The best things to do on Sanibel Island, FL

  • Post last modified:July 30, 2023
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Sanibel Island has wonderful beaches, shelling called the best in the world and a special bond to nature. You don’t find any high rises or flashy billboards on Sanibel Island. Instead the best things to do on Sanibel Island include unwinding and enjoying the amazing nature that you find wherever you look.

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Hurricane Ian update: At the end of September 2022, Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel Island and Captiva Island were severely hit by Hurricane Ian. While still recovering, the local community appreciates your interest in visiting the area.

Head over to Sanibel Lighthouse

Lighthouse Beach Park is located on the eastern tip of Sanibel Island. The charming area with a lighthouse, pier and beach is one of the most popular places to visit on Sanibel.

Sanibel’s historic lighthouse is the most iconic part of Lighthouse Beach Park. It was built in the 1800s and has watched over Sanibel Island since then. Nestled among palm trees Sanibel Island Lighthouse is certainly a sight to see.

Shelling on Sanibel Island
Sanibel Lighthouse.

Bike around Sanibel Island

There are about 25 miles (40 km) of paved bike trails for you to explore on Sanibel. To travel around the island by bicycle is both convenient and one of the most appreciated things to do on Sanibel Island.

So hop on the bike and get ready to discover some of the best things to do on Sanibel Island by bike. Soon you find out that some of the best beaches are the beaches that most people don’t find.

Sanibel Island bike
Sanibel Island by bike.

Visit J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge

For anyone, not just the bird lover or photographer, J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel is a big experience. More than 200 bird species have been sighted in the refuge, and that’s just the sighted ones. The birds on Sanibel among others include pelicans, spoonbills, cardinals.

Its untouched nature makes J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge one of the best things to do on Sanibel Island. The refuge is a treasure that represents the old Florida and it contributes to Sanibel’s position as one of the most unique Florida islands.

Bird watching in Florida.
Bird watching on Sanibel Island.

Amazing shelling is a must thing to do on Sanibel Island

Sanibel is literally made of shells and shelling is one of the best things to do on Sanibel Island. Its shores scoop up the beautiful shells of different types from the Gulf of Mexico. Anywhere on the southern coast of Sanibel from east to west is a good place to go for a hunt.

Popular beaches for shelling on Sanibel Island include Blind Pass Beach, Bowman’s Beach, Tarpon Bay Road Beach, Gulfside City Park and Lighthouse Beach. The shelling on the island is world famous and a fun Sanibel thing to do for all ages.

Shelling on Sanibel Island
World-class shelling on Sanibel.

Go for a peaceful beach walk

A great and soothing thing to do on your Sanibel vacation is to go for a dreamy beach walk. There are so many picturesque beaches on Sanibel that you even could pick a new beach to walk every day. And you don’t need to take many steps on the sand before you feel more relaxed.

As you walk along the shore it’s only you, the sand and the waves. Exploring the stunning Sanibel beaches by foot is a great way to unwind. You can almost touch the peacefulness when you explore the surroundings on Sanibel Island. The bond to nature is special on Sanibel and that’s certainly very appreciated.

Cottage and palm trees on Sanibel
Relaxing times on Sanibel Island.

Explore the friendly neighbor Captiva Island

One of the best things to do when visiting Sanibel is to go to the even more remote sister island Captiva. Captiva Island is located north of Sanibel and doesn’t have a direct connection with the mainland. But the two islands are connected by a bridge where the northern tip of Sanibel meets the southern tip of Captiva.

Captiva Island has many of the same traits as Sanibel with beautiful beaches and tropical Florida nature. But Captiva manages to be even quieter and more laid-back than Sanibel as it’s further away from the mainland. So expect a very relaxed day far from it all when you go to visit Captiva Island.

Captiva Island near Sanibel Island
Overlooking Captiva Island.

Check out the more lively Fort Myers Beach

The best things to do on Sanibel Island are all about appreciating nature. But if you get tired of the quiet beach days and want some more liveliness the answer is just 30 minutes away.

Fort Myers Beach across the bridge offers the whole package when it comes to restaurants, shops and bars. Its Times Square area is much livelier than anything you find on Sanibel Island. So if you want something else than quiet days in nature it’s a superb contrast to take a drive over to the mainland and Fort Myers Beach.

High rises in Fort Myers Beach with Sanibel Island in the background
The contrasting Fort Myers Beach.

Enjoy a Sanibel sunset from a prime location

That the day is about to turn into night doesn’t mean that the good times end on Sanibel Island. Sanibel’s location on the Gulf Coast of Florida makes the island a great place for stunning sunsets.

The best sunsets on Sanibel are on the western side of the island where you get to see the sun disappear right in front of you. Therefore anywhere on or near Bowman’s Beach is a great sunset location. Enjoying the beautiful Gulf Coast sunsets is one of the best things to do on Sanibel Island.

Florida sunset.
Sanibel sunset.

Find a hotel for your Sanibel getaway, FL

Use the booking tool below to find the best places to stay on Sanibel Island. Browse the map for options in various areas, or click on the search button to get all options listed.

Best things to do on Sanibel Island FAQ

Here you find the answers to some frequently asked questions about visiting Sanibel Island, Florida.

What is Sanibel Island known for?

Sanibel Island is well-known for the picturesque shelling beaches and a traditional Florida lifestyle. A large portion of the island consists of J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, which is home to a wide range of birds and other animals.

What’s the best time of the year to visit Sanibel?

Sanibel Island is a tropical gem that’s popular to visit year-round. However, outdoor acitvities are more comfortable during spring, autumn and winter. So avoid the summer if you want to dodge the hottest temperatures.

How long is the bridge to get to Sanibel?

The Sanibel Causeway that takes you from the mainland to Sanibel is 3 miles (4.8 km) long from end to end. But the mental distance is much further as Sanibel is so different compared to the mainland.

Are there alligators on Sanibel Island?

Most visitors never see alligators on Sanibel Island. However, Sanibel and its more than 2,200 acres of freshwater wetlands are home to a substantial population of alligators. In other words, they are there but mostly prefer to not interfere with humans.

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