15 Best Things to Do in Captiva Island, FL

Captiva Island, FL
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Captiva Island, a small island off the Fort Myers coast in Florida, is often compared to Sanibel, a nearby island to the south.

While each has an abundance of outdoor activities ranging from bicycling and sailing to birdwatching and water sports, Captiva has its charm and delight to offer.

The origins of the name Captiva are intriguing.

Jose Gaspar (better known as Gasparilla) was drawn to Florida's barrier islands in the early 1800s, believing they were a sanctuary for pirates.

The "Isle de las Captivas" has been renamed Captiva after Gaspar, claiming to have erected a jail on the island to hold female captives in exchange for a ransom.

The island, located in the Gulf of Mexico, north of Sanibel Island, is accessible only by boat.

To reach Captiva from Sanibel Island, you cross Blind Pass on the narrow bridge that connects the two islands.

To cross the causeway from this island to Sanibel Island, you'll have to pay a fee.

There is an almost ethereal quality about Captiva Island.

There's something for everyone here, from watching native animals to looking through rare seashells to admiring the work of local artists and craftspeople.

A giant frog may be lurking here, a restaurant where it's Christmas every day, or even a starfish.

No matter if you're traveling with the whole family, arranging a romantic vacation, or traveling alone, here are the best things to do on Captiva Island.

Spot Manatees at South Seas Island Resort

View of South Seas Island Resort
Dan Perry, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It's possible to catch a sight of the manatees hanging out at the docks of South Seas Resort, even if you aren't staying at the resort.

To witness these sea elephants, look for them in the marina and the lagoon that spreads from it.

Given how slowly and gently they move, it's hard to believe such animals exist in today's frenetic atmosphere.

View of South Seas Island Resort
SSIslandResort, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It's very typical to spot manatees everywhere in Captiva during the warmer months, and they usually frequent places along the beach, so you can even spot one from the shore!

Large tails, thick skin, and small front flippers are only some of the distinctive characteristics of this species.

Explore the Bay With Captiva Cruises

Captiva Cruises departs from South Seas.

Its captain and host are always on the watch for whales and dolphins during a Captiva Cruise, which explains the fascinating history of this magical location.

See dolphins leap, twist, and frolic around the boat for nearly the whole journey!

Even if you're the most experienced sealife watcher, you will be amazed.

Prepare your video camera in advance.

The entire experience is made even more enjoyable by the drinks offered onboard.

Have a Retail Therapy at Chadwick's Square

Chadwick's Square, also located on the grounds of South Seas, is the best spot to shop 'til you drop when vacationing on the beautiful Captiva and Sanibel Islands in Florida.

This retail complex has a variety of clothing shops for men and women, high-end local shops, and spas.

On-site Starbucks is available to satisfy your caffeine cravings.

In addition to restaurants and spas, this commercial district on the island has some other amenities.

Stroll Along Turner Beach and Pick up Seashells

View of Turner Beach
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Turner Beach is an excellent place to visit if you have no means of transportation.

It is one of the island's most beautiful beaches and ideal for picking seashells and fishing.

And speaking of seashells, did you know that the Calusa Indians were Captiva Island's first inhabitants, noted for their vast shell mounds?

Shells on Captiva Island draw attention for their pastel hues.

View of a Bird at Turner Beach
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The book "Gift from the Sea" by American author and aviator Anne Morrow Lindbergh analyzes life via the shells she collects on the beach.

See how many different kinds of shells you may locate on Captiva Island by requesting a map from the Captiva Island Inn.

During many months of the year, shells outnumber those in Sanibel.

If you have a car, take note that there's limited parking.

Stopover at Bubble Room

It is always Christmas at The Bubble Room on Captiva's main street with an "It's Always Christmas" tagline.

The Bubble Room in Captiva is a great place to have some fun with your friends.

Since 1979, the restaurant's interior has been full of holiday and movie-themed decorations and memorabilia.

Toys and cinematic artifacts from the 1920s and 30s are on display.

Grilled Shrimp, French Onion Soup, the day's catch, and homemade burgers with creative titles like "An American in Paris" and "Moon Over Miami" are just a few of the classics available at The Bubble Room.

When you first see the massive dessert plate, prepare to have your jaw drop.

One slice of Red Velvet Cheesecake was more than enough for our group of four.

Enjoy Extreme Water Activities at Sunny Island Adventures

Sunny Island Adventures is where you should participate in water sports such as paddle boarding, parasailing, kayaking, snorkeling, and more.

They are located at the South Seas Island Resort entrance and provide bike and golf cart rentals, conveniently navigating the tiny island.

Other activities include fishing, and Sunny Island Adventures will arrange any adventure you choose on the island.

Take Pictures at Captiva Chapel By The Sea

View of Captiva Chapel By The Sea
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Residents and visitors who wish to take a trip down memory lane and learn about the history of Captiva may do so by visiting the Chapel by the Sea and the Historic Cemetery, both located at 11580 Chapin Lane in Captiva Island.

During November and April, the Chapel is available for services and is non-denominational.

The cemetery, surrounded by a white picket fence, lies near the Chapel.

View of Captiva Chapel By The Sea
Pietro, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This historic district is indeed a national district in Lee County, Florida, situated in Captiva, FL.

Completed in 1902, it used to be a one-room schoolhouse and then converted into a Methodist missionary chapel in 1921, is included in the complex.

In 2013, it became part of the National Register of Historic Places.

Perry Thompson's lifelong dream came true in 2009 when he established this gallery of fine arts on Captiva Island, fulfilling a lifelong ambition.

In this colorful and exciting boutique, you may find fantastic one-of-a-kind things produced by local artisans.

