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What to See and Do in Sanibel - From Shelling to Golfing

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With miles of tranquil beaches and verdant wildlife refuges, Sanibel Island offers a wealth of things to see and do. While both ocean and island creeks beckon with challenging water sports or relaxing boat rides, there’s also back-bay and offshore fishing, as well as shelling, for which Sanibel beaches are famous; the island is even home to one of the world’s only shell museums.

Water sports


Watersports fans will immediately want to hit the surf. There's boogie boarding and stand-up paddleboarding - you can even bounce along the coastline with an inflatable banana boat. Adrenaline junkies with the need for speed can take a WaveRunner out to jet through the waves. You can also rent a kayak, canoe, or pontoon boat to explore island creeks or paddle through the mangrove forests within the J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, a bird-watcher's paradise.


  • Tarpon Bay Explorers, 900 Tarpon Bay Road, Sanibel 33957; Tel: +1 239 472 8900; Website: Tarpon Bay Explorers

  • Sunny Island Watersports, 5400 Plantation Road, Captiva 33924; Tel: +1 239 472 2938; Website: Sunny Island Watersports



Charter boats on the island offer 4-8 hour fishing trips, and take care of everything from procuring licenses to readying the rod, reel, and bait. Larger boats venture farther out for offshore and deep-sea fishing in Tarpon Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. These trips often yield prized catches such as grouper, amberjack, barracuda, mackerel, and shark. Back bay or freshwater sport over on the creeks, canals, and ponds provides exciting pursuit of snook, redfish, seatrout, and tarpon. Interested in trying your hand at fly fishing? Lessons are available year-round.



Collecting shells


Sanibel is known the world over for the abundance of pristine shells that wash ashore. Residents and tourists alike scour island beaches, hunched over in what has been termed the “Sanibel Stoop,” the required position for hunting down the prettiest souvenirs. It’s such common practice that many area hotels provide guests basins for cleaning off the day’s haul. While most island beaches are reliable spots for discovering shells like cockles, lightning whelks, and sand dollars, hitting the Gulf side an hour before or after low tide will typically bring out the best of the ocean’s bounty.


  • Blind Pass Beach Park, Bowman's Beach Road, Sanibel 33957; Tel: +1 239 472 3700; Website: Blind Pass Beach Park

  • Gulfside Beach, 2001 Algiers Lane, Sanibel 33957; Tel: +1 239 472 3700; Website: Gulfside Beach




The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum displays exhibits of incredible shells from record-sized specimens, locally found Floridian beauties, and eye-catching types from around the world. This unique institution regularly hosts beach walks, children's programs, and "tank talks" about mollusks and their striking former homes. For a historical view of the island, check out the Sanibel Historical Museum and Village. Seven buildings dating back to the late 19th century have been relocated and restored here to help preserve the past and give a clearer picture of Florida’s Gulf Coast past.



Island golfing


Located on rolling green hills where ibises shuffle and quiet lakes where pelicans dive, the Sanibel Island Golf Club offers reservations for 18-hole, 9-hole, and foursome games. Situated within an Audubon Society-sanctioned wildlife sanctuary, the Dunes Golf & Tennis Club offers an exhilarating but demanding 18-hole course. As you play, you'll likely see a variety of bird species that make their homes here. Keep an eye out, too, for the occasional alligator swimming through the course’s ponds.