Guide to Visiting Florida’s Sanibel Island
Sanibel Island provides a blissful retreat from the chaotic rush of city life. Less than an hour’s drive from Bonita Springs, this scenic island is the perfect setting for a peaceful weekend getaway. You’ll love the back-to-nature experience of the secluded island without streetlights or stoplights, where you can slow down to relax and recharge, surrounded by lush tropical beauty.
Sanibel Island offers a variety of things to do, including sightseeing, exploring beaches, and various sporting and recreational activities. From lodging to dining, and everything in between, here’s a guide to spending the weekend at Sanibel Island.
The first thing you’ll need to do is find somewhere to stay. The elegant Casa Ybel Resort offers Gulf-facing suites with private balconies and beach access. For a luxurious spa getaway, visit the Sundial Beach Resort & Spa, where mom and dad can spend the day getting pampered while the kids hang out at Turtle Scouts, the hotel’s day camp. The kids’ camp provides supervision and engaging activities like crafts, beach fishing, pickleball, and croquet for children aged six to 13.
As an alternative to the standard crowded resort, choose a cottage location. Castaways Cottages of Sanibel offers one-, two-, and three-bedroom cottages or efficiency rooms to provide comfort and privacy. Castaways Cottages has a heated pool, bike and kayak rentals, and Gulf-front beach access at its private marina. The Inns of Sanibel has four distinct locations and offers a selection of guestrooms, cottages, or suites.
Beaches and Nature
Sanibel Island and the smaller connected Captiva Island offer nearly 40 miles of beaches to explore. Bowman’s Beach is secluded, far from hotels, with barbecue grills and stunning views, while Captiva Beach is optimal for soaking in a spectacular sunset.
Blind Pass is the narrow strait between Sanibel and Captiva Islands, and Blind Pass Beach has the benefit of having both a gulf side and a bayside for a unique beach experience. On the bayside, you can fish or watch for aquatic wildlife like dolphins or manatees. At the same time, the gulf side gives an excellent location for kayaking or more thrilling water sports like windsurfing and kiteboarding. Blind Pass Beach is one of Sanibel Island’s most popular areas for shell collecting since the currents between Sanibel and Captiva Islands constantly deposit seashells onto the sandy beach.
The Sanibel Island community takes great care to protect wildlife and the island’s ecosystem, part of what makes this island so beautiful and pristine. The J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge has a free Visitor and Education Center, a nature store, and various nature exhibits. The refuge has a four-mile Wildlife Drive accessible by car, bicycle, and foot that offers stunning oceanic views and wildlife and birdwatching opportunities.
Nature lovers must visit the Botanical Gardens at Sanibel Moorings to see more wildlife, birds, and butterflies as you stroll the breathtaking six acres of colorful gardens and hundreds of native and tropical plants like hibiscus and orchids.
Exploring and Sightseeing
Although the island is only 12 miles long, there is plenty to explore on Sanibel. Visit the historic Sanibel Island Lighthouse during your stay, built in 1884 and restored in 2013. The lighthouse offers plenty of parking for guests, who can enjoy fishing, shelling, and spectacular photo opportunities.
The endless supply of shells on the island inspired the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum, which is much more than a repository of shells. While the Great Hall of Shells displays an impressive selection of record-holding seashells, temporary exhibits include attractions like a fantastic collection of nocturnal marine life photography and a display of shells used in clothing and fashion. The museum’s OctoCam is a live stream of the facility’s Giant Pacific Octopus, where you can watch the animal swimming, eating, and playing in its enclosure. You can even download the museum’s app to identify shells from your photos.
Learn about the history of the island at the Sanibel Historical Museum and Village from the Calusa and Spanish eras to the early 1800s, when pioneer families began settling on Sanibel. Costumed docents share stories and relics from the island’s past, and you can visit many restored and preserved buildings dating back to the late 1800s.
For those who prefer a structured sightseeing experience, the Tarpon Bay Explorers at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge offers guided nature and boating tours. You can select from various boat cruises, kayak and paddleboard excursions, fishing charters, or the Wildlife Refuge tram tour.
Sports and Recreational Activities
Sanibel Island has many recreational activities. Bikes are available to rent all over the island, and you can also enjoy water sports like kayaking, canoeing, and paddle boarding. Try deep-sea fishing if you’ve never done that. The island also has pickleball, tennis courts, and scenic golf courses.
Arts and Entertainment
Sanibel Island’s cultural hub is the BIG ARTS center which hosts performance arts like music, theater, dance, fine arts exhibits, film screenings, educational lecture series, and other artistic events. The campus features two theaters for performance arts and galleries which display rotating paintings, sculptures, and other visual art exhibits. Check the BIG ARTS calendar to see current workshops and classes.
With over 50 restaurants to choose from on the island, you won’t go hungry during your visit to Sanibel. Keylime Bistro serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner and hosts daily live entertainment. Kids will love The Fish House Restaurant’s eclectic and colorful decor, and the casual atmosphere is perfect for family dining. The Island Cow is another family-friendly restaurant with outdoor seating, yard games to entertain the kids, and live music.
Make sure to save room for dessert so you can visit Sanibel’s Best Homemade Ice Cream, where the family can sample exotic homemade ice cream flavors like Dolphin Tracks, Purple Cow, and Sanibel Sea Shells. Inside the ice cream store, you’ll also find a bakery and coffee shop that serves breakfast, croissants, and sandwiches.
Are you ready to spend a weekend at Sanibel Island? Our team at Bonita Springs Mitsubishi hopes that this guide inspires you with some great ideas. Check out a few of these suggestions, and let us know your favorite Sanibel Island activities and attractions.