Welcome to Sanibel Island, a paradise of sun, sand, and endless activities. Whether you’re a nature lover, water enthusiast, or someone who just wants to relax, Sanibel Island has something for everyone. Explore the diverse range of activities that will make your stay unforgettable.
Known for its pristine white sand beaches, an abundance of seashells, and a relaxing island vibe, Sanibel Island is a beloved vacation destination along Florida’s Gulf Coast. Located just off Fort Myers in Lee County, the 12 mile long and 3 mile wide barrier island provides endless opportunities for recreation, nature appreciation, shopping, dining and more.
Whether you’re planning a family vacation, romantic getaway or girls weekend, Sanibel Island offers something for everyone. Below you’ll find an in-depth guide to the top attractions and things to do on the island. From world-class golf and tennis to kayaking through lush mangroves, browsing local art galleries or combing the beach for shells at sunrise, it’s easy to fill your days with memorable adventures.
Fun & Games
For some friendly competition on your Sanibel vacation, head to one of the island’s premier golf and tennis facilities.
Sanibel Island Golf Club
Designed by acclaimed golf course architect Arthur Hills, Sanibel Island Golf Club is one of the region’s most coveted courses. The 18-hole, par-72 course meanders through natural wetlands with water coming into play on 10 holes. The signature 16th hole is a picturesque par 3 requiring a shot over the water to a green guarded by bunkers. With a routing that changes direction often, the course keeps you engaged hole after hole.
Beyond the exceptional course conditions, Sanibel Island Golf Club is revered for its dedicated staff who make the experience truly memorable. General manager John Russell oversees courteous pro shop staff, knowledgeable marshals and talented PGA professionals who can provide lessons to hone your game. Grab a bite in the full-service restaurant after your round or sip a cold beer on the patio overlooking the course.
The Dunes Golf & Tennis Club
Another highly regarded golf option on Sanibel is The Dunes Golf & Tennis Club, situated conveniently across from the island’s historic lighthouse. Like Sanibel Island Golf Club, The Dunes was designed by Arthur Hills and takes full advantage of the local landscape. Trademark shell mounds frame gently rolling fairways that lead to elevated greens. Strategically placed bunkers and water hazards demand accuracy off the tee. The signature 13th hole is one of the most striking on the course, requiring a tee shot over a creek onto an island fairway.
In addition to golf, The Dunes offers outstanding tennis facilities with 16 Har-Tru hydrogrid tennis courts, including a stadium court. Hit with friends or take a clinic from the on-site USPTA-certified professionals. When you need a break from the action, grab a freshly made smoothie or light lunch bite at Courtside Cafe.
Blackwood Tennis at The Dunes Golf & Tennis Club
For an exclusive tennis experience on Sanibel, check out the Blackwood program at The Dunes. Blackwood provides highly personalized adult and junior instruction, customized drilling, match play opportunities, video analysis and more. Director of Tennis Instruction Patricio Blackwood is a former ATP tour player who represented Mexico in international competition. He and his team of pros help you take your game to the next level through intense training tailored to your goals. Private lessons, group clinics, round robins and social events offer camaraderie in addition to skill development.
Classes & Workshops
In addition to honing your athletic abilities, Sanibel Island provides opportunities to unleash your creative side through hands-on classes and workshops.
Sanibel Sea School Day Program
Immerse yourself in marine science and the ecology of Sanibel’s unique ecosystems with Sanibel Sea School. The non-profit offers customized full-day and multi-day programs that take you into the field for interactive learning. Study seagrass beds aboard the specially designed Solaris research vessel. Wade along the shoreline identifying species during a beach walk. Use seine nets and cast nets to collect and observe local fish, invertebrates and other marine life up-close.
Knowledgeable marine biologists lead the experiential programs while sharing their infectious passion for the local environment. Custom classes can be tailored for school groups, corporate retreats, families and individuals with all levels of previous knowledge accommodated.
Sanibel Art and Frame
For artistic inspiration, take a class at Sanibel Art and Frame. Their professional artists and instructors lead hands-on workshops in mediums like painting, drawing, mosaic, glass fusing and more. Try the Shell Creations class to transform local shells into one-of-a-kind jewelry, mirrors or other decorative objects. Or learn the Wet-on-Wet Oil Painting technique to create vivid artwork in an afternoon. The knowledgeable staff provides individualized attention in a welcoming studio environment. All materials are included, and they will even frame your masterpiece when class is done.
