Our Top Ten Things to do on Sanibel Island
Looking for things to do on Sanibel Island? We are excited to tell you about all of the great things to see and do on Sanibel and the surrounding area! From Thomas Edison’s Laboratory to the Robert Rauschenberg Estate, from ancient Calusa Indian sites to Pirate boat cruises, from Farmers Markets to Deep Sea Fishing, the list is endless. But to help you narrow it down to a “must-do” list, our team at Select Vacation Properties have put together our top ten favorite things to do or see on the Island.
Number Ten: Bicycling around the Island
Bicycles are everywhere on Sanibel, and bicycling is one of the best ways to experience the Island’s charm. While we do suggest having a car, the more than 27 miles of dedicated bike paths are a great way to discover the wildlife preserves, explore the beaches, or just get to know the island. If you need to rent a bike, we recommend Billy’s Bike Rentals. Billy has been on Sanibel exclusively for over 20 years and was one of the first operators to establish beach service and sailboat rentals on Fort Myers Beach. There’s not much he doesn’t know about this area and how to best enjoy it, and he is a real Sanibel legend. And it’s not just bikes! You can rent motor scooters, surreys, rickshaws, kids trailers and even Segway’s. Billy has all the extras including an array of beach equipment too! Located at 1470 Periwinkle Way on Sanibel. Call 239-472-5248 or visit billysrentals.com to learn more.
Number Nine: Historic Lighthouse Beach Park
The Sanibel Island Lighthouse (or Point Ybel Light) was one of the first lighthouses on Florida’s Gulf Coast north of Key West and the Dry Tortugas. The 98-foot high light was first lit on August 20, 1884 and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The park consists of 32 acres with public beaches, parking, bike racks, picnic areas, pavilions, fishing pier, restrooms and more. This is a great family beach, and a fun place for a picnic and pictures with the lighthouse as a one-of-a-kind backdrop. The park is also a great place to fish from the pier, where you will catch Snook, Ladyfish, Pompano, Sheepshead, Whiting, Spanish Mackerel and even Trout, Redfish and Mangrove Snapper! Located at the extreme east end of the Island, visit sanibellighthouse.com to learn more.
Number Eight: The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum
A shell museum might sound boring, but seriously, it isn’t! The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum is the only professional museum in the United States devoted to mollusks and the shells they make, and it’s no surprise that Sanibel Island is the place you will find it. The museum offers more than 30 permanent exhibits, as well as a variety of temporary exhibits, interactive displays, shell games, live shell and touch tank, and other goodies and attractions at the Learning Lab! They also offer a shell crafting area for the kids, where you can use your imagination to make amazing works of art from shells with glitter and glue and stuff! Located at 3075 Sanibel Captiva Road on Sanibel. Call (239) 395-2233 or visit shellmuseum.org to learn more.
Number Seven: Kayaking, paddleboarding and watersports
It probably comes as no surprise that watersports would be in the top ten on a island surrounded by the gentle, warm tropical waters of the Gulf of Mexico, but paddleboards and boating along the beaches are just the beginning. While half of the Island is sun-soaked soft-sand beaches, the other half is devoted to wildlife sanctuaries, so be sure to rent some kayaks on the Back Bay! You will see alligators, egrets, eagles, tarpon, manatees, dolphins and more, as you paddle around the coastal mangrove forests. We highly recommend Tarpon Bay Explorers because they offer so much more – sunrise and sunset cruises, wildlife cruises, guided tours, or just go explore on your own. Located at 900 Tarpon Bay Road on Sanibel. Call 239-472-8900 or visit tarponbayexplorers.com to learn more.
Number Six: Sanibel Sea School
This is one of our favorite for kids, tweens and young adults, and they are now offering adult programs as well! Sanibel Sea School is a marine conservation nonprofit offering hands-on ocean learning experiences. They have full and half-day camps where you spend the day with real Marine Biologists, learning about marine life, conservation, biology and more. They offer new and exciting programs every day, with topics like Shark Week, Baby Alligators, Seahorses, Dolphins, Sea Turtles, etc! They also have a program where you learn to paddle board, then go on a mangrove paddleboard adventure, checking out the wildlife with a ACA certified Instructor. Check out the calendar on their website for the full listings. Located at 455 Periwinkle Way on Sanibel. Call (239) 472-8585 or visit sanibelseaschool.org to learn more.
