2023 Sanibel & Captiva Travel Guide
There’s no bad time to visit Sanibel and Captiva Islands. Whichever time of year you choose, your stay here will be a great adventure, and later, a wonderful memory. Here are some helpful tips to consider, however, for timing your visit. Sanibel Island Florida is one of the most beautiful places in Florida. Sanibel Island is located about 12 miles west of Fort Myers Beach on the Lee Island Coast and can be accessed by car over a causeway starting at Punta Rassa near Fort Myers. Fort Myers has an international airport, which is served by all major airlines.
Why do people love Sanibel & Captiva Islands?
Almost half of Sanibel Island has been set aside as habitat or preserve. Thus, wildlife lives at every turn. You will be amazed at the animal kingdom that makes its home here – from rabbits, otters and raccoons to manatee, dolphin, osprey, and eagles. Sanibel’s focus is on nature, pure and simple. There are no high rises, no stoplights, no bright lights, no honking horns. Just bicycle bells, lots of animals and birds, key lime pie and seashells as far as the eye can see. It’s a magical place that’s especially perfect for families with small children, but beloved by everyone.
Captiva has a split personality: its miles of beaches face west for unforgettable nightly sunsets. But leave the peaceful beach and walk into the village, and voila! Captiva’s village area is popping with live music, outdoor bistros, galleries and more. It’s fun to walk around and explore this area on foot, day or night. Both islands have marinas from which to explore the upper islands. Wherever you are, you’ve never far from the sea.
Sanibel Island Visitors Guide
Sanibel Island is home to 15 miles of unspoiled beaches, 22 miles of bike paths, 50 types of fish, 230 types of birds, 250 types of shells and N0 stoplights. Sanibel Island is world-renowned for its beautiful beaches, unparalleled seashells, wildlife, and casual atmosphere. Over 27 miles of scenic bike paths wind past beaches, wildlife preserves, dining, and shopping. Winters are marvelous here, making Sanibel and its sister island, Captiva, unforgettable destinations for northern sun-lovers. The islands’ summers yield warm Gulf waters that bring families back to its welcoming beaches year after year. Golf, tennis, fishing, sunbathing or doing nothing at all…..you’ll enjoy the natural, laid-back experience of Sanibel.
Located just west of Fort Myers on Florida’s Gulf Coast, Sanibel Island immediately invites you to draw a deep breath and relax. Bicyclists pedal by and wave. Tangles of mangrove line the roads, where there are no traffic lights. And you can shop till you drop.
Sanibel Island boasts of 15 miles of white powder sand beaches perfect for sunbathing, strolling, building sandcastles or simply taking a quiet moment of enjoying this wonderful gift of nature. Sanibel Island is most famous as a fabulous shelling location. Sanibel Island’s location on the Gulf of Mexico and layout make it a magnet for shells and a must place to visit for any shell lover.
Sanibel’s beaches are known around the world for excellent shell collecting and wildlife viewing, but visitors also enjoy the island’s barefoot elegance and sunsets.
Sanibel Island is also home to the famous Sanibel Island Lighthouse first constructed in the 1880s.
Sanibel Island is loved for its abundance of world-class seashells, miles of beautiful white-sand beaches, and the huge variety of wildlife that calls this Gulf coast island home. It’s a tranquil place where busy adults can truly unplug, as well as, a magical place for children. Our clean beaches are not crowded. The Gulf of Mexico is a comfortable temperature for swimming almost all year. Sanibel’s gently-sloping beach, combined with its gentle waves makes wading inviting, even for your tiny tots.
Captiva Island Visitors Guide
Upscale Captiva Island, connected by a bridge to Sanibel, is an exclusive, small community where you can walk to fine dining, live music, galleries, sunset on the beach or sunrise on the bay. It’s the gateway to the out-islands, with several marinas, boat rentals, water taxis, and kayak rentals.
Captiva is defined by a few things: proximity to both Gulf and Bay, the village area, fabulous sunsets, and the ability to walk to different activities. Every service you can imagine is available, from massage at home to family portraits on the beach. Shopping is fabulous. And Captiva’s beach is front and center for sunset, every single night. Be sure to get out on the water. The out-islands are a short boat ride away; sailing, fishing, shelling, parasailing, and kayaking are all available.
There’s so much to recommend this tiny island, especially for those who appreciate romance. You’ll be instantly charmed by its size – Captiva is a place for walking. Should you arrange for accommodations right in the “village” area (which includes homes, condos, hotel rooms, and a B&B) you’ll not need your car again. It is nothing short of sheer bliss to walk around the corner for groceries, terrific dining, shopping, beach activities or water sports. Traveling by foot helps set the pace for your stay on the islands.