Sissi Janku Art Studio
Longtime Sanibel resident and award-winning artist Sissi Janku welcomes students of all levels into her working art studio for personalized instruction. She focuses on helping each individual express their unique creative voice through painting, mixed media, printmaking and more. Small class sizes allow Sissi to tailor instruction and feedback to your individual style and goals. Beyond core art techniques, students gain insight on finding inspiration, developing a cohesive body of work and preparing pieces for exhibition. Some even have their creations displayed in the studio’s gallery space.
In addition to endless recreational opportunities, Sanibel Island offers cultural attractions and museums that reveal more about the area’s natural landscape and storied history.
Sanibel Historical Museum and Village
This unique museum transports you back to the late 1800s when Sanibel Island was home to just a few hardy fishing families and farmers. The village recreates over a dozen historic buildings from the era, including a general store, post office, tea room, beach cottages and more. Inside the structures, authentic artifacts and exhibits tell the tales of those earliest island settlers. Historic photographs, clothing, tools and other relics capture what day-to-day life was like for Sanibel’s first residents.
Wander along the shell-lined paths from building to building while audio guides share additional context. Don’t miss the huge 1890s barn packed with historic equipment and buggies. Docent-led tours are also available if you want a more in-depth experience. Special events like pioneer skills workshops and reenactments further bring the old village to life.
The Herb Strauss Schoolhouse Theater
Another trip back in time awaits at the carefully restored Herb Strauss Schoolhouse. Built in 1896, it served as Sanibel’s first one-room school which was open to students of all ages. Today the space is used for history and nature education programs for kids as well as cultural performances, lectures, films and more for all ages. It’s an intimate, nostalgic setting with vintage wooden bench seating, a slate chalkboard and potbelly stove. Browse historic photos and exhibits inside to learn more about the schoolhouse origins and early island life.
Spas & Wellness
Whether you overdo it on vacation activities or just need to escape everyday stress, Sanibel Island offers indulgent spas specializing in relaxing facials, massages and body treatments.
Kay Casperson Lifestyle Spa & Boutique
For head to toe pampering, plan a spa day at the luxurious Kay Casperson Lifestyle Spa & Boutique located beachfront at the Westin Resort. In addition to traditional massage and skincare, they offer specialty treatments inspired by the island setting. The Shell Detox Body Treatment begins with a coconut cream scrub infused with real seashells to exfoliate and soften skin. Relaxing seaweed leaf wraps allow deep penetration of rich marine oils. Or opt for the Driftaway Facial featuring products derived from Gulf botanicals and designed to re-mineralize skin after sun exposure.
In the bright and airy spa space, skilled estheticians provide five-star service in a blissful beach cottage atmosphere. The tranquility room with coastal decor offers a relaxing respite post-treatment. Just outside the doors, the spa’s pool, beach and firepits provide space to further unwind.
For therapeutic massage tailored to your needs, visit Massage Time in Periwinkle Place Shops. The caring therapists listen carefully to understand problem areas and preferred pressure before customizing the perfect session for you. Choose from Swedish, deep tissue, sports and pregnancy massage. Couples can even enjoy side-by-side relaxation in the same room.
Beyond traditional techniques, specialty treatments like hot stone massage or Thai stretching massage are designed to address specific concerns. The cozy spa rooms open onto a courtyard with a trickling fountain that enhances the tranquil vibe.
Island Therapy Center
This trusted island massage studio offers both restorative therapies and clinical treatments from licensed professionals. Island Therapy Center specializes in effective neuromuscular therapy and myfascial release techniques to address chronic pain, reduce inflammation and improve posture. Their certified hand therapist helps heal injuries using specialized mobilization and equipment. Additional services like craniosacral therapy, lymphatic drainage and more complement traditional relaxation massages.
The experienced therapists develop customized treatment plans to meet each client’s needs, supported by advanced continuing education and special certifications. You’ll leave the peaceful studio feeling renewed in both body and mind.
Sights & Landmarks
In addition to natural beauty and outdoor recreation, Sanibel Island offers a number of historical sights and landmarks that provide insight into the local landscape and culture.
Sanibel Island Lighthouse
One of the most iconic landmarks on the island is the Sanibel Island Lighthouse, which has guided mariners since 1884. The white conical tower rises to 98 feet above the shoreline next to the eastern tip of the island. Visitors can climb the 106 steps to the top for panoramic views of the Sanibel coastline; just beware the dizzying heights if you’re scared of heights!
