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Sanibel Island

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Trip List by Tourmaline

Things to do on Sanibel

May 3, 2006  Frequent vacations on Sanibel and Captiva
4.5 of 5 stars based on 25 votes

Sanibel doesn't have a lot of off beach activities, no arcades with games or anything along those lines, but there are things to do besides collect shells, bird watch and bask in the sun or poke around in the shops. Here are some of the things to do. There are lots more, so check at the visitor center for activities of interest to you.

  • Explore locations featured in this Trip List: Sanibel Island
  • Category: Best of
  • Traveler type: Sightseeing, Active/Outdoors, Repeat visitors, Sports buffs, Beachgoers
  • Appeals to: Singles, Families with small children, Families with teenagers, Seniors, Students, Active/adventure, Tourists
  • Seasons: Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall
  • 1. J. N. 'Ding' Darling Wildlife Refuge
    http://www.fws.gov/dingdarling/

    J. N. 'Ding' Darling was a political cartoonist and early conservationist who recognized the importance of Sanibel' unique ecology and location along the migratory water fowl flyway and is a nesting area for many species of birds. Fall and winter are usually the best birding times, but many species live here year round. There is a Visitor Center with a small gift shop and an orientation program. You can self-dive the refuge [fee] or better still take a tour with a naturalist offered by Tarpon Bay Explorers. [schedules and rates vary] You'll see different birds depending on the tides with wading birds like herons and egrets - I even saw an endangered wood stork - during low tides and diving birds like osprey and anhingas during high tides. There are several walking trails in the refuge, including one to a Calusa shell mound. About 300 alligators call the refuge home and you'll see them basking in the sun mostly in cooler weather. Bring binoculars. Local volunteers are often on hand to help spot and identify birds. There is an extensive marked water trail through the mangroves that can be done out of Tarpon Bay with or without a guide. See the website for more information. Wildlife Drive is closed to all traffic on Fridays. I visit at least one time on every trip to the islands and I have always seen new and interesting things. If you do just one outdoor thing, make it the refuge.

  • 2. Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum
    http://www.shellmuseum.org/

    I remember meeting the late Dr. R Tucker Abbott on my very first visit to Sanibel many years ago. He kindly signed a book on shells that he had authored. I donated to the museum building fund and now, years later, I can walk in and enjoy this remarkable place that I, in a very tiny way, helped to happen. That such a museum exists on a small barrier island is a tribute to the support and dedication of the residents and visitors to Sanibel and Captiva. The Hall of Shells is laid out to be walked as a spiral, like a nautilus shell. The exhibits take in shells from all over the world. There's a childrens area and a touch tank with live shells. A small gift shop has lots of shell related things and I always find something for someone! I've walked this well done set of displays a number of times and still enjoy it. Wheelchair acces. Entrance fee. [And the 1/128 sq inch of wall board on the right was paid for by me. ;-)]

  • 3. Sealife Encounter
    http://www.adventureinparadiseinc.com/cruise.htm

    Adventures in Paradise offers a Sea Life Encounter Cruise led by a naturalist. I've taken this trip with young and old alike and everyone learns a lot and gets to have fun. Sailing on a confortable open pontoon boat to one of the unihabited islands, you'll get out and net a vareity of sea life that's then stored in holding tanks on board. The naturalist/marine biologist explains each specimen and then returns it to the water. Kids really get into this - and so do I. Painless education. See website for rates.

  • 4. Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation
    Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation, Sanibel Island

    Sanibel and Captiva residents and are among the most environmentally conscious folks you'll meet. The Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation works hard to educate visitors and residents alike to protect the fragile barrier island ecology. They have a large visitor center off San-Cap Road. They maintain tracks of land with walking paths, a nursery of native plants, even a butterfly garden. They also run educational programs and various events. Check the local paper and their website, www.sccf.org

  • 5. Tarpon Bay Explorers
    http://www.tarponbayexplorers.com/

    At the end of Tarpon Bay Rd this small operation is the designated concessionaire for tram tours of Ding Darling. Schedules vary and reservations are needed. Tours last 90 minutes and start in the parking area of Ding Darling. There is a naturalist driver guide that helps spot and identify birds and other wildlife. They also offer nature and sealife tours by pontoon boat from their main site on Tarpon Bay. In addition they offer guided kayak/canoe trips thru the mangrove trails of Ding Darling, fishing and boats tours. The Nature and Sealife tour has 30 minutes in their touch tank area and 60 minutes out on Tarpon Bay. I like the last tours of the day when the birds begin coming in for the night.

  • 6. Sanibel Island Lighthouse
    Sanibel Island Lighthouse, Sanibel Island

    The Sanibel Lighthouse sits on the very East End of the island. There is a large paid parking lot and beach entrance. The buildings and the Lighthouse itslef are not open to the public, but are a great picture site and on the famed Lighthouse beach. The fishing pier is here as well. There is a long boradwalk area for stroller and wheelchair access to the pier, but not directly around the Lighthouse. This is an open metal framework style light and much photographed and used in jewelry designs as momentos of your trip. You get a great look back at the west coast of Florida from Ft Myers Beach to Bonita Beach.

