Sanibel Island Travel Guide

USA  #2 in Best Florida Beaches
Credit

Courtesy of Larry Gerbrandt/Getty Images

Best Things To Do in Sanibel Island

You're probably in town to pick up a few shells – and everyone agrees that Bowman's Beach is the best place to try the "Sanibel Stoop." Identify

... READ MORE

You're probably in town to pick up a few shells – and everyone agrees that Bowman's Beach is the best place to try the "Sanibel Stoop." Identify your pickings at the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum, then buy a piece of the best conch art somewhere along Periwinkle Way. Of course, not everything in town is about seashells. The popular J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge and the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife are terrific diversions for families who want to learn more about the area's animals. And couples will love taking in a sunset at Blind Pass Beach.

How we rank Things to Do

Updated July 29, 2020

  • #1
    Things to do in Sanibel Island
    View all Photos
    #1 in Sanibel Island
    Beaches, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Beaches, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Bowman's is well known for having beautiful, unusual shells, but you'll have to put a little effort into finding the true gems along this beach. Recent travelers found the best method is to step waist-deep in the water and dig your feet into the sand to find the shells. (You may want to wear water shoes to protect your feet.)

    Beachgoers routinely praised Bowman's for its excellent shelling and expansive sands that let visitors find their own spots with ease. Several also enjoyed riding their bikes to the beach, saying that the ride is easy along the nearby path.

  • #2
    View all Photos
    #2 in Sanibel Island
    Beaches, Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Beaches, Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Most people think of Sanibel and its quirky little sister island, Captiva, as interchangeable. True, they're both quiet spots with great shorelines, but there are a few differences. Here's a cheat sheet: Sanibel has better shells on its beaches, but Captiva's dining is more eclectic. Souvenir shopping on both islands is fairly evenly matched, but Sanibel has an inside edge on art galleries. In short, consider spending your days on Sanibel, then hop over to Captiva for a unique dining experience. Stay a few extra minutes for one of the romantic sunsets along Captiva Beach. Recent travelers found these beaches quieter than the ones in Sanibel. Even so, parking is limited, making it difficult to bring your own set of wheels. There are also fewer facilities on these beaches.

    You can access Captiva Island from Sanibel by driving up Sanibel Captiva Road and crossing the Blind Pass Bridge, which connects the two isles. Parking costs $5 per hour at the beaches, but the beaches themselves are free to access. Restaurant and shop hours may vary.

  • #3
    View all Photos
    #3 in Sanibel Island
    Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    The island's main thoroughfare is home to several restaurants and shopping opportunities. So there's no real reason to recommend you visit; there's a good chance you'll end up along Periwinkle at some point in time during your trip.

    If you do need some pointers, browse through the variety of shops in Periwinkle Place as a starting point, where you'll find everything from kitschy souvenir shops like Tiki Jim's to upscale stores like Congress Jewelers. Hours of operation vary for each of Periwinkle Way's stores, but you can enjoy the picturesque scenery along the street at any time of day.

  • #4
    View all Photos
    #4 in Sanibel Island
    Beaches, Free, Recreation
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Beaches, Free, Recreation
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Blind Pass Beach spans across both Sanibel and Captiva Islands. It's a great place to find shells, fish, sunbathe or watch the sunset. One thing you might want to skip at this beach? Swimming. Blind Pass is susceptible to strong currents. Nevertheless, it's a favorite among vacationers for its beauty and excellent collection of shells. They do warn, however, that parking is tricky and the facilities are average as there are only restrooms and showers on the Captiva side.

    Parking at Blind Pass Beach costs $5 per hour and the beach is free to explore. It is located nearby Blind Pass Bridge, which connects the two islands. Visit the Sanibel Chamber of Commerce's website for more information.

  • #5
    View all Photos
    #5 in Sanibel Island
    Museums
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum is small but packs quite a punch. In just a few choice exhibits, you'll be able to learn more about any sea treasures you might have uncovered at the nearby seashore. Popular exhibits include the sailors' valentines (19th-century shell art that Bajan women designed for area sailors to take home to loved ones), shells from around the world and a depiction of what life was like for the Native Calusa Floridians who once lived near the Southwest Gulf.

