Sanibel Island is One of the Top 10 Places to Visit
"Play, Play, Play" is the island theme! Whether you love your Florida beach vacation low-key or with a side of educational and playful activities, it's all in the menu of "Play." Choose from a blend of many activities to enjoy either on the beautiful tropical islands or the neighboring mainland.
Sanibel is one of the unique barrier islands of the world, having an east-west orientation when most islands are north-south. Hence, the island is gifted with great sandy beaches and an abundance of shells. Check out the Sanibel Shelling Center for information on the islands beaches and seashells.
Sanibel Island has earned their reputation as the Shell Islands honestly. They are actually made out of shells, like some magnificent work of shell art created over thousands of years. When islanders dig gardens in their backyards, they find conchs, whelks, scallops and clam shells often perfectly intact.
The abundance and variety of shells have made Sanibel Island shell-obsessed. People come from all over the world, drawn by the song of the seashell. They parade along the sands doubled over in a stance that's been dubbed the Sanibel Stoop. Every March, they gather to compare and appreciate shell collections and shell art at the annual Sanibel Shell Fair & Show. Throughout the year, shell shops sell seashells by the seashore (and by the thousands). Shells are the dominant motif in island decor and boutique gifts. You'll find everything from finely crafted "shell-igrams" to lucite toilet seats with seashells lacquered in. (No home should be without one!)
Snorkeling and Scuba Diving
Wrecks and man-made reefs help restock our waters with fish for the benefit of Scuba divers and fisherman alike. More than a dozen artificial reefs lie within a 15 mile radius of Sanibel making this Florida barrier island great for snorkeling and scuba diving.
One of the largest is the Edison Reef, created from the rubble of a former mainland bridge. It was built less than 15 nautical miles from the Sanibel Lighthouse in 42 feet of water.
Closer to home, the Belton Johnson Reef, about 5 nautical miles off Bowman's Beach, was named for a well-known local fishing guide. A yellow and white marker shows the location of the reef, constructed of concrete culverts.
Peagus/Charlie's Reef is the newest reef installed July 1999, located 28 miles due west of Red Fish Pass. A large tug boat was added to several railroad hoppers that already have quite an assortment of residences, including barracuda, cobia, nurse shark, grouper, amber jack and a moray eel.
Nature Tours & Historical Walks
One of the most delightful discoveries awaiting you on your visit to Sanibel Island is the number of things you can do "beyond the beach"! The islands are dotted with numerous natural, historical and artistic attractions, all guaranteed to provide a day of family fun and education. See a full list of nature tours and historical walks on Sanibel Island.
Chapel by the Sea
Originally built in 1901 as a schoolhouse that doubled as a church on Sundays, this charming chapel now serves as a seaside meditation site, an interdenominational church (November through April) and popular wedding spot. Trimmed in lattice fencing, the cemetery next door guards the graves of many early settlers who came to Captiva in the late 19th century to homestead and farm.
Clinic for Rehabilitation of Wildlife
Dedicated to restoring the health of Florida islands' wildlife, this well-respected facility for injured and orphaned birds and animals treats more than 3,400 patients each year. C.R.O.W. offers an educational presentation, appropriate for ages 5 and up, year-round Monday through Friday at 11:00am. The program is also available Sundays at 1:00pm from Thanksgiving through Easter. $5 requested donation for visitors 13 and older.
J. N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge
This 6,354-acre Florida wildlife refuge, named for Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist and pioneer environmentalist Jay Norwood Darling, is - at latest count - home to 220 species of birds, more than 50 types of reptiles, and 32 different kinds of mammals. The refuge features wonderful bird watching spots, bike and walking paths, winding canoe trails and a four-mile scenic drive, all of which are lush with seagrape, wax and salt myrtles, red mangrove, cabbage and sabal palms, and other native plants. A booklet available from the refuge Education Center highlights points of interest, including an observation tower where naturalists will obtain the best view of flora and fauna.
Old Town Sanibel
Old Town encircles the east end of the island near the Sanibel Lighthouse. Historically, it was the center of much of the islands' activity; today, it is a place to stroll quaint village shops, inns and restaurants. The Sanibel Historical Society has produced a walking and biking tour to "yesteryear" that is approximately 2 ½ miles long. You can pick up a map at the Chamber Visitor Center or at the Sanibel Historical Village.
Sanibel Historical Museum and Village Inc.
This collection of late 19th- and early 20th-century buildings brings early Sanibel back to life in a beautifully serene setting. Dedicated to the pioneer families of Sanibel Island and Captiva Island, the Village includes "Uncle" Clarence Rutland's home, Bailey's General Store, "Morning Glories" (a Sears/Roebuck catalog home), Miss Charlotta's Tea Room, the 1926 Post Office, the Burnap Cottage, and the latest addition - the island's original schoolhouse - transplanted in late 2004 from its former Periwinkle Way location where it served as a theater for years. All of the buildings are furnished with items from the early 1900s.
For one of the best island tours, hop on a bicycle. Sanibel's well-maintained bike paths cover 22 miles of shopping districts and back roads, and they meander through friendly neighborhoods, beneath shady tree canopies, across wooden bridges and along quiet waterways. Biking on Sanibel is fun for the entire family.
Many island resorts, condo properties have bicycles for guest use, plus there are public bike rental facilities throughout the island (In addition to solo bikes, they rent helmets and kiddy trailers.),
Here are some great places to stay on Sanibel Island: