Sanibel and sister island, Captiva, have their own rules—most of them dictated by nature and the needs of wildlife. With more than two-thirds of Sanibel preserved and safeguarded from development, the islands keep their promise of pristine beaches, raw wetlands, and ardent wildlife stewardship. You will see lots of birds and animals on Sanibel, but you won’t see a single streetlight or traffic signal. Explore the islands with our insider’s guide from A to Z.
Alligators. Sanibel Island is one of only a few Florida islands with a freshwater river. That means alligators, one of the island’s strongest attractions for wildlife watchers. Look for them at Bailey Tract (see J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge) and Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation (see Xtra Special). Incidentally, fresh water also means bobcats and river otters.
Boating. Getting out on the water is paramount to the island experience. Captain your own adventure with a rental, or hop aboard a tour boat. The Sanibel Thriller zips you around the islands, while New Moon Sailing out of Captiva takes the slow, island-time approach. Captiva Cruises does soothing island-hopping and sunset tours.
Causeway Islands Park. The beaches along the Sanibel Causeway hop with family picnics, kite- and windsurfers, jet-skiers, and anglers. You can pull your vehicle right up to the beach, which makes barbecue picnics utterly convenient.
Doctoring Critters. The vision of one woman in 1968, Care & Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) has been nurturing injured and orphaned critters by the thousands every year since. In 2009, a new visitors center opened to educate the public about its mission and procedures with immersive elements.
Eclectic Resorts. Don’t look for chain hotels or over-the-top luxury resorts. Sanibel and Captiva boast a reputation for family destination resorts, such as Captiva’s South Seas Island Resort and Sanibel’s Sundial Beach Resort. The scale of accommodations ranges from the historic Island Inn and charming Gulf Breeze Cottages & Motel on Sanibel to fishing-frenzied Jensen’s Twin Palm Cottages & Marina and historic ‘Tween Waters Inn on Captiva.
The Old Captiva House restaurant at 'Tween Waters Inn
Festivities. Plan your visit to the islands around one of their lively annual events. Most famous and signature, the 77th annual Shell Festival takes place on Sanibel Island March 6-8 this year, paying homage to the island’s reputation as a top shelling destination. The 28th annual Sanibel Music Festival fills the month with classical music, March 4-25. Highlights throughout the year include the 25th annual “Ding” Darling Days October 19-25 and 33rd annual Taste of the Islands on November 9 on Sanibel; and Captiva Holiday Village, Thanksgiving through Christmas on Captiva.
Head to page two for G-M.