Road Trip Back in Time to Sanibel

Get the most of Sanibel and Captiva's Old Florida charm with these must-see destinations, restaurants, and more.

The Sanibel Island Lighthouse and beach.

In a state full of captivating flora and fauna, Sanibel stands out for its pristine beaches and commitment to conservation. This barrier island off the coast of Fort Myers is world-renowned for its exquisite shelling, historic sites, and laid-back lifestyle—in fact, there’s not a single stoplight on either Sanibel or its neighboring island, Captiva. A vast portion of Sanibel looks remarkably similar to how it did when Calusa Native Americans, Spanish explorers, and pirates roamed its shores, complete with postcard-worthy sunsets.

Beach walk with the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum; Photo by Nick Adams Photography

What to See and Do

Sanibel is all about shelling. Choose from five public beach accesses—we recommend Lighthouse Beach on the eastern end or Bowman’s Beach for a quieter alternative—and hunt for such natural treasures as coquinas and kitten paws. Alternatively, embark on a beach walk with an expert from the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum to learn what makes Sanibel shelling so special. Later, check out the museum, the only one in the world devoted to shells and living mollusks. Of course, every Sanibel vacation must include a visit to J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, so carve out a day to traverse its network of nature trails.

Don’t miss: Rent a bike at Billy’s Bike Shop and meander across 25 miles of paths, ending at Love Boat Ice Cream to reward yourself with homemade favorites like black raspberry or coffee toffee.

Grouper dishes abound at area eateries

Where to Eat 

Nothing says Gulf Coast cuisine quite like grouper. swing by The Sanibel Grill to try its signature grouper Reuben. At the grill’s sister restaurant, Timbers, indulge in fresh catch specials or pick up raw ingredients and cook dinner yourself. Another must-visit is Sweet Melissa’s Café, where chef Melissa Donahue showcases her New Orleans flair and fine-dining pedigree.

Where to Stay

Part of the appeal of visiting Sanibel is the ability to carve out a slice of the island and call it your own. This feeling is within reach at Casa Ybel Resort, where every room comes with an oceanfront view. The all-suite accommodations feature separate living and sleeping quarters as well as cooking conveniences like full kitchens and grills. Guests are also privy to spa services, an Olympic-sized pool, and recreations such as yoga, watersports, and pickleball.

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