When to visit
- Very Favourable
What to do
- Worth the detour
- Must see
Sanibel Island is a real shell-collector's paradise. The east-west orientation of the island’s south end acts like a shovel, scooping up the more than 200 species of seashells brought in by the currents. Some beaches are literally carpeted with them. So many people go shelling that the bent-at-the-waist stance has even been dubbed the “Sanibel Stoop"!
It was only in 1963 that the island was connected to the mainland by a causeway. Its exquisite scenery, blue waters as far as the eye can see and spectacular sunsets make Sanibel an essential destination when visiting southern Florida.
Lighthouse Beach Park
Lighthouse Beach is mostly frequented by families. It is named for the historic lighthouse found there. Swimming, fishing and walks around the marshes are the most popular activities. There are also washroom facilities, picnic tables and shaded pavilions.
110 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel Island
Beautiful Bowman's Beach is everything you could dream of for a perfect getaway: it is secluded, quiet and not very crowded. It is one of the most popular beaches on Sanibel. There are several amenities, including a children's playground. It is also the only beach with barbecue grills where you can cook while enjoying the spectacular sunset.
1700 Bowman's Beach Road, Sanibel Island
Tarpon Bay Beach
Another white sand beach, perfect for shelling. It has washroom facilities (water fountains, showers and toilets) and picnic tables. It is a short hike from the parking lot to the beach.
111 Tarpon Bay Road, Sanibel Island
Turner Beach is one of the most popular for shelling. Swimming can be dangerous because of the swift currents. There are no washroom facilities. Turner Beach is just after Blind Pass Bridge connecting Sanibel to Captiva Island.
17200 Captiva Drive, Captiva Island
The best time to go shelling is just before low tide, preferably at sunrise. Shelling around the full or new moon will increase your chances of finding beautiful specimens!
One of the best places for finding small, colourful shells is around the Sanibel Lighthouse end of the island, while larger shells are found closer to Captiva. Junonia, Lion’s Paw Scallop and Scotch Bonnet are some of the rare species you may find, and are highly prized by collectors!
Important: live shelling is prohibited by Florida state law. Make sure that the shells you collect do not have an animal living inside.
Do you know the "Sanibel Shuffle"?
It consists of jumping into the sea and shuffling your feet to scare away any small rays that might be nearby, as they can often be found near the beaches. Another popular Sanibel activity! That said, a ray sting can be painful but it is not dangerous.
A bit of history…
You will notice that Sanibel is surrounded by many small deserted islands. They create a fantastic natural environment to explore by boat!
Sanibel is said to have been the home base of the infamous pirate captain José Gaspar many years ago. Legend has it that he held his female prisoners captive on Captiva Island, imprisoned his beloved Mexican princess Joseffa on Useppa Island, hid his treasure on Gasparilla Island, and made his home on Pine Island...
J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge
This park covering more than one-third of the island was created to safeguard and enhance the pristine wildlife habitat of Sanibel Island, to protect endangered and threatened species, and to provide feeding, nesting, and roosting areas for migratory birds. Along the wooden boardwalks you can sometimes see Gopher tortoises and even alligator crossings on the bay side.
The park is a bird watchers' paradise! One of the best times of the day to view some of the 245 species of birds is early in the morning, at low tide. From your car on Wildlife Drive, you may see pelicans, spoonbills, anhingas, woodpeckers, herons, egrets and other beautiful waterfowl. The road is open every day except Fridays.
You can also enjoy kayaking, canoeing, or paddleboarding on the quiet waters of the park (equipment can be rented on location). The visitor centre is open every day from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
1 Wildlife Drive, Sanibel Island / 239-472-1100
Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum
Sanibel's Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum has more than 2 million shells in its collection, including specimens from around the globe. It's the perfect place to identify the shells you've found during your trip. Open every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
3075 Sanibel-Captiva Road, Sanibel Island / 239-395-2233
Biking is without a doubt the best way to explore Sanibel. With its more than 35 km of bike trails, you can get just about anywhere on the island by bike, even places not accessible by car.
Bicycles can be rented at Finnimore's Cycle for a good price.
2353 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel Island / 239-472-5577
A short bridge at the northern tip of Sanibel Island leads to Captiva Island . Captiva is home to tourist resorts, some good restaurants, and more beautiful beaches where you can add to your collection of shells.
Several companies offer tours to explore the beautiful pristine islands nearby, such as Captiva Cruises:
11401 Andy Rosse Lane, Captiva Island / 239-472-5300
Sometimes overlooked by visitors in favor of the Everglades, Naples boasts many white sandy beaches and the particularly calm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The city appeals to a wide range of visitors with its 35 golf courses and its high-end boutiques and art galleries.
Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park
This park boasts one of the most pristine stretches of beach in the world, with 2 km of white sand and calm waters. It's the perfect spot to build a sandcastle or just relax in the sun. Open every day from 8 a.m. until sunset.
11135 Gulfshore Drive, Naples / 239-597-6196
Historic Old Naples is the place to browse high-end boutiques and art galleries, unwind on the patio of a good restaurant or take a break in the shade of some palm trees.
5th Avenue S. and 3rd Street S.
This scenic route runs along the Gulf of Mexico for about 10 km. Start on Mooring Line Drive which becomes Gulf Shore Boulevard. Turn left on 19th Avenue and then right on Gordon Drive until you reach Gordon's Pass. You will see luxury homes and beautiful beaches. Also note the Naples Pier (735 8th Street), built in 1888, a symbol of the city and its history.
Where to eat
- $ Inexpensive
- $$ Moderate
- $$$ Upscale
- $$$$ Fine dining
Pinocchio's Original Italian Ice Cream ($)
A must! Pinocchio's ice cream, frozen yogurt, sorbet and gelato are handcrafted in-house. They offer many unique and delicious flavours, some of which are inspired by the local beaches, others by Tuscany, and the frozen treats are always fresh (if they make it on Monday, they serve it on Tuesday or Wednesday.) The portions are generous: you won't be disappointed! Open daily from 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
362 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel Island / 239-472-6566
The Island Cow ($$-$$$)
The perfect place to start the day! The breakfast menu is impressive, with a wide selection of pancakes, eggs prepared just how you like them, sandwiches and even seafood omelettes! You will also love the patio, the festive atmosphere, the interesting menu, the great cookies, the cold drinks, the outdoor games and the live entertainment. Open daily from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
2163 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel Island / 239-472-0606
Sweet Melissa’s Cafe ($$$$)
One of the island's favourite restaurants. A real culinary journey awaits you here. Chef/owner and artist Melissa Talmage offers a varied and creative menu prepared with eclectic ingredients. Be sure to try her fish stew or her tomato and watermelon salad. Open for lunch Tuesday-Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and for dinner Tuesday-Saturday from 5 p.m.
1625 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel Island / 239-472-1956
The Mad Hatter ($$$$)
This popular restaurant offers American cuisine at its best in a cozy, romantic setting! The menu is varied and prepared with fresh seasonal ingredients. You will enjoy your experience as much for the beautiful sunsets as for the food and service. Open daily from 4:45 p.m.
6467 Sanibel-Captiva Road, Sanibel Island / 239-472-0033
Where to sleep ?
- Very Favourable