Beaches

Beaches to measure all other beaches by.

Each of our beaches has a character of its own – a product of what happens when man lets nature run its course. For families, that means beaches with soft white sands and gentle waves. For nature lovers, the unspoiled beaches are perfect for scavenging shells or viewing flora and fauna. For couples, maybe an isolated spot on a picturesque island where the focus can rightfully remain on each other. These and many other choices are spread over 50 miles of publicly accessible coastline. The adventure is finding the perfect beach for you.

Explore Fort Myers Sanibel Area Beaches

"Great Variety and Secluded Spots"

Natural sand beaches and warm waters provide the perfect backdrop for relaxing, reading and shelling -- discover your favorite beach pastime. Few destinations in the world have such an abundance of uninterrupted sandy coastline, much of it undisturbed by man. Add a subtropical climate and warm Gulf waters, and it's a recipe for everyone's fantasy island vacation.

Sand is just sand, right? Not on The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel. Each beach has a character all its own, derived from its unique geography and sand qualities.
Families will find soft, white sand great for kids, and a few beaches with excellent playgrounds nearby. Couples can experience solitude and exceptional sunsets. And active types can enjoy volleyball, picnicking, shelling, cycling and skimboarding.

Great Variety of Shells
One of the most popular beachside activities on The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel is the collection of seashells. Shelling aficionados come from all over the world to comb the beaches for their favorites, and it’s not hard to see how this pastime can turn into an obsession.

There are shells everywhere on area beaches, including Bonita Beach, Fort Myers Beach and the outer islands, but Sanibel and Captiva islands get the lion’s share. Take the Sanibel Causeway ($6) to reach both islands.

Geography here plays a key role, as shells from the Caribbean roll up the gradually sloping undersea shelf, and gentle wave action keeps shells intact. Find the best shell specimens early in the morning, before the selection is picked over. Shellers share the beach with nature lovers, as beaches on these barrier islands are groomed only by nature, not machines, so wildlife feels right at home.

Estero Island Beaches
Estero Island beaches are a study in contrasts: Wide stretches of white, powder-soft sand and a gently sloping shoreline abut a 1940s beach town gone 21st century. Brightly colored umbrellas propped in the sand shelter moms and dads watching kids at play, and a lively scene visits the area by night.

Times Square, a pedestrian shopping and dining area, does double duty: By day, it’s a sandy lunch spot, and by night it’s a jumping-off point for evening festivities.
Festivals abound here, and two notables are the Fort Myers Beach Shrimp Festival at Lynn Hall Memorial Park and the American Sandsculpting Championship Festival, which attracts competitors from all over the world – and spectators from near and far.

Music emanates from the bars, restaurants and shops lining Fort Myers Beach. Public beach accesses, marked by colored banners extending south along Estero Boulevard, lead the way to tranquil sands. Sand quality varies, but is generally white and powder soft.

Secluded Spots
Lovers Key State Park provides couples – and families – a true castaway experience. Ride the trolley or walk the boardwalks over tidal lagoons to a white sandy beach, complete with fledgling sea oats. Sand is soft and powdery.
Beaches farther south in Bonita Beach include the county’s only dog beach and good shelling. The beach is a mix of sand made from crushed shells and swaths of shells.

Remote and sparsely populated, beaches on the bridgeless islands of North Captiva and Cayo Costa offer a secluded, wide-open-spaces beach experience. Sand is white, soft and squeaky underfoot.

Boca Grande is accessible by road (there’s a $4 toll for its causeway). Gasparilla Island State Park has five beaches on the Gulf of Mexico. Sand quality varies, but it’s generally soft and white, mixed with crushed shells. Some shelling on southernmost beaches.

Best Bets for Beaches

"Local insight on great spots for shelling, swimming, sunsets and more."

Does a day at the beach mean flat-out sun-worshipping to you? Or do you prefer yours with a side of sunset, shells galore or a little recreation? It’s hard to narrow down the choices with so many beaches, so we’ve listed some favorites organized by what they’re best known for.

ROMANCE: Lovers Key State Park
With a name like Lovers Key, how can you go wrong? According to local legend, the name stems from its seclusion back in the 1900s, when it was accessible only by boat and determined romantics. Today it’s easier to reach, and its beachside wedding gazebo furthers its reputation for amore. You can still get away from the world if you visit the northernmost stretch between Fort Myers Beach’s Big Carlos Pass and the park’s main entrance.

