When our original plans to go to Aruba were cancelled, our sights turned to visiting Sanibel Island, Florida. Having visited Sanibel, Florida as teen, I distinctly remember all of the seashells on the island and thought Sanibel Island with a toddler would be ideal.
There’s so much to do on Sanibel Island for families, and I knew my daughters (ages 5 and half and almost 2) would enjoy all the seashells as much as I did.
Since the flight to Florida is a short one from our New Jersey home and the weather is warm in early May, I decided to plan a 5-day trip there. Also, thankfully the spring break crowds would have passed and the crazy Florida heat/humidity wouldn’t set in yet!
Sanibel Island with a Toddler
- Why Visit Sanibel Island with a Baby or Toddler
- Getting from the Fort Myers to Sanibel Island
- Where to Stay on Sanibel Island for Families
- Getting Around Sanibel Island for Families
- Best Things to Do on Sanibel Island with a Toddler
- Where to Eat on Sanibel Island with a Toddler
- What to Pack for Sanibel Island with a Toddler
- Final Travel Tips for Sanibel Island with a Toddler
- Don’t Forget These Toddler Beach Essentials
- Pin It For Later!
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Why Visit Sanibel Island with a Baby or Toddler
The major airport serving Sanibel is in Fort Myers, less than an hour away. With a such a short driving distance, you’ll be able to get your baby settled in and ready for exploring in no time. Or you might even have time to get your baby a nap.
Sanibel has a huge bicycle following so there are paved pathways all over, which is great if you stick to cycling or using a stroller! Having bikes with a bike trailer is a fun way to get around when visiting Sanibel Island with a toddler.
This is a very family friendly destination! Families with kids of all ages were there during our trip so you are bound to spark up conversations with fellow travelers and see what the highlights of their trip was.
Getting from the Fort Myers to Sanibel Island
The flight from Newark, NJ to Fort Myers, FL was approximately 3 hours. Given the short time, this was a fairly easy flight with a toddler, where we didn’t have to bring too many airplane travel toys or worry about getting our toddler to sleep on the plane.
Southwest Florida International Airport isn’t huge so we were at the luggage claim and the rental car pickup location in no time.
Having a car in Sanibel is a nice option and for us rental prices were reasonable plus parking was included at our hotel (Sundial Resort). We rented a Jeep Wrangler from Alamo and the check-out process was the smoothest of any car rental dealership I’ve ever dealt with!
Drive time from Fort Myers to Sanibel Island is approximately 45 minutes and because we arrived around lunch-time, we opted to head straight to a restaurant before crossing the causeway over to the Island.
We stopped at Bimini Bait Shack in Punta Rassa and it was the perfect kick-off to our vacation. The drinks were the best tasting our whole trip, live music was playing and the view of the causeway and palm trees were perfect.
If you aren’t starving upon arrival, you can always visit Publix on your way to Sanibel and stock up on any necessities and groceries. Keep in mind, there are smaller grocery stores on the Island too.
To cross over to Sanibel, there is a toll (approximately $6 usd) so consider that when planning your stay and whether you want to cross the bridge multiple times.
Where to Stay on Sanibel Island for Families
I am a research fiend and did a lot of reading before choosing to stay at the Sundial Resort. I chose this Sanibel family resort for several reasons including its on-site dining, different pools, quick beach access and activities for children.
Don’t miss our post on Sun Safety for Babies & Toddlers!
I also loved how it wasn’t far into Sanibel but still close to their “downtown”. Another great perk of the property is the small but very well stocked grocery store.
If staying at this Sanibel family resort, I recommend contacting the hotel directly to get an updated unit. Reviews on the property are clear that not all of the properties are maintained equally so kindly ask for a renovated one!
Getting Around Sanibel Island for Families
As mentioned earlier a rental car isn’t necessary to have on the island but definitely allows you to explore a bit more.
If your kiddos are older you can always take a taxi to your hotel and rely on bicycles on the island since there are bike paths all over Sanibel.
Sundial Resort offers bicycles to guests for free but keep in mind they need to be returned by 7:30 PM. One late afternoon we took bikes from Sundial with the girls in a bike trailer and took them on a ride to the Lighthouse.
There are bicycle racks all over the resort property and I noticed a bunch of different local rental companies on the Island. If you rent them on your own during the trip, you have them at your full disposal and they don’t need to be returned at a specific time.
We opted to have a rental car and it did allow us to visit different restaurants as well as Captiva (the parent island to Sanibel).
Best Things to Do on Sanibel Island with a Toddler
As a guest of the hotel you have access to their children’s programming and also their Turtle Scouts Kids Camp. They have paper schedules posted around the hotel property but I also received daily text messages with details of what was going on for the day.
One morning we participated in their decorate a backpack activity for an extra $8 a child but many of the other activities are free.
The hotel also has dozens of paddleboards, kayaks, and bicycles/helmets to rent for free so you can explore Sanibel on land and sea.
Other fun Sanibel Island activities for families staying at the Sundial Resort include volleyball courts, the different pools, corn hole boards and ping pong tables. Bingo is played daily in the late afternoon too!
The main pool has a small slide which was fun to go down and there are cabanas available for a daily fee. The Sundial Resort beach is nicely maintained and they have plenty of staff on hand to put up umbrellas for you.
The water was never rough when we were there and I felt comfortable going in with both of my children!
Shelling and the National Seashell Museum
Sanibel Island is known for its seashells so definitely come prepared to explore! No matter what time of day we went out to the beach there always seemed to be a fresh batch of seashells washing up on shore. This is a super fun kid and toddler activity on Sanibel Island.
