Destination: Sanibel Island

July 14, 2016 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ Destinations

Sanibel Island from the air

If you are reading this post you are about to discover one of Florida’s best kept secrets – Sanibel Island.

Sanibel Island is a barrier island located in the Gulf of Mexico, connected to the main land by a 2 mile causeway which was only built in the 1960’s, before that the only way to reach this paradise was by boat.

Unlike the rest of Florida, Sanibel could be described as “The island that time forgot”. There are no high rises, no street lights and no chain restaurants. Two thirds of the Island is a Nature Preserve and it has recently been awarded the Travellers’ Choice Award – TripAdvisor choice awards voted Sanibel Island as one of the top 10 islands to visit in the US.

Where to stay in Sanibel Island

Swimming pool on Sanibel IslandThere are a few hotels on the island but predominately most people rent a condo or a house either directly or from one of the main agencies on the island.
Hotel we would recommend:
Holiday Inn Sanibel Island
 (big pool, Japanese sushi bar)
Condos we would recommend:
Sundial Beach Resort & Spa
, (6 pools, kids activities, on the beach) or
South Seas Island Resort
is another favourite. This property is located on Captiva which is the next island joined by a small bridge.

If you are looking for a holiday home we recommend using one of the big agencies such as Royal Shell Vacation Rentals.

We have rented a house from Royal Shell for 2 months every summer for the last 7 years. One thing I do have to point out that houses can only be rented for a minimum of 30 days at a time on the Island. This is a local county policy to try to keep the numbers of tourists at one time on the island to a minimum and keep the traffic down. If you are planning on visiting for less than a month you will have to consider an apartment or a hotel.

Things to consider while choosing your accommodation:

  • Does it have a pool?
  • Can you walk to the beach or does the property provide bikes? (parking at the beach can be problematic and expensive).
  • Is your home located on the gulf side or the bay? If you are planning on renting a boat while you are there you can consider a property located on a canal that offers its own boat dock.
  • Does it have internet? If not free WIFI can be obtained at the Sanibel library.

When to go – Top Tip

Like most of Florida their high season is over the winter months, we prefer to visit during the summer which is traditionally the low season. We find our money goes a lot further then and the beaches and restaurants aren’t as crowded. In the past we have paid a third for our property during the July and August compared to the rates in the winter months.

What makes Sanibel an awesome World Schooling destination?

Sanibel Island has a huge draw for all walks of life, for us the best things are the abundance of nature, the Florida sun and the wide choice of Summer Camps for kids. If there is something North Americans do really well it is entertaining their kids in a fun and educational manner during the schools summer holidays. However these camps aren’t just open to local American kids: as a traveller your kids can take advantage of these programs too.

Big Arts camp on Sanibel IslandOur girls have attended Big Arts Summer Camp for the last 7 years.
Every week during the summer months at there is a different theme for the children to explore. This could be geography, space, inventions, nature, wonders of the world etc. Each week the campers use a range of different methods to fully explore the chosen topic. This could be through dance, song, music clay and pottery, acrylic paint, photography or model making. At the start of each week the campers also plan and write their own scripts for a play. The children then make their own costumes, design and make the set, learn musical instruments and then finally at the end of the week they present the show to their parents who are always enthusiastic to see what projects their children have been working on.

For the sports enthusiasts there are Tennis and Golf Camps at The Dunes Gulf and Tennis Club Sanibel.

Sanibel Sea SchoolOur kids favourite summer camp is Sanibel Sea School. They have spent 3 weeks here every year for the last 5 years and it is the highlight of their summer.

I am so enthusiastic about this camp as my children have had so many valuable life lessons here it deserves its own page so I shall write a more detailed post on this later. This camp offers experiences in the Gulf of Mexico that build confidence, educate campers in science, geography, biology, biodiversity, native american history to name but a few.
My girls can’t believe just how much they can learn just through play and doing fun water based actives including mimicking dolphin behaviour, catching plankton then examining it under microscopes, building shelters like Calusa Indians or learning to surf. Every day is an adventure at the same time they are experiencing marine conservation through experiential education.

Our top 10 things to do on Sanibel Island

1) Sanibel is a nature lovers paradise. 2/3 of the island is protected and there is an abundance of wildlife. Our favourite creatures to spot are of course the dolphins. There are a couple of options for taking a boat trip to get a closer look – The Sanibel Thriller or Stars and Strips.

2) Ding Darling Nature Preserve offers visitors a chance to get up close to the native animals on a trolly tour or a self drive through the reserve where you can spot animals such as alligators, pelicans ospreys all in their natural environment.

3) Fish from the Lighthouse pier or take a fishing charter with one of the many local guides. We recommend Cast about Charters

4) Rent a kayak with Tarpon Bay Explorers and explore the back bay or take a paddle board lesson from Gulf to Bay.

5) Rent a bike or take a Segway tour with Billy’s Bikes

6) Visit the Historical Village Museum where you can explore some of the islands founding fathers properties. These have been refurbished to their former glory from last century and moved to a location on the island forming a small village.

7) Watch the sunrise from the Islands most famous landmark, the Sanibel Lighthouse.

8) Sanibel is renowned as having some of the best shelling beaches in the world. Grab a bag for your shells and try your luck at finding the elusive Junonia! The best time to go hunting is at first light after a full moon or a tropical storm in the tidal pools.

9) Visit the Sanibel Shell Museum 

10) or just simply go for a float in the gulf of Mexico.

Our favourite family friendly restaurants on the island

The Island Cow – burgers, ribs, tacos, coconut shrimp.

Traders – great happy hour menu, steaks, tuna, meat balls, salad.

The Lighthouse Cafe – best breakfast. eggs, pancakes, waffles,

Cheeburger Cheeburger has the best Burgers and milkshakes.

Pinnochio’s Ice-cream – simply the best ice-cream on the island

Getting to Sanibel Island

The closest airport is Fort Myers, although you could either fly into Miami or Tampa which are both around a 3 hour drive. Fort Myers is less than a half hour so we prefer to fly here.

Renting a car in Sanibel Island

Like most places in Florida a car is a must. We always book our cars through or We aren’t fussy with which company we use, the cars are pretty similar from all rental companies, we just tend to take the cheapest whether it may be Dollar, Alamo, Avis or Budget. One thing to remember is to make sure you take the all inclusive insurance option.