Best Things to do on Sanibel Island

Best Things to Do on Sanibel Island: Your Guide to Adventure

Are you dreaming of an escape filled with pristine beaches, natural beauty, and a laid-back atmosphere? Look no further than Sanibel Island, Florida, accessed from Fort Myers. This idyllic island, located off the southwest coast of Florida in the Gulf of Mexico, is renowned for its stunning landscapes, unique wildlife, and a wide array of activities for visitors of all ages. In this guide, we’ll explore the best things to do on Sanibel Island to make the most of your visit.

Sanibel Island

Whether you’re a nature enthusiast or a beach lover, Sanibel Island is a popular destination for birdwatching and eco-tourism. Sanibel’s relaxed, tropical atmosphere and charming communities also make it a delightful escape for visitors seeking a serene and natural retreat.

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Best Time to Visit Sanibel Island

December to February – The peak tourist season is during the winter months, especially when northern visitors come to escape the cold. The temperatures generally range from mid 50s to mid 70s Fahrenheit. There is less humidity and the rainfall is less, compared to the summer months. It’s an ideal time for activities like bird watching, exploring the island and shell collecting on the beaches. .

March to May – During the spring months, the weather is typically warmer, averaging high 60s to mid 80s Fahrenheit. It’s an excellent time for outdoor activities as the colors are vibrant and the wildlife is active.

June to November – The summer and early fall months are characterized by warm, humid weather and frequent rain. While it is hot, it is ideal for enjoying landscapes and outdoor activities. Temperatures range up to the high 80s Fahrenheit.

I visited in June and found temperatures quite warm, so we planned our activities early in the morning to avoid outdoor activities when it was too hot.

Remember that the summer months should be approached with caution due to hurricane season. During this time, there’s an increased risk of tropical storms and hurricanes. 

In September 2022, Hurricane Ian significantly impacted Sanibel Island, causing widespread damage and highlighting the risks associated with visiting during hurricane season. It’s always advisable to check weather forecasts and advisories when planning a trip to coastal areas like Sanibel Island.

Sanibel Causeway

Getting to Sanibel Island

The best way to access Sanibel Island is by car. If you are flying into Fort Myers, you definitely will need to rent a car to get around the island. Access to Sanibel Island is from Fort Myers.

From Interstate 75, you take Exit 131 (Summerlin Road) which will take you to the Sanibel Island Causeway. The Sanibel Island Bridge is open to the public and accessible to all visitors who wish to explore the island’s wonders. 

You will have to pay a toll to get onto Sanibel Island. If you have a physical toll transponder in your personal vehicle, that system is automatically charged $6.00. Otherwise, you or the rental car company will receive an invoice in the mail for the full $9.00 toll amount. This covers the $6.00 toll and a $3.00 administration fee.

Where to Stay on Sanibel Island

From luxurious beachfront resorts where you can wake up to the sound of waves, to cozy cottages surrounded by lush greenery for a more secluded retreat, Sanibel caters to every preference. Don’t miss out on the island’s unique accommodations, where personalized service and homely comforts make your stay unforgettable.

Each lodging option not only promises comfort but also provides easy access to the island’s famed shell-covered beaches and enchanting wildlife preserves.

There are many places to stay on Sanibel Island or in Fort Myers. I highly recommend staying at the Residence Inn by Marriott Fort Myers Sanibel which was a perfect location to access the island and also be on the mainland in Fort Myers.

Residence Inn by Marriott Common Area
Ding Darling Wildlife Drive

Best Things To Do On Sanibel Island

Explore J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge

For nature lovers, the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is a must-visit destination on Sanibel Island. Covering over 6,000 acres of pristine wilderness, this refuge is home to a wide variety of birds, reptiles, and other wildlife species. You can explore the refuge on foot, by bike, or by car.

Roseate Spoonbill flying

While there are many things to do at Ding Darling, my favorite activity was birding in the refuge. Whether you are an expert or beginner birder you will get immense pleasure and connections to nature that you could spend a full day there.

You can find many birds at Ding Darling, whether you hike through the refuge or do the wildlife drive, either way will be an experience. We did a walk in the morning and then came back later in the day to do the wildlife drive.

Make sure to keep your camera ready, as you’re likely to encounter ospreys, alligators, and the iconic roseate spoonbill during your visit.

