Sanibel Island – Our Favorite Island in Florida

Sanibel Island, you stole our hearts.

Holiday Inn Sanibel Island

Hi, my name is Angela and I am an addict. I can’t seem to get enough. The more I have, the more I want.

Time does not exist. One hour slips away in an instant within the black hole it creates. I don’t realize how much time has passed until my body becomes weary.

I’m not sure why, but it makes me feel so happy and content; my cheeks hurt from smiling so much. Once I finally lift my head up, I notice I’ve wandered a few miles from the beginning of my journey. Every step, hoping to stumble on a rare and one-of-a-kind buried treasure.

Each day I tell myself I had enough, but I couldn’t stop. I am addicted to shelling and I am not afraid to admit it!
Sanibel Island

She Sells Seashells by the Seashore

Remember that tongue twister? I kept repeating it to myself the entire time we were wandering along the shore picking up shell after shell. It is pure enjoyment finding the perfect one. How rare is it to discover an unbroken, flawless companion of the sea? I thought, pretty uncommon until I went to Sanibel Island!

Sanibel Island

Sanibel tops many lists as the world’s best place for shelling. Its orientation lies east and west instead of north and south like most islands and the Gulf Stream flows to the north, giving it the ultimate position to hoard the trove of seashells that wash up on shore.

The barrier island is also on an underwater shelf, known as the Sanibel stoop, which provides a gradual slope that allows the shells to hit the beach unharmed. You can find conchs, starfish, sand dollars, coquinas, tulips, scallops, and clams among hundreds of others. To say walking along the water in search of the perfect shell is pure tranquility, would be an understatement.


Sanibel Island

Island Biking

The shells weren’t the only reason we fell for Sanibel. The island is covered with over 25 miles of bike trails.

Bike Path Sanibel Island

It is a great way to get exercise, avoid parking fees, and get better views of the luxurious mansions that line the coast. All the paths are paved, smooth, and flat which makes for an effortless ride.

Sanibel Island

Glorious Sunrises and Sunsets

We woke up early to catch a glimpse of the sunrise over Fort Myers Beach. We weren’t the only ones. There were a few others who were out and about already, shelling while the magnificent sun made its first appearance for the day.

Make sure to pack a lightweight beach chair to guarantee a comfy spot to catch the views!

Sanibel Island

We didn’t necessarily want the day to end, but we looked forward to what spectacular sight the sunset would bring. The last night, playful dolphins were out in the distance swimming and jumping while seabirds hovered over the water. It was an enchanting sight.

Sanibel Island Sunset

Loyalty Points for Lodging

Holiday Inn Sanibel Island

Staying on Sanibel Island is not the cheapest option in Florida so we were ecstatic to find a hotel we could book with loyalty points. Holiday Inn Sanibel Island Resort is perfect: private beach access, free parking, outdoor pool, complimentary beach cabanas and chairs, poolside Tiki bar, and on-site dining. We loved the vibrant tropical décor, not like a typical Holiday Inn.

Holiday Inn Sanibel Island

The hotel is extremely accommodating regarding shell collecting. When we checked in at the front desk, we received a porous bag for shells. A cleaning station is positioned behind the beach bar for washing our finds of the day. The window ledge outside our hotel room provided a great spot to dry our sand dollars. The hotel also offers bike rentals. We were on a road trip so we had our bikes along with us, but if you fly to the area it is a nice option to have right at the hotel.

Sanibel Island

Sanibel Island

Nature at your Fingertips

Sanibel Island

The J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge covers half of the island and provides a sanctuary for countless birds, alligators, and crocodiles.

You can hike, bike, or drive through the refuge at $5 per vehicle or $1 per hiker or biker (under 15 free and National Park Pass works for free entry). 

If you like nature, another area just two hours away with a beautiful preserve is Bradenton Florida

Sanibel Island

Whatever you plan to do, my advice is to bring and wear BUG SPRAY. The no-see-ums can be annoying when walking around. The refuge is a fascinating place to get in touch with nature on the island.

Quiet Escape

We were on the tail end of our two-month adventure. We had been meeting up with friends and overindulging in food and drinks so it was the nice quiet break we needed.

Sanibel Island

One thing we learned from our first long-term trip is that you cannot act like you are on vacation the entire time. Even though it’s exciting to be in a new place, your body needs rest just like at home. Sanibel Island provided a much-needed few days of relaxation and rejuvenation.

Sanibel Island

Shell Collecting Tips

Location: The Gulf side from the Lighthouse to North Captiva provides outstanding areas to shell.

Best Times: Low tide and after storms, check the tide charts here. Get out before dawn to beat the other shellers, but also before the tide pulls some of the best shells back into the ocean.

Tools: Flashlight, bleach, bag or bucket

Cleaning: Combine 50/50 cold or room temperature water and bleach in a bowl. Soak for a few hours (time depends on how dirty and the size of the shell) then rinse with clean water.

Polish: To bring out the rich color, gently polish clean and dried shells with a soft cloth and a few drops of baby oil.

Shipping: If you fly and are limited on space in your baggage, you can always ship your shells home from one of the post offices on the island.

Looking for more tips on travel to Florida?

