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Beaches in Southwest Florida

Concierge.com's insider take:

From Marco Island north to the far tip of Captiva Island, almost the entire Gulf Coast is fringed by fine, family-friendly beaches with similar attributes: flat, hard-packed white-sand strands that gently ease into the Gulf of Mexico. From south to north, here are the highlights:

Marco Island's Tigertail Beach (239-252-4000; www.colliergov.net) is actually two beaches—a mainland beach with bathrooms, concession stands, and equipment rental, as well as a deserted gulf beach on Sand Dollar Island, which is accessible by wading across a shallow lagoon. No such effort is required to sunbathe at Naples' condo-flanked Vanderbilt Beach (239-252-4000; www.colliergov.net), where Cabana Dan's kiosk rents chairs and cabanas, and hawks frozen treats like chocolate-dipped Key lime popsicles. Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park (239-597-6196; www.floridastateparks.org) is a hit with locals, who picnic in the ample shade provided by sea grape and casuarina trees. The north end near Parking Lot 5 has the most powdery sand, but strong currents from Wiggins Pass make swimming risky. Bonita Beach Park (239-533-7275; cityofbonitasprings.org) is notable for its playground and handicap-ramp accessibility, while Lovers Key Carl E. Johnson State Park (239-463-4588; www.floridastateparks.org), a quartet of barrier islands, is distinguished by its tranquil dunes and lack of development. Its antithesis, honky-tonk Fort Myers Beach, is backed by fast-food restaurants, budget hotels, and tattoo parlors. Over the causeway are the shellacious beaches of crescent-shaped Sanibel and Captiva islands; their unusual east–west orientation acts like a scoop for seashells stirred up by storms. Small shells seem to wash up on Sanibel's eastern Lighthouse Beach, while larger shells aggregate farther west along Bowman's Beach (239-395-1860; leeparks.org), where beachcombers strike the hunched "Sanibel stoop'' pose. December through April is considered the best shelling season, particularly at low tide after a storm, when sandbars are most exposed. Though the offshore currents are tricky, the sunset views are unrivaled at Turner Beach, which straddles silted-in Blind Pass between Sanibel and Captiva (239-432-2006; leeparks.org). There is metered or fee parking near all locations; the state parks have the largest lots.

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Paddle Boarding on Fort Myers Beach

Actually we went paddle boarding in the backbay of Estero Island known as Fort Myers Beach. Received good instruction as we had never paddled boarded before. After... more