Sanibel, Captiva and North Captiva, FL

These gulf barrier islands offer the best of all worlds to family vacationers: they are developed enough to offer all the amenities that families desire -- but not so overdeveloped as to take away from their natural setting. The white, shell-strewn beaches of Sanibel are renowned as some of the best shelling beaches in the world. You'll see people combing the beaches at dawn until way after dusk searching for new treasures.

Live shelling was banned here, so you can show the kids the many live sand dollars and shells you'll find, but don't take them home. Lighthouse Beach on Sanibel offers some great shelling and shade under the Australian pines, and Bowman's Beach is good for wildlife viewing along the estuary. Turner's Beach at the Blind Pass Bridge is excellent for fishing and shelling, and Captiva Beach is the best for sunsets.

Nature lovers should definitely plan to pay a visit to the 5,000 acre J.N. Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel. Viewing is best in the early morning or at dusk. For those who want to get away from it all, take a boat trip up to nearby North Captiva or Cayo Costa islands for deserted beaches, dolphin sightings and great shelling. Manatee and gopher turtle sightings are common on North Captiva as well.

Visitors to Sanibel and Captiva have a wide choice of accommodations, from world-class resorts to beautiful condos and villas. While there are some less expensive options, they tend to be few and far between. Since the summer is low-season in Florida, condos can be relatively reasonably priced at this time.

Here are a few options to choose from:

Sundial Beach Resort: This large condominium complex on Sanibel caters to families with multi-bedroom units and a full children's program. The corner two-bedroom plus den units are especially nice, with their wrap-around screened porches. The resort offers a gulf-front location, 13 tennis courts, five heated pools, jacuzzis, restaurants, bike rentals, and a kids ecology center. For more information, call (800) 965-7772 or (239) 481-3636 or visit their website at: www.sundialresort.com.

South Seas Resort: This private destination resort sits behind security gates at the far end of Captiva Island. It's a spectacular place for families with lots to see and do. Here you'll find 2 1/2 miles of white sandy beach, restaurants, shops, tennis, 18 swimming pools, a yacht harbor, cruise excursions to nearby islands, a nine-hole golf course, watersports, and a complete children's program. Guests can choose from hotel rooms, beach cottages and villas, tennis villas, and multi-bedroom units at exclusive Land's End. The sunsets here are breathtaking. For more information, call (800) 965-7772 or visit their website at: www.south-seas-resort.com.

West Wind Inn: Moderately priced accommodations can be hard to find on Sanibel, but this one fits the bill with nice motel-style rooms and a great pool. Rooms are oriented in horseshoe style facing the gulf. The Inn is located at the "quiet end of the island" with miles of famous shelling beach to explore, complimentary tennis (equipment is supplied), pool bar overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, all rooms with screened lanais or balcony and with either refrigerators or full kitchenettes and a butterfly garden and koi pond. For more information, call 800-824-0476 or 239-472-1541 or visit their website at: www.westwindinn.com.

Casa Ybel Resort: This beachfront resort resembles an old-fashioned Victorian beach community with lots of white wicker and latticed gazebos. Accommodations are in one- and two-bedroom villas featuring kitchens, screened-in porches and attractive furnishings. You'll also find a large pool, tennis center, a gourmet restaurant, and a full children's program. For more information, call (800) 276-4753 or (239) 472-3145 or visit their website at: www.casaybelresort.com.

North Captiva Island Club: For those interested in truly getting away from it all to deserted beaches and a lush natural habitat, North Captiva Island is the place of your dreams. Shell collecting on the beaches is magnificent here, and transportation is by golf cart only -- no cars allowed. Only a small portion of the island has been developed: the rest is State Park. Cayo Costa Island, which is completely undeveloped and owned by the state, is located next door. North Captiva Island Club offers home and villa rentals on the island, complete with private pools, tennis courts, boat rentals, restaurants, and a kids' program on selected days of the week. Transportation to the island is available from the Florida mainland as well as from the marina on Captiva Island. An airstrip is also provided for small planes. For more information and a free rental brochure, call (800) 576-7343 or (239) 395-1001 or on the web at: www.northcaptiva.com.

Sanibel Realty: This agency specializes in home and condo rentals on Sanibel and Captiva Islands. For more information and a free rental brochure, call (800) 572-6423 or (941) 472-6565 or visit their website at: www.sanibelholiday.com.

Priscilla Murphy Rentals: This agency has a large number of condos and homes available for rent on Sanibel and Captiva. For more information and a free rental brochure, call (800) 237-6008 or visit their website at: www.resortquest.com/realestate/pmrrealty.cfm.

Sanibel and Captiva Islands offer families lots of attractions and things to do. Go bicycling along Sanibel's miles of paved trails, take in a movie, visit the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum, take a boat out for a spin, go fishing, play golf, and visit the Wildlife Refuge. Families should check out The Bubble Room and Chadwick's on Captiva; McT's Shrimp House, The Timbers, The Hungry Heron, and Pippin's on Sanibel; and Barnacle Phil's on North Captiva.

For more information, call the Sanibel/Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce at (239) 472-1080 or visit them online: www.sanibel-captiva.org. Check out the Family Travel Network's Sanibel/Captiva Family Vacation Guide as well.

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