There are few things as magical as finding the perfect seashell on a walk down the beach. A walk down Sanibel Island’s beach provides countless moments like this. The amount and variety (over 250 different types can be found) of shells is unparalleled, from sand dollars to rare junonias, thanks to the island's location on a plateau, with an east-west orientation. It's just as rich in history as it is in seashells, having lured in tourists since the late 19th century. Plus, more than half the island has been preserved as a wildlife refuge, so it has a more natural atmosphere. Altogether, it's dream Florida destination unlike any other.
Rest up for a long day of seashell-hunting at one of the Inns of Sanibel. A great option for nature-loving families seeking ocean views with beach access is the Sanibel Inn. Featuring 93 breezy and comfy guest rooms set among tropical gardens, the resort’s highlight has to be the 600 feet of private beach with access to the rest of the coastline. Kids of all ages will delight in discovering a variety of seashells nestled in the white sand along the Gulf of Mexico. After enjoying the beach, guests can return to a heated outdoor pool and several family-friendly dining options. Dine or enjoy a cocktail poolside at Island Time Bar and Grille; or settle in for a meal at Dante's Restaurant, a wood-fired pizza joint serving breakfast and dinner with a full bar. And if you're looking for more activity than just relaxing on the beach, let the employees at the hotel know. They can help you plan a bike ride, watersport activity, or an afternoon at the nearby Dunes Golf and Tennis Club, where you'll enjoy resort-guest access to the courses, courts and entertainment and an exclusive sports and social membership throughout your stay.
Another Inns of Sanibel option is the Seaside Inn. It's smaller and cozier, with just 32 cottages and suites. If you like your accommodations to have character and charm, Seaside is for you. The Inn boasts 1960s-era cottages that have been updated with modern amenities while retaining a vintage aesthetic. All guest rooms are equipped with appliances and access to outdoor grills, and the cottages have full kitchens, so they are ideal if you're looking to spend more time staying in and relaxing. Seaside Inn also features complimentary breakfasts. The heated pool is another great touch, as are the umbrellas and chairs set up for guest use on the inn’s stretch of beach. A sports membership to The Dunes Golf & Tennis Club includes access to the links, courts, live entertainment and events.
Song of the Sea is the Inns of Sanibel's romantic getaway. All 30 rooms feature a kitchenette with a complimentary bottle of wine waiting for guests upon arrival. Like the other inns, Song of the Sea features a beachfront setting with chairs, a pool, and access to The Dunes Golf and Tennis Club, but it also has a Jacuzzi and a continental breakfast served al fresco every morning. The exclusive, couples-focused atmosphere offers an enchanting locale for reconnecting and relaxing. You won't have to worry about a thing besides enjoying yourself during a stay here.
The last option from the Inns of Sanibel is the Sunset Beach Inn. The four-acre property houses 46 spacious rooms and sits along a stretch of white sand beach that's perfectly situated for watching sunsets. A stay here is ideal for value seekers as it is an affordable alternative to other lodging on the island. The inn has some dog-friendly rooms, one of the largest pools on Sanibel Island, kayaks and paddle boards for guest use, shuffleboard courts, and a shell-washing station to clean off your finds before you bring them home. Make sure to take advantage of the complimentary breakfasts and planned activities for guests as well.
If you're looking for another beach different from the one outside your hotel, head over to the Sanibel Island Lighthouse. The iron skeleton light has been around since 1884, located on the eastern tip of Sanibel Island to mark the entrance to San Carlos Bay, for ships sailing to Punta Rassa. Historically, Punta Rassa was where cattle were loaded onto ships to be sent to Cuba during the 19th century until the Spanish-American War. Though the lighthouse itself is closed to the public, the grounds are open and the light, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is still in use by the Coast Guard; It was automated in the 1940s.
Bailey's General Store has been a Sanibel staple since 1899. It's part grocery, part restaurant, part coffee shop, part souvenir store, part hardware store, and all incredible. Stock up on supplies or prepared food for a picnic on the beach, grab some ingredients to bring back to your hotel room's kitchenette to prepare dinner, or grab a quick snack or treat from the in-store bakery. Inside you'll also find one of the best coffee shops on the island. Refuel with a smoothie or an iced coffee after a long day of exploring Sanibel. If nothing else, stop by to admire the fresh Sanibel produce and seafood and to admire this long-running institution.
Since Sanibel is world-renowned for its seashelling, it only makes sense that the island is home to the stellar Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum. It displays a breathtaking collection of shells, and delves into the unique cultural, historical, scientific and even culinary sides of each shell, and the mollusks that call them home. There are a variety of exhibits, including one on shells native to Sanibel that will help guide your shell walks, and another on shells from across the globe. You'll also get to see some of the largest known shells from various species and elaborate shell art, like 19th-century "sailors' valentines." The museum is a must when visiting Sanibel.
Sanibel isn't all white sand beaches for sunbathing and swimming... it's also a place of incredible biodiversity. There are mangrove forests, submerged seagrass beds, cordgrass marshes, and closed-canopy West Indian hardwood hammocks, in addition to the sandy shores. Much of the island's unique ecosystems are protected as the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Manatees, dolphins, alligators, otters, bobcats, and tons of unique birds and fish call the refuge home at various points throughout the year. First, stop by the free Visitor & Education Center to learn about the animals and their habitats, and then set off on the four-mile Wildlife Drive. There are several trails that can be accessed from the drive, as well as launches for canoes, kayaks, and stand-up paddle boards. Also check out the schedule of events, talks, and guided tours.
End your adventure at one of Sanibel's most popular beaches, Bowman's Beach. It's not hard to see why Bowman is a favorite for so many visitors. It's clean, spacious, and quiet. In addition to the excellent seashelling (this is one of the best places on the whole island for beach combing), you can also swim in, sail on or windsurf the water here. Other features include trails, showers, canoe/kayak launches, restrooms, and picnic areas, so it's easy to spend a full day here.
There's something extraordinary about Sanibel that makes it an unforgettable beach vacation, even in Florida, a state known for its tropical atmosphere. You won't even have to leave your hotel to take full advantage of the best this unique island has to offer. Sanibel provides a sampling of all of the things that make beach vacations so perfect, from seashells and white sand to wildlife and rolling waves.
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