Sanibel is many people’s idea of heaven; it is a lush, tropical island surrounded by white sandy beaches and tall swaying palms while a pleasant breeze brings the smell of the sea and endless summer. This tiny barrier reef island in the Gulf of Mexico of less than 7,000 inhabitants has a colorful history with proud Calusa Indians, pirates, Spanish adventurers, and buried treasure all playing their parts. More than half of the island is protected, and the largest area is located within the J.N. Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
»J.N. (Ding) Darling National Wildlife Refuge
Everyone expects (or perhaps dreads) to see crocodiles in Florida. In the J.N. (Ding) Darling National Wildlife Refuge you can see so much more and it’s no wonder that this is one of the top rated attractions on Sanibel Island. The tropical climate and lush vegetation provide food for hundreds of species of animals. The refuge has a dense mangrove system that provides an excellent habitat for so many animals, and it is the largest in the country. There
are 245 different species of birds in the refuge, and they are a spectacular sight during the migration season. You can see endangered mild-natured giant manatees and 30 other species of mammals.
Crocodiles are only one of many reptiles living in the warm waters of the refugee, but they do have their own exhibit in the Visitors and Education Center. Visitors can drive along the 4-mile long Wildlife Drive, but hiking and biking allows them to see much more, and smell, listen and feel the rich wilderness in the area. Off the Drive are three more walking trails, including the four-mile round trip Indigo Trail that is connected to the Wildlife Education Boardwalk.
1 Wildlife Dr, Sanibel, FL 33957, United States, 239-472-1100
»The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum
One of the favorite activities of visitors to the beaches of Sanibel is shell collecting. Colorful, pretty, mysterious, small, and big, the shells make interesting souvenirs. But, why not learn a bit about them so that you can differentiate between your shells and determining whether one is a common fig shell, a banded tulip, ajunonia, or a pen shell? The best place to learn about the shells and the animals that made them is the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum. If you are looking for unique things to see & do on your Florida getaway, this museum will delight visitors of all ages.
This fascinating museum was established 20 years ago and contains some of the largest shells in the world, such as the Goliath conch, the Atlantic trumpet triton, the lightning whelk, and the horse conch. The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum is one of the best things to do on Sanibel Island FL for couples and families. There are exhibits of Sanibel shells and shells from all over the world and fossils of shells such as the Ecphora, which lived almost 30 million years ago. The museum is also a wonderful place to learn about the original inhabitants of Sanibel, the Calusa people. You can discover a little about their lives and the uses they had for shells in their daily lives. Read more
3075 Sanibel Captiva Rd, Sanibel, FL 33957, 239-395-2233
»Sanibel Historical Museum and Village
Sanibel Historical Museum and Village, founded in 1984, tells the story of the life of early residents of Sanibel through the seven historic houses they lived and worked in. It is the story of the Calusa people, Spanish conquerors and the early pioneers who made their home on the island in the 1800s. The historic buildings were moved to the Historic Village from their original locations and restored to the original look, and they are furnished with antique furniture, clothes, household items, tools, and kitchen gadgets.
Among others, there is the 1896 Sanibel School House for White Children with original desks, the 1913 Rutland House, a typical “cracker” house made of Florida pine with eleven-foot ceilings and a wide hallway to keep it cool, and the 1900 Sanibel Packing House, where local farmers brought their vegetables, citrus fruits, and other produce to be packed and shipped “up north.” The museum holds frequent special events, concerts, and lectures.
950 Dunlop Rd, Sanibel, FL 33957, 239-472-4648
»Sanibel Island Farmer’s Market
Every Sunday, from October to April, you can relish in the atmosphere of a party in front of Sanibel City Hall: local farmers, chefs, bakers, and cheese makers bring their produce and prepared goodies to treat the residents of Sanibel. The pleasant ambience, fresh and often organic produce, and great food attract both locals and tourists to stock up for the week or just enjoy sampling what is available that particular day.
