Discover Your New Favorite Florida Travel Destination

Top Sanibel Island Attractions to Visit

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There are quite a few Sanibel Island attractions that visitors can choose from, and it can be tough to know where to start. Sanibel Island is a beautiful place located off the coast of Florida. The island has been a popular tourist destination for many years, and there are several reasons why.

Aerial view of  Sanibel with a Lighthouse, blue skies, and water in Florida

The island of endless summer is easy to get to – it’s just a short 22-minute drive from Fort Myers, and there are several airports in the area that offer flights to and from Sanibel. There are several more reasons to appreciate Sanibel Island.

If you’re driving, your first stop must be at the visitor information center of Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce, where you can pick up a map to start exploring!

How do you get to Sanibel Island?

The Sanibel Causeway as seen from helicopter.

Getting to Sanibel Island is easy. There are many ways to get there —one is by flying into Fort Myers airport and driving over the Sanibel Causeway. Sanibel Island is around 12 miles long and 3 miles wide, so it’s easy to get around.

What are the best months of the year to visit Sanibel Island?

The best time of the year to go to Sanibel Island depends on what you’re looking for. Avoid crowds by visiting when the temperatures are a bit cooler —the beaches will still be beautiful! Although swimming may not be ideal, there are many other things to do.

If you’re looking for warmer weather, visit between December and April. Remember that since this is the peak season, the beaches may be crowded during these months.

What is unique about Sanibel Island?

Sanibel Island is unique for quite a few reasons. The beaches are one of the main attractions —the gorgeous beaches are excellent locations for outdoor fun like fishing, shelling, water sports, etc. Many endangered animals live on the island, making it a popular spot for eco-tourists.

And finally, the island has a laid-back, relaxed atmosphere that makes it a great place to unwind. You can stay in one of many Sanibel Island hotels and relax on the beach or participate in one of several activities available on the island. You cannot miss the shopping at Periwinkle Place. There are 141 or 40,000 square feet of shopping spaces at Periwinkle Place!

What are the best attractions on Sanibel Island?

There are several fascinating things to see on Sanibel Island, but here are a few of our favorites.

Beaches

Sanibel is popular because of its beautiful beaches, and it’s easy to see why. They are some of the best in Florida. We’ll discuss some of them in this article.

Wildlife

Tails of diving Common bottlenose dolphins near Sanibel island in Florida

Sanibel is home to many rare and endangered species, so it’s an excellent place for eco-tourists. The island has various wildlife, including alligators, birds, fish, dolphins, and manatees.

Book accommodations in one of the Sanibel Island hotels nearby so you can be close to all the action. 

Restaurants

There are many excellent restaurants in Sanibel, and they offer a wide variety of cuisines. Below, we have a sampling of places for eats on the island that have received 4- to 5-star reviews.

Shops

Sanibel is home to some great shops, and you can find everything from souvenirs to high-end clothing. Keep on reading to discover where to go.

Golf Courses

There are several excellent golf courses on the island, and they offer a challenging experience for golfers of all levels. Flex some muscles and play some tennis or a round of golf at the Dunes Golf and Tennis Club on Periwinkle Way.

Kayaking and Other Outdoor Activities

Sanibel is a great place to go kayaking, and there are several excellent kayaking trails on the island. Kayak rentals are available at several places like Tarpon Bay Explorers, so it’s easy to get started.

Also, enjoy other water activities such as swimming, snorkeling, and fishing —all fun things to do outdoors!

Biking and Hiking

Sanibel is a great place to go biking, and there are several excellent trails on the island. The island is also home to several bike shops where you can rent a bike.

If you’re looking for a more challenging hike, then check out the hiking trails on the island. They offer great views of the beaches and the wildlife.

Fishing and Shelling

Sanibel is a great place to fish, and there are several good spots for anglers of all levels.

It’s the ideal location to unwind, relax, and forget about the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Visit Sanibel Island and enjoy several attractions.

11 Sanibel Island Attractions

  1. Sanibel Lighthouse
  2. Sanibel Lighthouse Beach Park
  3. J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge
  4. Bailey Tract
  5. Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum
  6. Blind Pass Beach
  7. Sanibel Moorings Botanical Gardens
  8. Bowman’s Beach
  9. Sanibel Historical Museum and Villages
  10. The Sanibel Causeway
  11. Sanibel Island Farmers Market

Sanibel Island Lighthouse

Sanibel Lighthouse - Point Ybel Light. Sanibel, Florida, USA.

The Sanibel Island Lighthouse is one of the Sanibel Island attractions you won’t want to miss. The iron skeleton tower was built in the 1880s and had a spiral staircase in its center. It begins 10 feet below the sandy ground and goes 98-ft above sea level.

