Just off the Gulf coast of Florida, you’ll find two beautiful islands surrounded by some of the most beautiful beaches in the U.S. These islands are a great option if you want to avoid busy theme parks and spring break crowds. While Sanibel Island and Captiva island may have a more relaxed atmosphere, there is far more to do than sunbathing and sipping umbrella drinks. These islands provide excellent activity choices for sporty families like mine. Here are our family favorites.
Ditch the Car
Once you arrive, it’s time to ditch the car and use people power! Sanibel and Captiva are perfect for walking and cycling. Both islands have a variety of bike and walking trails. My kids (ages 10 and 13) are never so excited to get on a bike as they are here.
One of our favorite destinations is the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Part of the largest mangrove ecosystem in the U.S., this refuge is famous for its spectacular bird populations. We typically start at the Visitor and Education center and then bike the 4-mile loop around Wildlife Drive.
Stop at the recently completed Wildlife Education Boardwalk where you can cross over water on footbridges and climb the two-story observation tower. Last year, we saw a crocodile and a two birds building a nest. We were hoping the croc didn’t eat either one of them for lunch.
Do Something Daring
Adventure sports are on the rise nationwide; Sanibel and Captiva are keeping up with the trend. YOLO Water Sports on Captiva is a great place to explore your wild side. It offers a wide variety of activities like parasailing, waverunner excursions, flyboarding, banana boat rides and more. You can even rent a GoPro camera to capture your adventure.
On our last trip, we gave parasailing a try. It was absolutely amazing! The views were spectacular as we flew like birds above the Gulf overlooking the islands. We can’t wait to do it again this year!
The Need for Speed
Not to be missed is Sanibel and Captiva’s only high-speed tour boat, the Sanibel Thriller. Guides provide an informative tour as you circumnavigate the islands. This is typically the best way to see local dolphins up close, as they love to play in the wake of the boat.
Sit in the back of the boat for the best thrill. My kids were so close to the dolphins they could almost touch them.
Hop on Board
The surf in this area is great for all sorts of boarding activities. When the waves are low, paddle boarding is good option. When the surfs up, consider renting a surfboard. The wave heights are often ideal for beginners.
Body boarding is more our speed. You can find economical models at the local grocery stores so you don’t need to worry about packing your own. My 13-year-old son and I can body board for hours. Here are some other teen-friendly spring break vacation ideas.
Kayak Tarpon Bay
Canoe and Kayak Magazine rates Tarpon Bay as one of the top 10 places to kayak in America. We could not agree more! Pay a visit to the Tarpon Bay Explorers to rent your Kayak where you can join a guided tour or explore what Tarpon Bay has to offer on your own.
Not to be missed is the Commodore Creek Water Trail where you’ll paddle through a huge mangrove forest. Take some time to explore the open water as well in search of dolphins, manatees, birds and more.
Take in a presentation at the Touch Tank Exploration to learn about the many small creatures you are likely to see on your kayak trip. Other rental options include canoes, stand up paddleboards and pontoon boats.
Shelling, shelling, and more shelling
Sanibel and Captiva are world famous for their seashells. You can walk the beaches for miles collecting a wide variety of shells of all shapes, sizes and colors. The local Shell Museum has a wall covered with scallop shells in all the colors of the rainbow.
SheBuysTravel Tip: One of our favorite things to do when taking a beach vacation is to hire a photographer for family photos. This is a special gift and souvenir that we cherish. We use Flytographer to book a local photographer located in the area that we're traveling to. Use this link and you will get $25 off your photo session.
Consider a shelling cruise with the folks at Captiva Cruises. They cruise to islands only accessible by boat. Away from the busy beaches, you are more likely to find unique shells and sand dollars. These spots are perfect for hiking and swimming too.
At the end of an active day, reward yourself with a treat. You can’t go wrong with two of Florida’s best ice cream parlors on Sanibel.
Love Boat has been serving home made ice cream since the mid 60’s. They have over 50 flavors. Their Sanibel location opened in 2015.
Pinocchio’s Italian Ice Cream has been a Sanibel tradition for more than 30 years. With unique flavors like Ship Wreck and Dirty Sand Dollar, it’s been a local favorite for years. Get there early because they are also famous for long lines! But, it’s worth the wait.
For more ideas on what to do near Sanibel Island, check out these posts from other TMOMs.