BY GINA BIRCH
FORT MYERS LOCAL EXPERT
If you’re looking for fun in the sun, there is plenty to be had on the beaches surrounding Fort Myers. From the peaceful and secluded, natural habitats on Cayo Costa to the action packed shores at Lynn Hall Memorial Park, there is sure to be a place that has your name written in the sand. Lynn Hall is right in the heart of Fort Myers Beach, where you'll find more action than almost any other sandy destination; restaurants, bars and lots of water sports.
The area's barrier islands of Captiva and Sanibel are world renowned for shelling. There are rules about taking live shells so be sure to check the signs posted along the dunes. The islands also provide prime nesting grounds for Loggerhead Turtles and they are fiercely protected by locals. Turtle nesting season runs from May 1st through October 31st.
While it's not hard finding a great beach for lounging, parking can be a problem in high season; January through March. Most county parks have a park and pay system that will cost you two dollars an hour. There are private lots that charge a flat rate and a trolley runs from Fort Myers Beach to Bonita. Leave your car for free at Summerlin Square and hop on board for a cheap ride over the scenic Matanzas Pass Bridge.
Here are some of the top spots to put up your umbrella.
While the "Causeway" may not have the most beautiful sand or the bluest water of the Fort Myers area beaches, it is the most popular for extreme sports. The constant wind makes the Causeway most appealing for wind surfing, kite surfing, fishing, skiing and other water sports. You can pull your car right up to the shoreline, no lugging coolers and tents through soft, sandy dunes. Parking is free, however, it will cost you six dollars to get through the toll. Your friends with boats can pull up, anchor and join the party by water. There are a few picnic tables, grills, and restrooms. Set up camp and stay all day.
Recommended for Beaches because: The Causeway is a great spot for water sports and sunning with easy access to the water. Drive your car right up to the shoreline
Gina's expert tip: Remnants of the old causeway bridge provide a good spot for fishing
Photo courtesy of Gina Birch
Sitting at the entrance to South Seas Resort, on the northern tip of the island, this is the last possible bit of public beach on Captiva. The parking is limited but it is worth the effort if you can find a spot. There are miles of shoreline and it is widely regarded as one of the most romantic beaches. The sand is full of shells and the dolphins love to play in the clear blue water. This is one of the few beaches along the Southwest Florida coast that actually has a drop off as you wade into the water. A pontoon boat sells beverages and snacks from the shallow water in case you run out of sustenance.
Recommended for Beaches because: You can walk for miles on its sandy shores, finding some of the best shells. The water is brilliant; a great sunset spot.
Gina's expert tip: For best chance at parking, arrive early in the morning or later in the afternoon.
Photo courtesy of www.bansemer.com
It was hard to see the Sanibel Lighthouse through the summer of 2013 as it underwent a rehabilitation project. This is the most photographed site on Sanibel Island. While visitors are unable to go inside the 120 year old structure, they can read about its history and sun on it's beaches. The shelling is good here as the current can sometimes be swift, washing up all kinds of treasures. Explore the wetlands around the lighthouse using the designated nature trails and boardwalks. There are a number of shady parking spaces, a small pier for fishing and for your comfort, indoor restroom facilities
Recommended for Beaches because: Situated at the eastern tip of Sanibel, the beach is wide and almost always breezy. The often times swift currents wash up lots of shells.
Gina's expert tip: Bring a bucket of bait and try your luck fishing off of the pier. No luck? Use the bucket for shells.
This is the last possible stretch of beach on Estero Island, sitting on the Northern tip of Fort Myers Beach. It's a great place to watch all kinds of watercraft, make their way into the Gulf of Mexico. The park includes walking trails, guided walks and is a designated site on the Great Florida Birding Trail. The beach is narrow at high tide but is beautifully decorated by Mother Nature with lots of driftwood and mangroves. There are restroom facilities and a concession stand if your cooler gets low. The park also offers kayak and paddleboard rentals when you're ready to move your body.
Recommended for Beaches because: It's a peaceful stretch of beach surrounded by an extensive preserve area. Find concessions, lots of shade and kayak rentals; something for the entire family.
Gina's expert tip: Great spot for sunset photos in and amongst the driftwood on the typically calm shore.
