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Best beaches in Fort Myers, Cape Coral, and Sanibel area. (A locals guide)

best beaches in Fort Myers area

What are the best beaches in Fort Myers, Cape Coral, and Sanibel?

So you found this post because you are looking for the best beaches in Fort Myers, Cape Coral, & Sanibel. What on earth does that have to do with senior care, in-home caregivers, and Abby Services?

Well, we are a local family-owned business serving the Fort Myers area since 1997. Very frequently we have to answer these questions for clients, family, and guests, so we thought, “Let’s get our thoughts (as locals) about the best beaches in Fort Myers down to share with everyone!”

How is this best of list sorted?

That’s a great question. The Greater Fort Myers area is a destination for many with a lot to do. Honestly, the list isn’t sorted. This is just a collection of some of the best beaches in Fort Myers and surrounding areas that we wanted to share.

Did you see something we missed? Please leave a comment so we can update this list. We are always looking for new and undiscovered adventures.

So what are the best beaches in Fort Myers and the surrounding area?

There are many great beaches in our area. While everyone will have their favorites, this is a listing of our personal favorites, and why. According to vistfortmyers.com our area is home to over 5o miles of shoreline: from Sanibel and Captiva Islands, Fort Myers Beach, Bonita Springs, to Boca Grande.

Bowditch Beach

Bowditch Beach is certainly a favorite for us. In my opinion, it is one of the best beaches in Fort Myers. It is our go-to beach. As local Fort Myers residents, we like to go early in the morning and drink our coffee while the kids play in the surf and explore.

Depending on the time of year there is always something new and different. We have seen lightning whelk mating season where so many of them come to shore it’s impossible to count. Dolphins chasing the key west express first thing in the morning. Sea Hares who dance through the water and squirt weird purple goo when handled. The list goes on and on. Bowditch Beach is at the northern end of Fort Myers Beach.

Things to consider when visiting Bowditch Beach:

  • Beach parking fills up fast. That combined with seasonal traffic makes timing important for this beach. If we don’t get on the road early we usually don’t bother going. 
  • Plan to walk. The beach itself is about 200-300 yards from parking including a walk down a boardwalk. Once on the beach, you can choose an empty spot that may involve an additional hike. This is not the typical crowded beach and that’s why we love it.
  • We recommend exploring while at the beach. You can walk around the point by bearing to the right. If you look across the water you can see Sanibel, the Sanibel lighthouse, and the Sanibel Causeway. 
  • Can you bring a dog? There are limited options in our area to bring your dog to the beach. I’ll get to the dog beach in a bit. I have seen conflicting information on this. There are a number of websites that say “yes as long as your dog is leashed.” However, I can say there are signs that say “no pets” and the Bowditch Point Park website explicitly says “No Pets”. While I have taken my dog, my kids do get a bit upset that I am breaking the rules. (Update: Bowditch is recognized as separate from Fort Myers Beach, it is part of the local Parks & Rec service, therefore they have separate rules and do in fact prohibit dogs here.)

Fort Myers Beach (Times Square)

The heart of Fort Myers Beach is called Times Square. It has to be on any list of the best beaches in Fort Myers. This area has the typical tourist trap shops, some restaurants, bars, and ice cream. It is also the location of a pier you can walk or fish off of.  This area is the closest to the Jersey shore vibe you’ll find in the area. The beach is wide and broad with plenty of activity.

Things to consider when visiting Fort Myers Beach:

  • This is probably one of the busier beaches in the area. If you are looking for solitude look elsewhere.
  • Being one of the busier beaches in the area there is ample parking within walking distance.
    • That being said this parking can fill up and be expensive. (Just yesterday I saw $35 all-day parking on a private lot.) That’s atypical but annoying.
  • The traffic patterns can be odd when leaving the island over the bridge. Just go with the flow and follow the signs. Often you are directed under the bridge onto Estero Blvd.

Fort Myers Beach (Random Pulloff's along Estero Blvd)

Fort Myers Beach is a barrier island with a lot of shoreline. Much of the shoreline is occupied by private residences or resorts which limits public parking. All along Estero Blvd (The main drag through Fort Myers Beach) are random public access points with limited parking.