Depending on the season, you can get tomatoes, zucchini, beets, strawberries, carrots, breads, honey, meats, seafood, flowers, cheeses, and so much else. If you are wondering what to do on Sanibel Island with kids, this is a great place to visit. The market opened in 2008 and has been steadily growing in popularity both among the farmers and the residents.
800 Dunlop Road, Sanibel Island, FL 33957
Relaxing on beautiful sandy beaches is one of the best things to do on Sanibel Island. Located mid-island on Sanibel off Sanibel-Captiva Road, Bowman’s Beach is a beautiful stretch of remote coastline that offers excellent opportunities for shelling, swimming, romantic walks and beachcombing. If you are wondering what to do on Sanibel Island with kids, this is a great spot for a relaxing day.
The beach is popular for windsurfing and sailing and features picnic areas with barbecue grills, trails, showers, and restrooms. Visitors to the beach can park just a quarter of a mile from the beach for a small amount and enjoy a lovely short walk to the beach.
Where to stay on Sanibel Island: Sanibel Harbour Resort has six pools, a luxury spa and kid-friendly restaurants. Casa Ybel Resort offers spacious suites with full kitchens, a Kid’s Club and many things to do.
Until 1963 when the Sanibel Causeway was completed, the island was connected to the mainland by ferries that crossed the San Carlos Bay Daily. The island was peaceful, sleepy and secluded. But, the progress could not be stopped and the causeway, consisting of three bridges connected with two small islands, was completed and the tourists started flooding in.
The entire span that connects Punta Rossa on the mainland to Sanibel at the Causeway Road is 2.8 miles long. Two little islands are part of the Causeway Island Park and serve as popular public beaches.
Top things to do in Captiva Island: Captiva Beach, Captiva Pass, kayaking, snorkeling and photography tours.
»Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW)
The Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) is a wildlife rehabilitation center that cares for more than 3,500 sick, injured, and orphaned native and migratory wildlife patients every year. The center features a 4,800-square-foot wildlife hospital where sick or injured animals are treated, and it offers educational fellowship and externship programs for undergraduate students and internship programs for veterinarian graduates.
A modern Visitor’s Education Center focuses on educating the public about veterinary care, research, education, and conservation medicine through a variety of presentations, exhibits, and live video footage. The Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) is open Monday through Saturday with daily presentations at 11:00 am.
3883 Sanibel-Captiva Road, Sanibel Island, FL 33957, Phone: 239-472-3644 (website)
A group of local artists with big dreams established the Big Arts Center in 1979, and ever since it has been very active in offering something for everyone. The 409-seat Schein Performance Hall organizes jazz, classical, pop, folk, and western concerts, along with concerts showcasing many other genres of music. The 139-seat Herb Strauss Theater offers professional theater and Broadway shows in an intimate environment.
For those who are fond of visual arts, Phillips and Founders Galleries host exhibits all through the season, introducing and promoting talented local and national artists. In addition, the center organizes 250 educational workshops and classes for the community and schools each year.
900 Dunlop Rd, Sanibel, FL 33957, 239-395-0900
»USS Mohawk CGC Veterans Memorial Reef
Launched in 1934 after participating in World War II combat operations and serving U.S. Navy in the North Atlantic, the USCGC Mohawk WPG-78 found its resting place at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico in 2012 off the coast of Sanibel Island. Before being sent below the 90 feet of water, the ship had to be cleaned of anything that could be toxic to the marine environment.
Today, it is sitting in an upright position and serves as a home to many species of fish and other marine animals. It is hoped that the corals will slowly inhabit its nooks and crannies and make it into an artificial reef, the first ever created from a 165-foot war ship. The reef is a memorial to U.S. veterans.
»The Botanical Gardens at Sanibel Moorings
The Botanical Gardens at Sanibel Moorings Resort came about almost by accident: they employed a gardener to take care of the landscaping of their extensive, six-acre outdoor space. As it happened, the gardener was a passionate botanist, so he took it upon himself to create a rare collection of unusual and special tropical plants. What he started, every succeeding gardener added to, improved, embellished, and made the garden more beautiful until in 2009 it officially became recognized as a botanic garden and a member of the American Public Garden Association. If you are looking for things to do on Sanibel Island, Florida for couples, this is a great spot.
