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Sanibel & Captiva: Top destination for family trips, nature adventures or romantic getaways

By Staff | Nov 14, 2019

Bowman’s Beach is a great place to search for shells and offers swimming and picnic areas. PHOTO BY MEGHAN BRADBURY

The barrier islands of Sanibel and Captiva are renowned for their award-winning sandy beaches, picture-perfect sunsets and world-class shelling, but they also feature a mix of activities for all ages and interests making them a top destination for family trips, nature adventures or romantic getaways.

Located just offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, the islands boast over 15 miles of unspoiled beaches, along with approximately 250 different kinds of seashells. Home to the “Sanibel Stoop” – the bent-at-the-waist stance taken when bending over to retrieve a shell – the islands are routinely ranked among the best places in the world for shelling. The nation’s longest-running shell show is held on-island.

In 2018, Sanibel ranked fifth on Trips to Discover’s “Worlds Best Beaches for Beachcombing” and Trips to Discover named the island in an article about “17 of the Best Beaches In Florida.” Bowman’s Beach made Flight Network’s “The World’s Best Beaches for 2018” – the only Florida beach to do so – while Sanibel earned No. 7 on National Geographic Travel’s 2017 “Best Beaches in the World.”

But the accolades do not stop at the sand’s edge. In 2018, Sanibel ranked No. 15 on Expedia’s “Top-rated Vacation Destinations in North America” – out of the more than 4,600 cities reviewed – and it came in third on FloridaRentals.com’s “11 Most Popular Small Town Florida Destinations.” In 2017, Captiva made the list of “10 Best Vacations for Families with Toddlers” by Trip Advisor’s Flipkey.

Explore the outdoors by visiting the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, hiking the trails maintained by the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation or biking the over 25 miles of shared use paths on Sanibel. Learn more about the local wildlife at the refuge or the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife. In 2020, the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum will open its first-ever aquarium.

There are opportunities for boating, fishing, snorkeling and other water-based fun, along with plenty of land-based activities, such as golfing, shopping, dining out, enjoying a spa day – or simply relaxing.

‘Must Do’s’ on Sanibel

Sanibel and Captiva offer something for everyone – a wildlife refuge and nature preserves and trails, museums and historical landmarks, a wildlife hospital, art galleries, a botanical garden and more.


The Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife is a teaching hospital and visitor education center dedicated to saving wildlife through state-of-the-art veterinary care, research, education and conservation medicine.

Each year, CROW cares for approximately 3,500 wildlife patients, including more than 200 species of sick, injured and orphaned wildlife in its veterinary hospital, which is one of the nation’s leading rehabilitation facilities for native and migratory wildlife. It also provides educational fellowships and externship programs for undergraduate students, and internship programs for veterinarian graduates.

The Visitor Education Center offers behind-the-scenes views into CROW’s animal care through live camera feeds, interactive displays and daily presentations by students, staff and volunteers. CROW also offers Lunch & Learn sessions and its popular Wildlife Walk with Rehabilitators and Staff.

Admission is $12 for ages 13 and older, and $7 for ages 4-12; children 3 and under are free.

For more information, or to make a donation, visit www.crowclinic.org or call 239-472-3644.

CROW is at 3883 Sanibel-Captiva Road, Sanibel.

Sanibel Historical Museum and Village

The Sanibel Historical Museum and Village was founded in 1984 with a mission to preserve and share Sanibel history.

The story of Sanibel is told from the Calusa and Spanish eras to the early pioneer families who settled on the island in the 1800s. It tells of warriors, adventurers, fishermen, farmers and proprietors. Nine historic buildings were moved from their original sites. Each building has been restored to its original state. The village also has a replica of a Packing House and a garage housing a 1927 Ford Model T truck.

Volunteer docents share the stories of Sanibel with almost 10,000 visitors a year.

Admission is $10 for ages 18 and older.

For more information, visit sanibelmuseum.org or call 239-472-4648.

The Sanibel Historical Museum and Village is at 950 Dunlop Road, Sanibel.


Founded in 1967, the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation is dedicated to the conservation of coastal habitats and aquatic resources on the islands and in the surrounding watershed. From its earliest days, it was known as a land trust with an impressive acquisition record.

The Nature Center houses several aquaria focusing on the herpetofauna of the islands – snakes and turtles. An interlocking maze of four miles of trails allows visitors to choose a short stroll or a longer walk through the quiet heart of the island, paralleling low lying wetlands and the Sanibel Slough. Indoors, an interactive exhibit, maps, and videos describe the challenges of maintaining benchmarks in water quality. There are several hands-on items made specifically for younger children. Educational programs and guided tour schedules are available.

Visit the Native Landscapes & Garden Center to learn how to encourage birds, butterflies, and other wildlife in your backyard, contribute to better water quality in local waterbodies, help fight the spread of invasive plants on wild lands and conserve drinking water supplies. Stroll through the demonstration gardens to gain inspiration for your property, or get answers to plant questions from an expert staffer. There are also plant related classes and workshops on a seasonal basis.

In addition, SCCF has six preserves open to the public.

Admission to the Nature Center is $5 for adults; children ages 17 and under are free.

For more information, visit www.sccf.org or call 239-472-2329.

The Nature Center is at 3333 Sanibel-Captiva Road, Sanibel.

The Garden Center is at the Bailey Homestead Preserve, at 1300 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel.