Florida is filled with small islands that are full of character and charm and Sanibel island is certainly one of them.
I like to call it shell paradise because you can find so many beautiful and distinctive shells depending on where and when you visit the island.
One of the most interesting things about Sanibel is that there are no fast food or chain food restaurants on the island except for Dairy Queen and Subway which were already there before the new law was implemented.
Considering that Sanibel is a small and conservative island where locals are pretty peculiar about who enjoys their beach, there aren't many beach areas open for the public except for the couple of beach parks located throughout the island.
Now, beach access is pretty plenty but only for the locals and parking at the wrong place will cost your a hefty fine of $75. They go up every so often, not too long ago was $50 so depending when you are reading this it may have went up again.
However, you do not have to settle for the beach by the causeway bridge which although is free it is also free of shells, extremely crowded and full of boats. I also do not recommend the causeway bridge park for anyone with kids, the sand space is very limited and way too close to the road in my opinion.
But if you are willing to spend a little bit of money, you will find that these three beaches I am about to tell you about in Sanibel Island are perfect for a family day and even afternoon if you enjoy some night shelling and sunsets at the beach.
# 1 - Lighthouse Beach Park
A 32 acre beach park and lighthouse that sits right on the tip of the island. It features a fishing pier, picnic area with tables, bathroom and showers.
The parking lot is large but it gets filled pretty quickly on weekends and during season so arrive early to guarantee a spot. The price is $5 per hour, however, if you are looking for scenic views, beautiful photos, tons of shells and a gorgeous sunset, then you will have no issues with the parking cost.
There is also a boat ramp for anyone who decides to take a boat to the park instead of driving which can be a pretty good idea for anyone who has one and wants to avoid the parking fees.
In my opinion, this beach is one of the best for little kids as the shore is pretty shallow so they can play more comfortably in the water. The shallow shores also makes it perfect for shelling and finding sea creatures.
This area is also great for fishing and many have claimed they have seen dolphins playing around. I haven't seen them yet here, I have seen some at Fort Myers Beach though.
# 2 Gulfside City Beach Park
This is by far one of my favorite beaches in Sanibel. First of all because the parking lot is very small so the beach never really gets crowded and is very peaceful to spend the day here.
I also found the most beautiful shells at gulfside city beach park, probably because there aren't as many people hunting for them here as there are at the other beaches. I even found a dead crab by the shore on our last trip and terrorized my kids with it for a little while.
As for the water, it is very clear and great for snorkeling but not as shallow as Lighthouse beach so I would recommend a kiddie pool if you have toddlers or babies.
The park also features bathroom facilities and showers as well as barbecue grills.
Parking cost is $5 per hour per car but the price is totally worth it if you enjoy a peaceful, uncrowded day at the beach.
# 3 Tarpon Bay Beach Park
Although it takes a little walking to get from the parking lot to the beach, Tarpon bay beach is a great place for anyone who enjoys marine life.
While walking on the beach, we were able to encounter a couple of turtle's nests which the city of Sanibel does a great job of protecting.
The beach also has tons of shells by the shore, so many that it makes a little difficult to get into and out of the water.
Now, even though this park does not have a picnic area nor barbecue grill, it does have very clean bathroom and showers
Also, the park rarely gets crowded as the parking lot is small and the space on the sand is pretty ample. Tarpon bay beach is perfect for swimming and windsurfing.
TIPS FOR WHEN VISITING SANIBEL
Toll to get to Sanibel - The tolls cost $6 and it's cash only accepted.
Parking - Be sure to always park in designated areas. The city of Sanibel is pretty strict with parking and if you get caught (chances are you will) parking in areas designated for locals only, the fine is of $75 per car! Couple of years ago it was $50 but they keep on increasing it just like the parking fees.
Parking Payments - It says cash or credit card are accepted but every time I try to insert cash it does not take it and I end up having to use a credit card.
Beach Wheelchairs - The city of Sanibel offers beach wheelchairs as a courtesy when requested 24 hours in advance (239-472-3111)
Pets - Sanibel does allow pets on their beach, however, they must be leashed and picked up after.
Coolers - Totally allowed and in fact recommended as there are no resorts around any of the beaches I just mentioned so you will want to have a cooler packed with water and food depending on how long you plan to stay.
Barbecue Grills - Don't forget to bring your own charcoal and whatever you use to light it. Also, be sure to dispose of it properly. Remember that there are wildlife around and safety and preservation of the environment is very important on the island
Shelling - If you want to really catch the best shells, arrive really early in the AM, preferably before the sun rises or really later in the day, around 7 to 9 pm when the tides are low.
Mesh Bags - If you are planning on collecting shells , I highly recommend mesh bags to store them as you collect them. The reason being because you can easily wash the shells without the chance of losing them, and also minimizes the chances of bring sand into your car and hotel/home.
Trash - Do not leave anything behind. Whatever you brought with you, please be sure to take it back. Keep in mind that many turtles come back to Sanibel Island to lay their eggs and any trash that is left behind can be fatal to these creatures. So please, be sure to take plastic bags to store any trash you accumulate on the beach, the beach parking lot offers many trash containers that you can dispose of your trash before leaving the beach.
No Traffic lights - That is right, there is no traffic lights on the island so be pretty sure to always double check for bicycles and pedestrians as well as other cars.
Also, check out my blog post on must have items when visiting Florida beaches with kids, if you don't already have these items you are going to want to get them before your trip.
I hope you enjoy your stay in Sanibel Island and don't forget to check out the sunset times for some golden hour pictures.