The garden has hundreds of native Florida plants and non-invasive species from other tropical areas, along with collections of cacti, bromeliads, orchids, fruits, palms, and cycads. The garden attracts a number of birds, butterflies, turtles, rabbits, and other animals who, like the tourists, enjoy the riot of colors, smells, textures, and beauty the garden exudes.
845 E Gulf Dr, Sanibel, 239-472-4119
»Tarpon Bay Explorers
Situated in the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Tarpon Bay Explorers presents nature and wildlife tours and offers kayak rentals for the whole family. This successful eco-business provides a range of fun tours that focus on the wildlife and natural landscapes of Sanibel Island, including a mangrove kayak tour that journeys through the mangrove forests and observes native wildlife such as alligators and nesting birds in their natural habitat.
The popular Sunset Rookery Paddle is a must for bird-lovers as it follows an array of bird species like cormorants, herons, and ibis against the backdrop of the spectacular Sanibel sunset. Kida can enjoy an interactive animal encounter with a variety of sea creatures at the Tarpon Bay Explorers’s Touch Tank.
900 Tarpon Bay Rd, Sanibel, FL 33957, Phone: 239-472-8900
»Blind Pass Beach
Blind Pass Beach is romantic, secluded, and covered in colorful shells. The beach borders the Blind Pass, a narrow waterway between Sanibel and Captiva Islands that keeps getting sanded over and closed, making a nice beach but endangering many species of fish and grasses that depend on the circulation of water through the canal. The beach is very popular among shell collectors because strong currents through the waterway and occasional storms bring a rich harvest of shells. The same strong currents make the beach too dangerous for swimming.
Occasional dredging of the canal to keep it free of sand brings large numbers of sharks, another reason to forget about swimming in these waters. The beach does not have any tourist facilities, keeping the number of tourists to a minimum and making this beach very attractive for peaceful contemplation and long, relaxing walks.
»Sanibel Island Lighthouse
The Sanibel Island Lighthouse is not the usual pretty, picturesque lighthouse. It is a simple 98-foot tall iron skeleton tower completed in 1884 with a spiral staircase in its center that starts about ten feet above the sandy ground. It was built to ensure safe passage through the entrance to San Carlos Bay. At the time, a large number of ships were calling between the Punta Rassa port on the mainland and Sanibel.
The lighthouse is located in the protected wildlife area on the eastern end of Sanibel Island and is not open to the public. The lighthouse grounds and a nice beach nearby are accessible, and they are popular and often crowded with tourists. Take the kids to the beach and snap some family photos with the lighthouse in the background.
»Sissi Janku Art Studio
Sissi Janku is a well-known artist on the island of Sanibel who has a studio and Island-style gallery and teaches painting classes at the Sanibel Community House. German-born Sissi studied Graphic Arts at the Academy of Art in Munich and worked as a graphic designer before traveling to Hawaii where she found inspiration in the tropical beauty and made it her home.
Her paintings reflect this beauty in their vibrant colors and tropical patterns, and art-lovers around the world have commissioned her, including the Mauna Lani Hotel in Hawaii and the Player’s Island Resort and Casino in Nevada. Sissi holds weekly art classes in a casual and relaxed environment where students can learn the basics of painting and develop simple creative techniques and interesting ways to express their artistic ideas and individuality.
2173 Periwinkle Way (website)
»Great Calusa Blueway
The Great Calusa Blueway offers you the right way to see and experience natural Florida. It is a 190-mile long, clearly marked kayak and canoe trail that takes paddlers through Lee Country’s coastal waters and tributaries that lead inland. The trail is suitable for everyone, from beginner kayakers to experienced and advanced paddlers. If you are looking for adventure vacation ideas on Sanibel Island, don’t miss the Great Calusa Blueway.
