20 Best Things to Do in Sanibel Island, FL

Sanibel Island
Philip Kohn / shutterstock.com

Resting along the Gulf of Mexico close to Fort Myers, Sanibel Island flaunts its reputation as a gorgeous location famous for its charming lighthouse, luxurious resorts, and beautiful sunsets.

This state park located off the coast of Florida lies on a barrier island that's built mostly from sand instead of the rock typically found on the leeward side of Pine Island.

One of the many reasons why many tourists flock to this popular central Florida wonderland every year is because of its wildlife refuges and shell beaches.

Wildlife refuges make up over half of the island, with the largest being J. N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge.

Sanibel Island would include a wide variety of activities, from seeing the sights at the Sanibel Historical Village to popping over to fabulous museums like the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum and other exciting venues such as theaters.

This island city also offers many wonderful experiences beyond fabulous culinary creations and breathtaking natural beauty.

Luscious dining, fine accommodations, boating, relaxation, and fishing provide you a chance to escape the hustle and bustle or venture into nature.

If this wonderful Lee County destination captivates you, here is a list of the 15 best things to do in Sanibel Island, Florida:

Find True Seashell Gems at Bowman’s Beach

Sand trail in Bowman’s Beach
Andriy Blokhin / Shutterstock.com

The very popular Bowman’s Beach in Sanibel Island is home to beautiful seashells, but you will have to put in some effort to find your gorgeous shells.

Hidden shell treasures are lurking here, and your best bet to find them is by walking into the water and digging your feet into the sand.

Sunset view on Bowman’s Beach
planet5D LLC / Shutterstock.com

Beachgoers visit Bowman's for its excellent expansive sands and shelling, allowing them to find a serene paradise of their own.

Others come here to enjoy cycling along nearby bike paths of Bowman's Beach.

Although this part of the island isn't as developed as other areas, you’ll still enjoy a few amenities such as grills, picnic tables, bike paths, and bathrooms.

Water waves of Bowman’s Beach
tiredshiba / Shutterstock.com

Enjoy a Nice Nature Walk While Taking in the Beauty of Sanibel Moorings Botanical Gardens

In the southeast corner of peaceful Sanibel Island tucked away amongst the palms, you will find Sanibel Moorings Botanical Gardens beside the gulf, a 6-acre secret sanctuary woven around a gorgeous beachfront resort.

Sanibel Moorings Botanical Gardens is a gorgeous paradise teeming with more than hundreds of different types of unusual and exotic tropical species and native plants.

The natural habitats found in this destination offer visitors and locals alike educational tours exploring the wonders of the natural beauty on Sanibel Island.

Here, you're welcome to enjoy a self-guided walking tour through a beautiful collection of cacti, bromeliads, orchids, hibiscus, fruits, cycads, and palms.

In addition to being able to observe their resident butterflies, you'll also find other fascinating wildlife attractions like rabbits and turtles in their wildlife garden home.

Enjoy Some Delightful French Cuisine

If you head to Periwinkle Way Suite A and dine at Bleu Rendez-Vous French Bistro, you’ll be treated to a classic treat French dining experience on Sanibel Island.

This is a nice place to stop by with your friends and sit down for good French dining fused with fine Southern hospitality.

Bleu Rendez-Vous's French bistro offers a great ambiance, impeccable service, delicious entrees, appetizers, and wine.

Although spacious with an open ceiling, this French restaurant still maintains an inviting, intimate vibe that makes for a great place to unwind.

This restaurant has a great selection of seafood and classic French cuisine favorites from their Grouper Cheeks, Maine Lobster Tail, and Scallop to their Shrimp.

Get a Sense of the Island’s Fascinating Shell Exhibits at Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum

Exterior of Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum
EQRoy / Shutterstock.com

A great way to keep the kids sufficiently occupied during your vacation on Sanibel Island is by taking them to check out Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum.

The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum brings people back to nature by showcasing the beauty of shells and the creatures that made them.

Exterior and name sign of Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum
Jillian Cain Photography / Shutterstock.com

This unique museum stands out from the rest because it's the only accredited museum in the country that specializes exclusively in mollusks, shells, and other dazzling seaborne organisms.

Huge shell display in Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum
EQRoy / Shutterstock.com

There are touch pools where kids can get up close and personal with live mollusks, and everyone wins prizes when they take part in their scavenger hunt tours.

You can also lean back and enjoy watching a Giant Pacific Octopus stretch as it passes over its plankton feast.

Different kinds of shell in Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum
EQRoy / Shutterstock.com

Go on a Shopping Spree at Tahitian Gardens and Periwinkle Place

And if you’re on a hunt for quality souvenirs, Sanibel Island has the Tahitian Gardens and Periwinkle Place, where you'll find a wide variety of unique pieces that aren't as easily available inside any retail stores.

With its wide range of unique collections, designer labels, jewelry, toys, and more, Tahitian Gardens provides you with a shopping experience unlike any other.

You can also stop by here for some family-style dining where you can enjoy delicious meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Sanibel’s Periwinkle Place, on its busiest thoroughfare, features 26 shops and restaurants, including the Blue Giraffe Restaurant, the Sanibel Day Spa, and the Original Chico's.

Inside you'll be met by gorgeous gardens and fountains that help create a relaxing atmosphere in the heart of the center.

Buy Something at the Sanibel Farmers Market

‌                                                              

Established in 2008, the Sanibel Farmers Market is the perfect place for fresh, locally-grown produce.

The Sanibel Farmers Market is sprawling with vendors selling various affordable items that are great for gifts and souvenirs that you can take home.

Discover local products if you want to take a break from touring Sanibel, Fl.

You can shop for farm-fresh products, honey, beautiful flowers, t-shirts, local handicrafts, cheeses, etc.

There are also freshly-baked pastries like pies, cupcakes, cookies, and candies such as chocolates, licorice, and toffee.

Visit J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge for Some Bird Watching Opportunities

Birds on water in J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge
Dimitris Timpilis / Shutterstock.com

From experienced birdwatchers to rookies, J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is a wonderful sight to see as it allows you to view different species of bird in their natural habitat.

This protected wildlife refuge on the subtropical barrier of Sanibel Island is part of a sprawling, pristine mangrove ecosystem home to many unique animal species and plants indigenous to this area.

An owl in J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge
Nagel Photography / Shutterstock.com

In 1945, United States President Harry S. Truman signed a presidential decree to make the Sanibel National Wildlife Refuge protect the endangered birds that lived in the area and later took Jay Norwood Darling’s name in 1967 in honor of him.

A bird on a branch in J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge
Dimitris Timpilis / Shutterstock.com

This world-renowned bird sanctuary gets visited by people from around the globe to see numerous migratory species that are only found near Sanibel Island.

J.N. ‘Ding’ Darling National Wildlife Refuge and its nearby areas also host some of the most spectacular bird festivals.

A bird flying over water in J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge
Susan Rydberg / Shutterstock.com

Experience an Exciting Boat Tour around the Majestic Gulf of Mexico and Pine Island Sound

Sanibel Marina is one destination on Sanibel Island that should be considered for your vacation plans in this beautiful Florida island city.

If you enjoy ocean fishing or yacht cruising, there’s a large selection of quality yachts and fishing boats that you can rent out here.

Sanibel Marina's Sanibel Thriller is a 55-foot motor yacht, offering you and your family an exciting boat tour around the Gulf of Mexico and Pine Island Sound.

With nothing more than just open waters in sight, you'll wind along the shores of Sanibel Island and Captiva Island to get an amazing view of all the beautiful waterways surrounding these coastal communities.

When you step into Sanibel Marina, you’ll also find Gramma Dot’s for a fantastic lunch and dinner menu every single day of the week.

Using fresh ingredients that are sourced locally, their menu features well-loved seafood dishes, sandwiches, salads, and more.

And when you do come here, make sure to dress appropriately.

Go on a Water Excursion at New Wave Eco Charters

The New Wave Eco Charters is a well-known Sanibel tour agency offering guided excursions along the Sanibel coastline.

One of the best things to do in Sanibel, FL, is to go on a charter with New Wave Eco Charters and witness dolphins, manatees, and other marine creatures in their natural habitat.

Other fun activities include beach hopping, snorkeling, fishing, bird watching, and touring the Sanibel marine life with a professional marine biologist.

Soak Up Some Beautiful Florida Sunshine at Sanibel Lighthouse Beach Park

Aerial view of Sanibel Lighthouse Beach Park
John Apte / Shutterstock.com

Nestled on Sanibel Island's southern tip, you won’t just find a unique beach park but the island's iconic lighthouse as well.

