Sanibel is a barrier island off the coast of Southwest Florida; it is connected to Captiva by a bridge called Blind Pass. These two islands are known for their beautiful beaches, sunsets, and one of a kind shells. Sanibel island has an east-west orientation (most islands being north-south) which allows the island to accumulate massive amounts of flawless shells on the beaches.
Sanibel attracts people from all over the world for its shells, giving them the name “shell capital of the world” but there are also many other fun activities to enjoy while visiting. On this lovely barrier island you can go shelling, fishing, shopping, and eat at the best restaurants. Read below to find out about my top 10 things to do in Sanibel & Captiva Islands.
A trip to Sanibel isn’t complete without a collection of their most beautiful shells. To begin your treasure hunt for the best shells, you need to consider the best time and beach for shell hunting. The best time is low tide and after a storm. As for what beach, it can change day to day. I recommend Captiva and North Captiva beaches.
Sanibel has over 250 kinds of shells! Have fun exploring their sandy beaches for unique treasures of your own.
2. J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge
Darling wildlife refuge is part of the largest mangrove ecosystem in the United States. They have a free visitor and education center and provide a tram to get around the refuge. The wildlife center is open every day except Fridays.
In J. N. Ding Darling you can drive, hike, or bike through the 4-mile trail. They have over 245 species of birds, along with alligators, rabbits, otters, and bobcats.
You can even fish, boat, or kayak there. After seeing alligators, I prefer driving through with my camera ready.
Check out their website for more information: https://www.fws.gov/refuge/jn_ding_darling/
3. Bubble Room
The Bubble Room in Captiva is a must! This eclectic restaurant has toys from the 1930’s and 1940’s. The toys, antiques, and music create an unforgettable experience. The cake is also highly revered. Even if you aren’t hungry, stop in and take a look around to view rare antique toys, bubble lights, and more surprises.
Need a break from the sun? Check out Tahitian Garden, Village shops, Olde Sanibel or Town Center. These shopping centers have everything from luxury clothing to the necessities for your stay in Sanibel.
5. Dolphin Tour
Go on a Dolphin tour! The water in Sanibel and Captiva is full of amazing ocean wildlife. While dolphin watching you are likely to see manatees, sea turtles, osprey, eagles, and much more! Many excellent places offer dolphin tours throughout the island.
6. Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum
At the shell museum, you can see local shell treasures and ones from around the globe. Featuring worldwide record shells and a children’s learning lab with scavenger hunts and crafts.
Sanibel island has 25 miles of scenic bike trails. The bike trails are wide, leaving space for both performance and casual bikers. If you didn’t bring a bike, there are numerous places on the island to rent one. I recommend Periwinkle way, they have many types of bikes and add ons for kids. The trails are safe, having a significant distance between the trail and the main road. You can explore many areas by bike in Sanibel.
8. Sanibel Island Lighthouse
It is one of the first lighthouses on the Florida gulf coast. It is located on the eastern tip of Sanibel Island. The beach located there has a large public parking area and clean bathrooms/showers to clean up after a swim. Sanibel island beach is a great spot for finding small shells or bird watching. The area also has large trees providing shade for a perfect place to picnic.
9. Go fishing
May and October are considered the best months to fish in Florida’s southwest coast due to moderate water temperatures. If you are visiting Sanibel & Captiva other months of the year, you can still enjoy fishing through a variety of avenues. Offshore, inshore, back bay, or on the beach you can find fish year around. Sanibel offers fishing charter boats to take you out if you prefer deep sea fishing. Many take to the pier to enjoy fishing and views right off the beach.
10. Stay for Sunset
As your day in Sanibel is winding down, enjoy the marvelous sunset. You will see the birds catching prey while witnessing the sun fade over the island creating a majestic view. Staying to catch this spectacular Florida sunset is worth it!