    In March 2020, the museum opened a new wing that shelters 11 different aquarium exhibits featuring live mollusks. Animals now living at the museum include giant clams, octopuses and gastropods. The new wing also has two different touch tanks to allow children to get up close to a few of these creatures.

  • #6
    View all Photos
    #6 in Sanibel Island
    Zoos and Aquariums, Parks and Gardens, Hiking
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Zoos and Aquariums, Parks and Gardens, Hiking
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Named after a political cartoonist and conservationist, the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge occupies more than 6,400 acres of land and shelters mangrove forests, marshes and seagrass beds, as well as animals like crocodiles, alligators and a countless number of birds. In fact, for herons, cuckoos and ospreys, this refuge is an important stop along their southern migratory path.

    You can hike or bike along the 4-mile-long Wildlife Drive, which is also open for vehicles and an open-air tram. If you'd rather walk, try the Indigo Trail (which is accessed off of Wildlife Drive) and Bailey Tract, a wetland within the refuge accessible by walking or biking only. There are additional trails throughout the area. You can also view the refuge from the water with a tour from Tarpon Bay Explorers, the refuge's official partner.

  • #7
    View all Photos
    #7 in Sanibel Island
    Museums, Recreation
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums, Recreation
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    The Clinic for Rehabilitation of Wildlife was founded by Shirley Walter in 1968 after she realized there was no facility on Sanibel to aid injured local wildlife. Since then, CROW has nursed thousands of animal patients and cared for more than 200 species. The clinic's specialists provide emergency medicine, surgery and rehabilitation to animals. Each year, they help more than 3,000 animals. CROW is also a teaching hospital where veterinary students can hone their skills.

    You don't have to be a wounded bird or student to visit. CROW's Visitor Education Center has interactive exhibits to teach visitors about the clinic's history and how the organization cares for animals. You can also attend daily presentations given by a staff member and an Animal Ambassador. Presentations explain how wildlife are rescued and give more information about the different patients. You can even go on a Wildlife Walk, which is a guided tour of the hospital.

  • #8
    View all Photos
    #8 in Sanibel Island
    Museums, Historic Homes/Mansions
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums, Historic Homes/Mansions
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    This historic village has been cobbled together since 1984. Of the complex's 10 buildings, nine were relocated from other parts of Sanibel to the present site so that they could be preserved. The buildings date from 1896 to 1927 and include a schoolhouse, several cottages, a tea room and a packing house. Each building helps to tell the story of Sanibel's history, which spans hundreds of years. There's information about the Calusa tribes as well as Sanibel's fishermen and farmers.  

    Recent travelers were impressed with the museum. They enjoyed seeing the evolution of Sanibel over time and highly recommend taking the guided tour for an extra treat.

  • #9
    View all Photos
    #9 in Sanibel Island
    Free, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME TO SPEND
    Free, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME TO SPEND

    This lighthouse was in service from 1884 to 1972, and was used to light the entrance into San Carlos Bay. Now, this iconic Sanibel Island landmark on the island's eastern tip is a little worse for wear. Recent travelers did not find the lighthouse to warrant a long visit and were disappointed that the lighthouse doesn't accommodate climbers. They say the surrounding beach area is good for shelling, but note that it's constantly crowded.

    The grounds of the more than 130-year-old Sanibel Lighthouse are always open to the public.

  • View all Photos
    Entertainment and Nightlife
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Entertainment and Nightlife
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Read More »

  • View all Photos
    Beaches, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Beaches, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Read More »

  • View all Photos
    Natural Wonders, Free, Recreation
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Natural Wonders, Free, Recreation
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Read More »

Explore More of Sanibel Island

If you make a purchase from our site, we may earn a commission. This does not affect the quality or independence of our editorial content.