It isn’t until you arrive on Sanibel Island that it hits you: This is not the Florida you’re used to. Sleepy little Sanibel, most of which is a protected wildlife refuge, beckons with miles of powder-soft sand, abundant seashells, and not a whole lot else.
Any trip to Sanibel starts with the J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, mainly because the 6,400-acre preserve takes up roughly half of the island. The refuge is home to more than 220 species of birds, and visitors can explore by foot, bicycle, car, or kayak. Entrance fees are $1 per walker/biker (15 years old and up) and $5 per car.
Sanibel’s main draw, however, is its seashells. The island’s unique east-west orientation (instead of north-south) means it essentially acts as a net for seashells being swept along by the gulf currents. As a result, Sanibel has some of the best shelling in Florida, if not on the entire East Coast, meaning it’s easy to come home with a beautiful souvenir. Want to know more about what you find on the beach? Head over to the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum to learn about shells and Sanibel’s long shelling history. Admission is $7 for adults.
Sanibel isn’t only birds and shells, of course, and there are plenty of place to eat and shop. Old Town Sanibel, near the Sanibel Island Light lighthouse on the island’s eastern end, is great for a break from the beach, with quaint shops and restaurants.
Start planning your trip with the Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce.
Read more of the 50 Affordable Stateside Escapes.
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