Two places I would stay away from 1. The Bubble Room. Outside of the funky decor the food is mediocre at best and the grouper I had there reeked of ammonia. 2. R.C. Otters. We ordered conch fritters that arrived at the table burnt. When I complained my server said if they cooked them less they would not be done in the middle. WTF, the oil is too hot. An example of two restaurants that cater to tourist who will only be there a short time. I would also stay away from Chadwick's at South Seas Plantation. Just bad food all around. I have heard good things about Sunshine Seafood in Captiva. Sunshine may not be as kid friendly based on the menu. That's the hard part. Finding some place that is kid friendly and that is good.
Grocery-- you MUST go to Jerry's! It's on Periwinkle (the main drag) and pretty much the main grocery on Sanibel. Don't stop at Publix on your way from the airport as my family did the first time here. Just get to Sanibel already and go to Jerry's. The parrots are real and will squawk, so consider yourself warned. That's fun for the kids. They have a restaurant in there, too-- nice for a little breakfast, or the salad bar is good as well. Take time to see the shops around the plaza as well.
Breakfast-- definitely the Lighthouse Cafe http://www.lighthousecafe.com/. Call ahead to avoid as long of a wait. Their whole wheat blueberry pancakes will keep you full all day. Unbelievable. There's also a breakfast place by Cheeburger Cheeburger down on Periwinkle -- can't remember the name, but if you ask anyone where Cheeburger is you'll find a breakfast place in that same plaza. Haven't been there in a while, but it was good as well.
Lunch-- Cheeburger Cheeburger is a classic. Burgers in all sizes, up to two pounds! Fries and onion rings fried in peanut oil- yum, but use moderation or you'll be feeling it later. DO NOT forget to get a chocolate shake. There are zillions of shake flavors, but just once, try a small chocolate shake. You will never have better.
Dinner-- The Hungry Heron. http://www.hungryheron.com/ HUGE portions, really good food. Call ahead and find out if they have the magician coming. A while back they had a kid doing magic at night-- really fun. Also- they have a tv going with cartoons to entertain the kids. If you can't find something you like on their menu there's something wrong. Sometimes the waitstaff is a little rough around the edges, but that's just stress. Don't let it scare you off.
People rave about The Lazy Flamingo, but when we went the waitstaff was dressed more like Hooters. Haven't been back in probably 10 years, so things may certainly have changed.
For incredible seafood, go to Gramma Dot's at the Sanibel Marina. It's a little hard to find, but worth the trouble. Get there early and put your name in. Not a lot of variety, but the food is out of this world. Homemade potato chips at lunch- yum! And for dinner, a little fruit cup served in a chocolate shell. Cute touches for a casual restaurant. And it's right on the water, so you can shop for million dollar yachts while you wait for your table.
Dessert-- The Mermaid Kitchen. Stop in and get a few slices of cake to go, and eat on them for a few days. Red velvet cake with cream cheese pecan icing makes a great breakfast. The cakes are the same as The Bubble Room-- the chef left The Bubble Room and started The Mermaid Kitchen a few years back.
Skip The Bubble Room on Captiva-- it's kitschy to look at, but the food is really not great. Stop in and look around if you drive out that way, but don't eat there. The Mucky Duck on Captiva, down the street from The Bubble Room, is a fun place to eat right on the beach-- literally. The sand comes up to the front stoop! Get there early to put your name in- the wait can be torturous with kids.
Do drive down to Captiva even if you're staying on Sanibel. It's fun to see the difference between the two islands.
And, for one last piece of unsolicited advice, do the tram ride at Ding Darling http://www.fws.gov/dingdarling/. I've been to Sanibel every year since 1994 and never did it until just recently. Best $12 I ever spent. Got a two-hour nature drive and a huge education by a driver who truly loves this place!
We live here permanently now-- if I can be of any more help, please don't hesitate to email me at orangemiles at gmail dot com.
Bailey's is a decent grocery store:
And the Mucky Duck is also fun (but not as over-the-top as the Bubble Room) for a meal. Make sure you ask for a "window seat!"
I think the food, while nothing special, is a little better than the Bubble Room:
re: Bob P
You'll want to drive north out of the airport on Treeline. Take a left onto Daniels. Go about four miles to Metro Parkway. If you want seafood RIGHT NOW, take a right on Metro and go about a short block to the Shrimp Shack on the right. I'm not a seafood eater so I'm not a huge fan, but my seafood-eating husband loves their shrimp and other seafood goodness. Kind of dive-y, but it gets the job done if you need seafood now and can't wait for Sanibel. It's kid-friendly, too.
If you want other options, go about one more mile to the intersection of Daniels and US41. This is restaurant mecca. On the north east corner you have the Bell Tower Shops. In this area are Mimi's Cafe, TGI Fridays, Johnny Rockets, Outback Steakhouse, etc. Mimi's would be my pick-- big menu, not too loud, family friendly.
On the south east corner you have Moe's - like Chipotle-- mexican you wait in line for like Subway, with free chips and salsa. Also, Crispers is like Panera with more options, like huge baked potatoes, flatbreads, etc. Again, order at the counter, food comes to you. Also-- Longhorn Steakhouse, Macaroni Grill, and a rib place I've never been- Smokey Bones, I think.
On the north west corner you have Lonestar, Burger King, McAlister's Deli (huge menu, order at the counter, food comes to you).
On the south west corner you have Chick Fil A (fast food but a tad healthier and recognizable), Applebees, and a pizza place.
These are a lot of options, I know. If you want seafood 20 minutes out of the airport, go to the Shrimp Shack. If you want a quick meal that's a bit healthy to balance out the fried shrimp you'll be eating the rest of the week, go to Crispers. If you want a little silly, go to Moe's, where they yell, "Welcome to Moe's" every 10 seconds or so. If you want sit-down-family, go to Mimi's.
If I can help at all, I'm at orangemiles at gmail dot com. Hope you have fun!!!
If you're going to Sanibel with kids, one of the most entertaining options is the Bubble Room on Captiva Island. It's a kid-friendly monument to 30-50's kitch with toys and Christmas decorations in every room. The food is just o.k., but the atmosphere is hard to beat. Check them out at http://www.bubbleroomrestaurant.com/
I'm also partial to Doc Ford's Rum Bar and Grill on Sanibel, especially for lunch--great sandwiches & salads and a nice patio.
Was at the Bubble Room last March (March 2006) and we thought it was dirty and moldy-- not two of the things we look for in a family restaurant.
We really like the Island Cow. Good food, good service, reasonable prices and very kid friendly.
Mucky Duck is worth visiting for its location and the Key Lime Pie. My Father in Law really enjoyed his burger.