Sanibel Island, Florida, a pristine sanctuary that’s easily accessible with rarely crowded beaches. Beach sand is pure and white, with a slight crunch underfoot due to seashells and crushed pieces. Sanibel Island is known as one of the premiere destinations for finding seashells in the country. It’s easy to while away the hours drifting in the Gulf of Mexico, looking for shells, and building sandcastles.
One of the best parts of Sanibel Island is making sure you scheduled time for, well, nothing. Sit on the deck and watch birds, wildlife, and enjoy the salty breezes. The kids can make crafts with shells found on the beach. Take drives, go for runs, ride bikes, and explore the island. The blue skies, pristine beaches, and warm sun are invigorating especially after a long northern winter. The island is small and compact, making it simple to frequent multiple beaches and attractions during your vacation.
A quintessential family beach located at the southern tip of the island. Lighthouse Beach has views of the Gulf, bay, causeway, as well as the mainland of Fort Myers Beach, Florida. Tall, shady, palm trees offer a break from the sun for delicate Yankees not used to sun in February, and, of course, there is the Sanibel Lighthouse itself, first lit in 1884. The Sanibel Lighthouse may look like an oil derrick with a giant lightbulb screwed on top, but the lighthouse was intentionally built with an open structure so hurricane force winds would pass right through without toppling the tower.
At the northern end of Sanibel, right before crossing over onto Captiva Island, is Blind Pass Beach. Setting Blind Pass apart from other beaches was looking directly out into the Gulf of Mexico and no longer seeing Florida’s mainland coast. You can truly feel as though you left the United States for a secluded tropical island.
A small strip of beach on the bay located at the end of Bailey Street. Get it? This narrow strip sports views of the bay, and sits right underneath the Sanibel Causeway connecting the mainland to the island. A very breezy spot on the island, good for windsurfing, and a boat launch makes it accessible for your boat as well. There’s a single picnic table that’s rarely used, and you can make Bailey your own private dining beach.
Bailey Street used to be a through-way connecting the bay side to the ocean side of the island. At one point, the street was closed off, and condos were built. The ocean side of the road was re-named Beach Street with a beach. We never found the beach’s official name, so our family dubbed it Beach St. Beach. An expansive, sandy beach, covered with shells, and lots of room for strolling. This spot on the Western side of the island was ideally situated to watch the disappearing sun in the evening.
Sanibel Island has strict zoning laws to prevent the towering buildings and overdevelopment found in other parts of Florida. Nearly 70% of the island is undeveloped land. Nowhere is this more apparent than the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Darling himself was an artist and wildlife conservationist. The sanctuary contains 6,400 acres of forest and wetlands making it the largest, preserved mangrove forest in the country. There is a small, natural history museum in the visitor’s center of the wildlife refuge, but the real draw of “Ding” Darling is Wildlife Drive. For a small $5/car fee, families can motor along Wildlife Drive, pulling over whenever the mood strikes to enjoy nature, birds, and maybe even the occasional alligator. There is also a guided, narrated, open air tram tour for $14/person, as well as private companies that lead tours through the refuge.
You will certainly need a car to drive to Sanibel Island or get from the airport in Fort Myers, Florida. However, once you get on the island, try to ditch the car if you can. Many of the beaches are in walking distance to hotels and accommodations, and you will find many people riding bicycles around the island. During the peak of the winter tourist season, traffic on the island’s main thoroughfare can get bumper-to-bumper and crawl to a standstill. Oftentimes families riding bikes will pass those sitting in their cars.
Dave Parfitt is a reformed academic with a PhD in neuroscience, who began writing about his family travel adventures after surviving a trip to Walt Disney World with his two budding princesses, now ages 19 and 16. As owner and editor of Adventures By Daddy, Dave offers family travel advice and escapist fun from Dad’s point of view.