Florida is a state of contrast. Despite being most famous for its celebrity mouse, there are pockets of rootsy tourism where “real” Florida rests its lounger in front of a lazy beach sunset.
When I am planning a family break in Florida, I like to follow the snippets I hear in passing; the travel tales from locals; and the word-of-mouth tips. So, when I kept hearing about a place called Captiva Island that was great for families, and a perfect getaway from the hustle of Miami I circled a weekend in my diary to take some late summer R&R.
No sooner had I started planning when I discovered that there really are a lot of things to do in Captiva Island.
Post and photos by Philippa Langrish. Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate and commercial links, for more information see our disclosure policy.
Captiva Island Florida is the smaller sister island to Sanibel, located near Fort Myers off Florida’s Gulf Coast. It’s just a three-hour drive from Miami, making it an easy weekend break.
Today this pretty island is a popular holiday spot famous for its brilliant white beaches and its magical sunrises and sunsets.
The history of Captiva, however, tells a different story. The earliest known habitants were the Calusa Indians who were renowned for building large shell mounds. Some of these still exist today. Later Captiva Island was a haven for marauding pirates and a place where conquistadores searched for treasure.
[author] [author_info]If you’re exploring elsewhere in Florida, this post details the best things to do in Miami with kids and fun family-friendly beaches. This post shares the best places to see manatees in Florida. [/author_info] [/author]
Things to do on Captiva Island
Not surprisingly, the majority of activities on Captiva Island revolve around the beach.
Enjoy an early morning beach stroll
In the mornings, Captiva Island beach is deserted meaning you can have it all to yourself. Pelicans swoop over the waves and the sand is freckled with millions of beautiful shells. The beach is wide and ungroomed making it a fascinating place to explore. We saw a giant crab in the little dunes bordering the road and plenty of sea birds searching for sea critters.
Captiva Island is famous for its beautiful, pastel-coloured shells. Ask at the Captiva Island Inn for a shell map and see how many varieties of shell you can find.
Make sure to visit the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum while you’re here. Their free workshops teach you everything you need to know about shelling.
Visit the Ding Darling Nature Preserve
The 6,300-acre Ding Darling Nature Preserve can be explored by kayak, canoe, bicycle or on foot. You can also take your car along the wildlife drive. The refuge is home to nearly 250 different types of birds as well as bobcats, racoons, river otters and plenty of other wildlife.
Take an eco cruise
Rent a paddleboard from YoLo Watersports rentals and paddle from the marina along the shoreline. Head out and under the jetty to the stilt houses and then turn around and go back. This is the best way to really enjoy Captiva’s natural beauty; we spotted an eagle swooping to catch a fish and pods of Pelicans diving for breakfast too.
Captiva has two shores, Beachside and the Marine side. Usually the Marina side is calmer for paddle-boarding and boating.
A fun thing to do in Captiva is to visit the Jungle Drums Gallery. Owned by husband and wife team Kathleen and Jim Mazzotta, this is one of many art galleries on the island filled with paintings, sculptures and artisan furniture
Watch the sunsets
Order calamari, bacon wrapped prawns and a glass of wine from The Mucky Duck, and watch the incredible beach sunsets from the comfort of the pub garden – perfection!
On weekends, the Mucky Duck pub hosts live music to entertain the locals. Get ready to sing along to Jimmy Buffet covers and classic American ballads.
Fly a kite
Fly a kite on the beach; the beach is wide and perfect for kite flying when the wind is up.
Go surfing with the kids. The waves here usually aren’t very big but they perfect for youngsters who love the surf. When we arrived, however, in low season a week after Hurricane Dorian had threatened to make landfall, the waves were substantial! I was happy that I brought the bodyboard for my kids to play in the waves.
Visit Cayo Costa
Take a day trip to the barrier island of Cayo Costa. Spot dolphins along the way, go snorkelling and search for shells on this idyllic island.
Where to stay on Captiva Island
Captiva Island is teaming with guest houses and B&Bs. It felt like every other house was a little hotel.
We chose to stay at Captiva Island Inn since it has a beautiful garden and pool, it is in the old town and next to Captiva Beach. This meant that we didn’t have to use the car because the restaurants, beach, and even the pub were all in walking distance.
The 16 accommodations offered at the Inn are all colourfully decorated with unique quirky details. We chose The Penthouse, which was a huge two-bedroom, self-catered apartment with a lovely balcony off the bedroom overlooking the pool. The kitchen was fully equipped and excellent for catering to 2 small children.
The Inn offers breakfast at either the Key Lime Bistro or RC Otters.
One of the most popular places to stay on Captiva is the South Seas Island Resort. Check current rates on Booking.com. For more ideas on Captiva Island vacation rentals and hotels, take a look at these options on Booking.com.
Captiva Island Restaurants
You’ll find dozens of great little eateries located on Captiva Island.
We loved the breakfasts at the Key Lime Bistro. The ample eggs benedict with orange juice and coffee set us up for the day and the kids’ giant pancake or waffle stack was enough sugar intake for the whole week! Make sure you try their signature Key Lime Pie before leaving the island.
The Bubble Room is a really fun Captiva restaurant. The restaurant has been on the island since 1979 and houses a collection of 1920/30’s toys and movie memorabilia.
The Bubble Room serves favourites such as French Onion Soup, Grilled Shrimp, the catch of the day and homemade burgers with eccentric names such as “An American in Paris”, “Moon Over Miami” and “Pita Fonda”. The kids eyes nearly popped out of their heads when they saw the oversized dessert tray. We opted for a giant piece of Red Velvet Cheesecake – one piece between four people was plenty!
We couldn’t believe it when we saw the sign for the English Pub which looks out over Captiva Beach. However, The Mucky Duck seemed to be a firm favourite with the locals. We had our dinner here while listening to live music and watching the spectacular sunset.
The pub served an array of gastronomic bites – we had a light feast of calamari rings, shrimp wrapped in bacon, chicken and fries. There was an extensive menu for dinners who wished to sit inside, but we didn’t want to miss the sunset so we opted for the bar bites instead.
How to get to Captiva Island
Sanibel and Captiva are a three-hour drive from Miami. Head west over the huge expanse of the everglades which divides East and West Miami. Then head North towards Naples. Turn off just before Fort Myers to reach the island.
Upon arrival to Sanibel Island the speed limit decreases rapidly. Captiva island has a speed limit of 25mh. Note that there are no gas stations in the everglades. Make sure you fill your tank before you leave Miami!