Photos by Dori Arrington
Captiva Island, Florida, may just capture your heart.
The Florida Gulf Coast island of Captiva looks innocent enough on the map, a simple barrier island west of Fort Myers, but oh how the map deceives you. No map can show you how the sand, sea and sky mysteriously blend into the perfect concord capable of capturing one’s heart.
Barrier islands are at the mercy of wind and ocean currents for their mere existence, and Captiva is no different. If not for a storm cutting a channel through a larger land mass, Captiva wouldn’t exist as an island at all. This narrow strip of land just barely above sea level, separating the Gulf of Mexico from Pine Island Sound and the mainland of southwest Florida, is by any definition a special place.
Captiva Island, Florida
Oriented north and south, Captiva’s commercial development lies primarily at the northern end of the 6-mile-long island, with the southern end being mostly residential. Access to the island from the Gulf of Mexico by boat is easy and scenic through Redfish Pass. The inlet is well marked in a due east/west orientation, which differs from how it appears on most electronic charts. The dredged channel through the inlet as it exists today shows more accurately on satellite imagery than on most charts. As the inlet’s shifting shoals frequently move, consult a local towing service for current information before transiting.
Just inside the inlet to the south is the island’s largest marina and resort community, South Seas Island Resort, which has been a favorite family vacation destination since the 1940s. Today, its 300 acres offer something for everyone. The heart of the property is the well-protected yacht harbor, with more than 2,000 feet of alongside berths, accommodating yachts up to 120 feet. Transient boaters are welcomed at the resort with full access to all of the amenities. Each morning, guests load into a flotilla of charter boats at the marina, ready to try their luck at catching a record-size tarpon, Spanish mackerel or redfish.
Immediately south of South Seas is the Captiva village center, with a lush tropical feel reminiscent of someplace closer to the Equator. Shops and restaurants blend seamlessly with private homes, all within walking distance of a sugar-sand beach. In the village and all along the island, evening brings residents and visitors alike out to the soft Gulf beaches to witness the sun melting into the azure waters.
During daylight hours, treasure hunters scour those same shorelines, which are among the best shelling beaches in the world. Captiva and neighboring Sanibel are known for their quantity and diversity of shells to discover. The islands are part of a large plateau extending out into the Gulf of Mexico, which creates a perfect habitat for mollusks to gather. Winds and tides dislodge the mollusks’ shells, washing them onto the island’s beaches.
Continuing south along the island is akin to taking a step back in time, as you arrive at the “Old Florida” resorts of Jensen’s Marina & Cottages and Tween Waters Resort. Tween Waters has been holding onto its precarious position at the island’s narrowest point “tween” the Gulf of Mexico and Pine Island Sound since 1931. The historic resort and spa has been lovingly preserved to retain its original charm. Start your day with breakfast at the Old Captiva House restaurant, which dates back to the resort’s origins. Following breakfast, go for a kayak in the calm waters of Pine Island Sound, where Charles Lindbergh landed his seaplane during the many visits he and his author wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, made to the island. Tween Waters has a small, well-run marina welcoming moderate size yachts; we were able to get our 5-foot draft trawler to the resort from the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway at high tide.
If you’re looking for a quieter, more secluded stay on the island, many of the homes lining the island’s southern shores are available for rent.
Whether it’s kayaking through Buck Key Preserve, fishing, shell collecting or just enjoying the breathtaking sunsets, Captiva will not disappoint. If there is any doubt a small island could be so alluring, dare to take a visit, but be prepared to leave a piece of your heart behind.