What to expect from these locations:

  • Parking is hit or miss. You can go from one to the next hoping for parking. Depending on the time of year parking can and does fill up fast. That makes these access points hard to plan for. Unauthorized parking will lead to towing.
    • Speaking of parking the spaces are all paid by phone at $5 per hour (plus “convenience fees”! I think that is a little steep.
  • Due to the limited access, these beaches tend to be less populated which is nice.
  • Leashed dogs are permitted and there are dog waste bags available.

Dog Beach

Dog beach, as the name implies, is a beach that is explicitly for dogs. This is the one place you can have your dog off-leash and let them run free. It is one of the best beaches in Fort Myers, and the only beach exclusively for dogs.

Depending on the tide, dog beach may be small, or a bit more spread out. There are dogs of all sizes and for the most part, respectful owners who are sure their playful puppies behave.

Here are some Dog Beach pointers:

  • There are poop bags, but they are not immediately available on the beach. Be sure to bring your own and also be sure to carry your trash out to the parking area where they have garbage cans (and bags). Don’t be that guy who leaves his dogs mess on the beach.
  • Bring a chair, not food. I love setting up my chair and watching all of the dogs run and play. I have to admit I have made the mistake of bringing a snack. This is not that kind of beach:) While not prohibited dogs will be dogs and will quickly seek out and beg, beg, beg, for any treats you have.
  • Bring water and a bowl. Trust me, your dog will get a workout and leave tired. All that running, swimming, and playing will get them thirsty. 
  • Toys: It’s a dog-eat-dog world. You can bring toys, however, unless you have an alpha pooch be aware that other dogs may want that special toy, and some dogs don’t share very well. We have found it’s better not to have anything, or just a simple tennis ball you don’t mind leaving behind.

Lovers Key

Lovers key is considered a State Park. It definitely is one of the best beaches in Fort Myers. As a key, it is a part of a string of islands that act as barrier islands to this area. As an island, access can be limited. This is a popular boat destination.

If you don’t have a boat, Lovers Key Beach can also be accessed by taking a tram from a public parking area. The beach itself is not the broad combed beach some may be used to, but is more of a natural beach with downed trees and brush nearing the waterline. There is plenty of space though to lay out a towel and enjoy the area.

Some Lovers Key Pointers.

  • Be prepared: If you are going to this beach there are bathrooms and some concessions but it is not a quick and easy beach to get in and out of. You will need to wait for/ and take the tram.
  • Kayaking/Paddleboarding: This is a popular spot both off the coast and inshore to kayak and paddleboard. There are drop sites if you have your own but rentals are also easily available. I would recommend exploring inshore where you are somewhat protected from the wind and (small waves).

Big Carlos Pass Beach

I had always considered Big Carlos Pass beach the northern part of lovers key. My wife and I recently had a conversation, and while I considered it part of Lovers Key, she made the argument that it is a separate beach.

I get her point. Big Carlos pass is located at one of the bridges you cross while driving down Estero Blvd along Fort Myers Beach. This is a popular area for beachgoers, boaters, fishermen, and locals.

There isn’t much formal info on Big Carlos Pass Beach. That’s a shame because it’s a great beach and certainly one of the best beaches in Fort Myers. It has pull-off parking and port-a-potties that are maintained by local municipalities.

Things to know when visiting Big Carlos Pass Beach.

  • There is ample paid parking. You just pull off of Estero Blvd and get an envelope from the parking station. Once paid there is a hang tag for your vehicle.
  • The beach itself is spread out. The further you choose to walk the more isolated and private the beach becomes.
  • Current. Be aware that as the tides change the current moving through the pass can be quite quick so keep an eye on the kiddos. 

Sanibel beaches

Sanibel as an island is essentially one big beach. That being said, there are miles of coastline on the island and many many beaches. By nature, Sanibel can be difficult to get to. There is one way on and one way off.

