Located north of Sanibel Island, in the Gulf of Mexico, is a tiny island steeped in history and brimming with beauty. Captiva Island covers an area of only 10.5 square miles, of which only 1.2 square miles of that is actual land. But what the island lacks in physical size, it more than makes up for in splendor and charm. With silky, white sand beaches, aqua blue shorelines, and a laid-back chill vibe, you’ll have a hard time pulling yourself off the island.
The name itself has an interesting story. As local legend goes, Captiva Island got it’s name from the pirate José Gaspar who allegedly kept all his female prisoners captive on the island and held them for ransom. Whether this is true or not is up for debate, but it gives the island some historical flair and a cool pirate story too!
Whether you want spend the entire day at the beach, play a round of golf at the South Seas Island Resort, or you feel doing a bit of exploring, there’s something for everyone of all ages on Captiva Island.
So let’s be real, the beach is why most people come to Captiva Island. And if that’s all you did while you were here, no one would think less of you. Captiva Beach is the place to be to soak in some rays and cool off in the warm waters. The shoreline is clean and sandy, and remains quite shallow along the coast. If you love collecting shells from your tropical destinations, Captiva Beach is very popular amongst the shelling crowd. Because of its shape and position in the Gulf of Mexico, Captiva Island acts as a scoop for shells in the area. There’s also over 400 species of shells found in the region, so you’ll have lots of fun scouring the beach for souveniers. Early morning hours or right after a rainstorm are perfect times to hunt for shells.
If you feel like exploring the sounding area of Captiva Island, hop on board one of Captiva Cruises ships and sail over to Cabbage Key. The hour-long boat ride departs from South Seas Island Resort (a 2-mile long resort that requires visitors to get around in golf carts!) and leisurely makes its way to Cabbage Key. Along the way, the captain shares some history and information about the surrounding islands, including islands with properties that have to be self sufficient (no electricity or plumbing available) and a collection of fishing houses built over the ocean with a hotly contested ownership. The best part about a Captiva Cruise is the chance to watch bottlenose dolphins swim alongside the boat, jumping in and out of the water to the delight of passengers.
Tinier than Captiva Island, Cabbage Key is a popular spot for the daytime boating crowd. There are only 12 buildings on the island, all owned by same family apart from one single building on the tip of the island. What draws most people to Cabbage Key is the aptly named restaurant – Cabbage Key Restaurant. The interior is covered in dollar bills which you’ll see attached to every wall and even the ceiling in the restaurant. The tradition apparently started when a thirsty fisherman left his signed dollar bill taped to the wall, ensuring a cold drink the next time he visited the restaurant. Today, it’s estimated that there’s over $70,000 worth of dollar bills attached to the interior as every visitor who comes through leaves their mark. Every year about $15,000 falls off the walls, which gets donated to a local children’s charity.
The Bubble Room
The majority of food options on Captiva Island can be found near the intersection of Captiva Drive and Andy Rosse Lane (the ‘downtown core’ of the island). You can’t go wrong with any of the choices in the area, especially when fresh seafood is on the menu. But one place that you have to visit when you’re on Captiva Island is The Bubble Room. Opened since 1979, it was originally a house that’s been turned into a restaurant. There are 3 floors and 5 dining rooms and over 3,000 toys, pictures, and collectables from the 30s, 40s, and 50s, cramming every inch of the space. The restaurant takes its name from the bubble lights that were popular in the 40s used to decorate Christmas trees.
They serve both lunch and dinner, but the real draw is the desserts. There’s no need to look at the menu as huge slices of freshly made cakes are presented on a platter at your table by a Bubble Scout. The hardest part is choosing which one of the 10 cakes you’ll want to devour. Choices include a Red Velvet, Jamaican Rum, Orange Crush, Buttercrunch Cream Pie, and of course Key Lime Pie. You could try to pick one or you can do what we did and order one of each to share. It’s estimated that between 400-600 cakes are made and 700-900 people are served every day. That’s a lot of cake!