The heart of Captiva is the intersection of Andy Rosse Lane and Captiva Drive. While you’re deciding what to do next (or deciding not to decide!), find a bench, sit down, and watch the world go by. Stretching out in every direction are several terrific options for romantics. Slowly make your way down Andy Rosse and discover quaint restaurants, bicycle rentals, a day spa, live music, a cozy bed and breakfast, and intriguing art galleries. Captiva Drive also has several gems. More scrumptious dining options offer everything from intimate porches to terrific water views or quirky bars. Shopping is unlimited; surprise each other with special gifts – antiques, jewelry, and comfy clothing can all be found.
Outdoor activities are just part of the Captiva Island experience. If you are looking for a luxury resort, affordable vacation rental or a quaint bed and breakfast, Captiva island has something for those looking to enjoy some island time. You are going to need food and drink. Captiva Island and sister Sanibel Island have it all. Four-Star restaurants, beer, and burger joints and family-friendly dinners. Find out what others are saying about Captiva restaurants on the Captiva Restaurant Reviews Page.
A Captiva night can easily include dancing to live music, or late-night appetizers and drinks. Nearby Sanibel offers even more options: pool, karaoke, dancing, live music, piano bars, sports bars, first-run films, live theater, musical concerts, lighted tennis courts, even local softball games.
Cruise Pine Island Sound, the prime habitat of dolphins. Choose between two unique island lunch destinations. Cabbage Key was once the fishing retreat of Mary Roberts Rinehart, a famous playwright & novelist–a legendary “old Florida” landmark. The private island of Useppa has a storybook setting with white cottages & lush vegetation. Lunch is served at the historic Collier Inn & their private history museum is a “musT-See.” 11401 Andy Rosse Lane, Captiva, Florida 33924 . Phone: 239-472-5300
The Fort Myers – Sanibel Island area is also home to a variety of establishments to eat and drink. Classic Florida beach bars, oyster bars, open-air cafes, and upscale restaurants call the area home. Whether you have the urge for a cold drink, fresh seafood, cheeseburger or a steak you will remember the rest of your life, it is all available on Sanibel Island. You can savor the flavor of culinary experiences – American, Italian, French and more – at relaxed restaurants that are anything but cookie-cutter. After dinner, immerse yourself in cultural offerings that include art, theater, and music.
Ft. Myers is the gateway to the islands. Situated on the historic Caloosahatchee River, the “City of Palms” is filled with golf courses, tennis courts, great restaurants, and shopping. Attractions include spring training facilities for the Red Sox and Twins, The Edison and Ford Estates, the Florida Everblades’ home arena, as well as two performing arts halls and a downtown entertainment district. There’s never a shortage of theater, live music, or sunshine. Getting here is easy: Southwest Florida International Airport is in Ft. Myers and the Islands and the Gulf of Mexico are just minutes away.
Fort Myers Beach has gained a reputation as the World’s Safest Beach because there is no undertow and shallow water. Feel free to walk the 7 miles length of the island along its sandy shores. You can enjoy everything from beaches, fishing, shopping, dining, golf, tennis and live entertainment.
Close to both Sanibel Island and Ft. Myers is the lively community of Fort Myers Beach. Popular with the younger crowd, Ft. Myers Beach has lots of nightlife, wide beaches, and an Atlantic-style fishing pier. Restaurants offer German, Greek, Mexican and American fare and, of course, fresh seafood! Lover’s Key is a secluded island at the south end of Ft. Myers Beach.
Things to do
Sanibel Island is famous for the seashells that line its beaches year-round. Captiva also has good shelling, but sunset is the climax of the day on this west-facing island. Both islands have unlimited watersports: parasailing, back bay- surf- and offshore-fishing, sailing, paddling, and summer wave runners.
Both islands have miles of private beaches for you to enjoy, and pools galore. Sanibel has 26 miles of bike paths to explore. Both islands are filled with terrific, casual restaurants and shopping is fantastic at the many boutiques, galleries, and shops. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge and several other spots are fantastic for birding. And if you’ve never been to a place without the glare of streetlights, stargazing our night skies will utterly amaze you. We also have the world’s only seashell museum, a historic village, live theater and musicals, a small cinema, touring musical performances, and arts and crafts fairs. When it comes to nightlife, visitors can dine outdoors to live music, perform karaoke, play pool, go to crab races, or dance the night away. But the best thing to do might just be falling asleep underneath a swaying palm, to the sound of the Gulf. You decide.