The best vantage point to photograph the striking black and white spiral pattern is from the beach below. Signage and plaques near the site detail the structure’s long history. Today it continues to send its beacon out 24 hours a day despite being decommissioned from official use. Nighttime walks offer the chance to see the warm glow against the dark sky.
Historic Island Churches
Sanibel Island was largely uninhabited until the mid-1800s when homesteaders established small farmsteads in the interior and fished offshore waters. As the pioneer community grew over subsequent decades, churches emerged as important centers of spiritual and social life. Two historic churches remain active places of worship today.
St. Isabel Catholic Church welcomed its first parishioners in 1897 inside a modest wood-frame sanctuary. Rebuilt and expanded over the years, the modern church retains its early Gothic revival architecture. Stained glass windows and contemporary artwork reflect the coastal setting.
St. Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church traces its roots back to 1901 when Episcopal services were held at Woodring homestead. The current campus opened in 1913 and expanded through the decades with a stone sanctuary and parish hall. The peaceful chapel, open daily, offers a place for quiet contemplation amid historic architecture and decor.
Both churches are open to visitors when no services are underway so you can see the beautiful interiors and appreciate these community landmarks.
USS Mohawk CGC Veterans Memorial Reef
A unique underwater landmark accessible to scuba divers and snorklers is the USS Mohawk CGC Veterans Memorial Reef. The 165-foot ship was sunk in 2011 to create an artificial reef about 6 miles offshore from Sanibel Island and provide new habitat for marine life. The decommissioned Coast Guard cutter-turned-memorial honors all US veterans with plaques and monuments added to the superstructure.
Today the Mohawk lies upright in about 100 feet of water, encrusted in vibrant corals and sponges and attracting abundant sea creatures. Divers can explore the two large cargo holds, bridge, boiler room and multiple decks. Sunlight streams through openings to illuminate the interior spaces. It’s both an awe-inspiring dive and meaningful tribute accessible right off Sanibel’s shores.
Nature & Parks
Renowned for its pristine beaches and abundant wildlife, Sanibel Island is a naturalist’s paradise with plenty of vast preserves and parks to explore.
J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge
The crown jewel of Sanibel nature offerings is the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge protecting over 6,400 acres of critical mangrove habitat and sub-tropical vegetation. Established in 1945 and named for conservationist and Pulitzer-prize winning cartoonist Jay Norwood Darling, the refuge provides essential habitat for wildlife and migratory birds.
The Wildlife Drive allows visitors to immerse themselves in the mangrove ecosystem. A 5-mile paved road winds through brackish ponds, cordgrass marshes and dense mangroves while stopping at several shelters with panoramic views. Expert naturalists are on hand to identify the incredible array of birds spotted from the observation decks. Keep your eyes peeled for roseate spoonbills, great blue herons, wood storks, egrets and many more species.
In addition to the drive, the refuge offers ranger-led activities, educational exhibitions at the visitor center and miles of walking trails for wildlife viewing as well. Experiencing this unspoiled mangrove habitat is a highlight of any Sanibel vacation.
Consistently ranked one of the best shelling beaches in the country, Bowman’s Beach is beloved for its expansive shoreline backed by natural vegetation. The over 3,000 foot long beach starts at the northwestern tip of Sanibel and curves around to a point sheltered from winds and waves. That helps the abundant seashells remain largely undisturbed for visitors to discover.
The variety of shells that can be found here is astonishing—from tiny coquinas clams to spiny murex, colorful scallops, delicate olive shells and more. The best time to search is during low tide after storms or strong winds have churned up shells from below. Early morning offers the quietest, most pristine beach access. Bowman’s remoteness also makes it a prime destination for beachcombing and birdwatching year-round.
Connecting Sanibel Island to the mainland is the Sanibel Causeway, which is much more than just a means of getting there. The beautiful 3-mile bridge spans the Intracoastal Waterway and offers scenic outlooks over the estuary and refuge islands below.
The Sanibel Island end of the causeway is home to the Visitor Center so it’s a convenient place to stop when you first arrive. The ramparts along the bridge provide stellar fishing access as well—just watch for bike traffic. You’ll also find shrimp boats docked below and dolphin sightings are common, especially at dawn and dusk. It’s worth planning extra drive time just to soak in the views.
