Things to Do in Sanibel and Captiva
On the Gulf Coast of Florida (the best coast, if you ask me!), you will find Sanibel and Captiva Islands. Sanibel Island and Captiva Island are approximately 30 miles from Fort Myers, and there are many things to do in Sanibel and Captiva.
Please note. This blog post was written just one month before SW Florida was devastated by Hurricane Ian. I will leave this post up for now and will update it when we know more. For now, here is a link with some ways to help the residents of SW Florida.
These two islands are perfect for any vacation for many reasons. First, they are small. (We have Captiva listed as one of the best small towns in Florida!) The islands are also laid back and quiet. Add in the white sandy beaches and lush tropical areas, and you have your little piece of vacation paradise.
Today, I am sharing all my favorite things to do in Sanibel and Captiva.
Rental cars in Sanibel and Captiva
I like to get around as needed while on vacation, so I like to rent a car. If you’re flying into Fort Myers, Punta Gorda, Sarasota, or Tampa, you’ll need a car to get to Sanibel and Captiva Islands! I recommend renting a car from Discount USA Car Rental. They offer the best rates available on major brands like Hertz or Enterprise.
You don’t pay until arrival and can cancel anytime.
Things to Do in Sanibel and Captiva
Here are the best things to do in Sanibel and Captiva, in no particular order.
Visit the Animals at the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge
You may be surprised that an island in Florida has a national wildlife refuge. However, that is precisely what you will find on Sanibel Island!
One of the best things to do in Sanibel takes an open-air tram ride through this wildlife refuge. The tram ride is 90 minutes long. Your guide will point out where all the bobcats, otters, and alligators spend their time.
There are also four hiking trails throughout this refuge. The two shorter hikes are the Indigo Trail and the Wildlife Education Boardwalk.
If you are searching for a slightly more unique experience, I have you covered. Kayaks and paddleboards are available for rent. Simply rent one and paddle your way through the mangroves.
Talk about a Sanibel thing to do that most people know nothing about!
Visit Injured Animals at the Clinic for Rehabilitation of Wildlife
The Clinic for Rehabilitation of Wildlife is commonly called CROW. This clinic takes in injured wildlife and helps rehabilitate them. Most of the time, the animals are placed back in the wild. There are times when their injuries are so severe they must spend the remainder of their days at the clinic.
You can learn more about the native animals in Florida at this clinic. Daily presentations are also offered to give you an up-close look at how they help animals in need. They use live animal ambassadors during the presentations.
They share how the animal was injured and how they are being treated. The goal is always full recovery and release.
Purchase Some Treats at the Sanibel Island Farmers Market
The farmer’s market on Sanibel Island is open on Sundays from October through May. You will find the farmer’s market at Sanibel City Hall.
You can purchase fresh produce, baked goods, and flowers during your visit. Sometimes meat, cheese, and seafood are also available.
Wander Around the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation Nature Center
Spending time outside is easy when you are on vacation in Florida. One of the best outdoor activities in Sanibel and Captiva is wandering around the Conservation Foundation Nature Center.
Raised boardwalks have been installed along the Sanibel River. These boardwalks create a maze of trails that equals 4 miles. During your walk, you may have the chance to see birds, snakes, turtles, and alligators.
Relax at Causeway Islands Park
The Sanibel Causeway is 3 miles long. It is the only way to reach Sanibel Island from the mainland.
There are three different bridges in the causeway. In between those bridges is where Causeway Islands Park is located. Visiting this park is one of the better things to do in Sanibel.
The park is comprised of 2 islands. Each one offers sandy beaches and plenty of water to enjoy.
Popular activities at this park include kiteboarding, paddleboarding, and swimming.
The restrooms are located on Island B. Keep this in mind when setting up for your day of fun in the sun!
Find History at the Sanibel Historical Museum & Village
There are a few things to do in Sanibel and Captiva out of the sun. One of them is finding history at the Sanibel Historical Museum & Village. This museum is filled with artifacts, past and present.
There are also nine historical buildings at the museum. Those buildings date from the 1880s through the 1920s. Each building has been carefully restored to its original condition. Two of those buildings are a school and a post office.
See the Shells at the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum
The beaches of Sanibel and Captiva are lined with seashells. However, the National Shell Museum is one of the best places to see shells.
You will discover more than 30 exhibits in the museum filled with shells. Some of the shells are from Sanibel and Captiva. Most of them are from all over the world, though.
Over in the Record Breaking Shells exhibit, you can see a massive Goliath Conch.
Take a Walk at Sanibel Lighthouse Beach Park
Taking a walk at Sanibel Lighthouse Beach Park is one of the best ways to explore the eastern tip of the island. The lighthouse dates back to 1884. Visiting this lighthouse is one of the more popular Sanibel things to do.
