lovely tree on Sanibel Island
photo by Blake Patterson

Sanibel Island is a city in Florida, entirely encompassing a barrier island west of Fort Myers. Sanibel is known as a quiet, natural travel destination, well-suited for families.


Sanibel is not a stereotypical "Spring Break" type of destination. Its primary attractions are its birds, seashells, and sunsets, and many families travel here for a quiet getaway.


Sanibel is flat, long (12 miles), and narrow (3 miles at its widest). On the west, its beaches face the Gulf of Mexico. To the east, Sanibel borders Pine Island Sound and San Carlos Bay. The majority of the waterfront on the Sound is part of J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge, including the calm waters of Tarpon Bay.

People looking for well-groomed white-sand beaches on Sanibel may be disappointed. The beaches are less maintained and more natural than in many locations. Seashell collectors will be pleasantly surprised by the density of seashells.

Seasonal Variations

The peak travel season in Sanibel is January through April. Southwest Florida has some of the nation's mildest weather during this time, making this particular area appealing to winter-weary travelers. September and October are the island's quietest months, with some businesses shutting down for several weeks of the year.

Summers in southwest Florida can be oppressively hot and humid, but during the other months of the year Sanibel is a mild and pleasant environment. Even in the summers Sanibel's ocean breezes can eliminate some of the stifling heat.

Getting there

Most travelers arrive by automobile, crossing the Sanibel Causeway (a one-way toll of $6 applies at the time of this writing). There are no airports on the island and no ferry service from the mainland.

Sanibel Island is less than 25 miles from Southwest Florida International Airport. Follow Daniels Parkway west to Summerlin Road, then Summerlin Road south and west to McGregor Boulevard, which leads to the Sanibel Causeway.

Traveling around

By Car

Posted speed limits are enforced by local police, who will remind you why you have come to Florida's islands. Most roads will have limits of 35 MPH or less, through both residential areas and protected wildlife zones. Beware of the infamous double stop signs of Sanibel. They are posted like that because they are often missed. Be particularly careful to mind the speed limit at night. There are not many roads on the Island and at night there is virtually always someone watching them. Watch for pedestrians and cyclists.

On the eastern half of the island, the main road through the city is Periwinkle Way. A variety of side streets connect this road with the beaches, shops, restaurants, and lodging on the island.

On the western half of the island, the main road is Sanibel-Captiva Road, or "San-Cap". Fewer roads connect to this one, which is bordered by protected lands on both sides for much of its length. At the end of San-Cap where the two islands meet at Blind Pass, this area is called "Santiva", a portmanteau of Sanibel and Captiva.

Running parallel to both these roads, along the southern shore of the island, is Gulf Drive.

By Bicycle

There are 22 miles of cycling paths on Sanibel. With no hills to speak of, cycling can be a rewarding way to see the island. However, shops are located more than two miles from most lodging locations. It is recommended to rent a vehicle, since riding past sunset is impossible. Numerous local businesses rent bicycles, and some hotels/inns will have bikes for their guests to use. Remember to bring water and sunscreen and obey all traffic laws.


The gorgeous naturalized beaches covered ankle deep in beautiful shells, sponges, driftwood, sand dollars, and so on. Shells cover a great bit of the sand, beach and ocean grasses and somewhat "wild looking" plants, seaweeds and aquatic plants are to be found between the homes and the water's edge. These are not "weeds," and this is not a "dirty" beach. It is a naturalized area, and Sanibel and Captiva Islands are making every attempt to keep these beautiful islands in their natural state.

The island is lush with bouganvellia, and other brilliantly colored flowers and shrubs nearly all year long. This is definitely a sub-tropical climate. Tiny chameleons scurry about (even in and out of restaurants) and you may see lots of cute, tiny tree frogs stuck to your condo door when you come home at night! Bring insect repellant with DEET for the sand flies (also called midges and "no-see-ums.") You literally cannot see the "no-See-ums" and they come right through the screens on the balconies and lanais. They may be virtually invisible to the naked eye, but you'll see the bites later. Some folks are driven crazy, others do not get bitten at all.

  • Birds at the J. N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge . The sanctuary is on a large estate on the island. If you are a bird watcher, try to plan your visits during the arrival of the Roseate Spoonbill and other rare species protected there.

  • Historic lighthouse at the eastern tip of the island

Things to do

Sanibel is mostly known as an ecological destination. Bird watchers and shell collectors make up the majority of the island's visitors each year.

  • Rent full-size and mini bikes and/or motorized scooters to see the island more slowly and take everything in at a more leisurely pace.

  • Rent your own sightseeing boats. There is a large public beach which features the Sanibel Lighthouse at one end of the island and large, quiet covered fishing pier as well. You'll be entertained by and enjoy the company of lots of pelicans patiently waiting for someone to toss some fish scraps their way on the pier. A very peaceful, delightful place.

  • Fish (license required) from shore, or hire a charter. You can catch delicious whiting right in the surf on the beach in front of your condo, cook them just minutes or hours later and savor the best, freshest fish you have eaten in a long time.

