Sanibel Island

Sanibel Island Travel Guide

The top things to do on Sanibel Island—other than combing your way across the beach for shells—involve soaking up the other fabulous representatives of Mother Nature. Don’t miss other classic things to do on Sanibel Island.

The J. N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge —named after a Des Moines Register cartoonist who was a regular on Sanibel Island— is a 6,500-acre refuge that takes up half the island with mangrove swamps and any number of alligators, otters, ospreys and even raccoons. You can explore by taking the five-mile drive or walking on the two-mile boardwalk trail. The Sanibel Botanical Gardens has six acres of unusual tropical plants and flowers, and you can take guided tours with its head gardener.

Despite its overall sleepy vibe, Sanibel Island has its share of nightlife—such as Ellington’s Jazz Club & Restaurant; Doc Ford’s Rum Bar and Grille, a sports bar with live music; and the Beached Whale, which is beloved for its fish tacos and sunset-friendly roof deck. What to do on Sanibel Island when you're tired of beachcombing? Look at even more shells but at eye level. To help you get a handle on your mollusk lingo, the Bailey-Mathews Shell Museum has 30 exhibits, including rare and fossil shells.

This shellers' mecca attributes its bounty to a wide continental shelf. Bend over in a "Sanibel Stoop" to hunt for the coveted junonia: find one and you'll get your picture in the local papers.