It’s beautiful, popular, and can be crowded with limited parking. Despite limited parking and limited access Sanibel beaches are among many visitors’ favorite beaches in Fort Myers, here are our 2 favorite Sanibel Beaches:

Lighthouse Beach:

Lighthouse beach is a popular choice on Sanibel because even if there is a lot of traffic going over the bridge it is not too far into the island making it accessible. While parking is not unlimited (it can fill up quickly) it is reasonable and better than pretty much anywhere else on the island. The water on the beach is gorgeous. The beach itself has a natural feel (think the opposite of The Jersey Shore) and is a popular shelling destination which I have heard has to do with currents, the tide, and the way the continental shelf rises in this area.

Thoughts on Lighthouse Beach:

  • Check your map app to see just how long it’s gonna take. Traffic over the bridge can get backed up and you may want to plan accordingly.
  • Because of the toll, and parking, this tends to be a longer beach visit when we go. We recommend stopping at Publix before you go onto the island to get food and snacks. If you aren’t from the area, you have to get a “Pub-Sub”. Publix is a grocery store chain that makes really good subs…
  • Bring a bucket: While walking the beach you will quickly find many shell treasures. You will quickly fill your pockets, so bring a bucket. Just be sure you don’t take any live shells (or sand dollars). It’s illegal and should you risk it they wind up stinking. 
 
Blind Pass Beach
 

Blind pass is where Sanibel meets Captiva. In my opinion, it is one of the greatest destinations to watch the sunset in our area. It is further in on the island and therefore is a bit more challenging to get to. Also, be aware that parking is extremely limited here and is frequently full (also parking enforcement can be pretty aggressive). Be careful with little ones, this area has a lot of current with the changing of tides.

Tips when going to Blind Pass

  •  Plan accordingly. If going for a sunset a bottle of wine and some cheese & snacks. (You will need to check local alcohol laws yourself but it has never been an issue for us). Check traffic and allow yourself plenty of time.
  • The bridge at blind pass is a popular fishing spot. You can hang out to see what’s biting or bring a pole yourself. Just be sure to check fishing licensure requirements.
  • Patience pays with parking. There are not many parking choices in this area (or on Sanibel for that matter) however spots do turn over. Just be patient (and kind).
  • The seawall toward Captiva is a great place for sunset pictures:)

 

 
 

Barefoot Beach is technically in North Naples but is located at the end of the barrier island that is home to Fort Myers Beach. Therefore I am including it on my list of best beaches in Fort MYers. 

Honestly, the first time I went to this beach I felt like I arrived at the wrong place, this is because you have to drive back through this bougie neighborhood to get to the actual park. 

While driving back the homes are gorgeous and once at the park, you will be welcomed with equally beautiful beaches. This park has ample parking and even on some of the busiest days, I have been able to find parking. Even with ample parking, the beach is spread out which keeps it from getting overcrowded.

Barefoot Beach Tips:

  • Pack for the day. For me, this is a day trip beach. I pack the shelter, cooler, and activities for the kids. It is a great beach to get set up and chill out.
  • Watch out for the wildlife. For some reason I feel like I have seen gopher tourtises here in the parking lot frequently. More often than not you will see dolphins off the coast, and if you pay attention you can see manatees swimming the coast as well.

Bunche Beach

Bunche Beach is my main choice when the other beaches are too crowded. It isn’t on everyone’s radar but is a great natural beach. 

 In this area, depending on the tide, you can walk hundreds of yards offshore to explore the surf. Bunche Beach has some history as well. It was the only beach in the area where black residents could enjoy the sand when the area was segregated in 1949. Bunche Beach is named after Ralph Bunche, the first African-American to win the Noble Prize in 1950.

I feel like I need to add this. I do know some people who would argue that this beach should not be included on a list of the best beaches in Fort Myers. I have heard others compare this beach to a mudflat. The way the shoreline is there are areas of sediment that can make the squeamish a little wary.

I like to think of it as a more natural beach. I have caught many Sea Trout offshore, and there are many Snook and other native species in the mangroves around this beach.

Bunche Beach Tips:

  • Wear sandals/water socks. You want to protect your feet from sharp shells and oysters that are in this area. Also based on the tides the sandy areas can be a bit mucky. Dont let that turn you off, this is an area well worth exploring.
  • If you get the chance rent a kayak or paddleboard. This area has rentals available and is a great way to explore the mangroves and coastal areas. 

Thank you for reading our list of the best beaches in Fort Myers, Cape Coral, and the surrounding areas. 

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