The trail meanders through the Gulf of Mexico’s three distinct regions. It starts at Estero Bay, continues to Matlacha Pass and the Pine Island, and ends at the Caloosahatchee with its numerous tributaries. From open water, through the Captiva and Sanibel’s bays and sheltered, dense mangrove creeks, the trail takes paddlers through the habitats of hundreds of birds, manatees, dolphins, and so many other animals. For nature lovers, the Great Calusa Blueway is sure to deliver an unforgettable experience.
»Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation
The Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation has a challenging job: to protect and conserve Sanibel and Captiva islands coastal and aquatic habitats and the animals and plants that depend on them. The foundation manages 1300 acres on Sanibel and Captiva and 500 on Pine Island. Visitors can enjoy the foundation’s Nature Center in Sanibel with four miles of nature trails, an observation tower, a butterfly house, a touch tank and a souvenir shop.
Their Native Plants Nursery offers native plants for sale to local gardeners. A big part of the Foundation’s work is scientific – they research mangroves, sea grasses, fish and shellfish populations, water quality, and local weather.
3333 Sanibel Captiva Rd, 239-472-2329
Bleu Rendevous is a charming French-style bistro that serves classic French cuisine in a relaxed and inviting setting perfect for couples. Run by Christian and Mari Vivet, Bleu Rendevous is located in an old building on Periwinkle Way and boasts cozy interiors akin to those of a little country house with classic and soothing blue and yellow walls, national flags, and Eiffel Tower replicas draped here and there. An open kitchen behind a cobalt-blue bar is where Chef Vivet produces an array of traditional French flair with a modern twist such as garlicky escargot, veal kidneys in a creamy cognac cream sauce, thick Boeuf Bourguignon served with ratatouille, potatoes, and vegetables. His pièce de résistance is the cassoulet au confit de canard. End the meal with a delectable dessert like a rustic apple galette with fresh caramel sauce, a sublime crème br?lée topped with blueberriesm or profiteroles topped with Belgian dark chocolate with a hint of Grand Marnier.
2430 Periwinkle Way, 239-565-1608
Il Cielo presents innovative, flavorful dishes in a warm, elegant setting in the heart of Sanibel Island. Located on the famous Periwinkle Way, the restaurant boasts an alluring ambiance with an elegant wrought iron staircase, romantic torch-lit dining verandah, Art Deco-inspired pendant lights, and a beautiful rotunda with a sky blue and gold hand-painted dome overlooking the casual dining space below.
The refined atmosphere corresponds nicely with the menu, which features creative cuisine made from sustainably caught local fish, grass-finished beef, lamb and free-range chicken, and locally sourced vegetables, herbs, and spices. Begin with small plates of seared ahi tuna, baked blue fin crab, traditional meatballs, or lobster ravioli, followed by garden fresh salads and an array of specialties such as roasted lamb ribs or pistachio-crusted rack of lamb, seared day boat scallops and Asian seared tuna, or New York strip steak or filet of beef.
A carefully curated wine list offers an array of international wines and local craft beers that can be enjoyed with dinner or in the comfortable lounge. Il Cielo is open for dinner daily and offers live music on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights.
1244 Periwinkle Way, 239-472-5555
»Pinocchio’s Original Italian Ice Cream
Pinocchio’s Original Italian Ice Cream has been serving homemade Italian ice cream and gelato, sorbet, sherbet, and frozen yogurt for over 33 years. Located in the Seahorse Shopping Center on the east end of Sanibel Island, the little ice cream shop features bright, vibrant décor with green walls and colorful benches that match the variety of flavors behind the glass counter.
Traditional favorites include Nocciola, Zuppa Inglese, Tiramisu, and Sicilian Blood Orange, while new flavors range from Blueberry Cheesecake, Caramel Praline Swirl, Carrot Cake, and Chocolate Sand Dollar. This is one of those cool, fun places that you just have to visit on vacation.
362 Periwinkle Way, 239-472-6566
»The Dunes Golf & Tennis Club
A perfect golf vacation destination on Sanibel Island, THE DUNES is a rare Golf and Tennis Club that is perfectly merged with the surrounding natural environment. Nestled within the wildlife preserve and designed by world famous golf course designer Mark McCumber, this beautiful 18-hole championship golf course offers golfers of all skill levels a challenging game on perfectly landscaped and contoured greens and fairways while enjoying the spectacular views all around.
