Beachfront property is reserved for parks, hotels and residents. The only free beach is Causeway Beach. This is the flat, white sandy area you see along the highway before reaching the island. Park right on the waters edge and swim, fish or windsurf all day because there are restrooms as well as a few picnic tables under the Australian Pines and palm trees. Definitely stop at the Sanibel and Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce visitors center before getting too far. It's only about 1/4 of a mile on your right as soon as you reach the island. It's has kind of a hidden driveway but there is plenty of parking. The building style is very welcoming and surrounded with native plants. And of course they have loads of information for you and brochures to pick up and maybe even some free sunblock.
Above: Picture taken along the causeway. There are plenty of pull offs with shade and picnic tables along Causeway Beach. Activities to do in Sanibel include fishing, boating, snorkeling, bird watching and golfing. The most popular would probably be shelling and second to that is biking.
Above: Picture of the Sanibel and Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce visitor information house. This should be your first stop on the island.
Inquire where to park your RV at the visitor center. All beach parking
is metered and there is designated parking for RVs. Sanibel Causeway Boulevard
is the only road on and off the Sanibel and Captiva Islands. The one toll
to get here is $6 but it's free to leave. Plan your day and time wisely
as there is a lot of traffic on the island roads even on weekdays. When
it's really busy you will see a traffic director at the four-way stop
of Causeway Boulevard and Periwinkle Way. Usually about 20 cars are able
to get through at one time so even if there is a long line of cars the
wait really isn't as bad as it may look. During this time you can enjoy
a book on tape, get a suntan or sun burn on your left arm, practice patience,
and totally be free to goof off in the car with your family and friends.
Above: Picture taken at Tarpon Bay Explorers.
The J. N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge is whopping 6,300-acres. It is named after Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist and pioneer environmentalist Jay Norwood Darling. It is home to more than 200 species of birds, more than 50 types of reptiles, and about 32 different kinds of mammals. This is the place to be for the bird watcher especially during the winter months when white pelicans migrate to Florida. This is one of my favorites during the winter months in Florida. There are walking and biking paths and a four-mile scenic drive as well. There are bird watching spots and an observation tower. You can canoe trails or take a quiet and slow pontoon boat tour. All while admiring the native flora of the red mangroves, salt myrtles, seagrapes and many varieties of palms.
Above: Sanibel Island's nursery housing all Florida native plants. Sanibel Captiva conservation center.
I would suggest a good weeks stay to see and do everything. There is a lot of driving to be done, all at a slow mph, a lot of places to stop and check out which means a lot of in and out of the car. There are a lot of nature walks, bike trails and beach strolls to take in especially during sunset. The Conservation Foundations Nature Center offers insight to the island's ecosystems and has a marine life touch tank. For a small fee you can take a 4 1/2 mile trail, climb to an observation tower and step inside their butterfly exhibit. Stay parked and just walk next door to the native plant nursery. It's not fancy but has native plants and trees that are indigenous from the north to the south of Florida.
Above: Photo of the historic Point Ybel Lighthouse on Sanibel Island.
The reason Sanibel is well known for its shells is because the island
lies east and west instead of north and south like most other islands.
Because of this, Sanibel catches an abundance of sea shells from the Gulf
of Mexico. Sanibel is known for it's shells and people from all over the
world come to do "The Sanibel Stoop". Sanibel Island's Point
Ybel Lighthouse was built in 1884 and is probably one of the most photographed
structures on the island. Unfortunately, the lighthouse is not open to
visitors. The Florida Coast Guard maintains the lighthouse and the city
of Sanibel manages the keepers quarters, fishing pier, parking lot
and beach access. A great lighthouse experience is the Ponce
De Leon Lighthouse in Daytona Beach on the east coast of Florida.
You can climb the spiral staircase to the top and spend as much time there
as you want. It is very windy up there so take some fun
pictures like we did.
Above: Picture of washed up spiny sea urchin and puffer fish. While we were walking on the beach a lady passed us with her hands full of dead spiny sea urchins. It stunk so bad when she passed us. A few creatures on shore is not a problem but if you put them all together in one bag, pinch your nose. It is against the law in Sanibel and Captiva to handle or keep any live sea creature.
Above: There is always an abundance of shells along the beaches of Sanibel Island.
So you might be asking why is the second most popular activity on Sanibel and Captiva Islands biking? Well this is why. Sanibel and Captiva have about 22 miles of biking trails meandering through shopping districts, neighborhoods, back roads, wildlife centers and beaches. You will be smitten as you cross wooden bridges, ride along waterways and beneath shade tree canopies. It is something that every family does while vacationing here. However, some of the trails in Captiva are narrow and twisty where you have to pay more attention to your surroundings and I don't mean the trees. You could always go on a Segway tour too. So much fun and so easy to do that I now want a Segway for Christmas.
Above: Picture of pen shells washed up on beach. Not too far away is a beach that allows dogs to run free and have the time of their life. It is dog beach in Bonita Beach just south of Fort Myers Beach. Wow, that is a lot of beaches to discover but this is the only way my mind sees Florida. If you think you've seen one beach you've seen them all, well you are wrong. In Florida the beaches on the west coast and east coast are opposites. One has warm to hot, calm waters and the other has refreshing waves constantly rolling in, you know the sound that you crave to hear when you go to a beach.
Captiva is called the romantic's beach. A quiet and unrushed experience for the population with deep pockets. Compared to Sanibel there is not much commercial business, just a sprinkle of resorts and a lot of private waterfront properties. And again, can't see the water while driving the island. At the end of Captiva Drive is Captiva Beach with very limited parking but this is the place you want to be with your honey to watch the sunsets on your Sanibel Captiva Island Florida vacation.