Local attractions of Sanibel and Captiva Islands
Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum
The Shell Museum is the only one of its kind in the United States. Exhibits are devoted to shells in art and history, shell habitats, rare specimens, fossil shells and local Sanibel-Captiva shells. Museum members and children 7 & under are free, youths 8 to 16 are $3, adults 17 and up – $5. Group rates and tour information available. 239-395-2233
3075 San-Cap Road. Hours: 10am-4pm Tues-Sun; Closed Mondays.
Cruise to the famous island destinations of Useppa Island, Cabbage Key, Cayo Costa, and Boca Grande or select the Photo Safari Cruise. Onboard you’ll enjoy the interesting commentary and unforgettable scenery.
Dolphins jumping in the wake of the boat is a favorite attraction. Yachtsmen, young and old enjoy the first-class service aboard our spacious and comfortable vessels. For reservations and information please call 239-472-5300.
Clinic for Rehabilitation of Wildlife (C.R.O.W.)
A non-profit veterinary hospital dedicated to the rehabilitation and return to the wild of ill, injured and orphaned native wildlife. Thousands of patients – from all over Southwest Florida – are received annually. C.R.O.W. also participates in wildlife studies and sponsors educational programs. Tours 11am Mon-Fri, 1pm Sunday, no tours on Saturday. $5 requested donation. 239-472-3644
3883 San-Cap Road.
Everglades Day Safari
An Everglades eco-tour of bird watching and wildlife photography of alligators, panthers, manatees, reptiles and other zoological and botanical interests in southwest Florida’s Big Cypress Preserve and Everglades outback. A full day of nature by riverboat, hiking, airboats and van exploration with highly trained guides. Let us do the driving. Departs daily from Sanibel, Ft. Myers Beach and Naples/Marco Island area. For reservations and information, call 239-472-1559.
J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge
Open Sun-Thursday (closed Fridays), the Wildlife Drive opens daily beginning 1/2 hour after sunrise and closes 1/2 before sunset. The Visitor Center is open daily from 9-4 during summer months, and from 9-5 during the months of Nov-Apr.
Tarpon Bay Marina Center
Also visit the Tarpon Bay Marina Center for canoe and kayak rentals, bike rentals and independent or guided canoe and kayak tours around Tarpon Bay. For reservations and information please call 239-472-8900.
Old Town Sanibel
Just footsteps to Gulf & Bay world-famous shelling beaches, stroll to quaint village shops, grocery, deli and one of the island’s best breakfast and lunch cafes. Visit nearby the historic Lighthouse, fishing pier, marina and nature walk. All just a short walk or bike ride from one of the four quaint inns and cottages in Old Town Sanibel.
Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Center
A not-for-profit organization dedicated to conserving the island’s natural resources. Several miles of walking trails, exhibits, marine touch tanks, native plant nursery and nature store. Nominal admission fee.
Mile Marker 1, San-Cap Road. Hours: 8:30am-3pm Mon-Fri during the summer, 8:30am-4pm Mon-Sat during winter months. 239-472-2329
East end of Sanibel, public parking at the beach at the east end of Periwinkle Way. First lit in August 1884. Since 1950, the U.S. Coast Guard property at the lighthouse has been a wildlife refuge.
Sanibel Historic Village & Museum
Sanibel Historic Village & Museum is located at 950 Dunlop Road next to City Hall. The Village and Museum is closed until November
Cyclists agree the most unique stretch of Sanibel bike paths lies between Middle Gulf and West Gulf Drives. Veering away from the road, the path meanders past an old Sanibel cemetery and the road to Algiers Beach. Another favorite section of paved bike path runs between Sanibel-Captiva Road and West Gulf Drive, parallel to Rabbit Road. Cyclists pass a spacious pond that offers dependable alligator-watching. (Remember to never feed an alligator – it’s illegal and can result in the gator’s destruction).
Nearby, in the J.N. ‘Ding’ Darling National Wildlife Refuge, explorers with bikes or on foot will find the 2 1/4 mile Indigo Trail. Splitting off to the left shortly after the park’s entrance, this off-road trail lets explorers visit the heart of the Refuge with no motor vehicles in sight. Accessible seven-days-a-week, the trail also begins as a boardwalk from the Visitor’s Center and is the only part of the Refuge open on Fridays.
A separate part of the Refuge is found on Tarpon Bay Road, just south of Sanibel Boulevard. Known as the Bailey Tract, this 100-acre park is home to pig frogs, marsh rabbits, soft-shell turtles, red-shouldered hawks and even the elusive Florida bobcat. (Don’t worry, the most you’ll see of this rare creature might be his scat). Well-marked, with educational signage throughout, the Bailey Tract provides a natural history perspective of Sanibel Island. Several trails run through the tract – the longest being 1.2 miles – with one wooden sidewalk spanning a wildlife-rich, spartina cordgrass marsh. Rich in island folklore as well, the track holds the key to the tale of an important Sanibel seaplane, as well as a mysterious woman named Hell Roar’n Smith. Cyclists and hikers are welcome from sunrise to sunset, and there’s no charge for admission.