The Sanibel lighthouse is a popular tourist attraction. It was first lit in 1884 and was in operation from August of that year. It was built to allow passage into San Carlos Bay. In 1972, there was an attempt to shut it down, but the people opposed it. 

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it is now a museum open to the public and offers tours. Visitors can climb the tower of the Sanibel Island Lighthouse and enjoy the views from the top.. 

Sanibel Lighthouse Beach Park

This park is right next to the Sanibel lighthouse and offers a beautiful view of the beach and the lighthouse. The Sanibel Lighthouse Beach Park also has a children’s playground, a butterfly garden, and picnic areas.

The Sanibel fishing pier is also located inside Sanibel Lighthouse Beach Park. It is a T-dock pier with a bait and tackle shop, restroom facilities, and fishing stations.

Pack some lunch and enjoy the day taking in the views of the Sanibel Lighthouse and the Sanibel Causeway. Not to worry, picnic tables are provided!

J. N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge

White pelican bird in a marsh along the Ding Darling Wildlife Preserve on Sanibel Island, Florida

The J. N. Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge is a 5,200-acre nature preserve on Sanibel Island. The refuge was established in 1976 and is now the largest wildlife reserve in Florida.

The refuge has a visitor center, which offers interactive exhibits, a nature store, and a children’s play area.

The Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge is home to various plants and animals, including alligators, crocodiles, manatees, fish, as well as dolphins. It has four hiking trails, including the Indigo Trail, a two-mile loop around the visitor center, and a petting zoo.

Great for bird watching, it’s home to more than 245 species of birds. Take a stroll down the Wildlife Education Boardwalk, a 1.2-mile walk that leads to an observation platform over wetlands where visitors can see wading birds en masse. Bald eagles, great blue herons, minks, as well as river otters are just some of the animals you can spot.  

The Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge opens its doors daily from sunrise to sunset. The refuge is a must-see for any nature lover visiting Sanibel Island.

Bailey Matthews Shell Museum

The Bailey Matthews Shell Museum is a small but interesting museum on Sanibel Island. In 1995, they opened to the public, and it is now home to more than 30 exhibits of 50 species of mollusks and the shells they create.

The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum is the only museum dedicated exclusively to shells. It was founded in 1990 on land gifted by brothers John, Francis, and Sam Bailey in memory of their parents, Frank P. Bailey and Annie Mead Matthews.

The museum features many shells, the rarest and largest shots like the lightning whelk, Atlantic trumpet triton, the horse conch, Goliath conch, scallops, clams, urchins, etc. It also has an extensive collection of shark teeth and fossil shells.

The Bailey Matthews Shell Museum is a great place to learn about the history and biology of seashells. Shell collectors will love discovering new shells that they might want to add to their collections here.

If you have always wondered what shells to find along the lovely Sanibel Beach, the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum is the place to discover them. 

The museum also offers educational programs for school groups and adults. It’s a great place to learn about shells’ history, biology, and ecology.

Blind Pass Beach

Blind Pass Beach during sunset, a beautiful Sanibel Island Attraction

Blind Pass Beach is a beautiful, secluded beach. It’s perfect for a day of relaxation and enjoying the sun and sand. It spans across Captiva and Sanibel Islands.

Aside from the beach being an excellent place for swimming, sunbathing, and shelling, Blind Pass Beach is also a popular fishing spot. 

It’s said to have the best shelling in the area. You can find Blind Pass Beach at the end of Blind Pass Road.

Sanibel Moorings Botanical Gardens

The Sanibel Moorings Botanical Gardens is a beautiful botanical garden. The lush vegetation and tranquil ponds make it a great place to relax and escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

The Sanibel Moorings feature a wide variety of plants, including orchids, bromeliads, palms, and ferns. They also have an extensive collection of cacti and succulents. Monarch butterflies and Eastern Black Swallowtails love Sanibel Moorings Botanical Gardens!

The gardens are open Wednesdays from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm, and admission is $10 per person. The gardens are located at the Sanibel Moorings Marina, on the north end.

Bowman’s Beach

Seagulls standing by the water at the beach at Bowmans Beach, a Sanibel Island attraction

Bowman’s Beach is another beautiful white-sand beach on Sanibel Island. It’s excellent for swimming and sunbathing, but live shelling is not allowed on the beach. Bowman’s Beach is known to fly rodders for excellent catches of tarpon using fly lures and bait.

You can find Bowman’s Beach at 1700 Bowman’s Beach Rd, Sanibel.

It offers a beautiful view of the Gulf of Mexico and is a great place to enjoy a day at the beach. It has a playground for kids, picnic tables, hiking and biking trails, restroom facilities, and showers. These amenities make it perfect for a family outing.

Sanibel Historical Museum & Village

The Sanibel Historical Museum & Village is a museum dedicated to the history of Sanibel Island that features exhibits on the island’s history, people, and culture. You can find additional data and information in the research library and archives at the Sanibel Historical Museum. 