NATURE: Lighthouse Park Beach
An important stop along the Great Florida Birding Trail, Lighthouse Park Beach at Sanibel Island’s southernmost tip provides a resting place for birds on the fly. It’s known for its migrating warblers and flycatchers.

Natural, Healthy Beaches

"Beaches here are renowned for being largely undisturbed by man, providing a welcoming environment for native flora and fauna."

The beaches along The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel have played host to conservationists throughout the ages. The area's first known inhabitants, the Calusa Indians, lived in harmony with the earth along the lacy coastline, taking their sustenance from the fruits of land and sea.

A History of Stewardship
In the early part of the last century, eco-minded folks took to the unspoiled landscape, and one person in particular, noted political cartoonist J.N. "Ding" Darling, spearheaded the effort by helping to create the wildlife sanctuary on Sanibel Island that bears his name.

These pioneers of preservation have an assist today from local and state governments, as well as a population that has taken stewardship of the area's natural assets. Unlike many beaches in Florida, most on The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel are left ungroomed.

Natural Beaches Best
While some communities may like the "neat and tidy" beach look achieved by large machines that sift the sand, the folks here prefer a landscape as undisturbed by man as possible. It's the difference between preferring a wildflower meadow to a well-manicured lawn.

"It's been a discussion that's really been mostly at the city level," says Steve Boutelle, natural resources manager for Lee County. "Sanibel Island as a city has kind of led the way on this, and they've had a long-standing policy that they did not want to groom their beaches … they wanted to leave them in a more natural condition."

Wildlife Haven
Apart from aesthetics, there are more compelling reasons for this manner of beach management.

A wide variety of birds and other wildlife gather at the wrack lines, as the tide lines are known, to dine on the nutrient-rich algae, as well as on creatures slightly higher up the food chain that are drawn there. As a result, the islands are a favorite of naturalists and bird-watchers, who come to observe their favorite Southwest Florida fauna.

And, the scenic driftwood and fallen limbs that decorate the beaches here have a positive impact on the ecosystem. There's a sense that such debris helps anchor the sand and encourage sea oats growth, which in turn helps the development of the typical three- to four-foot dunes here. "Even those small features become important for sea turtle nesting," says Boutelle.

Overall, you'll find the beaches on The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel attractive in their natural beauty, especially on the area’s nonbridged islands, including North Captiva and Cayo Costa.

Adds Boutelle, "Mother Nature does the management there."

Local Beach Facts & Information

"Wondering where to catch a trolley along Fort Myers Beach? Or where to park and how much it will cost? Check here for useful beach information. "

Tolls
There's a $6 toll to get onto Sanibel-Captiva and a $4 toll to get onto Gasparilla Island. A separate $2 toll grants you access to Gasparilla Island State Park.

Parking
On Sanibel, general parking is $2 an hour. Parking stickers are available; call 239-472-3111. In Captiva, both Turner Beach and the public access at the tip of the island are metered at $1 an hour or $5 a day. On Fort Myers Beach, parking is free at accesses and in the lot just before the bridge. Bonita's accesses No. 1 and No. 10 (along with Bonita Beach Park) are metered.

Trolley Service
A 50-cent trolley provides service to Bowditch Point Regional Park, Lynn Hall Memorial Park, Lovers Key/Carl E. Johnson State Recreation Area, Little Hickory Island Beach Park and Bonita Beach Park. From mid-December through Easter, trolleys run between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. Other times of the year, they run between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. Call LeeTran, 239-275-8726.

Pets
With the exception of Dog Beach, pets are not permitted on county-owned beaches, including the Sanibel Causeway and Captiva beaches. Pets are allowed on a six-foot-long, hand-held leash on Sanibel and Fort Myers Beach. Pets are also allowed in Lovers Key State Park, but not on the beach or in the water. Dog Beach, located just west of the New Pass Bridge in Bonita Springs (and not far from Lovers Key), offers free parking and an off-leash romp for your pet.

Alcohol
Alcohol is prohibited on Lee County-controlled beaches. It is allowed on Fort Myers Beach in front of bars and hotels that sell it. Be careful not to stray far from the hotel area with alcohol because law enforcement on Fort Myers Beach is stringent. Alcohol is allowed on Sanibel beaches at all hours during the summer and fall, but it is unlawful to have alcohol on the beaches from one hour after sunset until one hour before sunrise between December 15 and May 15."

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  • BUTTERFLY RAINFOREST
    “Beyond expectations.” - Florida

  • Review #2
    “Really cool!” - Florida

  • Another Review
    “Great place!” - Reviewer

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