Built in 1884, Sanibel Lighthouse Beach Park prides itself on being one of the best places to enjoy several hours of combing the shoreline for that perfect shell and offering one of the breathtaking Gulf views.

Whether you’re out on the water fishing, searching for your lost treasure, kayaking, or wading in the warm water, you can enjoy being at one with nature while soaking up that beautiful Florida sunshine.

View of the Sanibel Lighthouse Beach Park
Wirestock Creators / Shutterstock.com

Although its popularity means it can get quite busy, be sure to get here nice and early so you can avoid the crowds while having plenty of free parking space to choose from.

The Sanibel Lighthouse is a warm, historic reminder of its rich history and the west coast itself.

The Sanibel Lighthouse can be found at Periwinkle Way’s eastern end and the island's tip.

Sand and trees of Sanibel Lighthouse Beach Park
William Silver / Shutterstock.com

Meet Your Feathered Friends at Periwinkle Park and Campground Aviary

Located at Periwinkle Way, Sanibel Island, Periwinkle Park and Campground Aviary offer RV and tent sites for a wonderful camping experience.

You're sure to fall in love with this enchanting island hideaway and its magical collection of feathered friends.

Here, you’ll find exotic and colorful Macaws, as well as Toucans, bestying freely in beautiful natural settings.

All of the park's birds are rescues, coming from all over the region to spend their days lazing around the park.

It’ll take you 10 minutes of walk from the campsite to get to the white, sandy beaches of the Gulf.

Breathe in the Art at BIG ARTS Sanibel

BIG ARTS was created in 1979 by the community and for the community, acting as a pillar of island culture ever since.

Thanks to such a rich history tied to such a dedicated group of creators, BIG ARTS has attracted people from all over who have been inspired by its island beauty, graceful decor, and authentic atmosphere.

This special gathering place serves as an artistic and educational platform made available to everyone.

BIG ARTS Sanibel thrives thanks to its loyal patrons and supporters and continues to operate as a space of inspiration and joy and provide an immersive sense of community to future generations.

There are different sorts of classes offered in this incredible art center throughout the year.

And if you’re lucky, you can even catch live performances, shows, and musical concerts here.

Get in Touch with Sanibel Island’s Past at Sanibel Historical Museum and Village

Tour map of Sanibel Historical Museum and Village
Sheri Armstrong / Shutterstock.com

Established in 1984, the Sanibel Historical Museum and Village preserves local history and shares it with visitors from near and far.

This museum tells the story behind this tropical island paradise through the Spanish period and Native American Calusa to the early pioneering settlers in the 1800s.

Around 10,000 people visit this place each year to get in touch with Sanibel Island’s past and learn stories of adventures, warriors, farmers, proprietors, and fishermen.

Nine original structures have been relocated to the grounds of the museum, and each structure has been completely restored to its original condition.

The Sanibel Historical Museum and Village houses garage where you’ll see an old Ford Model T truck from 1927 and replicas of a Packing House.

You’ll learn all kinds of stories told by this museum’s volunteer docents.

Visit Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife

The Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife is a designated rehabilitation center where animals that have been injured are taken in, subsequently recuperated, and released back into the wild after they have healed completely.

You can also come here if you want to learn more about your natural surroundings and to take better care of the diverse wildlife in your surrounding environment.

If you head to CROW's Visitor Education Center, you get an up-close and personal glimpse at their animal care with state-of-art technology and interactive displays and staff, volunteers, and students doing daily presentations.

CROW’s veterinary hospital is one of Florida’s leading rehabilitation centers for migratory and native wild animals.

The veterinary hospital has over 5,000 wildlife patients to care for each year, with over 200 species of them being injured, sick, and orphaned wildlife.

Get a Brain Freeze at Pinocchio’s Original

Pinocchio’s Original Italian Ice Cream shop in Periwinkle Place Shopping Center is known for its delicious sorbets, frozen yogurts, and gelatos.

Pinocchio’s prides themselves on their fresh ingredients and small batch sizes.

They prepare each of their ice cream or frozen yogurt at the moment of the order to ensure its freshness.

Their Sanibel Krunch ice cream is a famous homemade delicious vanilla ice cream combined with decadent toppings like freshly toasted coconut, gourmet mixed nuts, chocolates, and a few unique ingredients.

