comScore

Sanibel Island Travel Guide

USA

#3 in Best Florida Beaches

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 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 is a terrific diversion for families, and romancing couples should catch a sunset over on Captiva Island

How we rank Things to Do.

#1

#1 in Sanibel Island

Free
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.
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Beaches Type
2 hours to Half Day Time to Spend
Bowman's Beach
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.
... more

#2

#2 in Sanibel Island

Free
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 sides of Blind Pass Bridge (which separates the two isles) 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 nice dinner. Stay a few extra minutes for one of the romantic sunsets along Captiva Beach. Recent travelers found this beach quieter than the ones in Sanibel. Even so, parking is limited, making it difficult to bring your own set of wheels.
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Beaches Type
2 hours to Half Day Time to Spend
Captiva Island
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 sides of Blind Pass Bridge (which separates the two isles) 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 nice dinner. Stay a few extra minutes for one of the romantic sunsets along Captiva Beach. Recent travelers found this beach quieter than the ones in Sanibel. Even so, parking is limited, making it difficult to bring your own set of wheels.
... more

#3

#3 in Sanibel Island

Free
The island's main thoroughfare is home to several restaurants, shopping opportunities and some of the choicest hotels. 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.
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Neighborhood/Area Type
Half Day to Full Day Time to Spend
Periwinkle Way
The island's main thoroughfare is home to several restaurants, shopping opportunities and some of the choicest hotels. 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.
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#4

#4 in Sanibel Island

The Bailey-Matthews 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), the shell classification wheel (where you can positively identify Southwest Florida shells) and the life-size models that depict what life was like for the Native Calusa Floridians that once lived near the Southwest Gulf up until the 18th century.
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Museums Type
1 to 2 hours Time to Spend
Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum
The Bailey-Matthews 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), the shell classification wheel (where you can positively identify Southwest Florida shells) and the life-size models that depict what life was like for the Native Calusa Floridians that once lived near the Southwest Gulf up until the 18th century.
... more

#5

#5 in Sanibel Island

This bright pink Sanibel landmark started out as a one-room schoolhouse in 1896. Now, it’s the 90-seat BIG ARTS Herb Strauss Theater, a performance venue that welcomes Broadway shows, live music concerts and comedy acts. 
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Entertainment and Nightlife Type
1 to 2 hours Time to Spend
Schoolhouse Theater
This bright pink Sanibel landmark started out as a one-room schoolhouse in 1896. Now, it’s the 90-seat BIG ARTS Herb Strauss Theater, a performance venue that welcomes Broadway shows, live music concerts and comedy acts. 
... more

#6

#6 in Sanibel Island

Named after a political cartoonist and conservationist, the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge was originally meant to conserve the Sanibel Island mangrove forest. Now, the refuge (which occupies 6,300 acres of land or half the entire island) shelters those same mangroves, 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.
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Hiking Type
Half Day to Full Day Time to Spend
J.N.
Named after a political cartoonist and conservationist, the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge was originally meant to conserve the Sanibel Island mangrove forest. Now, the refuge (which occupies 6,300 acres of land or half the entire island) shelters those same mangroves, 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.
... more

#7

#7 in Sanibel Island

Free
One of the first lighthouses on Florida's Gulf Coast, this station on the island's eastern end used to light the entrance into San Carlos Bay. Now, this iconic Sanibel Island landmark is a little worse for wear. Recent travelers did not find the lighthouse too aesthetically pleasing and recommended taking a few pictures before moving along to Periwinkle Way (less than a mile away).
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Sightseeing Type
Less than 1 hour Time to Spend
Sanibel Lighthouse
One of the first lighthouses on Florida's Gulf Coast, this station on the island's eastern end used to light the entrance into San Carlos Bay. Now, this iconic Sanibel Island landmark is a little worse for wear. Recent travelers did not find the lighthouse too aesthetically pleasing and recommended taking a few pictures before moving along to Periwinkle Way (less than a mile away).
... more
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