Stepping onto the Captiva Island beach will have you feeling like you’re in the Caribbean — but in fact, you’re just off the mainland.
The beguiling seaside getaway sits just an hour’s drive from the Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers. The six-mile island stretches straight as an arrow, with a sleepy hamlet that boasts tons of character. The beaches here are more luxurious than Florida’s East Coast, with powdery white sand that’s as soft as a pillow.
If you’re a treasure hunter, Captiva Island is the place to be. We thought people had some posture issues, until we figured out that everyone is bent over marvelling at the gorgeous shells that line the coast. This stooping is so common that it has a name: the Captiva crouch. Sand dollars, sea glass and pretty ornate shells are ubiquitous and easy to find in the crystal clear water.
That’s about the pace of life on Captiva Island. The art lovers have Fort Lauderdale, the partiers have Miami, but those seeking a slower pace are best served by this smaller sister island to the well-known Sanibel Island. Outdoor activities are the big draw, from fishing and boating to bike riding and golf. Instead of spotting celebrities on the beach, you’re more likely to see dolphins and tons of colorful subtropical birds — and that’s how Captiva likes it.
You’ll want the right hub to experience it, and that’s the only place more chill than the beach: the ‘Tween Waters Inn Island Resort & Spa. Opened in 1931, the property spans from the turquoise Gulf of Mexico waters and picturesque Pine Island Sound, with 13 stunning acres of beach, where you can opt to stay in two- and three-bedroom seaside cottages.
Don’t let the name fool you — the property is a hub of outdoor activity with an Olympic-size pool (with accompanying kids wading pool) and tennis courts, as well as relaxation in hot tubs and a recently remodeled day spa that overlooks the property.
We were surprised to find that the hotel has its own marine biologist, with daily beach walks at 7 a.m. And while the day starts early, it also goes until late with full moon tours. Paddle out through the mangrove forest of Buck Key by moonlight and prepare to be taken aback by the bioluminescent schools of fish and marine life in the dark gulf waters.
If you prefer a conventional open water adventure, there are plenty of options available for booking right at the front desk. You can fish, snorkel or take a unique ecocharter with a focus on the diversity of marine life, habitat and history of Captiva and Sanibel. The marina is just a few steps from the ‘Tween Waters offering private charters.
Seafood lovers will be well served at the Inn’s upscale Captiva House restaurant, which also offers the island’s only sushi menu. Or try the beach tapas at the Crow’s Nest, where the fish tacos are always the special featuring the day’s catch.
The combination of history, luxury and laid-back beach vibes makes Captiva Island and the ‘Tween Waters Inn a rare Florida vacation experience.