In the historic village, you’ll find the 1913 Rutland House, a schoolhouse, a general store, a post office, a blacksmith shop, a tea room, and the 1900 Sanibel Packing House. The packing house is where farmers brought their locally-produced vegetables and fruit —citrus, especially, to be packed and shipped to other parts of the U.S.

Sanibel Causeway, Sanibel Island

The Sanibel Island Causeway as seen from helicopter on a sunny day.

The Sanibel Causeway is a bridge that connects Sanibel Island to the mainland of Florida. It’s three miles long and offers beautiful views of the bay. This causeway consists of three bridges. In between the bridges is Causeway Islands Park, a popular spot for fishing. It is a great place to take a walk or bike ride. 

Sanibel Island Farmers Market

This Farmers Market happens every Sunday at City Hall from 8:00 am to 12:00 pm. It features local produce, baked goods, tropical plants, and artisan crafts.

Which is better, Sanibel Island or Captiva Island?

Sanibel Island and Captiva Island are both located in Lee County, Florida. They are both about 20 miles from Fort Myers, Florida.

Sanibel Island is known for sandy beaches, kayaking, and great fishing. Captiva Island is smaller.

So, which is better? It depends on what you’re looking for. If you want glorious beaches and excellent fishing, Sanibel Island is the better choice.

Sunbathing and scuba diving are popular activities on Captiva Beach. And if you want to view mansions and play golf, go to Captiva Island.

What restaurants and eateries should you try in Sanibel?

Sanibel Island has a wide variety of eateries; some are award-winning restaurants, so you’re sure to find something to your taste.

Some of the favorites include:

The Island Cow

Fresh raw oysters and lemon, an example of what you can eat at Sanibel Island

For some fun cow-themed aesthetics, try this delicious restaurant. Grab a tropical cocktail alongside a juicy burger. If you’re more in the mood for seafood, they have a raw bar that is sure to delight. The Island Cow is a great place to relax on “island time.”

Blue Giraffe Restaurant

This restaurant is known for its creative cuisine and beautiful views. It is highly rated for its excellent seafood dishes, which only use fresh, local ingredients. The Blue Giraffe is a great spot for a romantic dinner.

The Sandbar

If you can’t decide between seafood or steak, head to the Sandbar. The fast and friendly service, fresh food, and of course, the crab cakes make this restaurant a gem in Sanibel.

Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille

This restaurant’s name comes from Randy Wayne White’s mystery novel set in Sanibel. Doc Ford is the main character in “Dead of Night.” 

The restaurant features Yucatan Shrimp —steamed peel and eat shrimp seasoned with their blend of seafood seasoning.

Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille is a great place to enjoy tropical drinks and Caribbean-inspired cuisine.

Mudbugs Cajun Kitchen Grill

This restaurant is known for Cajun and Creole cuisine. It’s a great place to go for a spicy meal. Try some alligator and frog legs if you’re feeling brave or looking for something exotic. There’s also live music from 5–9 pm and happy hour from 3–6 pm.

Traders Restaurant on Sanibel

This restaurant offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner. American cuisine, seafood, sandwiches, salads, and more are on the menu. With live music every night, it’s a fun and upbeat place!. Grab some souvenirs from their gift shop.

Rosies Cafe and Grill

Rosies is a great place to go for breakfast. Try the upside-down pineapple pancakes, western omelet, hashbrowns, and perfectly cooked bacon are always a hit. It has a casual atmosphere with both indoor and outdoor seating. It’s a perfect way to end your escape!

Grandma Dots

Coconut shrimp on a bed of greens, an example of what to eat on Sanibel Island

This small diner is a local favorite, serving salads and sandwiches. Grandma Dot’s mesquite grilled grouper, coconut shrimp, and key lime pie are very popular. They have outdoor seating right on the dock.

The Timbers Restaurant and Fish Market

The Timbers Restaurant and Fish Market is a great place to go for the freshest seafood. The Crunchy Grouper served with a baked potato is highly recommended. It is a must-try!

The Lazy Flamingo

The Lazy Flamingo is a fun place to go for food, drinks, and beer. Their menu is all about local seafood —plated in an enjoyable way using plastic shell-shaped dishes. It’s a fun place for hanging out and listening to live music seven days a week.

Sunset Grill

This grill is located on the beach and offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Sunset Grill offers elevated seafood-centered meals. Go for brunch and try their seafood benedict!

Sanibel Island has something for everyone. Whether you’re in the mood for fine dining or casual family meals, Sanibel has a restaurant for you! 

This beautiful island has so much to offer for a quiet and relaxing getaway. From beaches to gardens to markets to restaurants, Sanibel has it all. So, what are you waiting for? Pack your suitcase and head on down to this lovely island!

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