One of the most popular things to do in The Beaches Fort Myers & Sanibel is shelling, which is why these Gulf Coast beaches are on the bucket lists of many travelers. And while combing gorgeous beaches for treasures is a must-do, so are the other sights on this list.
Due to their unique geography, Sanibel Island and neighboring Captiva Island (they actually used to be one island) are considered the best places in the world for shelling. In fact, both islands are made from shells. You’ll certainly be able to see evidence of this during your visit. This is because Sanibel Island, with its unusual east-west orientation (most islands are north-south), is part of a large plateau in the Gulf of Mexico that acts as sort of a shelf where seashells can collect. And, I’ve never, ever seen so many seashells in one place. You can take them home with you.
And, a perfect time to visit The Beaches Fort Myers & Sanibel is during National Seashell Day on June 21.
Cayo Costa State Park
Speaking of shelling, an island hopping excursion with Captiva Cruises will take you through the Gulf’s Caribbean-like waters, spotting sea life like dolphins along the way, to quieter shelling spots like Cayo Costa. This gorgeous state park is only accessible by boat. Here, you can swim, snorkel, bird watch and of course explore miles of shells washed up on to the sand.
During our excursion we had the pleasure of being accompanied by Florida Master Naturalist, Captain Brian, who showcases everything guests need to know about shells in the area. How amazing is this sailor valentine made with teeny tiny shells?
In addition to Cayo Costa, Captiva Cruises also takes guests to a 100-acre privately-owned island with a historic inn and restaurant called Cabbage Key. It is also only reachable by boat or sea plane and there are no cars on the island. You can actually stay at the Cabbage Key Inn for a romantic or family getaway.
We stopped for a delicious lunch in the restaurant where signed dollar bills line the walls and ceilings. Whatever falls off throughout the year—a number that is in the thousands—is donated to charity.
Ducks and tortoises roam the island and you can actually climb the water tower for a nice view.
The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum
Put The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum toward the beginning of your itinerary. You’ll leave with knowledge of what kinds of shells are possible to find, the history of shells in the area and learn about how they survive in ocean. Plus, the museum is home to enormous shells, shell art, and live presentations called “Tank talks: where you can ask questions and learn more from a docent.
Find one of these junonia on any of the Fort Myers beaches and you’ll be featured in the local newspaper.
They typically live in deep water so the shells don’t land on shore all that often.
Edison & Ford Winter Estates
Thomas Edison and Henry Ford kept winter homes in Fort Myers on 21 acres near the Caloosahatchee River. Today, visitors to the Edison & Ford Winter Estates can tour their historic homes, Thomas Edison’s rubber laboratory, a botanic garden with over a thousand exotic plants (there is even a plant shop on site), old Ford cars and a museum dedicated to the work of both men.
It was here that we saw the Shell Love Bug, a 2005 convertible Volkswagon Beetle adorned with over 20,000 shells that serves as a fun mobile tribute to the area’s love of seashells.
Also put the Mound House on your list of fun things to do in The Beaches Fort Myers & Sanibel. It’s the oldest structure in the area and sits on top of an enormous shell mound built that is well over a thousand years old and built by the Calusa Indians to escape flooding. Visitors can explore the restored house and its museum to learn more about the site and its past residents as well as see some of the tools the Calusa Indians used (like the shell hammers pictured above). Surrounding the house is gorgeous landscape to explore and guided kayak tours through the mangroves and backwaters of Estero Bay depart from here.
Times Square and the Fort Myers Beach Fishing Pier
Yes, even Fort Myers Beach has a Times Square. It’s small but a fun beachside stop with souvenir shopping and casual Fort Myers Beach restaurants nearby. Times Square also has a cool clock to mark the spot and nightly entertainment. The Fort Myers Fishing Pier here is worth a stroll down for the view. I bet it’s spectacular during sunset.
Fort Myers Brewery
San Diego is a craft beer hub so I was thrilled to learn that the owners of Fort Myers Brewery have San Diego roots. A beer here is a nice break from the heat. Or, make that a flight of beers…
Check their schedule for when food trucks and live entertainment are also on tap. Both were happening during our visit and it’s so fun!
If you are visiting The Beaches Fort Myers & Sanibel in the months of December–March, consider a visit to Manatee Park. When temperatures drop in the Gulf of Mexico manatees seek refuge pockets of warm water and one of them is here. Manatee Park has observation decks where up to 50 manatees have been spotted at a time during winter months (they are not here otherwise). We swam with manatees in Crystal River and adore these gentle giants. There is nothing like seeing them in their natural habitat. Year-round, guests picnic, kayak and enjoy the grounds.
Lounge on a Fort Myers Beach
This goes without saying, but be sure to plan time to simply enjoy the beach, which has to be one of the best things to do in Sanibel Island and other Fort Myers beaches with kids. The sand is fine, white and soft like baby powder. Depending on where you are, water sports ranging from wave runners to parasailing is also available.
For more information, have a look around The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel. I visited in partnership with them and loved the area!
What are your favorite things to do in The Beaches Fort Myers & Sanibel?