  • 7. Sanibel Historical Village & Museum
    Sanibel Historical Museum and Village, Sanibel Island

    This is a small group of early buildings that once housed business and such on Sanibel. The most recent addition is the Old Schoolhouse, formerly located on Periwinkle Way and used as a Community Theater. This museum is on Dunlop Rd right next to the B.I.G. Arts Center and close to City Hall. Entrance donations are requested - $5. The 6 buildings are mostly for around the turn of last century when Sanibel was mostly farmland. Only the Rutland House and Bailey's General STore have docents to answer questions and give tours. One of the cottages is a Seas Roebuck 'kit' house. Nice garden area as well. An interesting look at the early days on Sanibel, but very limited in its scope. Limited hours of operation [Weds - Sat], so check before going.

  • 8. Captiva Cruises
    http://www.captivacruises.com/

    The attractive Lady Chadwick and other boats sail from South Seas Resort and McCarthy's Marina to take guests on a variety of cruises. You can get dropped off on Cayo Costa at the visitor center, stop at Useppa or Cabbage Key and wander around these little islands and grab lunch before pick-up or go all the way to Boca Grande, rent a golf cart and cruise around the island before getting lunch at one of the many restaurants in the area. Boca Grande reminds me a bit of a New England sea town in it's style. They also do Dolphin watch and sunset cruises with live entertainment. The Lady Chadwick is good for those who like a large boat with easy on and off. It was especially good for my Great Aunt. NOTE: It can get chilly up on the open upper deck for the Dolphin Watch and Sunset cruises, so bring a wind breaker. Reservations required and online coupons available.

  • 9. Sanibel Sea School
    http://www.sanibelseaschool.org/

    This new operation on Sanibel fills an interesting niche in educating children and adults about this unique environments on and around Sanibel. Programs run for half and whole days and include outdoors education at different locations. They have a range of programs available for kids and even do special on-on-one, birthday parties, families and private groups. Plan ahead in season.

  • 10. Shelling and Fishing Charters
    http://www.sanibel-captiva.org

    For hardcore shellers, the out islands have the treasure chests of shells with little compitition. Cayo Costa and the undeveloped end of North Captiva are the two most popular spots. Captain Mike Furey, I have his little books on shelling, is the best known of the shelling guides and he also does fishing charters. I've also used Santiva Chraters, Captain Jim Burnsed and group. There are lots of well qualified guides, some for every skill level and fishing type. Some specialize in fly fishing, others do well with families and unskilled fishermen and will help teach you how to fish for things like snook and tarpon. Check the Sunnyday Guide, free at many places on the island and on-line, as well as Island Sun, the local newpaper, and the Visitor Center where many guides have info available. Trips are not inexpensive, but are a treat. Did one with my 94 year old great aunt to the undeveloped area of North Captiva, so if she can manage, so can you! I have also done Cayo Costa. Even in summer when shelling isn't at its best, it was a real fun trip. Seeing the islands from the water is amazing all by itself - as are the dolphins that often run with the boats. The Bait Box will let you know the current status of fishing. Have fun!

  • 11. C.R.O.W - Clinic for the Rehabilitation Of Wildlife
    http://www.crowclinic.org/

    This is not for everyone, but for those who'd like to see the fine work done by one of the largest wildlife rehabilitaion clinics in the US, this is a great stop. 'Patients' range from racoons to baby birds to sea turtles. You can meet some that are in residence and hear their stories. These folks do great work and on an island that is clearly focused of trying to preserve its environment for the benefit of all, including our wild friends, this is a worthwhile stop.

  • 12. Bike Rentals

    Sanibel has over 20 miles of bike paths and the local companies, like Finnimore's and Billy's, rent a wide range of bikes suitable for nearly any family. The bike paths run from the Lighthouse area all the way to Blind Pass. They do NOT currently extend onto Captiva, where riding a bike can be a dangerous activity. You'll also see folks on roller blades and scooters. I think it was better when Periwinkle Way was shadier than it is now, and the summer sun can be brutal, but it is a great way to see Sanibel up close and personal. They even rent surrey style bikes for 4 and little child trailers so you can bring the little one along. Bikes rent hourly, daily and weekly. See www.sanibel-captiva.org for links.

    Captiva is discussing the possibility of building a bike path now that the large trees lining Captiva Drive are down. Will update as info becomes available.

  • 13. Golf

    OK, so I forgot golf - because I don't play. There are two courses on Sanibel, Beachview and Dunes. Both are 18 hole courses and have dining associated with them. The Beachview Steakhouse gets good reviews from locals. Beachview is just off Middle Gulf Drive and the Dunes has a Tennis club and is located off Baily Road toward the bay side. Both have websites for more information. South Seas Resort on Captiva has expanded and improved their course as well, but I believe it has remained a 9 hole course.

  • 14. Kayak and canoe rentals

    Tarpon Bay Explorers and the surrounding area on the bay side of Sanibel and Captiva are popular spots for kayakers. You can rent then several places, including Captiva Kayak, Tarpon Bay and others to paddle around Pine Island Sound, Buck Key and other areas or just reach some remote beach for a real 'castaway' picnic lunch.