After your walk, you can enjoy a picnic lunch. Or head to the Sanibel Fishing Pier to catch a fish or two.
There are two parking lots for this beach park. The northern parking lot is small. That lot is perfect if you only want to check out the lighthouse. If you are interested in spending more time at the park, the larger southern lot is a better option for parking.
Go Shopping on Periwinkle Way
Periwinkle Way is one of the main streets on Sanibel Island. This road is filled with boutiques and restaurants. If shopping is on your list of things to do in Sanibel, this area must be on your list!
Each boutique offers something different. Some offer beachy clothing and souvenirs, while others are more upscale.
Kayak the Calusa Blueway
One of the best places to kayak in Sanibel is the Calusa Blueway. The Great Calusa Blueway Paddling Trail is 190 miles long.
Now I know you won’t be able to paddle along all 190 miles. At least not in a single day. You can easily stick to the section between Sanibel and Captiva Islands.
However, if you are interested in exploring more of the Gulf Coast via kayak, you can. The Calusa Blueway will take you over to Pine Island, up to Fort Myers, and even to Cape Coral.
Relax on the Beach
There are a few different beaches on Sanibel and Captiva Islands. Those beaches are why so many people choose to vacation in this area of Florida.
You can easily relax on the beach nearest to your hotel. If you want to find your favorite beach, you may need to check out a couple of different beaches.
Over on Captiva, I recommend visiting Turner Beach and Captiva Beach. On Sanibel, Tarpon Bay Beach and Bowman’s Beach are your best options.
These beaches are also excellent for searching for shells along the shoreline.
Go On a Boat Ride to Nearby Islands
There are plenty of other islands near Captiva and Sanibel. If you are searching for one of the best things to do in Captiva and Sanibel, visiting other islands is one of them.
Out of all the islands, North Captiva, Cayo Costa, Cabbage Key, and Useppa Island are the best. Visiting any of them should always be on your list of Captiva things to do.
Take a Dolphin Cruise Tour
Taking a dolphin cruise tops the list of all the Captiva Island things to do. It is possible to see dolphins from the island. However, the dolphins never come that close to the shoreline.
Therefore, taking a dolphin cruise tour will allow you to get closer to these marine animals in their natural environment. Your guide will know where the dolphins are spending time on the day of your cruise. That means you can go directly to where the dolphins are instead of looking for them.
Plus, you will learn so much about these incredible creatures as you see them up close.
Parasailing is one of the better ways to see Sanibel and Captiva from a different viewpoint. This activity is one of the favorite things to do in Captiva.
YOLO Watersports offers this activity. They also offer jet skiing and flyboarding.
Watch the Sunset
There are so many places to see the sunset while in Florida. I recommend taking a walk on the beach. This way, you can watch the sun dip closer and closer to the water in the distance.
Shop at Chadwick’s Square
If Periwinkle Way doesn’t offer enough shops for you, I recommend heading over to Chadwick’s Square. This shopping area can be found within the South Seas Island Resort.
There are a few clothing stores, a convenience store, and a couple restaurants. You will also discover a spa, which may be perfect if you need a little pampering.
Explore the Wild Child Art Gallery
An artsy thing to do in Captiva is explore the Wild Child Art Gallery. More than 100 local artists display their artwork at this gallery. You can find all types of works of art at this gallery. So, walk in and see what calls out to you.
Workshops and classes are offered at this art gallery too. See what is available during your vacation in Captiva. You may return home with a few new skills.
Photo property of Wild Child Art Gallery.
Visit Captiva Chapel by the Sea
Captiva Chapel by the Sea is a national historic district. It is also a must-see during your visit.
The building was constructed in 1901 as a one-room schoolhouse. In 1921, the schoolhouse was transformed into a mission church.
Today, this church welcomes everyone, no matter their religious beliefs.
There is also a cemetery over on the beach near the chapel. Read the gravestones to see who is buried there. And see what mementos have recently been left behind.
Wander Through the Sanibel Moorings Botanical Gardens
Tropical flora is everywhere within the 6 acres of this botanical garden in Sanibel. You can tour these gardens on your own. However, I recommend taking a guided tour.
It is best to reserve a spot on the guided tours in advance. Spots fill up quickly!
The best things to do in Sanibel and Captiva
These are the best things to do in Sanibel and Captiva. They may be smaller islands, but they have plenty of options to keep you busy on vacation!
If you’re planning a SW Florida, make sure to check out some of our most popular Florida travel tips nearby:
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About Florida Travel With Kids
Florida Travel with Kids was started by a family who loves to travel the state of Florida with kids! This site will help you explore the fun state of Florida and all of the kid-friendly activities you’ll find here.
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