We just returned from another wonderful trip to our favorite little slice of heaven on earth, Sanibel Island, Florida. My aunt and uncle have owned a condo on the island since I was a kid and we visited a few times when I was growing up. My first trip to Sanibel as an adult was with my parents in 2012. We have returned as a family in 2014, 2015, 2016 and just last week. I love having a place that our family can vacation to together and build memories that will last a lifetime.
Taking a trip with the girls is always an adventure. Throw in a late flight that gets further delayed and a toddler who refuses to nap on the plane and then it’s a circus. Thank goodness for an iPad and Moana to keep her happy. They were dressed for the occasion at least, sporting their custom airport code shirts from Here, There, Everywear. They were such a hit and received many compliments both while we waited for our flight and when we finally got on the plane.
We arrived at my parents’ house very late, went to bed, then woke up the next morning to road trip in our swagger wagon (AKA minivan rental) down to our island paradise. We made our traditional stop along the way at Sun Harvest Citrus to stock up on freshly squeezed orange juice. We also made sure to try some of their delicious free fresh juice samples and then grabbed an ice cream for the road (you HAVE to try the dreamcicle…it’s amazing!) They are open year-round and have a fun selection of Florida-inspired gifts too. It’s always a fun stop!
My favorite moment…going through the toll booth and getting on the causeway to Sanibel. When you catch a glimpse of the island for the first time, you can just feel your mind and body relax. It’s so wonderful!
Here’s a little history of Sanibel, so you understand just how truly special this place is:
Sanibel (and neighboring Captiva) are rumored to have been discovered by Ponce de Leon when he was searching for the fountain of youth. Legend has it that the barrier islands later became a haven for infamous pirates. “The Buccaneer Coast” attracted the notorious Jose Gaspar to the region in the early 1800s, where it was rumored that he buried his stolen treasure on Sanibel, and then built a prison on “Isle de los Captivas,” or Captiva Island, where he kept his female prisoners “captive” for ransom. Gaspar himself was captured in 1821 by the U.S. Navy, but wrapped himself in chains and jumped overboard off his ship, rather then face imprisonment.
Indian raids from the Seminole Wars kept settlers and fisherman at bay and discouraged any permanent settlements on Sanibel for several decades. Although Florida was admitted into the Union in 1845 as the 27th state, it was only after the country’s Civil War that increased military activity was able to secure the area and deem the island safe for settlers. In 1870, the U.S. Government ruled that Sanibel Island would become a lighthouse reservation and, on August 20, 1884, the Sanibel Lighthouse was first lit, and remains a working lighthouse to this day.
Sanibel used to be known for agriculture until two hurricanes devastated the land and the industry never recovered. Fortunately, a new industry followed…hospitality and remains to this day. Sanibel has had many famous visitors over the years, such as President Teddy Roosevelt, Charles Lindbergh, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.
Sanibel used to only be accessible via ferry from Ft. Myers, but a causeway was built in 1963 increased the traffic and nearly changed the face of the island forever. Fortunately, they formed the city of Sanibel in 1974 and created developmental and zoning laws that have kept the island as it was originally intended. There are no traffic lights on the island, no fast food or chain restaurants (except for the Dairy Queen and Subway) and building restrictions limit all buildings to three stories maximum.
If you are looking for a peaceful place to get away, look no further! We usually visit in late October because the temperatures have started to cool a bit and the summer crowds are gone and the winter/”snowbird” crowds haven’t arrived yet. (Sanibel is a very popular destination for people from up north to escape the winter weather, so they see a very busy season from November-January.)
THINGS TO DO:
1. Sunrise walks on the beach
Sanibel attracts visitors from around the world who come to see their beautiful, shell-covered beaches. We always come home with bags of the most gorgeous shells from every trip
2. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge
The refuge was officially created in 1945 and consists of over 6400 acres of natural landscape. It is a popular destination for bird watchers, but there are many other species of wildlife that call the refuge home. Check out their website to read more and plan your visit.
3. Sanibel Thriller
This high speed boat tour circles both Sanibel and Captiva (weather permitting). You will get to hear the history of the islands and see them from a point of view only available from the water. The coolest part is that pods of dolphins LOVE to follow the boat and put on quite a show of jumping in the wake of the boat. (*Tip: if you do book tickets for the Thriller, you will want to arrive at least an hour or hour-and-a-half early so you can get the seats in the very back. This will allow you to have an unobstructed view of the dolphins antics) Check out their website and call them for ticket pricing.
4. Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum
Since 1995, The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum on Sanibel Island has remained the only museum in the United States that is solely devoted to shells and the mollusks that make them.
5. YOLO Watersports (Captiva)
YOLO Watersports provides waverunner excursions & rentals, parasailing, flyboarding, scoot coupes, motor scooters, bicycles for the entire family, beach chairs & umbrellas , stand up paddleboard sales & rentals, hobie wave sailboat, surfboards, skimboards, bodyboards, banana boat rides, GoPro camera rentals, Yeti cooler rentals & beach wagons.
6. Sanibel Lighthouse
The lighthouse was first lit back in 1884 and remains as a landmark on the island today.
7. Billy’s Rentals (bikes, scooters, etc.)
This is a great place to rent bikes for the entire family! Sanibel is such a bike-friendly island, that this is a great way to explore. They even offer baby seats and trailers for your littles!
8. Bowman’s Beach
Isolated and picturesque, this beach is probably the most popular on Sanibel. Great shelling and amenities make it worth the five minute hike from the parking area to the beach. Adventurous beachcombers can walk for several miles on unobstructed white sand beaches covered in shells. The shoreline at Bowman’s Beach has experienced little of the intense development seen on the rest of the islands.
PLACES TO EAT:
- Jerry’s Foods
This restaurant is located inside the Jerry’s Foods grocery store. They are known for their key lime pie (we also LOVE their chocolate mousse pie) and their cinnamon bread french toast. I also love their evening omelettes…best omelette I’ve ever had!
2. Timbers Restaurant & Fish Market
This restaurant serves up amazing seafood and is one of my favorites!
3. The Island Cow
This unique and fun restaurant offers a wide variety of menu items to suit anyone’s tastes. You should also try their “nearly free beer” daily specials!
4. Over Easy Cafe
This is our favorite breakfast spot. After you grab a bite to eat, you can go shopping afterwards in the surrounding shopping center! (Olde Sanibel Shopes)
5. Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille
This is a new location for Doc Fords and is beautiful. The restaurant is named after one of the characters in Randy Wayne Wright’s series of novels about the Sanibel area. Their food is really good and so is the atmosphere.
6. Pinocchio’s Original Italian Ice Cream
It’s our tradition that after we ride the Sanibel Thriller, that we head to Pinnochio’s for ice cream. Make sure to try their signature flavors: Sanibel Krunch©, Dirty Sand Dollar©, Wedding Bells©, Gator Stew©, Berrywinkle on Periwinkle©, Flying Pig© and Couch Potato©.
7. Joey’s Custard
Joey’s Custard is located next to Bailey’s General Store. They serve up frozen custard, yogurt and ice cream and you might even have Joey himself help you while you’re there!
8. The Mucky Duck (Captiva)
This is my absolute favorite spot. It is over on Captiva, but worth the drive. It is right on the beach and they have an outdoor seating area with live music and you can get drinks and appetizers from the bar, or you can head inside to the restaurant for a nice dinner. The Mucky Duck has the perfect view of the sunset and we always take our family photos there on the beach. They even have a webcam if you’re missing the island!
- Jerry’s Foods
Jerry’s is one of two grocery stores on Sanibel. You can stock up on everything you need for your getaway here. Make sure to pick up their AMAZING cinnamon bread and check out their restaurant too!
- Bailey’s General Store
Bailey’s is another grocery store (and hardware store) on the island. Check them out if you need any supplies while in Sanibel!
- Periwinkle Place Shops
Periwinkle Place is a gorgeous shopping and dining area that you have to check out. Many of the shops offer local items that make the perfect souvenirs from your trip! Here are a few of my favorites, but you should really just walk around to check out all of the amazing shops:
Naples Soap Company
Fresh Produce Sportwear
Sea Glass Lane
Sanibel is an island paradise that is the perfect getaway for a girls’ trip, a couple’s trip or for families. It allows you to slow down and recharge and take in all of the beauty that the island has to offer. If you’re looking for a unique spot to visit that still seems untouched by the craziness of the world, look no further. I know you will love it as much as we do! If you have any questions, or if you have also visited Sanibel and want to share some of your favorite things to do, please leave a comment below!