Sanibel & Captiva Islands attracts vacationers looking for the perfect island adventure and that perfect island adventure often turns into a summer home or year round home in this inviting tropical paradise. Swimming, sailing, snorkeling, kitesurfing, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, shelling, birdwatching, historical walks, nature walks, golf, tennis, and yoga delight visitors and residents alike. Here are some of the must see attractions on Sanibel & Captiva Islands that will better inform your favorite adventure as you enjoy this unique island paradise.
Sanibel Island Lighthouse: In 1884 the Sanibel Island Lighthouse was built and homesteaders began to settle here. The tower is operational and under the control of the U.S. Coastguard. You can visit the grounds and enjoy exploring by walking through the nature trails and boardwalk. The beach is popular for shelling and the fishing pier brings smiles to successful anglers every day of the week (when they are reeling in redfish, snapper, sheepshead, and snook).
Sanibel Historical Museum & Village: The museum was founded in 1984. The history of Sanibel Island is told beginning with the Calusa Indian and Spanish eras in the 1500s-1800s to the pioneer families of the 1800s. Historic buildings include the 1926 Post Office, 1927 Old Bailey General Store, 1900 Sanibel Packing House (a vegetable, produce, and citrus packing facility), and the 1926 Miss Charlotta’s Tea Room. Guided and self-guided tours are available to visit the buildings. The museum also manages Sanibel’s Heritage Trail which traces the island’s history through informative panels placed around the island and detailed on the map (a great adventure by bike or car).
Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum: The shell museum began in 1984 by a local shell collector and has grown into an impressive museum centered around the study of seashells and malacology (invertebrate zoology studying Mollusca). The museum exhibits include the Great Hall of Shells, Aquariums, Touch Pools (with the animals that create the shells), and various rotating exhibits. If you develop a kinship with the resident octopus during your visit, you can check in daily on the OctoCam live stream to see how the Giant Pacific Octopus is adjusting to life at the museum.
J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge: President Harry S. Truman signed an executive order to protect this undeveloped mangrove ecosystem by creating the Sanibel National Wildlife Refuge in 1945 (later renamed J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge to honor Jay Norwood Darling). The Visitor & Education Center is a great place to start your visit and includes a hands-on area for children. Driving, biking, and walking are permitted on Wildlife Drive: the speed limit is 15 mph and it is a one-way road for all travelers. Kayaking and canoeing are exceptional ways to explore the refuge (permitted on the right side of Wildlife Drive). The refuge is a bird-watchers paradise with over 245 species of birds. Keep your eyes open for alligators, manatees, bobcats, and otters!
Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation: The trails are open for hikers daily from dawn to dusk at the SCCF nature center (the nature center building is temporarily closed during renovation). There are over four miles of trails to explore by hiking: dogs and bikers are not permitted. You will encounter turtles, tortoises, butterflies, mammals, and a variety of birds. The SCCF manages additional trails throughout the island where hikers, bikers, and dogs are permitted: including the Sanibel Island Gardens Trail (hawks and waterfowl are present), Frannie’s Preserve Trail (turtles and birds are present in three ponds), and Bob Wigley Trail (wading birds and alligators are present). The SCCF was founded in 1967 to protect and care for coastal ecosystems. It manages over 1,200 acres on Sanibel Island.
Dolphin Cruises: There are several businesses on the islands which offer wildlife cruises including Captiva Cruises (family owned and operated since 1986), Sanibel Thriller, Captain Randy’s Dolphin and Shelling Cruises, and New Wave ECO charters. In addition to watching Atlantic bottlenose dolphins play in their natural habitat, your cruise might bring you sightings of migratory birds, sharks, sea turtles, rays, and manatees. ECO charters also offer private excursions with a marine biologist (for a more complete immersion into the mangrove habitats, grass flats, and beaches of the region) and snorkeling opportunities to discover shells and other natural treasures.
Shelling on Turner Beach: Turner Beach is a sheller’s dream beach with rare shells to discover and collect in relative solitude. Sanibel and Captiva islands have around 15 miles of pristine beaches to explore with over 250 kinds of seashells washing ashore from the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. Part of the beauty of Turner beach is its location. Turner beach is ten miles from the causeway and often overlooked by visitors as they are drawn to the other lovely beaches along the way.