What To Do In Fort Myers, Sanibel, Captiva: A Nature Inspired Trip

Share Our Happy!!

When we moved to Florida, I made a mental note of several places I wanted to visit. Sanibel was one of those places. Way back when Matt and I were just dating, we attempted to hit Fort Myers Beach during spring break, and that was a hot mess. It was so busy. At that time, I had not even heard of Sanibel or Captiva. Fast forward, if you enjoy nature, we have a short list of what to do in Fort Myers, Sanibel, Captiva to fill your soul. 

What Is There To Do On Captiva Island?

Where Are The Best Beaches On Captiva Island?

Teen on Captiva Island Beach

Alison Hagerup Public Beach

You can’t really talk about nature in Florida, without talking about the beaches. Both Captiva and Sanibel are known for their shell covered beaches, and soft white sand. We spent about two hours at Alison Hagerup Beach because not only we were there on an extremely hot day, but we only paid for two hours of parking. Being there at the end of October, we weren’t expecting it to be in the 90’s, but that’s Florida. It was long enough for us, and there were other things we wanted to do and see. 

Turner Beach on Captiva Island

Just over the Blind Pass Bridge to Captiva from Sanibel is Turner Beach. Smaller than Alison Hagerup, and limited parking, and known as a great fishing spot. But if you are not a Florida resident, be sure to get yourself a saltwater fishing license first. Close to restaurants and bars too. 


  • Both beach parking lots are small with limited parking, therefore be sure to get there early.  Alison Hagerup Beach parking is $25.00 for two hours or $40.00 per day. Whereas Turner Beach is $5.00 per hour, so take that into consideration. Both beaches allow fishing.

Adventures and Fun On The Water: Captiva Island

Captiva Island is home to both Buck Key Preserve and Patterson Island Preserve. But, in order to explore these nature filled areas, getting out on the water is your only option. Renting a canoe, kayak, or SUP (stand up paddle board), is the great option, and there are several companies to choose from. 

Sunny Island Adventures is just before your reach Alison Hagerup Beach, if you are planning to be near the northern end of Captiva Island. In addition to the above rental options, you can also take a wave runner tour. Experience the wildlife all around you on any of their ECO tours. Or, if you have a boating background, you can rent a boat, and take your whole family.

Adventure Sea Kayak & SUP
Photo Credit: Adventure Sea Kayak & SUP Facebook Page

Adventure Sea Kayak & SUP offers a couple different ECO/Nature tours, like the full moon or bioluminessence tours. How about a guided beach walk to learn about the history and local wildlife, where you can ask all the questions you’d like. Or what about a SUP yoga adventure with the possibility of encountering manatee, dolphins and other wildlife? Sounds amazing to me, and I wish I had stayed in the area longer. We can’t wait to get back and find more things to do in Captiva and Sanibel Island.

What To Do On Sanibel Island?

What Are The Best Beaches On Sanibel Island?

Tidbit: Sanibel Island is known as the Top Shelling Destination in the USA. 

Bowman’s Beach

Considered the most popular beach on Sanibel, be prepared to do some walking. With miles of undeveloped shoreline, white sandy beaches, and covered in shells, but the parking is a short hike from the beach. Therefore, be sure to bring a wagon, or be prepared to transport all your beach gear. There are several trails that lead to different parts of the beach. From the parking lot, you can also find some trails just for exploring. We did not visit Bowman Beach, but I think I’d like to check it out next time. Parking will cost you $5.00 per hour. 

Sanibel Island Lighthouse Beach Park

Although they say Bowman’s Beach is the most popular beach on Sanibel, I would have to say Lighthouse Beach is the most iconic. Or at least the most photographed. Being a lover of lighthouses, you know I had to make a stop. 

The shells on Lighthouse Beach were so beautiful and plentiful. We got to see some dolphins in the distance, and lots of birds. 

Lighthouse Beach is great for walking all the way around the southeast tip of Sanibel, as well as a couple inland hiking trails. You can find parking at both the north and south end for $5.00 per hour. I would definitely go back to this beach next time I’m down here.

Fort Myers/Sanibel Island Causeway Beaches

When coming across the causeway from Fort Myers, you will need to pay the $6.00 toll. But, if you are looking to save some money on beach parking, the Causeway Beaches might be the way to go. I’ve always wanted to stop at a causeway beach when crossing over lots of different intercoastals. As you go through the toll booth, there will be two different “islands.”  The first is considered A and the second one B. Island A has parking, but does not have amenities. Therefore, if you plan to be there a while, Island B would be the way to go for restrooms and picnic pavilions.  

Map thanks to Wanderlog, a trip planner app on iOS and Android

What To Do In Fort Myers, Sanibel, Captive Continued

What To Do When Visiting Sanibel Island?

JN “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge

An unexpected treasure, we drove past JN Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on our way to the beach. The day we spent in Sanibel, the only thing we knew we’d do was hang at the beach. But, the above 90 degree weather was a bit much. so we decided to check out the refuge. 

Sadly the visitor and education center wasn’t open when we were there, but that makes a great excuse to go back. We did peek around the outside and take in the beautiful murals. As of right now, the center is still closed due to CV. 

