By: Gillian Birch
Most people cross the causeway to Sanibel Island and then turn right down Periwinkle Way heading for the popular beaches, Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge, Shell Museum and shops. However, turning left on Periwinkle quickly brings you to Sanibel Lighthouse on Ybel Point, the easternmost tip of the island.
Sanibel Lighthouse History
This historic fully working lighthouse is a local landmark, surrounded by a wildlife refuge leading to the lovely white sands on Lighthouse Beach. Unfortunately the lighthouse is not open to the public (the views of Fort Myers Beach would be amazing!) but the iron skeleton tower and light makes a good photo op.
Sanibel Lighthouse is 98 feet tall and was erected in 1884, so it’s over 120 years old. It was built to mark the entrance to San Carlos Bay. At that time ships regularly brought goods to the port of Punta Rassa and departed loaded with cattle destined for Cuba. The building of the lighthouse did not go easily as the ship carrying the ironwork construction sank about two miles offshore. Hard-hat divers were called in from Key West and they managed to recover most of the pieces.
The lighthouse was registered on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. It is now leased to the Coast Guard as an operational light station and the white flashes have been automated since 1949.
Sanibel Island is well known for shelling and Lighthouse Beach has plenty of fine shells thrown up daily along the shoreline. The best place to find shells is about five minutes’ walk to the right of the lighthouse. This is probably due to the strong currents that make swimming from Lighthouse Beach extremely dangerous. Many of the shells unfortunately still have live occupants, so check carefully, as it is illegal to remove live shells from the beach.
The beach has a small parking lot, with a fee of $4 per hour. You need to arrive early to get a good spot on the popular small beach, which can become crowded. Pets are currently permitted on the beach but they must be kept on a leash.
Other facilities include public restrooms, picnic areas with BBQ grills, outdoor showers and a bike rack. Cycling is definitely the best way to get around Sanibel as the roads can be jammed with traffic at peak times while the shady bike trails make getting around this small island very easy.
Sanibel Fishing Pier
The fishing pier near Sanibel Lighthouse is tucked around on the north facing tip of Point Ybel. The parking lot is accessible from Dunlop Road and is open from 8 a.m. to sunset daily; 24-hour charges apply.
The wooden boardwalk and T-dock at the end of the pier are always busy with anglers and fishing enthusiasts. Popular catches include redfish, snook, sheepshead, black drum, snapper and other species. There are wooden bench seats on the pier and a shelter providing shade, but usually the dock is breezy and cool, even on the hottest summer day.
Expect to see dolphins, flying fish, sting rays and shore birds as well as hungry pelicans looking for an easy meal. In winter, ospreys regularly nest in the wildlife refuge nearby.
Whatever season you visit Sanibel Island there is always something to see and do, so next time you visit, turn left at the end of the causeway and discover something new!