I’m lucky to live where people vacation. And knowing how blessed I am to live in sunny Southwest Florida, I make sure to take advantage of all the beauty and fun that’s available to me here.
Two places in particular I find myself going back to again and again are the charming barrier islands, Sanibel and Captiva. From the beautiful beaches and abundant wildlife, to amazing restaurants and fun boutiques, I can see why they’re favored destinations here on the gulf coast.
Since many of my clients are vacationers (or maybe you’re a local who likes to explore as much as I do), I thought this would be the perfect place to give some travel tips while visiting these two islands.
So lets get started. Here are my top eight things to do when visiting Sanibel and Captiva Island.
#8 – SHELLING
One of the many attributes that makes Sanibel and Captiva so special are the seashells that line the shores. Growing up in Florida, I didn’t realize what a rarity this was until I started to travel. As much as I love the Bahamas and Virgin Islands, you won’t find seashells draped across their beaches like you do here. So while you’re visiting our little paradise, feel free to collect a few treasures to take home. Just make sure no one is still living inside. Taking live shells (conch, starfish, sand dollars, sea urchins ect.) is against the law. Getting a $500 fine or spending 60 days in jail would surely put a damper on your holiday.
#7 – SANIBEL LIGHTHOUSE
Built in 1884, located on the eastern tip of Sanibel island, the Sanibel lighthouse was one of the first lighthouses on Florida’s gulf coast north of Key West and the Dry Tortugas. The lighthouse still works today and although you can’t climb it, it’s a great spot for family photos. Parking is $5 per hour at the lighthouse beach. Restrooms and showers are available. Also, this is a prime location for #8 on my list, shelling.
#6 – J. N. DING DARLING NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
I absolutely love nature, and wildlife photography is one of my greatest passions (aside from massage therapy). If you’re a nature enthusiast as well, then you’re going to love Sanibel’s 4.25 mile trail through a mangrove ecosystem. You can drive ($10 per car), bike ($1 per person) or walk ($1 per person) through the refuge to see the amazing wildlife Southwest Florida has to offer. The best time to go is at low tide around sunrise or sunset (be sure to bring bug spray). For your convenience, you can check out the low tide chart here.
Most out-of-towners visit Florida during the winter months which is a real treat at Ding because that’s the time of year you’ll see the American White Pelican and Wood Stork. Make sure your camera battery is charged up! You won’t want to miss out on the photo ops.
# 5 – BAILEY TRACT
Staying with the nature theme, another trail to check out on Sanibel is the Bailey Tract. The Bailey Tract is free and is located off Tarpon Bay Road. The trail has different loops you can walk from 0.3 miles to 1.1 miles. Types of animals you can see there are otters, turtles, ducks, marsh rabbits, wading birds, alligators and if you’re lucky enough – bobcats. I have to say, my first experience on the Bailey Tract was a bit frightening when I heard an alligator growl for the first time ever in my life. Talk about terrifying! But aside from that scare, I still recommend visiting, I just wouldn’t go alone.
# 4 – RENT A BOAT
There are more beautiful islands to explore just off the shores of Captiva and the only way to get to them is by boat. I highly recommend a boat day during your vacation. You won’t want to miss out on seeing the natural beauty of Cayo Costa or grabbing a bite to eat on Cabbage Key. You’re also bound to see a dolphin or two while you’re playing pirate for the day. My go-to boat rental places on Captiva are Sunny Island Adventures (they are the only boat rental place that allows you to take the boats out in the gulf. You have to stay in the bay with the others), Jensen’s Marina and Captiva Watersports.
#3 – CAPTIVA CRUISES
If you’re not all that confident when it comes to your boating skills, let Captiva Cruises do the driving for you. With eight tours to choose from (Sunset, Sailing, Dolphin & Wildlife, Boca Grande Island, Useppa Island, Cayo Costa, Pine Island and Cabbage Key), you’re bound to find the salty adventure that best suits your vacation style.
#2 – SUNSET AT THE MUCKY DUCK
A must-do when visiting the sunshine state is to watch a breathtaking sunset over the gulf. Hands down, the absolute best place to watch the sunset is at the Mucky Duck on Captiva Island. The Irish pub is located on the beach at the end of Andy Rosse Lane. Enjoy a beverage while relaxing out on their patio as you watch the day come to a spectacular end.
#1 – GET A MASSAGE
Hey! You’re on vacation! Turn the relaxation dial all the way up to ten with a therapeutic massage in your villa or suite. Plus I know how uncomfortable and stressful just getting to your island paradise can be. Maybe you drove in a car for hours (The sciatic nerve usually isn’t a fan of road trips), or you have a kink in your neck from sleeping weird on the plane. Or maybe even though you love to travel, you still get a case of anxiety. Massage can assist with all of the above and is a great start to any vacation on Sanibel and Captiva.
If you would like to book a massage, let me know! I’m a Licensed Massage Therapist here in town and happy to help.
There you go! Those are my top eight things to do when visiting Sanibel and Captiva Island. I hope you find this list useful when you start planning your next trip to sunny Florida.
Crystal Van Denabeele, LMT