Gulfside City Park Beach
On the gulf side of the island just across from the lighthouse, Gulfside City Park Beach provides easy public beach access with convenient amenities. The beach stretches over a half mile from Algiers Way to Nerita Street with restrooms, picnic tables, grills and volleyball courts at its center. The calm waters make it excellent for families with young children.
My tip is to arrive early to snag a prime spot with shade as the grounds fill up fast on peak season days. There’s plenty of parking across the street at Gulfside City Park where you can catch a view of the beach before heading back after sunset. After a busy day in the waves and sun, enjoy free outdoor rinse showers before loading up the car.
Pond Apple Park
For a peaceful nature retreat in the island interior, head to Pond Apple Park operated by the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation. Nine miles of walking trails wind through more than 500 acres of mangrove forest, freshwater wetlands and oak hammock habitat. Informative signage identifies the many native plant and animal species that call it home.
My favorite trail is Pond Apple, a 1.5 mile loop that crosses a wooden bridge over the brackish marsh and passes a historic cistern. Birders flock here to spot shy mangrove cuckoo, bald eagles, owls and migrating warblers. Keep an eye out for turtles and alligators sunning on logs as well! With over 35 wildlife species documented, you never know what amazing natural encounters await at Pond Apple Park.
For a back-to-nature experience within steps of the beach, head to the Bailey Tract. The 10-acre nature preserve protects some of the last undeveloped shoreline on Sanibel. A short trail winds through the bayhead forest overflowing with native vegetation to a quiet stretch of sand.
I love coming here to beachcomb early in the day when I might have the place all to myself. The seclusion allows you to spot wildlife like deer, bobcats, gopher tortoises and a variety of birds that also use the refuge. At high tide, kayakers even paddle in through a channel cutting through the mangroves. Spending time surrounded by such unspoiled natural beauty is the perfect way to open or close any day on Sanibel.
Boat Tours & Water Sports
With Sanibel Island’s front yard being the Gulf of Mexico, getting out on the water enhances any visit. Tour operators offer everything from dolphin cruises to sportfishing charters. For independent adventure, equipment rentals allow you to kayak, paddleboard and more at your own pace.
Tarpon Bay Explorers
The best way to experience the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge from the water is with Tarpon Bay Explorers. The official recreation concessionaire of the refuge runs educational tours and boat rentals out of Tarpon Bay Recreation Area. Start with their touch tank exhibit where kids can get hands-on with sea stars, horseshoe crabs and other marine life.
Next, climb aboard one of the stable pontoon boats with an expert naturalist guide. They’ll slowly pilot through the mangrove tunnels and out into open bays while pointing out birds, sharks, manatees and other wildlife. The sunset cruises are exceptional if you can catch one. For independent exploring, rent a canoe, kayak or paddleboard directly from their beachfront dock.
Sanibel Island Dolphin Tours
If swimming with wild dolphins is on your Sanibel bucket list, Sanibel Island Dolphin Tours can make it happen. Their team pioneered responsibly run dolphin tours in the region over 15 years ago. Climb aboard their custom designed dolphin cruiser and head out into the open waters of Pine Island Sound. An expert captain skillfully maneuvers the boat near dolphin pods while an on-board naturalist provides context on their behaviors and habitat. If the dolphins are interested, you have the life-changing chance to slip into the water for an in-water encounter. The peaceful dolphins may swim right by you, playfully circle around or ride the bow wake. It’s an incredible opportunity to connect with these amazing creatures.
Sanibel Sea School Kayak Tour
For an intimate kayaking experience in wildlife-rich waters, join a Sanibel Sea School guided kayak tour. Their expert naturalists lead beginner-friendly paddling excursions into pristine mangrove tunnels, quiet bays and shallow estuaries. Watch for gentle manatees grazing on seagrass, hear the splash of jumping mullet, and soak in the peaceful beauty. Sea School’s specially designed clear kayaks provide upcoming views of the marine life below. The knowledgeable guides enrich the adventure with insights on the ecology, plant and animals species, and local history. Tours cater to all experience levels and typically last 1-2 hours.
Ocean Tribe Outfitters
Conveniently located right on Sanibel’s world-famous Bowman’s Beach, Ocean Tribe Outfitters offers kayak and stand-up paddleboard rentals for independent exploration. Take out one of their stable kayaks to paddle the shallow bay spotting dolphins, stingrays and shorebirds. For a workout on the water, stand-up paddleboarding engages your core. Guides give lessons and tips if you’re new to the sport before sending you off to skim across glassy bays. The also offer guided tours and eco-adventures like night paddles or mangrove trips. The knowledgeable team ensures a day on the water tailored to your abilities and interests.
