I was amazed how much traffic there was driving around on Sanibel and heading north to Captiva when I was there in mid-February. I would recommend going a little off-season to avoid the crowds in the restaurants and the traffic.
In addition to going to the beach, walking, fishing, boating and biking, there are a number of things to do on the island. Make sure to visit:
Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum, 3075 Sanibel-Captiva Rd.: This is the only shell museum in the US, which features displays on local shells as well as shells from around the world. Activities include beach walks with a marine biologist, movies, shell bingo, and talks throughout the week.
The Sanibel Island Light, which is the first lighthouse on Florida’s Gulf coast north of Key West. First lit in 1884, it is located on the eastern tip and was built to mark the entrance to San Carlos Bay. The grounds are open to the public but the lighthouse is not. The beach near the lighthouse is great for walking and shelling.
Sanibel Historical Museum & Village: At 950 Dunlop Road, this is a museum/village that features historically restored buildings from the 1880’s to the 1940’s that have been moved to the museum.
Shelling on the beaches is a very popular activity. Some guidelines from the National Shell Museum suggest the best times are an hour before or after low tides; morning low tides are often better than evening low tides, shelling can be better with full moons or new moons when higher high tides and lower low tides often occur and after a good northwest wind or storm when the ocean bottom can be stirred up.
On the way to or from Sanibel, make sure to stop in Ft. Myers at the Edison & Ford Winter Estates at 2359 McGregor Blvd. Here you can visit the winter homes of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford located next door to each other along the river. There is a museum, guided tours as well as self-guided audio tours available. Unless you are on a special tour, you can look into the rooms from the outside but can’t go into the houses.
Seminole Lodge, Edison’s estate, was built on land he purchased in 1885. He and his wife, Mina, wintered at the home until 1947. The furnishings are original. There is a guest house next door which included visitors like Harvey Firestone and President Herbert Hoover.
The Mangoes, Henry Ford’s home, was purchased by him in 1916. The craftsman home was added onto after the purchase; the furnishings are not original. There is a Ford Automotive display with several vintage trucks and cars. You can also visit Edison’s gardens and pool complex.
The complex is a short drive from downtown Ft. Myers, which you might want to explore before or after your visit.