Check out these posts:

Plan Your Trip to Florida

We have been budget-traveling for over ten years and love finding deals. Here are a few websites that we use consistently to save money and time booking accommodations, flights and car rental.


  • has a best rate guarantee program that allows you to price match up until 24 hours prior to arrival and its rewards program gives one free night for every 10 nights collected.


  • is a comparison website that searches through tons of flights. It compares airline pricing up to three times a day, having up to date information and also includes airlines such as Southwest and Allegiant that other websites do not include.

Car Rental

  • Priceline is usually the cheapest for car rentals and has a best rate guarantee program as well.

We fell in love with Sanibel Island for so many reasons. Have you ever been? What is your favorite island in Florida? Tell us in the comments.

Like it? Pin it!

Sanibel Island

Follow Angela:

Angela E. is a travel writer from the Chicagoland area who has visited all 50 states in the US and has traveled extensively around the world. She is passionate about exploring the great outdoors and hiking in particular. Her love for nature has taken her to some of the most beautiful locations on the planet. She has written extensively about her travels on her own website, Dang Travelers, and has been published in collaboration with other travel websites and multiple visitor bureaus around the country.

29 Responses

  1. Chris Travels

    Have I been to Sanibel Island you ask? You bet, albeit ten years ago! And that’s where my shelling addiction…I mean passion, began, just like you! I loved quaint Sanibel and you’ve described it well. This past winter, that passion continued as I spent literally many hours shelling on the beaches of Gulf Shores on an extended trip. I took literally many pounds of my special little treasures back home with me. I guess you’d call ithis a “healthy addiction” as bending over to reach each and every shell provides exercise! My big question now…what to do with them all? 😉

    • Dang Travelers

      Hahahaha glad to know I’m not the only one! I looked up a lot of Pinterest Do-It-Yourself crafts and they had a lot for shells. Take a look.

  2. Charles McCool

    Lovely photos. I think Anna Maria Island might be my favorite Florida island but, you know, I feel like I need to do much more research. 😀

    • Dang Travelers

      A friend of ours is actually getting married on Anna Maria Island. There are just so many beautiful islands to choose from! Not a bad problem to have when visiting Florida 🙂

  3. Bernard

    I have never been to Sanibel Island. Looking at your photos, makes me want to go there for a visit!

  4. Nancy

    Those were some nice shells you collected! My in-laws used to live in Florida and we loved hitting the beaches in the morning to find our treasures. Those sunset photos are incredible!

  5. Votel Travels

    Great subject matter, great topic, great blog. Looked like you had a great time. Look forward to reading more

  6. Ria

    come to Indonesia, you will love beaches here so much! sunsets, corals and much more 🙂

  7. Kaylene Chadwell

    I’ve never been to this part of Florida! It looks absolutely beautiful! I’d love to go for a bike ride and catch a few sunsets! Thanks for sharing your experience 🙂

    • Dang Travelers

      Thanks for reading! It is a gorgeous part of the state. We really enjoyed the bike riding, but we were there in November so it wasn’t too hot.

  8. Hung Thai

    You’re making me jealous. Your featured picture is awesome, such beautiful colors. Hmm… Hawaii or Florida…

    • Dang Travelers

      Thanks! Well Hawaii is definitely more expensive, but more exotic to me since it’s further away for us. I’ve only been once and loved it. We’ve been to Florida a bunch of times and it is easy to get around and fairly cheap depending on when and where you go.

  9. Nina

    The island looks gorgeous! The nature, bike trails, sunsets, all beautiful. I’ve never been to Florida, but someday…

  10. Kerri

    That looks simply gorgeous. I think I would definitely love to jump on the bikes and ride over the island. The photo of you in the chair on the beach looks great. I would have a Florida cocktail in my hand for sure.

  11. Meg @ Meg Runs The World

    We used to vacation in Sanibel as a family when I was a kid, but I haven’t been back as an adult. This post is definitely giving me the itch to return… those bike trails look amazing!

  12. Laura

    Wow, all those shells! I’ve never seen to many on a beach before. This island really looks like a fantastic place. So beautiful

  13. melody pittman

    Sanibel looks great on you! Love that picture of you lounging on the beach. I’ve only been there once but it is a lovely place to visit. Hate to break it to you but you missed the best offering at Sanibel- Pinocchio’s Italian Ice Cream. Next time for sure. 😉

    • Dang Travelers

      We will definitely try it next time! We were trying to eat semi-healthy at this point. It was near the end of our 2 month road trip and we decided we needed to give our bodies a much needed break!

  14. Sanibel Lover

    There are many, many shells on the beach and in shallow water that have live animals in them. Please don’t take them!!! In fact, I think there is some sort of fine if you are caught taking a live shell. One other place to visit is the Shell Museum. There are shells from all over the world there and the museum people teach you about conservation and saving the wonderful flora and fauna that are there. Please be kind and leave only your footprints on the sand!!!

  15. Laurie

    Fell in love with Sanibel on a family vacation three years ago. Took Mom there a year after and discovered The Bubble Room cake on adjacent Captiva Island. Very interesting and quirky place – the kids loved it!

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