  • Collect shells at any of the public beaches (live shellfish may not be harvested)

  • Rent a kayak and explore the calm waters of Tarpon Bay

  • Play golf or tennis

  • SCUBA or snorkel


You will not find any fast-food chain restaurants on Sanibel, other than a single Dairy Queen which received an exemption to the strict laws passed to preserve the island's special charm.

  • Cheeburger, Cheeburger, 1975 Periwinkle Way, +1 239 472-6111 , the original. Burgers, shakes, and fries. Eat the 20 ounce monster and get your picture on the wall. Busy, fun atmosphere.

  • The Bean of Sanibel, 2240-B Periwinkle Way, +1 239 395-1919 . From 7 AM to 9 PM, fresh roasted coffee and light food.

  • The Lazy Flamingo, 6520-C Pine Ave, +1 239 472-5353 . Cold beer and a small but high-quality menu. Very casual, very affordable. Try the Teri-Hot wings or pork ribs. Even if you don't like wings you will love these.

  • The Mad Hatter, 6467 Sanibel Captiva Rd, +1 239 472-0033 . M - Sa 5 - 10 PM. Fine dining in a romantic atmosphere. Understated exterior hides a real gem of Sanibel.

  • R.C. Otter's, 11508 Andy Rosse Lane, +1 239 395-1142‎. Friendly service, a great atmosphere, and live music nightly. Try the key lime pie and grouper sandwich.


Although there is one "chain" on the islands, with the rest of the accommodations being small-to-medium townhome or condo complexes, each one prettier than the next. Most all have outdoor, (or indoor/outdoor covered) pools, patios and grills,and some of the largest have tennis courts, clubhouses, putting greens, etc. If you want a constant ocean view, be clear about it when making reservations. Lots of townhome and condo complexes are across from the beach. Still just a hop, skip and jump from the water, but unless you spend a lot of time on the beach itself all day, you'll miss the view! Most private rental homes are across the street from the beach or on the inner parts of the island.

Dogs and cats are allowed in some (but not many) of the condo/townhome complexes. Dogs may be on the beach if on leash. All condos and townhomes are family-friendly.

  • Casa Ybel Resort, 2255 West Gulf Drive on Sanibel Island epitomizes the sanctuary, old-island spirit of Sanibel Island. It is located on shell-studded sand beaches of Florida’s sub-tropical Sanibel Island and is close to Fort Myers’ International Airport

  • Sanibel Arms West Vacation Condos, 827 E. Gulf Drive, +1 239 282-3636, Toll-free: +1 800 950-1138, Fax: +1 239 472-9688, .

  • Shalimar Cottages and Hotel, 2823 West Gulf Drive, +1 239 472-1353, Toll-free: +1 800 995-1242, Fax: +1 239 472-6430, . 33 Rooms (cottages and motel efficiencies) directly on the beach, swimming pool, full kitchens. Off-season specials and AAA discount available.

  • ''' 2230 Camino Del Mar Sanibel Island, Florida Toll-free 1-800-336-6722, 64 - 1 or 2 Bedroom Condominiums, each of which has a lanai that faces the Gulf of Mexico and provides panoramic views. Less than 25 steps to the beach, heated swimming pool, modern appointments and numerous amenities with full kitchens and complete guest services.

  • West Wind Inn, 3345 West Gulf Drive, +1 239 472-1541, Toll-free: +1 800 824-0476, Fax: +1 239 472-8134, . On quiet end of island near Rabbit Rd bike path. Several two-story buildings with kitchenettes available. Go for the newer Driftwood building; the oceanfront rooms are nice for nighttime surf noise. Nice pool area with bar, food and Normandie restaurant on site. Billy's Rentals on site for bikes and beach equipment. AAA discount available.

  • by Waterstone Resorts. Find Gulf front condos and homes for rent on Sanibel Island.

  • Seaside Inn , 239-472-1400, 541 East Gulf Drive, Sanibel Island, Florida 33957


Shells, sharp fashions, beautiful jewelry, decorative "beachy items" and all kinds of quality merchandise. A full size grocery store ("Jerry's") holds court in one of the malls. Lavish decor outside includes macaws, parrots, Mynahs, cockatoos. This shopping "complex" consists of a combination large grocery and quality yet affordable souvenir store, as well as a specialty liquor store and a few other shops and boutiques.

Get out

  • Travel west to Captiva Island, a smaller island with a variety of restaurants.

  • Travel east to Fort Myers.

Contact & location

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The photos displayed on this page are the property of one of the following authors:

Blake Patterson, Caroline Gagné, Bill and Mavis T, Dan Perry, Pat Williams, Matthew Vorwald, Alan Levine, Thomas Halverstadt

Some photos courtesy of: . The photos provided by Flickr are under the copyright of their owners.

This travel guide also includes text from Wikitravel articles, all available at WikitravelView full credits

Claus Hansen, Jim Mccormack, San Francisco Girl, David, David, Lillian, Marc Heiden, DaveTheC, Clark Richards and Stacy Hall, Inas

This travel guide also includes text from Wikipedia articles, all available at WikipediaView full credits

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