I actually can’t remember when I first heard of Sanibel Island in Florida, I think it might have been on a Travel Channel show years ago. It’s been a place I have wanted to go for a while because as you may remember, I love going to the beach. And one of my favorite things to do at the beach is to look for shells.
I planned a day trip to Sanibel Island to visit the best seashell beaches in Florida and search for those famous Sanibel Island shells! We learned there are more things to do in Sanibel Island than just shelling! Let me tell you more about how to get to Sanibel Island and the best things to do on your day trip.
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My Trip to Southwest Florida
I visited southwest Florida in July for my friend Melissa’s wedding in Naples. July is actually the offseason in Florida because many people think it is too hot. When I was there it was in the low 90s which for me was perfect for spending time on the beach. I couldn’t get over how nice the water was! It was 88 degrees – I could have spent the whole day in it!
This trip I was meeting up with Julie, my best friend from college. We had lost touch for a while but recently reconnected when she became a flight attendant. It was nice to see her when she would have flights to NY and I was happy to have her as my ‘plus one’ for the wedding.
We had a day between arriving in Fort Myers and needing to be in Naples for the wedding festivities. Since my flight wasn’t scheduled to arrive until 11 pm, I just booked the Sheraton Four Points hotel close to the Fort Myers airport. The plan was we would drive to Sanibel Island, enjoy the beaches, and then head to Naples.
Julie arrived in Fort Myers earlier than I did and picked up our rental car. Since the rental car company was out of compact cars like we had reserved, they gave her the choice of a minivan or a club cab pickup truck. Of course, she picked the truck which reminded me of our college days going out to country bars.
My flight was delayed and I didn’t land until 2 am! Since we were both tired, we were a little slow getting started the next morning. We checked out of the hotel and had breakfast. I was impressed with the breakfast we had. I guess since I was staying at an airport hotel I wasn’t expecting much, but the food was good, the portions were huge, and it was cheap. You can’t ask for much more than that.
Note: If you are looking for a hotel by the Fort Myers Airport (RSW), I would definitely recommend the Four Points. The staff is friendly, the rooms are nice, and it is reasonably priced. They also have a shuttle between the hotel and RSW airport. I would stay there again, even if I didn’t have a late night arrival. Click here to check rates and availability.
How to Get to Sanibel Island From Fort Myers
After breakfast, we were ready to head to Sanibel. Sanibel is an island located about a 45-minute drive from the Fort Myers Airport (RSW). Unfortunately, there are no public transportation options to get to Sanibel Island. Julie would drive and I would be the navigator. Cars have to pay a $6 toll to cross the 3 Causeway bridges to get to Sanibel. You can pay using a Leeway transponder (similar to EZPass or Tolltag) or cash, but you do not need exact change.
About Sanibel Island
Sanibel Island is 12 miles long and up to 3 miles wide. Sanibel Island beaches face west which gives the beaches an abundance of shells. An abundance of shells might even be downplaying things a bit. I have never seen any beaches with as many shells in my life. There were so many Sanibel beach shells at some points it hurt my feet to walk in some spots! It’s a beautiful place, though, and could also make for a nice romantic getaway in Florida.
Sanibel Island Shell Regulations
Sanibel Island definitely has some of the best shelling beaches in Florida, some say in the world! They do take their shelling seriously and it is important that you follow the Florida shelling laws. One thing to keep in mind when you are shelling on Sanibel Island is that you should not take live shells from the beach. A live shell is one that still has the living animal inside, it could be a clam, conch, or even a sand dollar. The collection of live shells is banned on Sanibel Island beaches (and all of Lee County, Florida). Also, please don’t remove the animal from its shell as that can kill it.
Tarpon Bay Beach
Our first stop was Tarpon Bay Beach, the parking lot was a short walk away. Parking at all the Sanibel Island public beaches costs $4 per hour and both cash and credit cards are accepted. This beach has restroom facilities and picnic tables with grills right next to it. For me, this was the best shelling beach on Sanibel Island. There were so many Sanibel shells to sort through, but we found a bunch that I took home with me. (We made sure there were no animals inside.)
Next up was Bowman’s Beach, which is the largest Sanibel public beach. Bowman’s Beach is a little bit further of a walk from the parking lot to the beach. Along the way, you pass several picnic tables with bbq grills, a playground, and a nice restroom. You will cross a bridge over a scenic marsh area, then you arrive at the beach.