Number Five: Food and Drink!
Sanibel has zero traffic lights, but there is certainly no shortage of great restaurant on the Island. With literally dozens and dozens of amazing and unique places to eat, you could try a new dining experience at every meal, and still not discover all the great culinary creations the Island has to offer. From fresh gulf shrimp straight off the boat, to organic creations and everything in between, Sanibel is a food lover’s paradise. And the restaurants are just the beginning – we have two great full-service grocery stores on the Island, as well as a number of smaller “bodega” style markets for your convenience. During season, the Island also buzzes with weekly farmers markets, featuring fresh produce and locally made prepared foods and crafts. And of course, no Island vacation is complete without plenty of cocktails and Pina Coladas! There are several full-service liquor stores on the Island, and plenty of beachside tiki bars, lounges and more! For a complete list of all the great restaurants, pick up a copy of the dining guides in our office when you check-in, or speak to anyone on our team to get some tips on our favorite places.
Number Four: Shop til you Drop!
Believe it or not, Sanibel Island is home to some serious world-class shopping! The island is home to art galleries featuring local and world famous artists like Ikki Matsumoto and Robert Rauschenberg (both were Island residents), outstanding and unique jewelry stores, and plenty of exceptional boutique style clothing shops gift shops and more. We even feature the works of local artists and Island-style original art on the walls of our office, all of which are available for you to take home! Resort wear, glass and silver, original art, home décor, cards and gifts – it’s all here, and all easily accessible by bicycle, car or just by strolling along Periwinkle Way! Pick up a copy of the shopping guide when you check-in or ask us about our favorite places to shop.
Number Three: J.N. “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge
J.N. “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge is without question one of the top things to see on Sanibel. You can do the walking trails, or the wildlife drive, or just check out the extensive visitor’s center. The Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge is part of the largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystem in the United States and consists of over 6,400 acres on Sanibel Island. It is world famous for its spectacular migratory bird populations and other wildlife, and the visitors center is free. So much of Sanibel’s history, character and charm is tied to Ding Darling and the island’s conservation lands that your understanding of what makes the Island so unique and special can never be complete without a visit to this one-of-a-kind refuge. Located at 1 Wildlife Drive on Sanibel. Call (239) 472-1100 or visit dingdarlingsociety.org to learn more.
Number Two: Shelling
Sanibel Island is annually recognized as one of the best destinations on the planet for shelling! The unique east-west orientation of the Island, coupled with the gently sloping sea floor and on-shore currents from the Caribbean creates the perfect conditions for shells from all over the Gulf of Mexico to collect along Sanibel’s shoreline. And each new tide brings a whole new collection of treasures, so every day is a new opportunity to find a rare and amazing gift from the sea. Get out early, especially at low tide for the best opportunity to find Scotch Bonnets, Horse Conchs, Cayenne Keyhole Slippers, Alphabet Cones, Florida Fighting Conchs, Painted Egg Cockles, Calico Scallops and more! And if you are in the right spot at just the right time, you may find the rarest of the rare – the brown-speckled Junonia! The search for this beautiful deep-water specimen keeps many shellers returning year after year in the hopes of finding one! So grab your scoop, and practice your “Sanibel Stoop”, and get shelling!
Number One: It’s all about the Beaches!
Sanibel Island is blessed with over 15 miles of continuous, sugary-soft white sand beaches, which are acknowledged year after year as being among the finest beaches on earth. In fact, US News ranked Sanibel as the #2 destination for family beach vacations, National Geographic Travel listed Sanibel as the seventh best beach in the world, and Frommer’s named Sanibel one of the ten best beaches in the world. Unlike other overcrowded beaches around the country, over half of the Island is set aside for conservation, so in certain areas you can spend all day at the beach and not see another soul in either direction as far as the eye can see! The Island’s beaches also benefit from a gently sloping sea floor that allows you to walk out hundreds of feet from shore without getting in over your head. The aquamarine waters of the gulf are also delightfully warm and calm, which is perfect for children and families. For more info, and to see a list of all the awards and recognition our Island’s beaches have received, visit the Sanibel Captiva Chamber of commerce at https://sanibel-captiva.org/sanibel-island-captiva-island-awards.