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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

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 start planning 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.

What You Need to Know

  • Food is a fine art Seafood is all the rage, particularly grouper and stone crabs. For dessert, order something with chocolate pudding fruit, a locally grown fruit that's filled with a sweet, chocolate-colored pulp. 
  • Island is oriented in east-west direction Because of this unique orientation, Sanibel catches more seashells than islands that lie north and south.
  • There's a knack to shelling For the best assortment of whelks, conchs and sand dollars, visit the beach an hour before low tide or right after a rain shower. Ask at your hotel's front desk for a guide to finding the best "catch."

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 best shelling conditions are actually in the cheaper fall months. Pack a sweater and book for October or November.  
  • Stay on smaller barrier island If you'd like to visit during peak season, consider staying on one of the smaller barrier islands near Sanibel for cheaper rates.

What to Eat

Indulge in fresh seafood during your stay in Sanibel. Dishes worth hunting down in your free time 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.

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Photos

Sanibel Island
Sanibel Island
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Shelling is one of the most popular activities on the island. For the best pickings, head to the central-strand Bowman's Beach.

paparutzi/Flickr

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