7 Best Things to Explore Sanibel Island and Captiva Island

Sanibel Island and Captiva are two long stretches of beach and wildlife sanctuaries reaching into the Gulf of Mexico. On the short drive from Cape Coral, Pelicans often accompany the cars crossing the long bridges that connect the islands with the mainland.
Sanibel and Captiva Island are justly famed for their sunsets, the Sanibel lighthouse, and restaurants. But there is so much more; read on to see our favorite ways to explore.


By far, the most popular activity is shelling – you can rarely step on the beach without indulging in the so-called "Sanibel Stoop" to search for shells. The palm-tree and flower-lined islands are famous for their white fine sand beaches and the incredible variety of shells. The islands lie east and west, different from most islands which lie north and south, this direction allows Sanibel and Captiva Island to catch abundant seashells that the Gulf of Mexico brings to its shores.

Lighthouse Park

Beaches range from the Gulf-to-bay sands at Lighthouse Park at one end of Sanibel, punctuated by the historic light tower and home to a popular fishing pier.

Bowman’s Beach

You also have Captiva’s romantic beaches, where sunset draws a nightly crowd. In between are family-friendly sandy playgrounds and long stretches of unpopulated sands fronting beautiful homes. Bowman’s Beach is especially known for its fine selections of seashells, as well as great birding. Here, you can also go kayaking and surfing, hit the theater and check out the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum.

Sanibel Historical Village

The Historical Village has displays and exhibits that explain the history of Sanibel Island from the days of the Calusa Indians. Also, there are 11 authentic historic buildings moved from their original island sites.

Cruise to Cayo Costa

Spot delightful dolphins, enjoy superb shelling, and snorkel in the shallows with a boat ride to the barrier island of Cayo Costa with Sanibel Island Cruise Line. The pristine paradise boasts seven miles of beautiful Gulf front beach. 
Nature and Historical Walks and Tours
There is the four-mile Wildlife Drive at the J.N. “Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge, another popular cycling route. This 7,600-acre wildlife refuge is home to more than 245 bird species, 60 types of reptiles, 35 mammal species, paddling, hiking/biking trails, observation tower and a four-mile scenic drive. Additionally, you can discover Sanibel diversions that include Chapel by the Sea (11580 Chapin Lane, Captiva, 239- 472-1646), C.R.O.W. (the Clinic for Rehabilitation of Wildlife), Old Town Sanibel and Sanibel Historical Museum and Village. 

Dining & Shopping

Restaurants on both islands excel at seafood succulence in settings that range from porch cafes to waterfront views and modern elegance. Although seafood is the centerpiece, menus range from Mediterranean to New American in style. Dining and shopping are favorite pastimes on the island for those ready to leave the beach for a spell. Sanibel Island is known for its art galleries, which specialize in wildlife paintings. Don’t miss the monthly Art Nights during the winter season. Seashell shops, resort clothing boutiques and jewelry stores selling custom, sea-inspired adornments line small shopping centers prettily decorated with bougainvillea, shady Ficus trees and swaying palms.

Sporting Activities

The islands’ marinas offer plenty of opportunity to get out on the water. Offerings include but are not limited to fishing, sailing, snorkeling, learning about marine life or camping on a tiny bridgeless island. Many resorts and outfitters stock kayaks, sailboats, paddle boats and an assortment of water toys for vacationers’ enjoyment. On Sanibel, there are multi-use paths – 25 miles total – that function as sidewalks, bike paths and recreational trails which are amazing to explore via the many bicycle rental stations.

If you’re looking for a vacation home on Sanibel Island or Captiva, Vesteva offers great rates on vacation homes available for rental during your entire stay. Save money with a stay in nearby Cape Coral and book with Vesteva Vacation Rentals.