sea School in Sanibel – it is amazing, my kids have done it twice and absolutely loved it! And the best part – me and the hubs got a break for a few hours to enjoy our vacation too:)

Maria from Sweden 3 years ago

We’re going to Sanibel for only three nights in a couple of weeks. I’m going to bring your list of 10 things to do on Sanibel/Captiva. We’re travelling with teens but I think they’ll enjoy everything on your list just as much as younger kids. Think we would too :)

kev 3 years ago

just come back from sanibel amasing place .

Brenda Fisher 3 years ago

We have been there twice and are going for a week, next week. We have found the beach houses in Captiva are the best rates for your money. We are planning a fishing/shelling trip too. Girls and kids get dropped off to shell on Cayo and boys can fish. Bike rentals are great there too! We did a Segway tour once as well. It was expensive, but fun and learned a lot about the island. Huxters makes a super great sandwich for a quick sack lunch! Walking to the lighthouse in Sanibel is cool too! Also manatee watching from Jensen’s is fun!

Melissa 3 years ago

We’re from NJ and are considering a vacation to Captiva in Nov. I’m hearing that the beaches are not shells than sand and good restaurants are scarce. Any opinions on South Seas? Is renting a car a must? We thoguht we would just pay for transporation to and fromt he airport.. Travewling with 5 & 6 yr olds. Any must Do activites?

Marie 3 years ago

Ok….what about visiting in August….i hear those stories about no-see-ums….will it destroy our family trip!

Rhiana 3 years ago

We got married there 12 years ago this week! We absolutely loved it and have been wanting to take our kids. Great list!

Leah Cron 4 years ago

The place is so magical. For sure my kids would enjoy the beauty and the pristine water of the place.

GirlsOnly 4 years ago

We are super-lucky that my mother and father-in-law live on Sanibel in the winter, and Wisconsin in the summer. We’ve spent every New Years on the island for the past 5 years! Now that our kids are walking, we’ll have to get the water shoes for their tender tootsies.

Thanks for the tips!

Katleen Quinlan 4 years ago

This is perfect place to have a family vacation. White sand, pristine and clean water makes our vacation complete.

Deb 4 years ago

That’s the kind of beach I love – the quiet ones! Lovely pictures. I love sunset at the beach – the colors are amazing.

Karen 4 years ago

Sounds like the perfect getaway and those are some awesome tips. Shelling is our prime activity at the beach. It’s a downer when we go and come home with nothing special.

Corey Feldman 4 years ago

Gorgeous pictures

Heather Chester 4 years ago

I want to bring my kids on this sort of place!

Twinisms 4 years ago

I’m from that area. Check out Florida Repertory Theatre in downtown Fort Myers. Also, if you’re looking for the nightlife read the Downtown Diva section of the News-Press. If you’re really into Theatre check out Theatre Conspiracy in Fort Myers!

Elaine 4 years ago

We love the panhandle of FL because it’s a pretty easy drive from here and well, we’ve simply fallen in love with it. But this place sounds great too.

tracy@sellabitmum 4 years ago

My parents go there every year. Now why the hell do they never invite us?

Mod Mom Beyond IndieDom 4 years ago

Really nice photos and ooh – a sand dollar!!

Susan @ Mommy Mind Trip 4 years ago

I went a few years ago! Loved every second!

Jen 4 years ago

What a gorgeous place! Someday, I want to take my family to a place like this.

Marie 4 years ago

My grandparents escape the frozen tundra that is Minnesota and live on Marco Island for the winter. We’ve visited them and love this part of Florida. Stan’s is one of our very favorite places to patronize.

Stephanie @ Our Marriage Adventure 4 years ago

I can remember visiting my Grandmother in Ft Myers and making day trips to both islands. I always loved the bridge part (though I’m sure my parents hated the toll.) I clearly need to go back as an adult, your pictures remind me how gorgeous it is there!

Stephanie 4 years ago

Thanks. It’s great to hear about new spots. I can’t wait to take my kids to the Treasure Coast when they’re old enough. And totally appreciate honest restaurant reviews. There’s nothing worse than a disappointing meal (that you’re not forewarned about, of course).

Kat 4 years ago

Beautiful! I need to put this place on my bucket list asap.

Cathy 4 years ago

My grandmother lives down there and I always feel like it’s a bit of heaven with the tranquility.

Ann Siegle 4 years ago

We had a lovely week-long stay on Sanibel and agree with all of your recommendations! We went one morning, before dawn, with our youngest (then six months old) strapped to my chest in an Ergo, left our 4yo with grandma at the condo, and went shelling at low tide watching the sun rise. It was just gorgeous! It’s a great family-friendly island and next time we’re renting bikes / bike trailer for the whole family.

    Scary Mommy 4 years ago

    Those are the best moments. My family usually rents bikes, too. I sit that one out and blog. 😉

Tinne from Tantrums and Tomatoes 4 years ago

I’m green with envy…

Kate 4 years ago

Excellent tips!!! We’ve been once and I can’t wait to go back.

Kristin Shaw 4 years ago

I love Sanibel, and my aunt and uncle have lived there for many years. I totally agree on RC Otter’s and Island Cow! Mezzaluna is good too, and the Pink Flamingo for grouper sandwiches. Thanks for the lovely reminders!

Heidi Bryan 4 years ago

Just got back from that area as well :) We had an awesome time. I have a relative that just opened a restaurant in Fort Myers Beach. I think I gained 10 pounds in the four days we were down there. Thanks for the tips :) We will try to hit some of the highlights next time

    Scary Mommy 4 years ago

    Um, yeah. So did I.

      Heidi Bryan 4 years ago

      Try Chuck’s Last Stop In Fort Myers Beach next time you guys head down :) He has a great little place right across the street from the beach. The food is awesome, and it is brand new in the area. My husband’s uncle is finally “living the dream.”

        Deanna 3 years ago

        Ate there with the fam….. the food was ok…. 2 kids meals…1 app….1 adult meal….and couple of beers…. $100

Kim 4 years ago

Ohhhhh, gorgeous. Adding that to my list of must-visits!

Danielle 4 years ago

I love Sanibel. I’ve visited every year since I was a little girl, and have grown to appreciate it even more as I get older. I LOVE Island Cow, favorite restaurant on the island I think. We stay at Sanibel Cottages, and make a trip or two over to Captiva during our week-long stay. It’s a great vacation to just relax, enjoy the beach, family, shelling, etc etc. The beaches and water are amazing. Looks like you had fun, thanks for sharing your experience!

    Deanna 3 years ago

    Heading to Casa Ybel next Friday…. 2 weeks…..yeaaaah!

mamacrat 4 years ago

We just booked our condo for our third year in a row this coming February. Dead on – Island Cow is a must.
We hit the grocery store off island on our way in and use Baileys for quick stuff.
But seriously I find the service and food at most restaurants blows!
Go to shell! LOL.

    Scary Mommy 4 years ago

    I’m jealous. Have a muffin for me. Or, twelve. :)

Not a Perfect Mom 4 years ago

I live in Naples, and I always forget how awesome our little piece of paradise is…so glad you had a great trip!
And I remember, back in the day, when we were allowed to take all the sand dollars and starfish we wanted….beat the pants off of shelling!

    Scary Mommy 4 years ago

    I was psyched to find that sand dollar, but it broke three seconds later. The only downside!

Mom Off Meth 4 years ago

It looks like a beautiful trip. Good tips too.


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