Manatees, dramatic sunsets, and some of the world’s best shelling are just a few of the pleasures on Captiva Island, Florida. Along with its sister city to the south, Sanibel Island, these two destinations are often touted as some of the state’s most charming places to visit. Turquoise waters and plentiful birds add to the feeling that while you’re still in Florida, it somehow seems a little more exotic than a typical beach town.

South Seas Island Resort, at the tip of Captiva Island, has long been a favorite of families and couples to serve as a home base. Its 300+ acres offer sandy beaches, water sports, nature trails, golf, nature tours and all sorts of dining options. The Harbourside guest rooms are recently renovated and offer top views of the bay, although a variety of accommodations are available throughout the resort. Here’s how to make the most of your time at this beautiful beach destination.

Turquoise water at Captiva Island, FL beach

Turquoise water and miles of white sandy beaches draw visitors to Captiva year-round. Image: Lisa Mowry

48 Hours on Captiva Island, Florida

Day 1

If you don’t live a drivable distance to Captiva (and many of us don’t), fly into Fort Myers, Florida, and rent a car or arrange for transportation to Captiva. The drive is about 1.5 hours from the airport to the resort, but some of it includes the quirky businesses of Sanibel and harbor views to look at along the way. Check in at the resort, and even if your room’s not ready, there are still things to do.

If you’re ready for lunch, poolside dining at The Pointe is best-done al fresco — and with a local catch as part of the meal. The grouper sandwich (served with bacon and avocado mayo on a brioche bun), Ahi poke bowl, or the Superfoods salad with a side of shrimp are all good choices.

View from room at South Seas Island Resort

Newly renovated guest rooms at South Seas Island Resort come with a stunning view of the Gulf of Mexico, along with plenty of boats, dolphins, and birds to entertain anyone for hours. Image: South Seas Island Resort

Golf course at South Seas Island Resort on Captiva Island, FL

Guests of South Seas Island Resort can play the par-3 course for free, since it’s covered by the resort fee. The spectacular views of the ocean are also seen from the cart/bike path that circles the northern end of the island. Image: South Seas Island Resort

After lunch, rent bikes to explore the island, and ride over to the beaches to sink your toes in the sand. All sorts of water sports are available to get right in the Gulf of Mexico, from kayaking through the mangroves to parasailing, stand-up paddle-boarding, or wave-runners.

Having already had a busy day, dinner should be easy and is best enjoyed in flip-flops. Right on the beach, Attitudes Beach Bar and Latitudes Food Shack (open until 8 p.m.) specializes in tacos and has a creative assortment of tequila drinks, too. Hibiscus margarita, anyone?

Two people kayaking

Kayaking in the mangroves at South Seas Island offers a good way to get up close to nature and see exotic birds. Image: Lee County VCB

Watermelon margarita from beach bar on Captiva Island, FL

Watermelon margaritas are a specialty at South Seas’ Attitudes Beach Bar and Latitudes Food Shack right on the sand. Image: Lisa Mowry

Crooked Snook Tiki Bar on Captiva Island in FL

Crooked Snook Tiki Bar on South Seas Island Resort is a popular place to relax at dusk. Image: South Seas Island Resort

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Outdoor taco stand at South Seas Island Resort

The outdoor taco stand and bar at South Seas Island lures beach-goers at the end of the day. Image: Lisa Mowry

Sunset on Captiva Island, FL

Sunsets are a big deal at South Seas Island, often with crowds gathering to capture the moment on their phone and throw a shell in the water for good luck. Image: Chris Mowry

Day 2

The marina at South Seas is worth exploring on its own, home to visiting yachts and other boats, not to mention the manatees that swim around in groups. It’s also where myriad Captiva Cruises are available to book, including dolphin cruises, sunset serenades, and a favorite to feel a bit off the grid: half-day cruises to Cabbage Key, Useppa Island, or quaint Boca Grande, with lunch on an island included as part of the adventure.

The $20/day resort fee includes complimentary green fees for the resort’s golf course — with its scenic ocean views — so that’s a good option as well, but if golf’s not appealing, rent a fishing pole and try your luck on the dock.

Marina at South Sea Island Resort

The marina at South Seas Island is always filled with boats big and small. Image: South Seas Island Resort

Manatee swimming underwater

Likable, lumbering manatees are found throughout the waters of Captiva. Because they’re mammals, they stay close to the surface and come up for air periodically — to the delight of anyone looking for a manatee sighting. Image: The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel

People enjoying patio on Cabbage Key Island

From South Seas Island Resort, book a Captiva Cruise to Cabbage Key Island, since the only way to get there is by boat. This laid-back island and restaurant is known for its cheeseburger, rumored to be the inspiration for Jimmy Buffet’s song, “Cheeseburger in Paradise.” Image: Max Kelly

Dollar bills on ceiling at Cabbage Key's island

Part of the quirky charm at Cabbage Key’s restaurant is the bar and porch where people have signed and stuck $1 bills on the ceiling and walls. Any bills that fall off are donated to charity, but there are always new visitors who add their own to the mix. Image: Cabbage Key Island

When it’s time for dinner, the resort’s fine-dining option Harbourside Bar and Grill has an ever-changing menu of fresh catch fish, steaks, and artisan cocktails, with a view that overlooks the marina. Splurge on one of the delicious appetizers: tempura-battered cauliflower and green beans, or candied bacon served on a “yacht line.” If you have a car, an after-dinner drink might include a stop at the kitschy Bubble Room or The Mucky Duck, both long-time staples of the Captiva experience.

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Day 3

The best time to look for seashells is early in the morning, so try to be out by sunrise to scout out what the tide has brought in. The resort also offers a sunrise yoga class with a water view, a good way to feel refreshed for the day. Breakfast can be grab-and-go coffee and bagel sandwiches at Ships Store on the North Pointe near the marina.

Sunrise on Captiva Island, FL

Sunrise is the best time to hunt for seashells. Captiva is known worldwide as a shelling destination, home to hundreds of varieties. Image: Mark Gauert

After a late-morning check-out, grab lunch at Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille, a favorite for both locals and visitors. Plus, it’s conveniently located right near the entrance to South Seas. Fish sandwiches and Yucatan shrimp are just a few of the specialties. And if time permits and you have a car at your disposal, visit the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge south of the resort; Captiva and Sanibel are home to 230 species of birds, just for starters.

South Seas Island Resort and Lee County should be a two-stop way to plan any trip to the area. Know that summer is the “bargain season,” when rates tend to be lower. Because of the somewhat remote location of Captiva, a longer visit than two nights is probably a good idea, too. But regardless of how long you plan to stay, definitely plan to just get there!

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