Visit the Sanibel Island Lighthouse

The Sanibel Island Lighthouse is a historic landmark that offers both a glimpse into the island’s past and panoramic views of the Gulf of Mexico. You can visit the lighthouse and the nearby beach for a relaxing day of sunbathing and swimming. The beach around the lighthouse is also known for its excellent shelling opportunities, making it a great spot for beachcombers.

Sanibel Island Lighthouse

Photo by Jessie Adair 

Visit Cabbage Key

Embark on a short boat ride from Sanibel Island to Cabbage Key. It was a fun experience that was a blend of natural beauty and serene escapism. We had stunning views of the Gulf of Mexico and luckily we saw a pod of dolphins that followed alongside our boat.


Once on Cabbage Key, the island’s laid-back atmosphere is immediately welcoming. Popular activities include exploring the nature trails rich with lush greenery and enjoying the famous “Dollar Bill Restaurant” at the Cabbage Key Inn.

Dollar Bill Restaurant

The island’s small size and lack of cars create a tranquil, almost timeless ambiance, making it a perfect spot for those seeking a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle. Check out Captiva Cruises to book this trip. We truly loved our day on the water and out to Cabbage Key.

Kayak Through Mangrove Tunnels

Sanibel Island is surrounded by intricate waterways and mangrove forests that are perfect for kayaking. Rent a kayak or join a guided tour with Tarpon Bay Explorers to explore the meandering channels and tunnels formed by the mangroves. It’s a peaceful and immersive way to connect with the island’s natural beauty while spotting various marine life and birds along the way. It would be an amazing experience but we didn’t get to do it the last time around.

Shell Collecting on Sanibel’s Beaches

Sanibel Island is often referred to as the “Shell Capital of the World.” Its shores are abundant with a diverse range of seashells, making it a mecca for shell collectors. One of the best things to do on Sanibel Island is to stroll along the beaches, particularly Bowman’s Beach and Lighthouse Beach, and hunt for unique shells. Don’t forget to bring a mesh bag or bucket to carry your treasures.

Shelling on Sanibel Island

Go Biking on Sanibel’s Trails

Sanibel Island is a paradise for cyclists, with over 25 miles of paved bike paths that wind through the island’s lush landscapes. Biking is not only a fantastic way to see the island but also an eco-friendly mode of transportation. You can rent bikes from various shops on the island and explore the trails at your own pace. I highly recommend Billy’s Bikes and Rentals for great rates.

Enjoy Water Sports

For those seeking more active adventures, Sanibel Island offers a range of water sports activities, including paddleboarding, windsurfing, and parasailing. The warm Gulf waters provide the perfect backdrop for these exhilarating experiences. You can rent equipment or take lessons from experienced instructors to get started. I highly recommend checking out the tours and rentals offered by Tarpon Bay Explorers.

Savor Good Food

Sanibel Island boasts some excellent restaurants where you can savor the catch of the day or enjoy ice cream or key lime pie. You will find a wide variety of delicious dishes that cater to every palate.

The Island Cow Key Lime Pie 1

Many of these restaurants offer waterfront dining, allowing you to enjoy your meal while taking in breathtaking views of the Gulf. One of our favorite restaurants we visited was Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille. I highly recommend trying the tarpoon bay breeze!

tarpoon bay breeze

Captiva Island Day Trip

While you’re on Sanibel Island, don’t miss the opportunity to take a short drive to neighboring Captiva Island. It’s known for its charming atmosphere and stunning sunsets. You can also enjoy a scenic cruise from Sanibel to Captiva for a unique perspective of the area. Captiva Cruises offers great options to check out the neighbouring islands or spend a day on the water.

Sunset Watching or Cruising

Sanibel Island is renowned for its captivating sunsets, and one of the best things to do here is to simply sit back and watch the sun dip below the horizon. The island’s west-facing beaches provide the perfect vantage point for a stunning sunset show. Many visitors gather at Bowman’s beach or Lighthouse beach, with their cameras and loved ones to witness this daily spectacle. You can also check out the sunset cruises with Captiva Cruises.

Sanibel Island sunset
Source photo by Barth Bailey

Sanibel Island offers a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, making it an ideal destination for nature lovers, beachgoers, and anyone in search of relaxation. Whether you’re collecting seashells, bird-watching in a wildlife refuge, or simply basking in the island’s natural beauty, you’re sure to find the best things to do on Sanibel Island that suit your interests.

So, pack your bags, and get ready to experience the magic of this charming Florida island paradise.

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