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3 Ways to Explore Florida’s Coast Barrier Islands

Florida’s southwestern coast barrier islands are made up of more than 700 miles of coastline. Located mostly around the areas west of Fort Myers and Port St. Lucie, these natural attractions draw thousands of visitors each year.
So a few facts about barrier islands. Florida has more barrier islands than any other state.

They’re naturally formed by sands that over time build up to create a sandbar and eventually an actual island. As a result, the sandbars house their own ecosystem of animals, plant life and sea creatures. There are barrier islands located on both coasts of the state, but the islands located near Ft. Myers are among the most popular, including Gasparilla Island, Cabbage Key, Sanibel, and Buck Key.
Visitors can explore the islands in a number of ways. Here are some of our favorites:
By Lighthouse
Located on the east end of Sanibel Island the Sanibel Lighthouse has been a beacon for the southwestern coast of Florida since 1884. While you can’t climb the 98-foot lighthouse, the surrounding park and boardwalk are a great way to explore the Sanibel barrier island. While you’re there you can have a picnic on the beach or cast a reel off the pier at the lighthouse park. Get more information about the lighthouse and where to park if you visit. Once docked, visitors can explore the island by paddleboard, snorkeling, or kayaking.
By Boat
There are a number of boats and cruise lines that take visitors on daily trips to explore the barrier islands.  Exploring the islands by boat is a great way to see the sea life that inhabits the area including dolphins, manatees, and sea turtles. In its 25th year, Sanibel Island Cruise Line is one of the most popular boat rides. Their 30-foot boats cruise from Sanibel to the barrier island of Cayo Costa State Park. For more information visit the Sanibel Cruise website.
By Refuge
Explore the largest mangrove ecosystem in the U.S. when you visit the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge located on the Sanibel barrier island. If you love nature, this is the way to see the island. You can roam the 6,400-acre refuge in a car, on a train, or by kayak. Created in the 1940s, the refuge’s purpose was to provide a safe space for wildlife. Check out their website for more information on how to visit.
Thinking of visiting Florida’s Barrier Islands?

There are affordable options on the mainland. Fairfield Inn & Suites Ft. Myers / Cape Coral is less than 20 minutes from the coast and offers free breakfast and specials for military and seniors. Another great option is the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Port St. Lucie West for its vicinity to the Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center, where you can learn more about the barrier islands ecosystem.