There is also a unique water driving range if you want to hone your game. The Dunes features an excellent tennis club with seven recently resurfaced Har-Tru courts, gourmet dining at the Club House, a swimming pool, and an open-air pavilion for after-game celebratory cocktails.
949 Sand Castle Rd, 239-472-3355
»Blue Coyote Supper Club
Located at the Sanibel Island Golf Club, the Blue Coyote Supper Club offers a casual and comfortable environment in which to enjoy lunch, dinner, or drinks with friends. Boasting beautiful views over the golf course, the main dining room is spacious and light, catering to large groups of diners, while a private room offers a more intimate setting. Both of these rooms feature original artworks and stunning chandeliers. This is one of the best restaurants on Sanibel Island for romantic celebrations and other special occasions.
The menu presents a range of creative and cutting-edge cuisine with French, South Western, Asian, and American influences, and dishes are made from high-quality ingredients such as freshly caught seafood from the Gulf, aged steaks, and locally-grown vegetables and herbs. Start with seared diver scallops or tomato basil escargot followed by filet of beef tenderloin, herb grilled lamb chops, or Blue Coyote stew and end with something sweet from the dessert menu such as key lime pie or chocolate cake.
1100 Par View Drive, Fort Myers, FL 33957, Phone: 239-472-9222
»Among The Flowers Juice House
Among The Flowers Juice House is an inviting eatery on Periwinkle Way that focuses on healthy living and organic cuisine. Using fresh, locally sourced ingredients and homegrown produce such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds, the restaurant features a menu of sandwiches, salads, raw desserts, 100% Organic Juices and smoothies, and organic coffee.
The popular café boasts a hippy-ish, healthy charm with shelves of organic herb blends, cooking salts, and artisanal body mists adding a deli-come-diner feel. Tuck into delicious baked eggs served with goat cheese and tomato, meatball sandwiches, lasagna Bolognese, or an array of handmade sandwiches, wraps, and pizzas. Wash it all down with locally brewed coffee, thick smoothies, or freshly squeezed juices.
2003 Periwinkle Way, 239-312-4085
Periwinkle Place is Sanibel’s main destination for shopping, dining, and entertainment. Located on Sanibel’s busiest thoroughfare, Periwinkle Place boasts over 40, 000 square feet of shopping space, and it features 26 shops and stores, award-winning restaurants, a day spa, and a variety of entertainment.
Unique stores and brand stores offer men’s and women’s clothing, children’s apparel and toys, galleries and gift shops, and jewelry stores while the Sanibel Day Spa provides a range of pampering spa treatments and relaxing massages. Diners can savor world-class cuisine at the Blue Giraffe Restaurant and purchase unique culinary treats at Sand Castle Gifts & Gourmet or Sanibel Olive Oil or enjoy a game of golf or tennis at The Dunes Golf and Tennis Club.
2075 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel, FL 33957, Phone: 239-395-1914
»Sweet Melissa’s Cafe
Located on Periwinkle Way, the highly acclaimed Sweet Melissa’s Café is one of the most popular restaurants in the area. Offering seasonal menus for lunch and dinner, Executive Chef Melissa Talmage creates an explorative culinary journey for your taste buds to enjoy with an array of tastes, textures, flavors, and ingredients.
The dinner menu features full-size entrees and a selection of small plates that allow guests to savor a variety of dishes at once such as crispy soft-shelled crab, fettuccine, and clams in a rich fennel and Pernod sauce, pan-seared duck breast, and bourbon-glazed pork belly. The fish stew at Sweet Melissa’s Café is legendary and shouldn’t be missed – it is packed with all manner of seafood from clams, mussels, shrimps, and redfish to chorizo, fennel, and a lemony saffron cream. Sweet Melissa’s Cafe exudes a warm and welcoming ambiance with a bright and airy indoor dining space, featuring views of the exhibition kitchen and a lovely screened-in patio for outdoor alfresco dining.