This barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico is famous for its seashells, and charms visitors with its sunsets, watersports and family-friendly resorts.
With white-sand bays, wildlife reserves and oceanfront resorts, Sanibel Island is a holiday destination of choice. Celebrated for its natural beauty, this island off the west coast of Florida has 15 miles (24 kilometers) of beach, mangrove forests and coral reefs teeming with fish.
Sanibel Island is a city and barrier island, connected to the mainland by a tollroad. On this small island you will not be going anywhere in a hurry. You can rent a bike and follow the 22 miles (35 kilometers) of bike trails traversing the island. With very few hills, this is not too strenuous, but note that there are no streetlights after dark.
On the beaches you can stand ankle deep in seashells. Take part in the “Sanibel Stoop,” a ritual for locals and tourists alike, which involves walking along the seashore to collect the shells washed up daily from the Caribbean and southern seas. Learn about the history and science of shells at Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum.
Go snorkeling, paddleboarding or windsurfing to try some of the water-based activities on offer. To get a break from the beach, enjoy the events at the Big Arts cultural center, including jazz concerts and dance performances. For a slice of history, join a guided tour of Sanibel Historical Museum and Village and learn about local pioneer families.
Over two-thirds of Sanibel Island is a designated nature reserve. Be sure to visit J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. This undeveloped mangrove ecosystem is named after Jay Norwood Darling, a cartoonist who fought to protect the island from developers. Join a kayaking tour to discover the varied flora and fauna, including horseshoe crabs and woodpeckers. Visit the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife to see who takes care of the island’s injured birds and animals.
Sanibel Island places a strong emphasis on independent stores and restaurants. A prime example is Bailey’s General Store. The Baileys, one of the city’s original families, have been running the store since 1899. If you decide to try your hand at fishing during your visit to Sanibel Island, some of the restaurants are willing to cook your catch.