Today on the blog we travel to a new place on the blog – Captiva Island. My husband and I visited here back in 2013 as a double celebration of one year of marriage and two completed MBAs. Although you might not have ever heard of Captiva Island, you may have heard of its larger, close by neighbor – Sanibel Island. You actually will pass through Sanibel Island on your drive to Captiva Island. Sanibel Island has been tagged by Travel & Leisure as being the best seashelling spot in the US and one of the top in the world. And I can vouch that Captiva Island’s shelling is just as great.
What makes this tiny, remote spot on the Gulf Coast so popular for shelling? It is all in the shape of the islands and their geographic location. The beaches here are protected by a broad underwater shelf. This shelf is the perfect catching spot for currents full of shells. And these shells then wash right up on the shore. When you explore Captiva Island and Sanibel Island’s beaches, you’ll find not only a huge abundance of shells but also many different types of shells, fully intact.
A helpful find on the trip was a seashell map. It was waterproof and folded out like a roadmap. It listed all of the different types of shells you could find in the area and their names. It was great fun to look through my seashell haul and see how many different types had been found. Shelling was addicting, as you can see.
Both Captiva Island and Sanibel Island are located in Florida near Fort Myers. Although they are called islands, you won’t need a boat to get to them; both easily are accessible by car. From the Fort Myers Airport, Captiva Island is about an hour drive. But it is a beautiful drive, as you’ll head closer and closer to the coastline as you drive. Many times you’ll be able to glance off to both sides, seeing nothing but beautiful, blue water.
I stayed at South Seas Island Resort and would highly recommend it to anyone traveling to Captiva Island. If I went back, this is where I’d stay again for sure. This Florida resort offers many restaurants, swimming pools, beach access, watersports, nature activities, shopping, a spa, tennis and a golf course. They have vacation rentals of all sizes and many rooms offer you views of the ocean or marina. You can also choose to stay in the Harbourside Hotel, appropriately named for its close proximity to the harbor.
Speaking of the harbor, this was one of my favorite places to visit at South Seas Island Resort. At the harbor is where you could spot manatees. They come into the harbor for the warmer and much calmer water. I loved watching for manatees as we were walking by, and I also enjoyed getting a snack and just sitting in the harbor near the water watching for them.
It took a few days of watching, but we were finally rewarded for our efforts and happily spotted a manatee!
South Seas Island Resort offered a beach and shelling cruise. This was no doubt one of the highlights of the trip to Captiva Island. Boarding the boat in the harbor, we set off for our three-hour tour (Gilligan music played here). As the boat pulled out of the harbor, a huge gathering of snowy egrets, pelicans and several other types of birds perched on the pillars in the water. The boat then passed by several remote islands, all of which had homes built on them. Now that would be quite the commute to the grocery store.
Finally, we arrived to the remote island spot of Cayo Costa. Cayo Costa is actually a state park made up of nine miles of soft and glistening white sandy beaches. Many trees can be found at the state park including pine forests, oak-palm hammocks and mangrove swamps. Lots of animals can be found here too in this small space. You’ll want to watch for sea turtles, manatees, bottlenose dolphins, snowy egrets and even bald eagles. The only way to get to this island is by boat or helicopter!
Our tour group was quite small. It was looking like rain when we arrived to the island. Because of this, everyone on the boat minus the two of us decided to either stay on the boat or stick very close to it. We, on the other hand, took the positive view of “what will a little water do to people already wearing swimsuits?” For the next hour and a half we basically explored the entire island all by ourselves. We also went snorkeling off its shallow shores, finding even more seashells. It was definitely one of those magical life moments! And it only rained at the end.
Two of my favorite Captiva Island restaurants were Doc Ford’s Rum Bar and Grill and The Mucky Duck. The thing I remember most about Doc Ford’s is their amazing Bayamo Black Bean Dip. This appetizer starts the meal off right with its black beans, several types of cheese, diced tomatoes and jalapenos. If you are looking for a restaurant with a menu of Caribbean flair, live music and relaxing atmosphere, you’ll love Doc Ford’s.
The main thing you need to know about The Mucky Duck is that it is the perfect location for sunsets. The other thing you need to know is that everyone else knows about the sunsets too. They don’t take reservations so you’ll want to arrive early. Their beach is private, so only those who visit the restaurant can enjoy the beach here. They have lots of beach chairs and seats, so I’d suggest enjoying a meal in the restaurant and then heading out to snag a spot to watch the sunset.
Something we have found we like to do while vacationing is to take a day trip. If in the Caribbean, many times this means exploring a nearby island. In the case of Captiva Island, this meant that we headed to the somewhat nearby island of Key West. On the Key West Express that boarded at Fort Myers, we took a 3 ½ hour ferry ride south to Key West, leaving early in the morning and getting back late at night. I’m not going to lie. Seven hours on a boat in one day was a bit much. But after the tiredness and annoyance of sitting for so long wore off, I was extremely glad we did it. We have great memories that we will have forever. Below is a picture of the inside of the ferry.
I’ll dedicate an entire blog in the future to Key West, but for this post I’ll stick to just the basics. As an avid reader and owner of a polydactyl cat, you can guess the main stop that I wanted to make in Key West – the Ernest Hemingway House. Not only was this a home to one of America’s most famous authors, but it was also home to his white, six-toed cat named Snow White. Today when you visit, you can meet 40-50 cats (descendants of Snow White) who live here, about half of which are polydactyl. I had a blast “hunting” for cats and even getting to visit with one who jumped up in my lap.
This was my favorite room – Ernest Hemingway’s writing room!
While in Key West, I also greatly enjoyed visiting the Butterfly and Nature Conservatory. They had an abundant variety of butterflies and offered a very neat viewing area.
Getting a picture of the famous Southernmost point buoy is a must.
As is eating at least one piece of key lime pie.
I had a very delicious burger and fries from this casual street side restaurant.
The one thing I wouldn’t suggest coming to Key West for is the beaches. The areas I saw weren’t white sands and were quite crowded.
I highly recommend visiting the Captiva Island and Sanibel Island. This area offers the perfect combination of lots to do without a ton of crowds. If you have any questions about Captiva, feel free to reach out.
Paths Less Traveled Ranking: 2 ½ footprints
Paths Less Traveled Ranking Explanation: Captiva Island isn’t nearly as busy as many other popular Florida vacationing spots. However, you will see people and I’ve heard during the busy season (we visited more so during the off season) that it is fairly populated.
*In each of my articles I will provide a Paths Less Traveled Ranking. This ranking system is from 1 footprint to 5 footprints with 1 footprint being very remote and off the beaten path and 5 footprints being very populated.