Frequently featured in the Top 10 Most Beautiful Beaches in the USA, Sanibel Island is a tiny barrier island reached by a causeway from Fort Myers, Florida. This laid-back island is 12 miles long and three miles wide, with an elevation of just three feet! Although two-thirds of the island is a nature reserve, it packs in plenty of attractions and things to do for all ages. The best way to get around Sanibel is by renting bicycles and exploring the island along shady bike paths.
Shelling, Fishing, and Watersports on Sanibel
Sanibel is famous for its narrow sugar-white sandy beaches lapped by clear blue Gulf waters. They are ideal for sunbathing, paddling, kayaking, swimming, and watersports. The Sanibel Lighthouse is an iconic landmark at the east end of Sanibel Island. You can’t climb the 130-year-old lighthouse, but the grounds are always open for walks along the boardwalk and nature trails.
Fishing is a passion for many visitors and residents of Sanibel Island. You can join a fishing charter and track down shark, tuna, snook, tarpon, snapper, grouper, and other offshore sport fish or join the locals who wade into the surf from the Causeway Beaches or hangout on the Fishing Pier.
Sanibel beaches offer some of the best shelling opportunities in the world, thanks to the convergence of currents just offshore. Tides wash up an irresistible array of whelks, angel wings, scallops, tulips, rose petal tellins, cockles, and clams. You may even find sand dollars, sea stars and even sharks’ teeth. In fact, shelling on Sanibel is so popular that it is known as “the Sanibel Stoop”!
There’s another treat in store for shell collectors at the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum. This top Sanibel attraction is considered the most comprehensive shell museum in the western hemisphere. As well as magnificent shell displays, the museum has videos in the theater, a children’s learning lab, and a shell-themed gift shop.
Nature and Wildlife Attractions on Sanibel
Occupying much of the north side of Sanibel is the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Covering 6,400 acres of mangroves, seagrass beds, wetlands and hardwood hammocks, the refuge is home to alligators, turtles, raccoons, fish and over 220 species of birds, particularly in the migratory season.
This family-friendly attraction on Sanibel offers a host of things to do including tram tours with a wildlife naturalist, birding, kayaking, canoeing, fishing, paddleboarding, hiking, and cycling along the Wildlife Drive. The Visitor Center has touch tanks and informative displays and you may want to book a hands-on nature and sealife tour with Tarpon Bay Explorers.
More educational presentations, lectures, exhibits and up-close encounters with Florida wildlife are offered at CROW (Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife). This veterinary teaching hospital and visitor experience offers a unique wildlife rescue service to injured or orphaned animals. Patients include bald eagles, ospreys, songbirds, raptors, raccoons, opossums, rabbits, otters, and bobcats.
Sanibel Golf Courses
There are two golf course on Sanibel Island both courses are sanctioned by the Audubon Society to preserve the natural environment and heritage of the area. Along with a challenging course, golfers will enjoy stunning island views and glimpses of wildlife including eagles, ospreys or even Roseate Spoonbills. Tennis courts and lessons are available at Sanibel Island Golf Club, The Dunes Golf and Tennis Club, and the Sundial Beach Resort, which also offers kayak rentals, sea school, and a spa.
Shopping on Sanibel
Shopping and dining on Sanibel Island are popular things to do as part of any visit to this island retreat. There are several strip malls and shopping plazas including Tahitian Gardens, Olde Sanibel Shoppes, and Periwinkle Place, each with their own charm and character. Small independent stores, delis, gift shops, boutiques, shell shops and bookshops are wonderful places to browse for gifts, providing yet more relaxing things to do on Sanibel Island.