The water was pretty calm and again there were plenty of Sanibel Island shells. You can also go kayaking or do a variety of other water sports. If you are looking for an active beach day, then Bowman’s Beach is probably the best Sanibel Island beach for you.
Blind Pass Beach
The last beach we went to on Sanibel Island was Blind Pass Beach. Just a warning, the parking lot for this public beach is small. Blind Pass Beach is right by the bridge that leads to Captiva Island. It doesn’t have the facilities like the other beaches and you are not allowed to swim in the water. It’s one of the best shelling spots on Sanibel Island, though, and it won’t have as many people.
We did also venture to Captiva Island which is located north of Sanibel Island. We stopped for a drink at the Mucky Duck. They had a nice outside area with a view of the beach. After we finished our drinks, we went to the beach for a quick dip. You can also do shelling on Captiva Island.
Sanibel Island Shelling Tips
Sanibel Island has some of the best Florida shelling beaches, so you will find plenty of seashells. Many people bring shelling nets to Sanibel, but I hadn’t even thought about that. It would have made it easier to clean the sand off the shells. (Check out this shelling net on Amazon).
I also would have like to have a sand dipper stick to help me reach shells when I was in the water. That would have helped me keep my hair from getting wet. Next time I will definitely come prepared with some beach shelling tools.
Other Fun Things to Do on Sanibel Island
If you are wondering what to do in Sanibel Island besides shelling, you are in luck, I have a few ideas! Don’t worry you won’t be bored.
Bailey Matthews National Shell Museum
Unfortunately, since we got a little bit of a late start, we couldn’t see as much as Sanibel as I would have liked. You can visit the only Shell Museum in the United States. They have a collection of shells from all over the world. They also have marine biologists that lead hour-long walks on the beach. I think this would be a great way to learn more about the seashells of Sanibel Island. These walks need to be booked in advance and those that do the walk get 50% of the admission price to the Shell Museum.
Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge
This is the place to spot wildlife and take in the view. You can do an eight-mile “Wildlife Drive” or venture out on one of their three major hiking trails. Nature lovers could easily spend the whole day at the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge.
Sanibel Island Biking
Sanibel Island is very bike friendly and there are 25 miles of bike paths to explore. You can find bike trails next to nearly all its roads and some that provide access to beaches where cars can’t park. Sanibel Island’s bike paths are wide and well-marked. I think it would be a great place to go biking even with kids. You will pass several water fountains along the paths and there are bike racks everywhere!
Oogle at the Beautiful Beachfront Houses
There are so many lovely houses along the beach. I enjoyed fantasizing about them and wondering if maybe next time I could rent one of them for a week. We were amazed as we drove across Sanibel Island and then the house got even more magnificent once we were on Captiva Island. Make sure you also notice the mailboxes, we saw some cute beach themed ones.
Periwinkle Way is the main street on Sanibel Island. You can find lots of restaurants, shops, and bike rental places. We passed by the Island Cow which looked so cute, but since we had such a big breakfast we weren’t hungry and just settled for a snack at Dairy Queen.
Sanibel Island Travel Video
I enjoyed my day on Sanibel Island. For me, it was relaxing, the water was ideal for swimming, and I enjoyed looking for shells. While we did Sanibel as a day trip from Fort Myers, it is also an easy day trip from Naples. Whether you are going to Sanibel Island with kids or want a relaxing adult escape, I am sure you will enjoy it! Check out my short video to get a better idea of what Sanibel Island is like.
Have you been to Sanibel Island or another beach that has great seashells? I would love to hear your recommendations.
Expert Tips For When You Visit Sanibel Island
- You will need a car to go to Sanibel Island. You will need cash for the toll on the bridge if you don’t have the Leeway transponder, but you can pay for beach parking using your credit card.
- If you are serious about Sanibel Island shelling, come prepared with sea shelling tools, like this shelling net. Just remember – don’t take any live Sanibel Island shells!
- While all the beaches we visited had lots of seashells, I think the best place to find shells on Sanibel Island is Tarpon Bay Beach.
- Bowman’s Beach is the largest of Sanibel Island’s public beaches and offers the most in terms of activities.
- If you are looking for a hotel close to the Fort Myers airport with a shuttle, I would recommend the Sheraton Four Points. Click here to check rates and availability.
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