The full-service Sanibel Marina near Blind Pass makes it easy to get out on the water for charter fishing, shelling cruises and more. Partner boats like Sanibel Fishing Charters and Sea Life Encounter Sanibel can pick you up right at their dock. Or rent your own powerboat, kayak or canoe and explore on your own. Their ships store stocks any last-minute gear, snacks and drinks you might need for a day of island hopping and wave jumping. Fueling services and boat rentals keep you cruising all day. It’s a perfect home base for all your watersports adventures.
To help you make the most of your Sanibel Island getaway, several organizations provide invaluable trip-planning information, maps, event listings and more.
Sanibel & Captiva Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center
Operated by the Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce, the Visitor Center is a must-stop for island information. Walk amongst displays bursting with brochures, guides and other literature to get oriented. Helpful staff answers questions and provides recommendations tailored to your interests. Check the calendar for special events happening during your stay. They also offer a live webcam streaming beach views if you need a quick island fix from your desk!
Sanibel Public Library
In addition to bestsellers and movies, Sanibel Public Library offers an incredible amount of resources for visitors. Peruse guidebooks, maps, tide charts and area info. Use the free wifi, computers and printers for trip planning. Check their online calendar before your trip for special speakers, book clubs and family programs that provide local flavor. Kids will love the marine tank and regular craft activities as well. It’s much more than just a place for books!
While Sanibel is easy to explore by bike or on foot, pedicabs, taxis and tour buses provide convenient transportation options for when you need a lift.
Ride in comfort with Island Taxi, providing 24/7 service across Sanibel and Captiva. Whether you need pickup from the airport, a ride to dinner or help lugging beach gear, just call Island Taxi. Their team of experienced drivers know the islands inside and out and are ready to whisk you door to door in clean, air-conditioned vehicles. They even offer guided tours complete with fun commentary about island history, celebrity homes and more. Sit back, relax and leave the driving to them.
Sanibel DoubleD Taxi
For prompt, personalized taxi service on Sanibel, call Sanibel DoubleD Taxi and ask for owner Drew. He prides himself on providing friendly, responsive service for visitors and locals alike. Just give a ring and he’ll pick you up in 5-10 minutes in his immaculate Mercedes van. Need a pre-sunrise ride to the beach for shelling? No problem. Dinner plans across the island and don’t want to hassle parking? Call DoubleD. Drew makes his business all about fulfilling riders’ needs with no wasted time. And he’s just a fun guy to chat with along the way!
The easiest way to get around Sanibel’s sprawling beaches, shops and attractions is by renting your own personal pedicab from Sanibel Carts. Their comfortable, customized pedicabs seat up to 4 adults and come equipped with cupholders, coolers and Bluetooth speakers so you can listen to tunes while cruising the island. Just grab a cart at one of their 8 convenient rental stations across the island when you’re ready to go. Return it to any station when you’re done—they make transportation a breeze.
From beachy souvenirs to unique boutiques, Sanibel Island shopping offers something for all interests.
The heart of Sanibel shopping is found along Periwinkle Way. The bustling main drag has variety of stores carrying clothing, gifts, home goods, jewelry, artwork and everything in between. Start at the T-Shirt Hut for your Sanibel souvenirs. Wilford & Lee Home Decor offers upscale coastal furniture and accessories. Stop for an acai bowl break at The Pecking Order. Or indulge in handcrafted chocolates at Bennett’s Fresh Roast. You could spend hours browsing and snacking your way down Periwinkle Way. Don’t miss the iconic Bubble Room restaurant known for its campy decor and generous desserts.
She Sells Sea Shells
It wouldn’t be a trip to Sanibel without shopping for seashells! She Sells Sea Shells lives up to its name with an astonishing selection of shells and sea life. Peruse their collection of local shells like junonia, fighting conch and more rare finds. They also carry shells and coral from exotic destinations around the world. Beyond nature’s treasures, you’ll discover nautically themed home decor, shellcraft jewelry and clothing. Chat with the staff for tips on the best beaches and timing for shelling during your stay.
