Located just north of Naples, south of Tampa, and west of Fort Myers, Sanibel Island and Captiva Island provide the perfect gulf getaway, with more than 15 miles of soft, white sandy beaches. There’s a little something for everyone in the family at Sanibel Island, from quirky restaurants such as the famed Bubble Room to the historic Sanibel lighthouse. And the beaches here boast some of the best shelling in all of America.
To add to the charm of Sanibel and Captiva, there are no stoplights, and you won’t find any buildings that are taller than the tallest palm tree. A short three-mile drive along the causeway from Fort Myers will take you to this haven like no other.
Considered the shelling capital of America, Sanibel and Captiva boast more than 300 different species of shells. You can’t walk down the beach without a beautiful seashell catching your eye. A great stop for the kids before you indulge in shelling is The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum. Open every day from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., the museum charges just $7.00 for adult admission and $4.00 for kids five and up (children under four are free). It’s also located near “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Learn all about the different types of shells you’ll find along the beaches here, and then head to the wildlife refuge for a drive through the park before you hit up the beach.
An absolutely essential place to eat is The Bubble Room in Captiva. You’ll dine on fantastic American food while marveling at the antiques and toys from the 30s and 40s that surround you, all while listening to music from the mid-1900s. This place has garnered a stellar reputation in the more than 36 years it’s been in business. You’ll definitely want to visit more than once.
When it’s time to rest your weary head, the Holiday Inn Sanibel Island is a perfect choice. Just over the Sanibel Causeway, the hotel is located right next to the beach, and is near all the must-see spots, such as the Shell Museum, the “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, the Sanibel Lighthouse, and Sanibel Island Beach. It’s a fantastic home base for your island adventure.
Whether you make the Sanibel Island Lighthouse your first stop or you visit at the end of your trip, it’s a great place to walk around and take pictures while learning about the history of the island. Also called Point Ybel Light, this lighthouse was one of the first built along the Gulf Coast. It’s 98 feet above sea level and was first lit in 1884.
When you’re ready to venture away from the beach, head to Adventures in Paradise Outfitters. Hop aboard the Adventures in Paradise Cruise, and get up close and personal with dolphins, manatees, and sea otters. They also offer fishing charters and shelling and lunch excursions, as well as a historic trolley tour of the island.
Saving the best for last... Sanibel Island Beach is one of America’s most incredible beaches, especially if you love seashells. Sanibel is a unique barrier island that has an east-west orientation (as opposed to the more common north-south orientation); thus, the beaches are resplendent in seashells that wash ashore. In fact, it’s considered one of the best places in all of North America for shelling. A lot of the shells come with holes in the middle, which make them perfect for seashell necklaces! Beach parking is relatively limited, and in high season it can be difficult to find a spot. But, if you stay at the Holiday Inn in Sanibel, you can wake up and just walk out of the resort and right onto the beach!
Sanibel and Captiva are truly a world unto themselves. Prepare to move a little slower and take in the beauty of the islands. From the palm tree- and flower-lined Periwinkle Way to Lighthouse Park to sunsets on soft, white sandy beaches, Florida’s little piece of paradise is easy to fall in love with.
We're searching for amazing places across America to create America’s most epic road trip. Get inspired by your fellow travelers’ journeys below, use the link above to share your favorite spots with us, and you can enter to win your next epic journey!