One afternoon the water was so calm and clear that I was able to walk far into the ocean and grabbed seashells directly from the ocean floor. Understandably no live shells can be taken so many of the conches I had to throw back since they were occupied.
If you need a break from the heat or it’s a rainy day, you can go visit the National Seashell Museum. Per their website , tickets for kids under 5 are free!
Ding Darling National Park
This expansive park can be visited two ways, with a car or on bike. We opted to drive through it and paid a $10 entrance fee.
Remember to hold on to your entry receipt though since the pass is valid for 3 days!
They give you a map upon entry so you know where you can go. During one of our first stops we saw a ton of jumping fish which was pretty cool.
We happened to drive through there during the high heat of the day so our outside stops were limited but if you plan better than we did, you can spend a decent amount of time exploring Ding Darling National Park.
Plan to make a stop at the visitor’s center along the way too.
Captiva is the parent island to Sanibel. We drove to Captiva from Sundial Resort on two separate occasions, once during lunch time and ate at the Bubble Room (more on the Bubble Room later!).
After lunch we walked around briefly and then got back in the car to further explore. There is a beautiful beach/viewing point called Blind Pass. It’s definitely a stop to make when going to or out of Captiva!
The second time we went to Captiva was for dinner and we ended up having dinner at Doc Ford’s (where ice cream sandwiches are included with kid menu items!).
If you are there at prime sunset time, go grab dinner or drinks at Mucky Duck since they have an unobstructed ocean view. Check out Mucky Duck’s website for specific information on sunset-times too.
Where to Eat on Sanibel Island with a Toddler
Here are our recommendations for places to eat on Sanibel Island for families traveling with a toddler:
Bimini Bait Shack
Located right near the causeway that goes from Fort Myers to Sanibel, the Bimini Bait Shack has outdoor/open-air dining and really good drinks! Known for their onion rings with live music.
Located at Sundial Resort, you can eat at the restaurant or do take-out as we did. Sushi was extremely fresh! If you dine-in at Shima, make sure to make reservations ahead of time.
Great outdoor space in the back and a very humorous kids menu. The cocktails were big and overall a great vibe. The inside space of 400 Rabbits looked awesome also where they had live music playing.
Bubble Room is a landmark on Captiva and one of my daughter’s favorite spots we went to “because of the Disney stuff inside”. To be honest, the place is strange but I guess that is part of the allure.
There is a unique story behind this restaurant that you just have to see for yourself as I don’t want to spoil any surprises! Bubble Room is known for their desserts so make sure to save room for dessert.
Self-proclaimed ‘best breakfast in the world’, the Lighthouse Cafe restaurant is just a short distance away from the Sanibel Lighthouse.
We stopped there on our way to the airport on departure day and there was a long line, even at 10:30am! If you decide to eat here, build in to wait for your table.
The wait was about 25 minutes for us but there is a souvenir shop next door and the restaurant uses a speaker system to notify you when your table is ready. I don’t know if I would call it the world’s best breakfast but the food was good – the eggs/omelet were especially delicious.
Sanibel Grille / Timber’s
The parents of a friend live in Cape Coral, FL and one of their local picks was Sanibel Grille. After we realized where the restaurant was located (it’s upstairs on a lifted building) – we found out that outdoor tables had the option to order food from their menu and the restaurant next door called Timber’s.
The crowd walking into Timbers seemed older but the menu appealed to us more. Sanibel Grille had a constant flow of people in and out but was more of a sporty vibe.
Turtles Tiki Bar
Turtle Tiki Bar is a laid back, tiki restaurant on the Sundial Resort property. We grabbed lunch here poolside and dinner at their sister restaurant, Slice of Paradise which does pizza.
My girls scarfed down Turtles’ peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and honestly, I snagged a couple bites too.
The margarita pizza we ordered from Slice of Pizza wasn’t what we’re used to, being spoiled New Jersey/New York pizza eaters, but it was still tasty!
What to Pack for Sanibel Island with a Toddler
Plan to spend plenty of time on the beach when visiting Sanibel Island with a toddler. We recommend packing all your toddler beach essentials, but these are the key ones to have:
Beach toys are an absolute must while visiting Sanibel. You can purchase these at different spots on the Island but I happen to bring our set with us.
I wish I could be that woman on the beach with a stylish designer bag but for the beach, I strive for practicality first. I purchased this bag for our trip in white/gray and really loved it – it had the right amount of pockets for storage and also folded up neatly.
The best part, in my opinion, was it is washable so I hope it continues to look new over the years.
Collapsible Beach Bucket
Whoever came up with the idea of a collapsible beach bucket is a genius! I bought a multi-pack and selected how many I needed to bring with us to the beach. They held water and sand great while being easy to pack.
Kids will love to collect seashells in their own seashell bag. Or, you can purchase them while in Sanibel and bring them home as a souvenirs. I also saw this guide in local shops, another item you can buy ahead of time or afterwards!
Final Travel Tips for Sanibel Island with a Toddler
Sanibel Island won’t disappoint and there is a ton to do in the surrounding area too. Visit Captiva, Fort Myers or even extend your trip further south to Naples, Marco Island and the Everglades!
Be prepared for fun days on the beach and getting around by bike!
This guest post was written by Erica D., who lives in northern New Jersey, close to her childhood home. She strives to be the best wife and mom to her two girls Annika and Vera while working full time as a pharmacist at a pharmaceutical company. Her parents instilled the love for travel and exploration and she can’t wait to pass “the travel bug” on to her daughters. Erica plans at least one unique family vacation a year and annually visits both Rhode Island and South Carolina.