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The barrier islands of Sanibel and Captiva

By Staff | Oct 6, 2021

Photo courtesy of The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel

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 “World’s 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 about the local wildlife at the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife or stop by the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum to see mollusks, the live creatures that make shells.

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.