An altogether different setting that offers tranquillity, as well as the chance to get wet, lies at the end of Bailey Road. Running north from Periwinkle Way just west of Causeway Road, Bailey Road stops at the Bayshore of Sanibel. A lovely little stretch of partially shaded beach awaits, as does a fabulous view of the causeway and the many dolphins that frequent these waters. Wear a swimsuit under your riding shorts, or you’ll wish you had. A new bike path now connects the Causeway to the beach via a trail that enters the Sanibel Captiva Chamber of Commerce parking lot. While it is legal to cycle across the causeway, no additional lane is available.
Several water-based exploration options are available on the islands. Local naturalist Bird Westall will take you on a guided canoe tour of ‘Ding’ Darling, pointing out various wildlife and flora and answering any questions you may have about the unique environment of the Refuge. Call 239-472-5218.
Another way to paddle your way through the park originates at Sanibel’s Tarpon Bay Marina. A choice of kayaks and canoes are offered; visitors to Tarpon Bay may either go with a professional guide or on their own self-discovery trip through the well-marked trails of the Refuge. Reservations are necessary for high season.
Kayaking has become extremely popular on the islands in recent years. Warm water temperatures and the lack of dangerous currents contribute to the sport’s appeal. Wildside Adventures on Captiva Island rents kayaks and canoes for back bay exploration, as well as trips to nearby Buck Key. Unbeknownst to many, this neighboring, uninhabited island has several trails through it. Owners Greg and Barb LeBlanc can help you decide which time of day will work best with the tides for a Buck Key adventure. Wildside also offers full moon kayaking on the bay should you be lucky enough to be on-island at that time of the month.
How Do You Get To Sanibel Island/Captiva Island?
Tropical Sanibel and Captiva Islands are easy to find and hard to forget. Located in sunny southwest Florida, the islands lie in the Gulf of Mexico, connected by causeway islands to Ft. Myers. North of Naples an hour, and two hours south of Tampa, the islands are easily accessed by several airports: RSW in Ft. Myers, Tampa International, MCO in Orlando, FTL in Ft. Lauderdale. I-75 is 30 minutes east of Sanibel. Sanibel and Captiva are connected by a small bridge
IF YOU’RE DRIVING:
Take I-75 to exit 131. Go west (Daniels Road) to a major intersection called Six Mile Cypress, where you’ll need to be in the left-turn lanes. After turning, follow that road, which crosses US 41. Daniels now becomes Gladiolus. When you see Denny’s Diner, scoot over to the left turn lanes. At the major intersection of Summerlin Road, turn left. Follow this for several miles to the Sanibel Causeway tollbooths.
Approximate Driving Times To Sanibel from Florida Airports:
|Ft. Myers (RSW)||45 min|
|Ft. Lauderdale (FLL)||2.5 hrs|
|Miami (MIA)||3.5 hrs|
|Naples (APF)||1 hr|
|Orlando (MCO)||4 hrs|
|Sarasota (SRQ)||2 hrs|
|Tampa (TPA)||3 hrs|
|West Palm (PBI)||3 hrs|
THE SANIBEL CAUSEWAY:
The toll to paradise is $6. Once you’re on the causeway, take it easy and take in the sights. If you need a bathroom break, there are restrooms on the second causeway island, on your left and right.
IF YOU’RE FLYING:
Many airlines fly into RSW (Southwest Florida International). This market is also served by Tampa (TPA), Orlando (MCO) and Miami (MIA) airports. Save on airfare with Southwest Airlines, USA3000, JetBlue, and Spirit, among others; they fly right into Ft. Myers with many direct flights from major cities. Taxis are available to the islands and will cost about $50 to Sanibel.
Both Tampa and Ft. Lauderdale are good bets for lower fares, and the drive to Fort Myers/Sanibel is less than 3 hours. If you fly into Tampa, we recommend taking I-275 to I-75, and avoiding I-4.
There are facilities to accommodate private jets at both RSW and the smaller, municipal Page Field airport at Ft. Myers.
IF YOU’RE RENTING A CAR:
Driving from RSW (Southwest Florida International) is an easy drive. As you leave the rental car area at the airport, you are automatically exited onto Airport Road. Get into the right lane and follow it to the end – Treeline Road. Turn right. This takes you all the way to Daniels Road. Turn left onto Daniels and follow the driving directions above.
NEED TAXI, LIMO OR AIRPORT SHUTTLE SERVICE:
The Sanibel Taxi is available for all your transportation needs and shuttle service while you are enjoying your stay on Sanibel & Captiva Islands. Visit their website for Airport Shuttle Service or even just Around Town Taxi Sevice. For more info visit: www.SanibelTaxi.com