Photo courtesy of www.facebook.com
Located on Sanibel Island's southern coast, this small beach area may not attract the crowds that other stretches see, but those willing to find Tarpon Bay Road are in for quite a sight when they get here. Calm, clear water that's ideal for swimming, wide expanses of soft white sand, and great opportunities for shelling help make this beach a true diamond in the rough. It's not uncommon to see dolphins in the surf as well. There are no concessions so be sure to pack your own. But there are public restrooms and plenty of paid parking, at the typical Lee County rate of $2 an hour.
Recommended for Beaches because: This beautiful beach sits in the middle of Sanibel, however, there is neither hustle nor bustle. The water is calm and clear.
Gina's expert tip: Parking is across the street. Although the walk isn't too far, a cooler without wheels gets heavy fast.
This popular family destination boasts one of the area's most well known attractions: Fort Myers Beach Pier. The park's beach area appeals to sunbathers, swimmers, volley-ballers and fisherman. It's adjacent to "Times Square", a pedestrian area full of restaurants and shops. Indeed, Lynn Hall is the place to head if you are looking for a fun, activity-filled day at the beach and good people watching. The park offers public restroom facilities and bathhouses. If you don't have a car or don't want to mess with parking, take the beach trolley, it stops here. If you do drive, park and pay at a central kiosk; two dollars an hour, credit cards accepted.
Recommended for Beaches because: Located in the hub of activity for Fort Myers Beach, you'll be close to restaurants, bars, shops and entertainment.
Gina's expert tip: The parking lot opens at 7am. Arrive early to score one of the few shaded spots.
Cayo Costa is a barrier island with nine miles of beautiful beach, mangrove swamps and acres of shady pine trees. A fabulous spot for shelling, also keep your eyes open for wildlife including dolphins, manatees and an array of birds. Fishing is permitted and there are trails for off-road bicycling. The island is only accessible by boat, if you don't have one you can hop on a ferry at Tropic Star of Pine Island in Bokeelia or aboard Captiva Cruises at Jensen's Marina. Many people don't want to make the effort it takes to get here, that means low crowds and at times you can feel as if you have the entire island to yourself.
Recommended for Beaches because: This beautiful state park is a rustic island paradise, accessible only by boat.
Gina's expert tip: Pack a tent or rent a rustic cabin and wake up to the soothing sound of the surf
Photo courtesy of Bowman's Beach
This quiet county park is home to one of the most popular beaches on Sanibel. Situated well off a long stretch on Sanibel-Captiva Road, the beach presents a certain "undiscovered" feel when you arrive. This also translates into excellent shelling and great photo opportunities, especially at sunset. The sand is white and there are miles of it for you to walk, unobstructed. The water is calm, great for swimming or floating. It's also stunningly clear and it will wash all your cares away. The walk from the parking lot to the beach will take you a good five minutes but it's worth it. The park features shady picnic tables, grills and public restrooms.
Recommended for Beaches because: The beach is full of shells, the sand is white, the water is clear and you can walk for miles without running into crowds.
Gina's expert tip: Pack plenty to eat and drink as there are few amenities here.
Occupying some 300-plus acres, Barefoot offers a varied natural landscape that can seduce and captivate everyone from sun worshippers to hikers and animal-lovers. You may even run across a Loggerhead Turtle. Shielded from surrounding development by the dense growth of mangroves and hemlocks, Barefoot Beach manages to escape the traffic and large crowds that other beaches usually see, making this a true treasure for those seeking a quiet, peaceful day on the Gulf of Mexico. That's not to say that Barefoot is free of any and all modern convenience. Anyone with children in tow will be happy to note that the park has public restrooms, showers and even concessions.
Recommended for Beaches because: The water is clear and blue, the sand white and powdery. The dolphins love it here and so will you. It's truly paradise.
Gina's expert tip: It might appear as if you've taken a wrong turn as the road to the beach winds through an affluent seaside neighborhood. Enjoy the impressive manmade scenery.
Lover's Key is made up of four barrier islands between Fort Myers and Bonita Beaches. For years it was only accessible by boat so "lovers" would travel there for solitude. These days, trams and boardwalks help you to navigate the two miles of white sand. Even with so many visitors, the land is mostly unspoiled, with an abundance of wildlife not to mention great shelling. Black Island has hiking and biking trails or you can explore the well-known Calusa Indian site of Mound Key by kayak. This beach has something for everyone. And if you are hungry or sandy, find concessions and showers for comfort.
Recommended for Beaches because: This beach has it all. From nature trails and water sports, to beach umbrellas and concessions, even event facilities, and it's beautiful to boot.
Gina's expert tip: The perfect address for a wedding or anniversary party; there is an event planner on site to help make dreams come true.