For upscale resort wear and island casual clothing, check out Island Pursuit in Periwinkle Place. The airy boutique carries top brands like Leilani, Gentleman’s Drawer and Tommy Bahama to keep you stylishly dressed for the Sanibel heat. A well-edited selection of dresses, swimsuits, sandals and other beach vacation necessities fills the store. The helpful staff keeps their inventory spot-on for coastal living and vacations. You’re sure to find everything you need to look and feel your best on the islands.
Food & Drink
From fine dining to flip flop-friendly cafes, Sanibel Island restaurants make the most of fresh local seafood, tropical fruits and ingredients.
For delicious dockside dining, head straight to Gramma Dot’s on Sanibel Marina. Kick off your shoes and wiggle your toes in the sand while you wait for heaping portions of shrimp, oysters, clams, crab and fish dishes arriving fresh daily. Locals flock here for the best lunch combo on the island—their Dockside sandwich with a cup of Gramma Dot’s famous chowder or clam bisque. Enjoy your feast at picnic tables shaded by palm trees as boats gently rock beside you.
The Jacaranda has been a cherished fine dining destination on Sanibel for over 20 years. Charming and romantic, it’s the perfect spot for a special night out celebrating. Start with their signature escargot before indulging in expertly prepared steak or seafood entrees. My favorites include the melt-in-your-mouth butter poached lobster and pistachio crusted grouper. Complimentary valet parking makes for effortless date night dining. Don’t miss their lavish Sunday brunch buffet either!
For family-friendly food and good ole’ fashioned fun on Sanibel, head to Island Cow. Kids love the outdoor playground, beachy vibe, and games like cornhole and life-size Jenga. Grown-ups can sip local craft brews on the open-air patio or cocktail bar. When bellies start grumbling, their signature burgers hit the spot after a day at the beach. Or try one of their “Udderly” delicious woodstone oven pizzas. With live music nightly, Island Cow is always a great time!
Sanibel Tropical Wines
No Sanibel vacation is complete without a stop at Sanibel Tropical Wines. Feel like you just stepped into the Caribbean when you enter their cozy yellow cottage. Chat with the welcoming owners about their impressive selection of wines from Florida, the Americas and even Africa. They’ll help you find perfect pairings whether it’s a bottle for a beach picnic, gifts to take home, or a glass to sip while you shop. Don’t miss their Friday tastings! They call it island time for a reason on Sanibel.
Beyond the beach, Sanibel Island has diverse ecosystems to explore by foot, bike or paddle. Rentals and tours make it easy to gear up.
Sanibel Bike Paths
With 25+ miles of bike paths covering nearly the entire island, cycling really is the best way to explore Sanibel. Well-marked on island maps, the paths provide designated lanes for riding separated from the main roadways. Rent beach cruisers, tandem bikes, adult tricycles or even six-person surreys to pedal with the whole family or group. Pause to snap photos of the iconic bubblegum pink Donax Village cottages. Ride out to the historic Sanibel Lighthouse. Or just surround yourself with natural scenery as you pedal from beach to beach.
Kayak & Paddleboard Rentals
Paddling is a fantastic way to experience Sanibel Island’s endless waterways and coves up close. Numerous outfitters like Ocean Tribe, Tarpon Bay Explorers and others rent kayaks and stand up paddleboards by the hour or day. Group and individual instruction is available for beginners. Head out at dawn or dusk for the most tranquil paddling as the light shimmers across the bays. Pack a snorkel to peer at marine life below the clear waters. And don’t forget the waterproof camera to capture photos during your peaceful paddle!
Great Calusa Blueway
For outstanding kayaking and paddleboarding, explore the Great Calusa Blueway, a 190 mile marked paddling trail through the mangroves, estuaries and waters surrounding Sanibel. Maps and signs make navigating straightforward even for beginners. The diversity of ecosystems you’ll traverse are incredible—one moment gliding above sea grass beds filled with marine life, then ducking under mangrove tunnels the next. You might even paddle right by mansions and only see roofs! Local outfitters like Tarpon Bay Explorers lead guided trips on the Blueway to maximize wildlife viewing.
Sanibel Moorings Botanical Gardens
When you need a break from the beach, head to the serene Sanibel Moorings Botanical Garden. Winding paths reveal native tropical plants and striking sculptures at every turn. Butterfly and bird lovers adore the hip-high butterfly garden specifically planted to attract winged-beauties. Docents lead informative garden tours to unlock more of its hidden secrets. It’s amazing that this tranquil oasis sits just steps from the bustle of Sanibel’s streets and shops. The lush grounds are open daily for quiet wandering, reflection and appreciation of nature’s artistry.
