see + do
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.