Pinocchio’s amazing and unique ice creams include the Sanibel Krunch, Dirty Sand Dollar, Berrywinkle on Periwinkle, Purple Cow, and Gator Stew.

With flavors such as caramel swirl and chocolate flakes, Pinocchio's Dirty Sand Dollar is a decadent delight.

Pinocchio's is also home to many delicious treats, all coming with a variety of comforting flavors from fat-free, sugar-free, low-carbohydrate to low fat.

All these great ice creams will be a treat to you if you're a diabetic, dieter, and a health-conscious individual who needs something sweet to enjoy but also want something healthy for your body too.

Drop by the Sanibel & Captiva Island Chamber of Commerce

The Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce should be your first place to visit.

Founded in 1912, The Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce is every tourist's go-to information center.

There are many things to discover on Sanibel Island, some of which are not mentioned in this list.

If you want to discover other interesting spots in this beautiful place, stop by the Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce.

You'll find up-to-date details on the most popular tourist spots, shopping areas, and hotels or lodging.

The accommodating staff will also provide maps, brochures, and other reading materials to help you plan your Sanibel Island adventure.

Experience a Kayaking Tour unlike Any Other

A woman kayaking
Sheri Armstrong / Shutterstock.com

Sanibel Island is a fantastic spot for lovers of the water.

That's because there are so many animals in this amazing island city, like dolphins, manatees, otters, birds, and more, in addition to fish.

You can enjoy kayaking through the island’s environment with Tarpon Bay Explorers’ Kayak Trail Tour.

People on kayak boats
Adventuring Dave / Shutterstock.com

Tarpon Bay’s Commodore Creek Trail offers a kayak tour with an experienced naturalist to guide you through the breathtaking mangrove forest.

Exploring this unique mangrove habitat from the water gives paddlers an up-close perspective on J.N "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge’s thriving wetland landscape and its array of remarkable wildlife inhabitants.

Tarpon Bay’s kayak tour will take you to the timeless serenity of mangroves, observing wading birds and experiencing a tranquil atmosphere that’s seldom disturbed.

When you join a kayak tour, another benefit is that, unlike a kayak rental, you get to keep your rental kayak for the rest of the afternoon FREE of charge.

Score a Hole-in-One at the Dunes Golf & Tennis Club

Nestled in a beautiful wildlife preserve, Dunes Golf & Tennis Club is an 18-hole championship island-like golf course protected by the Audubon Society.

For all the avid golfers, this is a popular course on Sanibel Island to play some of the best and most intriguing golf.

Voted as the best golf course in Lee County, this golfing location is beautiful and captivating with gorgeous views of tropical grounds, challenging greens, and more that serve as the perfect field for a great round of fun.

The Dunes Clubhouse is a popular spot with patio seating for you to enjoy delicious dining options and cocktails waterside.

Its waterside location is just opposite the 18th green and affords picturesque views of the Sanibel sunset.

Unwind at Algiers Beach

 

Algiers Beach is a beautiful coastline known for its pet-friendly policies, making it the perfect place to bring your furry friends along for fun in the sun.

Also known as the Gulfside City Park Beach, this beach is excellent for swimming, sunbathing, fishing, and kayaking.

Algiers Beach is perfect if you're looking to relax and take in the breathtaking scenery.

Head to Blind Pass Beach

You can't have enough coastlines to visit when in Sanibel.

The Blind Pass Beach is one place you should not miss out on.

A gorgeous coastline, crystal clear water, and white sand will greet you at Blind Pass Beach.

This beachfront destination is a well-known attraction, yet it has fewer beach-goers due to its limited amenities and strong currents.

However, these qualities make Blind Pass Beach the perfect destination for a quieter and more peaceful beach getaway.

Have a fantastic day with your friends or family while getting a tan on the beach or reading a good book under palm trees.

Blind Pass Beach is also perfect for picnics, so don't forget to pack a few snacks.

Final Thoughts

What's better than lounging on a sandy beach in the middle of an island, with great shelling opportunities, warm sand between your toes, cool waters washing up onto the shore, and a balmy ocean breeze caressing your face?

If you're fretting about where to go for your vacation this year and want something with pristine beaches and easy access to amenities that make city-living easy, then don't head further than Sanibel Island.

Whether you prefer boat excursions or going kayaking through the mangroves, surfing, or stand-up paddleboarding through tranquil waters, Sanibel offers it all.