Concerts & Shows
Beyond world-class recreation, shopping and dining, Sanibel Island offers fantastic entertainment, concerts and cultural performances.
BIG ARTS – Barrier Island Group for the Arts
On a Sanibel Island trip, save a evening for the performing arts at BIG ARTS. The non-profit cultural center is the epicenter for arts education, exhibits and events on the islands. Check their online calendar for the line-up during your visit—it typically includes concerts, films, lectures, Broadway shows and workshops. Enjoy jazz nights or classical music in the intimate performance hall. Laugh at monthly comedy shows. Catch an indie flick or classic cinema. With diverse offerings almost daily, BIG ARTS is a one-stop entertainment hub.
While it’s easy to be completely enchanted by Sanibel Island, consider taking a day trip or two to discover more of Southwest Florida’s beauty. Here are top picks for nearby adventures:
Just north of Sanibel, the Old Florida town of Boca Grande on Gasparilla Island offers a neat change of pace for a day. Explore the historic downtown district with unique shops and eateries. Walk out to the iconic Boca Grande Lighthouse or fish from the shore of Gasparilla State Park. Time your visit for a sunset stroll down the main drag and get a taste of old-world coastal living at its finest.
Accessible only by boat, Useppa Island feels like taking a step back in time. The exclusive enclave is home to just a few dozen residences, historic buildings, two restaurants and a quaint museum. Walk or bike the network of nature trails through the interior or play croquet on impeccably manicured lawns. Take the 20-minute ferry or book a sunset cruise for the full private island experience.
Just north of Sanibel and accessible by road, Captiva Island dazzles with over a dozen miles of glistening white beaches. Drive, bike or walk up Captiva Drive to cottage cafes, beach clubs and boutiques in the main village area. Or escape to more secluded stretches like Turner Beach tucked away at the northern end. Make time for a sunset celebration at The Mucky Duck or Bubble Room restaurants before heading back.
If you want a guided experience to introduce you to Sanibel Island, tours allow you to leave the planning to experts. Here are top tour operators to consider:
Sanibel Custom Charters
For a private, customized tour, book Sanibel Custom Charters operated by Captains Jim and Jamie. Offering 4 or 6 passenger tours in a comfortable SUV, they design the perfect itinerary based on your interests which may include beach hopping, dolphin encounters, historic sites, nature preserves, shopping and more. The knowledgeable locals love sharing hidden hot spots and stories that you’d never discover on your own. It’s like having a friend show you around!
Barefoot Charters Guide Boat
Experience Sanibel’s waters like an insider with Barefoot Charters and Captain Brian Holaway. His shallow draft skiff allows accessing remote kayak trails and shorelines the bigger boats can’t reach. As you glide through mangrove tunnels and across seagrass flats, he points out dolphins, birds and other wildlife—even jumping out to catch creatures for onboard show and tell! His passion for the local ecosystem is contagious. Private tours are completely customizable, making for an unforgettable day on the water.
Billy’s Island Bike Rentals & Tours
See Sanibel from the saddle with Billy’s Island Bike Rentals and their combo bike rental/guided tours. After outfitting you with the perfect bike for your needs, their expert guides lead informative and fun rides to Sanibel’s top spots. Bike paths and quiet roads mean you avoid traffic while soaking in nature. Custom and themed tours like foodie rides, lighthouse trips or fitness rides guarantee a day of adventure tailored to you. It’s the best way to cover the whole island!
Experience Sanibel’s incredible marine ecosystem up close with McCarthy’s Marina Sea Life Encounter. Their custom boat allows viewing beautiful sea life in comfort through large glass panels just below the surface even while underway. Their knowledgeable Captain “Grouper Jeff” skillfully pilots to shallow reefs and wrecks where plate-sized starfish, colorful corals and tropical fish await. Dolphin sightings are nearly guaranteed. It’s 2-hours of family-friendly education and awe!
As you can see, Sanibel Island offers endless options for making lasting vacation memories. With world-class beaches, abundant wildlife, historic sites, recreational adventures, shopping, dining and cultural experiences, boredom doesn’t exist on this enchanting island escape. Start planning your Sanibel getaway and let your Florida vacation dreams come true!