Sanibel Island is both a relaxing and family-friendly vacation destination. Nearly half of this island is set aside as nature preserve and there are great places to see the natural wildlife just a bit closer. You might enjoy biking one of the many paved bike paths that wind through the island or perhaps taking a guided kayak too through the mangroves with a chance at kayaking alongside the manatees.
If you love combing the beach for seashells, then you have to visit Sanibel island. Sanibel Island boasts one of the world’s best shelling beaches. At low tide, and especially after a storm, you can find some biggest shells. Just make sure the shell you pick up isn’t some sea critter’s home. Here’s a picture of some great shells that we found a trip we took years ago!
Where to Stay
We’ve visited Sanibel Island at least 5 times and we’ve stayed in different places each time. We prefer to rent condo’s or houses when we travel with our family. Often times you can rent a condo or house with more space and more amenities for the same price as a hotel room, and you have the option of having some easy meals at “home” instead of eating out. Plus, if you’re stuck indoors a little extra space goes a long way!
If you are planning to cook a few meals at your vacation home, you will probably want to stock up on groceries before you travel to the island. There’s a toll each time you cross the island causeway and groceries on the island can get pretty pricey.
We’ve stayed more inland in houses a couple of times and directly on the beach in condos other times. Both options have different amenities. For example, with houses I think you have a lot more privacy. Plus in most cases, you can find a reasonably priced option that includes a private screened in pool and hot tub versus a condo complex where you’ll share those amenities with other guests. If you do decide to stay inland, I’d recommend trying to find a place near one of the many paved bike paths.
Biking is probably our must do activity on Sanibel. Sanibel boasts over 25 miles of paved biking trails. The trails are all relatively flat and are an easy to ride. The trails wind their way around the outside edge of the island along the beach, out to Sanibel’s signature light house, through the JN Ding Darling National Wildlife Preserve or along Periwinkle Way (where all the “action” is on Sanibel). Biking across the causeway will give you a great view of the boats in the bay and you’re almost always guaranteed a nice breeze as your cross the open water.
Biking is also a great way to avoid the traffic if you’re travelling during a busy season too. We’ve gotten in the habit of bringing our own bikes on vacation but we’ve also rented bikes too. There are several good options to choose from, but we’ve rented from Billy’s Rentals and had a great experience with them too.
Kayaking through the wildlife preserve is another great way to explore Sanibel. There are a host of options to kayak on Sanibel, ranging from simply renting a kayak and exploring on your own, to guided tours. Kayaks are nimble and quiet which makes getting in and out of the mangrove marshlands and up close to wildlife a lot easier.
Depending on the time of day, you might also be kayaking alongside manatees, which can be a little intimidating since they’re almost as big as your kayak!
We did a guided “kayak trail” experience with Tarpon Bay Explorers and it was a really neat, relaxing experience. One great thing about Tarpon Bay Explorers is that when you pay to go on the guided tour, you also get to keep the kayak for the remainder of the day to explore to your heart’s (or arms’) content.
Visiting the Lighthouse is always on our must do list when we visit Sanibel. The lighthouse was first lit in 1884 in the hopes of making the island more visible and to increase trade.
The lighthouse has a unique iron construction which is very different from the brick and mortar construction of lighthouse on the east coast. There’s a nice park area surrounding the lighthouse but the best part are the beaches, in my opinion, this is the best area on the island for shelling! Parking can be tricky as there are limited parking spaces and the cost is currently about $4 per hour to park in the parking lot. I recommend biking to the lighthouse to avoid the hassle of waiting for a parking space.
Where to Eat:
The Lighthouse Café is definitely on our must do list for Sanibel and I’m pretty sure we’ve gone at least once if not twice for breakfast/brunch on every one of our visits to Sanibel. And if you’re a chipper riser, you can bike here too as it’s right along the bike trail. The restaurant has a very cozy, nautical atmosphere with walls adorned covered with photos of Sanibel, the lighthouse and boats.
Take a look around for a few minutes and you’ll get a sense of the restaurant and island’s history. Aside from the quaint surroundings, the Café lives up to its slogan “The World’s Best Breakfast” as it has some of the best pancakes and French toast around. Don’t forget to try their homemade preserves… yummy!!!
The Island Cow is one of our favorite restaurants. The seafood dishes are always delicious and the atmosphere is fun and casual. They have both indoor and outdoor seating and you can play a game of corn hole while you wait for your table to be ready.
The portions are large and they bring baskets of bottomless muffins that they bring to the table as soon as you are seated, so no one will leave hungry.
The menu is very large with a mix of seafood, southern comfort and Caribbean style dishes there’s something for everyone. My favorite dish is probably the shrimp tacos…yum! With so many great choices, it’s no wonder they’ve won “Best of the Islands” awards for more 11 years!
The Mucky Duck while technically on Captiva island (Sanibel’s little sister) is also another must visit restaurant, the casual atmosphere is so much fun and the wait staff are entertaining. The food is delicious and they have a great place to sit at sunset and watch for the Green Flash.
The green flash is natural phenomenon that occurs the moment during the sunset that the sun slips below the the horizon it can create a greenish flash effect. The flash happens when the conditions are just right that the atmosphere acts like a prism and separates the suns white rays into individual colors, most notably green.
Sanibel Island will probably always going to be in our top five beach vacation destinations. There are so many activities on the island yet it doesn’t feel overly commercial and touristy. Sanibel is definitely at the top of our list for exploring nature too. Whether it’s kayaking through the mangroves, watching the sunset, biking to the lighthouse, or shelling on the beach all of our visits to Sanibel have been relaxing and refreshing.