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Why Go To Sanibel Island

This secluded Fort Myers offshoot is considered even more low-key, quiet and quaint than its Gulf Coast neighbor, and that's saying a lot. Casual is the order of the day on Sanibel Island; a shabby chic vibe permeates the Periwinkle Way galleries, restaurants and shops; seashells cover every sandy and linoleum surface. In fact, the abundant seashells have become this island's (and its smaller sister, Captiva's) claim to fame. You'll find plenty of beachcombers practicing the "Sanibel Stoop" – what locals call shelling – on any lengthy stretch of sand. Plan on joining them for at least one afternoon of your stay; that is, if the mood strikes you. The residents of laid-back Sanibel wouldn't have it any other way.

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The U.S. News & World Report travel rankings are based on analysis of expert and user opinions. Read more about how we rank vacation destinations.

Best of Sanibel Island

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Sanibel Island Travel Tips

Best Months to Visit

The best time to visit Sanibel Island is December to April, the peak season. Trips during these five months will be more expensive than at other times, so plan and book early. Still, this is when you'll find idyllic beach weather. The late fall is a good time to secure a room deal and do a little shelling in the chilly Gulf water. Avoid the hurricane season altogether – if you want to visit in the summer, plan your trip for May or early June, before the threat of bad storms.

Weather in Sanibel Island

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See details for When to Visit Sanibel Island

Data sourced from the National Climatic Data Center

What You Need to Know

  • Food is a fine art Seafood is a big winner here so you'll see it on nearly every menu, no matter what kind of restaurant you visit. There's also plenty of outdoor and waterfront dining options to take advantage of Sanibel's balmy weather while you dine.
  • There's a knack to shelling For the best assortment of whelks, conchs and sand dollars, visit the beach at low tide, around full and new moons or after a storm. Ask at your hotel's front desk for a guide to finding the best "catch."
  • There's traffic Despite its small size, Sanibel experiences a ton of traffic during peak season (December to April) on both island roads and the toll road that connects it to the mainland. Time your driving carefully and ride a bike as much as possible during your vacation to avoid congestion (and expensive parking fees).

How to Save Money in Sanibel Island

  • Don't drive to the beach All of Sanibel's beaches have metered parking. Book a hotel that's close to your beach of preference, then walk or bike to the shore.
  • Visit in fall Winter is the standout season on Sanibel, but the shelling conditions are just as great during the cheaper fall months. Pack a sweater and book your trip for October or November.
  • Rent bikes by the week Biking is a great way to get around Sanibel Island. You'll save some coin if you rent a bike for a week rather than by the day.

What to Eat

Indulge in fresh seafood during your stay in Sanibel. Dishes worth hunting down include grouper, snapper, stone crab and shrimp. Head over to Periwinkle Way for the best restaurants on the island, such as Traders CafeGeorge & Wendy's Sanibel Seafood Grille and The Island Cow.

You'll also find several ice cream joints along this thoroughfare, including Sanibel's Best Homemade Ice Cream, Joey's Custard and Love Boat Ice Cream. For additional local fare, stop by the local farmers market, which is open each Sunday from October through May. Vendors sell fresh produce, fish, pasta, cheese and more.

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Getting Around Sanibel Island

The best way to get around Sanibel Island is by bike. The island is bike friendly and has plenty of paths to help you get around. Cars are also an option, though parking is limited and expensive in most cases. If you'd rather not rent a car or a bike, there are a few taxi companies that can take you around. There is no public transportation on Sanibel Island.

The closest airport is the Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW), which is about 30 miles east of Sanibel. You may also want to research flights to Punta Gorda Airport (PGD), which is located about 60 miles northeast of Sanibel and welcomes flights from low-cost carrier Allegiant Air. You can get to your hotel via a taxi or a ride-hailing app (like Uber and Lyft). However, ride-hailing services do not operate on Sanibel and Captiva, so to get from the island to the airport you'll likely need to call a local taxi.

Photos

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Bowman's Beach is one of Sanibel's many beaches and it's a popular spot for visitors.

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