The gallery is home to 27 full-time artists who provide a one-of-a-kind assortment of jewelry, pottery, infrared photography, decorative baskets, island-style ceramics, and paintings.

Art boutique items include fashionable painted apparel, purses, handbags, silk painted scarves, jewelry, and other accessories.

2 Islands Gallery received an award as the best gallery on Sanibel and Captiva Islands.

In addition to gathering, conserving, interpreting, and sharing the history of Captiva Island, the Captiva Island Historical Society (CIHS) is dedicated to educating people about the incredible individuals and events that have influenced the island's past.

The Captiva History Project, launched in 2010 by Stella Farwell, inspired establishing the CIHS, which grew out of the groundbreaking and applauded oral history material done as part of that project.

To commemorate and recall Captiva's distinct and diverse history, the Captiva Historical Society (CIHS) bought the newly refurbished Captiva Civic Center in 2013.

The Past Gallery, completed in April 2014 thanks to generous donations, serves to honor and commemorate Captiva's distinct and diverse history.

CIHS redesigned the gallery in 2019, with new exhibits and features included.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Sanibel Island is a 30-minutes ride away from Captiva.

Most people consider Sanibel and its quirky tiny sister island, Captiva, to be interchangeable.

While they're both peaceful locations with beautiful shorelines, Sanibel also offers something you can't find in Captiva.

Check Out Sanibel Island Lighthouse

View of Sanibel Island Lighthouse
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The Sanibel Island Lighthouse, located on the Gulf Coast, is a spectacular structure built as one of the earliest lighthouses in the region.

The Sanibel Island Lighthouse, located on the eastern point of Sanibel Island, has been directing mariners at the entrance to San Carlos Bay since 1884.

View of Sanibel Island Lighthouse
Frank Kovalchek from Anchorage, Alaska, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

While the public cannot climb the lighthouse because it is in use, you may roam about the grounds and admire the grandeur and vistas of the shore.

In addition to the beach and fishing pier, the location provides a variety of outdoor activities.

View of Sanibel Island Lighthouse
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See Luscious Flora at Sanibel Moorings Botanical Gardens

Located on Sanibel Island, the Sanibel Moorings Botanical Gardens is a beautiful garden environment with tropical flora and tree species.

On the natural pathways that wind through the garden, you can observe all of the brilliant flowers and lush trees, as well as the local birds, insects, and other species.

You may explore the grounds on your own or join a guided tour to discover more about the area and its exhibits.

Artists can also use the garden as a backdrop for their work, painting and creating magnificent surroundings.

Watch the Breathtaking Sunset at Blind Pass Beach

 Breathtaking Sunset at Blind Pass Beach
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What's the best way to cap off your day than watching a picturesque sunset?

Spend time driving about the island, admiring the grand waterfront estates, and stopping to explore the tucked-away coves and beaches, such as Blind Pass Beach, which stands at the meeting point of Sanibel and Captiva.

From a small bridge, you can spot folks strolling at the sand bars and casting from shore to catch some waves.

One of the most incredible things to do at sunset is to look for the "green flash," an optical phenomenon you could see when the sun sinks below the horizon, which you can see from Blind Pass Beach.

Entrance ot Blind Pass Beach
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Shop Some Beachwear at Periwinkle Place

Periwinkle Place is the most popular shopping location on Sanibel and Captiva Islands, and it features a broad selection of stores and boutiques.

Everything you will need is right here, from artisan cuisine to fashion, beachwear, and cosmetics, all in one convenient location.

The retail center is home to some of the top local companies, including Butterfly Beach clothing, Naples Soap Company, Congress Jewellers, The Shady Cockerel specialist boutique, and Paradise Boutique beachwear.

Periwinkle Place also has a golf course, eating options, snack stores, and a variety of other attractions.

Grab Some Cheeseburgers at Cabbage Key

View of Cabbage Key
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There is only one way to get to the secluded island of Cabbage Key, which is known for its restaurant and its seclusion.

Captiva Island to Cabbage Key is an eight-mile boat journey or roughly an hour away by water taxi or boat trip.

View of Cabbage Key
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In addition to the thousands of dollars in notes dangling from the ceiling (removed after the epidemic and distributed to employees), Jimmy Buffett famously penned "Cheeseburger in Paradise" after eating at Cabbage Key.

Their stone crabs are out of this world, as are the burgers. It's a great place to unwind and have a cocktail in a relaxed beachside setting.

You can have a friendly chit-chat with Scott, the manager, and learn more about the past of this quaint tiny enclave.

Learn the Value of Wildlife Preservation at the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife

The Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Animals is an educational hospital dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating wildlife needing assistance.

You can get a behind-the-scenes view of wildlife restoration when you drop by the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife, which offers interactive exhibits, educational programs, and live video feeds.

At any given moment, the Clinic is responsible for thousands of local and migratory species.

There are other university students and veterinarians programs at the institution and open visits for the general public.

Visit the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum

View of Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum
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With a vast collection of seashells and artifacts, the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum is an exciting museum to visit.

The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum, located on Sanibel Island, acts as a research center and a tourist attraction for those interested in discovering marine, freshwater, and terrestrial mollusks found in the Gulf of Mexico.

View of Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum
Jillian Cain Photography / Shutterstock.com

Even though the museum features shells from many ages and places worldwide, most of the collection is from Florida's Sanibel and Captiva Islands.

The museum also features a memorial park for Raymond Burr, a display about his life, and a personal shell collection.

Final Thoughts

Captiva Island and its neighboring areas are the ideal vacation destination for people seeking magnificent sunsets, seeing playful dolphins, and exploring the island's pristine and uncrowded turquoise, shell-strewn beaches.

Captiva Island is a true paradise that you should experience at least once (if not twice!) in your life.