Best Places to Eat on Sanibel and Captiva Island, FL
Updated: Jun 28, 2021
There's nothing quite like sitting on the beach with an umbrella drink in your hand. One of my favorite places to do that is on the beaches of Sanibel and Captiva Island in Southwest Florida. Drinks are a must when on a tropical vacation but good eats are even better. Add the fact that SW Florida is in the Gulf of Mexico and you get killer seafood and great local restaurants. Both islands are tiny and separated by a bridge that's only a few hundred yards long, which makes the islands feel like they're one (locals call it Santiva). I've been coming here once a year since I was born (sooo about 30 years) and I've gotten to know the local restaurants pretty well. Here's my list (in no particular order) of the best places to eat on the islands.
1) Doc Fords Rum Bar and Grille
OK...I said in no particular order but I kinda lied on this first one. Doc Fords is my family and I's absolute favorite place on the island. They actually have two locations one near the entrance of the resort we have a time share at (South Seas) on Captiva Island and the other (newer construction) on Sanibel Island. We usually drive into Sanibel but both locations are great. Being a rum bar, their rum drinks are a sure fire hit. They have a full bar as well but I love the tropical rum punch. As for food... well I don't know where to start. They have a standard menu but also nightly specials. My family and I have probably tried everything and I can honestly say that it's all so so so good. Their food has a sort of tropical island, south and central American vibe to it and it's amazing. I'd honestly recommend everything but if you only get one chance to go there you have to try their Yucatan peel and eat shrimp which are a wonderful combination of garlic, chili, lime deliciousness (you'll thank me later). Other favorites include their deep water mahi, shrimp and grits, cedar plank salmon and quinoa shrimp salad. Seriously...go get a rum punch and try everything, then report back later :)
2) The Mucky Duck
If you're looking for casual but delicious dining with a view then look no further than the Mucky Duck. This English pub/Island getaway style eatery is absolutely fantastic and sits right on the ocean side of Captiva. Try their BBQ bacon wrapped shrimp or their crunchy grouper sandwich which is served with pineapple coleslaw. Then afterward take a drink out front and have a seat on one of their picnic tables and watch the waves roll by.
3) Cheeburger Cheeburger
One of the best parts of eating on the islands is the amazing array of seafood that's available but after a week or so of eating just that you might be in the mood for something a bit meatier. Cheeburger Cheeburger is sort of a long-time staple in our family. It's a small chain that's been around since I was a kid and looks like a retro drive-in but housed within a sit-down restaurant. This is your basic cheeseburgers, hot dogs, milkshakes kinda place. You can create your own burger with a dizzying array of toppings and cheeses all while feeling like you've been transported back to the 50's. Be sure to try their frings basket (combination of onion rings and fries) and get a chocolate malt on your way out! Also, if you can eat the 'pounder' burger you get your picture taken which they put on their wall of fame.
4) RC Otters and the Island Cow
Have picky eaters or large groups that have varying tastes? Then hit up RC Otters and the Island Cow. I combined these two because they're owned by the same restauranteurs and have a similar feel and menu which is LARGE and delicious.
5) The Bubble Room
"It's always Christmas at the Bubble Room!"
Ahhh the Bubble Room...if you're looking for a quirky place that has Hollywood memorabilia and is perpetually stuck in 1970's Florida during Christmas then this is the place for you. This is a place you are going to want to spend some time exploring. Every inch of their multi-level interior is decorated with classic Hollywood memorabilia or vintage Christmas decorations. It's fun taking my parents there and see them light up with recognition when they see something from their childhood. The food and drinks are great, my favorite is the 'Pita Fonda' (a Mediterranean veggie wrap) but what really stops your heart (almost literally) is the their insanely decadent 'Carolina Moons' appetizer of homemade potato chips smothered in cheese and bacon. This is definitely something you'll want to share with the table. On top of that you can't leave the Bubble Room without ordering a massive piece of cake from one of their 'bubble scouts'. Their cakes are famous and range from (my favorite) orange crunch to white Christmas, Jamaican rum and tropical cheesecake to name a few. Get a piece and enjoy the sugar rush.
6) Lazy Flamingo
Think upscale dive bar that serves killer seafood. Another family favorite is Lazy Flamingo which also has two locations on Sanibel and right near the bridge between Captiva. This is a fun and casual family friendly place that never disappoints. They specialize in their raw bar and other seafood specials like peel and eat shrimp and steamed clam pots (my sisters absolute favorite). You also can't leave without trying their massive clamshell of a bowl of clam and manhattan chowders and their delicious Flamingo garlic bread (served alone or with their salads) and caesar salad with salmon (seriously one of my favorite places to get a caesar salad).
7) The Green Flash
Another great spot to grab a drink or have lunch/dinner is at the Green Flash. Named after the elusive 'green flash' that happens right as the sun sets and passes through the horizon. This is a great place to come if you like to sit on the water and look out over the bay side of Captiva Island. There's also a docking area so if you have a boat you can cruise right up to this place and start eating!
8) Over Easy Cafe
Breakfast is the name of the game for over easy cafe and let me just say three words: Giant Cinnamon Buns (like seriously big and seriously delicious). Get one for the table and start your morning off right. They have a massive breakfast and lunch menu and I can honestly say everything was delicious--- but be prepared to wait a bit as this is a popular spot. While you're waiting take a stroll around the little shopping mart it's housed in which included a great pet shop that had the cutest homemade dog treats!
9) Il Cielo
One of the perks of being on the islands is being casual and on 'island time' where flip flops and t-shirts reign supreme. Buuuuut if you're looking for a night out that is fancy and more high end then Il Cielo is where you should go. They specialize in sustainably caught fish, grass-fed beef and free-range Americana style dishes.
10) The Mad Hatter
Right near the 'Santiva' bridge is the Mad Hatter, another slightly upscale restaurant. Situated on the ocean side of 'Santiva' is this intimate yet beautiful restaurant that specializes in upscale seafood and American style dishes.
11) Sanibel Cafe
Another great breakfast spot is the Sanibel Cafe. It's been our tradition to go here on our way out of town after our trip is over. They have an amazing breakfast and lunch lineup so you can't go wrong. Try the flat top parmesan tomatoes and get some homemade jam to go!
12) Matzaluna The Italian Kitchen
Last but certainly not least is Matzaluna, another great place to go if you're a bit tired of all the delicious seafood you've been eating. Great for groups and kids because hey who doesn't like Italian? Their menu has all the classics plus craft beer and wine. Try the roasted garlic appetizer dip and don't try to kiss anyone afterward :)
These are just a few of my favorite places on the islands of Sanibel and Captiva. I'd love to hear about some of yours!