Southwest of Florida in Lee County, Sanibel Island is a 15-mile stretch of pristine coastal landscape. Believed to have been discovered by Ponce de Leon in the 16th century, the island gets its name from Santa Isabella – that is, Queen Isabella, who ruled Spain in the early 1500’s.

Accessible from the mainland by a causeway constructed in the 1960’s, the island offers modern amenities with a uniquely small-town atmosphere. With many vacation rentals available on the Sanibel Island and in nearby communities, you’ll find plenty of opportunity for rest and relaxation, along with access to a vibrant art scene and great seafood dining. For nature lovers, Sanibel Island is also home to the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, which provides habitat for hundreds of species of birds, fish, and mammals.

1. Lighthouse Point

lighthouse
The easternmost point of Sanibel Island is home to the Sanibel Lighthouse. First lit on August 20th, 1884, this historic structure is housed on public grounds that make for a relaxing day hike with great photo opportunities. Since regulations on Sanibel Island forbid buildings from being taller than the tallest trees, the Sanibel Lighthouse also holds the unique distinction of being one of the tallest structures on the island. Photographers and sightseers will appreciate this striking bit of Floridian history.

2. Captiva

captiva
Source: Flickr/Lisa Morales

Located just north of Sanibel, Captiva is its own separate island, home to peaceful beaches. Easy access to amenities on Sanibel and North Captiva make this island the ideal blend of seclusion and convenience. Captiva offers a five-mile stretch of sand where visitors have been known to find beautiful intact shells that can be turned into souvenirs or one-of-a-kind crafts and decorations. “Shelling” – the process of searching for and collecting the shells from the beach – is a perfect family activity.

3. West Gulf Drive

sanibel island
Source: Flickr/Jeremy T. Hetzel

This coastal strip along the southern shore of Sanibel Island offers gorgeous tropical views and unparalleled access to the beach. For families who want to soak up the sun and relax, West Gulf Drive offers miles of beach where kids and adults alike can swim or build sandcastles. The coastal roadway also offers an excellent opportunity for taking the scenic route.

4. St. James City

st james city
Source: Flickr/Laura

Just across the water from Sanibel, on the southern tip of Pine Island, St. James City is a small community that is home to several nature preserves, including the Galt nature preserve. Whether you’re looking to reconnect with the wild or let your kids marvel at some exotic animals, St. James City makes an ideal location for snagging a vacation rental. Character homes and small businesses round out the local sights and provide ample dining amenities.

5. Punta Rassa

punta rassa
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Punta_Rassa,_FL_33908,_USA_-_panoramio.jpg

Just across the bridge from Sanibel, Punta Rassa is a small town that has been rebuilt over a former 19th-century cattle-shipping hub. While relatively little remains of the original town, you can still spot some of the original docks and structures from buildings that are over 100 years old. History buffs and fishing enthusiasts alike will find points of interest in Punta Rassa, as well as shopping and eating opportunities.

6. Fort Myers Beach

fort myers beach

Located on Estero Island, directly to the east of Sanibel, Fort Myers Beach offers picturesque views of the ocean and the sunset. Famous for its stretch of clean, white “sugar sand,” this beach has calm waters that make it a great place to try out water activities like boating or parasailing. Vacation rentals in Fort Myers also allow for easy boat access to Sanibel.

7. North Captiva Island

north captiva island
Source: Flickr/dconvertini

Opened up by a hurricane in the 1920’s, Redfish Pass now separates Captiva Island from North Captiva. Half of North Captiva is dedicated park land, making it an excellent choice for visitors who are looking for some quality time in the great outdoors. This island is accessible only by boat, ferry, or charter plane, and since there are no motor-vehicle roads on the island, golf carts are a popular mode of transport. Locals are welcoming and protective of their island’s quiet, small-town way of life, so if you’re looking to escape the fast pace of urban life, a vacation rental in North Captiva is ideal.

8. Matlacha

matlacha island
Source: Flickr/Airborne Pilot

Located on a strip of land that connects Pine Island to the Florida mainland Matlacha is surrounded by mild ocean waters on nearly all sides. This community is well known as a hub for artistic types. Art lovers and families with children will enjoy the creative, colorful atmosphere of this town. Whether you’re shopping for souvenirs or simply wish to reawaken your creative side, Matlacha provides a friendly place to break out your inner painter.

9. Pine Island Center

pine island center

Central Pine Island is home to a breathtaking wilderness, including a marshland that numerous species of animals call home. This area is great for meditative walks through the lush pine woods, and for kids, there’s a sense of adventure in spotting interesting wildlife. When you’re finished trekking, check out some of the charming amenities on offer, including fishing and surf shops, family-owned restaurants, and art galleries.