Along with the visitor center, there is a  wildlife drive, which is open to vehicles, bikers and pedestrians. It was the perfect way to do something fun, still explore, but be in the air conditioned vehicle. The refuge is home to over 230 species of birds, and part of the largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystem in the United States. 

With plenty of places to stop along the way, you never know what you’ll see. If you prefer to explore by boat, you can take an ECO tour with Tarpon Bay Explorers

To Know: 

  • Entrance fee is $10 per vehicle
  • Be sure to check for the current hours
  • Open Daily EXCEPT Fridays

Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum

No surprise that Sanibel Island would have a shell museum, and not just any shell museum. But, the ONLY accredited museum in the United States devoted only to shells. Priding themselves on education surround all aspects of shells, and the animals that create them. And it all began in 1984 with a local shell collector. 

They offer some great resources too, like their Live OctoCam and FREE Zoom events. Plus, they even have a shell identifying app you can download

To Know:

  • Admission: Adult $23.95, Youth $14.95, Child $8.95, Under 5 Free
  • Active-Duty Service Members & Family are Free
  • Discounts: Seniors over 65, AAA, and AARP

There are so many fun things to do in Fort Myers, Sanibel, and Captiva, and we were happy what our day and a half gave us.

What To Do Around Fort Myers?

Calusa Nature Center and Planetarium

When we stayed in Fort Myers, we were with my friend and her family. The last day was her youngest son’s birthday, so he got to choose what we did. What a great choice the Calusa Nature Center was. This gem has so much to offer! 

Throughout the day they offer several animal talks, and hands on visiting with some of the wildlife. Therefore, we kind of looked around a little inside, and would come back for the talks. 

In between the talks you can go down and hike the trails on property, and check out the outdoor animals. This is where they have their birds and larger land turtle species. If you’d like to bring a lunch, they also have a covered picnic area outside. 

Calusa Planetarium meteorite

Inside the planetarium you will find lots of space exploration and astronomy artifacts. Including a piece of meteorite, and you can even touch Mars! Be sure to check the schedule for their planetarium shows daily too. 

To Know:

  • Admission: Adults $10, Children $5
  • Open Daily

Final Thoughts on What To Do In Fort Myers, Sanibel, Captiva

It may have been a whirlwind of a trip, and even though we didn’t really have time to plan ahead of time, I think we had a memorable time. Thankful we were able to take my mother-in-law with us at the last minute too. Fort Myers area is loaded with so many more state parks, preserves, and reserves. There is a lot of protected land to explore wildlife. If you’ve been to the area, and have any recommendations, please let us know. 

Southwest Florida Beaches and Wildlife

For more Florida Wildlife Adventures check out:

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Marine Discovery Center

Lukas Nursery Butterfly Encounter

Snorkeling in Salt Springs or Alexander Springs

Ravine Gardens State Park

Share Our Happy!!

Julie Gazdecki

Julie is owner and founder of How We Find Happy. As an optimist, the name is perfect as we share the ways we find happy living in Florida, visiting breweries, spending time with our adult children, and getting away on some couples trips. As previous residents of Michigan, we still spend lots of time each year visiting our family up there, along with new and favorite places. My hope is to encourage others to spend time exploring this beautiful world, and finding happy in unexpected places.

18 thoughts on “What To Do In Fort Myers, Sanibel, Captiva: A Nature Inspired Trip

  • Lisa Manderino

    There’s a lot of things to do in Fort Myers! I would love to visit. I can’t believe how many shells are in that picture.

  • I love this post of what to do in Fort Myers, Sanibel and Captiva. The seashells are so pretty as are the beaches – a very nature-inspired trip.

  • Julie Gazdecki

    Happy it’s helpful. A Very beautiful area of Florida.

  • Julie Gazdecki

    We were shocked at the shell coverage on the beaches.

  • The shell museum sounds so cool. I loved your photos. Very unique shells. My parent loved Sanibel Island. Their photos were always so pretty.

  • My sister lives in Florida, and these are beaches I’ve wanted to visit, Sanibel and Captiva. Thanks for the further inspiration!

  • I would love to find these interesting shells. We usually go to Indian Rocks or Clearwater beaches. Fort Myers, Sanibel, and Captiva look like great places to visit! Thanks for the wonderful information!

  • Love discovering places where nature nourishes my soul. And the Fort Myers, Sanibel, Captiva area sounds perfect for that! So beautiful!

  • Karen

    Love discovering places where nature nourishes my soul. And the Fort Myers, Sanibel, Captiva area sounds perfect for that! So beautiful!

  • Marianne

    Fort Myers, Sanibel, Captiva area sounds perfect for a family adventure! Such awesome pictures! My daughter would be all over the shells!

  • I’ve visited Fort Myers before but never Sanibel or Captiva. I guess I need to go back. I know I would love to visit the lighthouse and the shell museum. I’m sure my kids would love exploring Fort Meyers, Sanibel, and Captiva.

  • Julie Gazdecki

    It’s such a great area for families. So much outdoor fun! Your kids would love it.

  • Julie Gazdecki

    Me too! And that’s exactly what this area does.

  • Julie Gazdecki

    Those are great beaches too, but you just don’t see the shells like you do down in Sanibel Island.

  • Julie Gazdecki

    I had wanted to visit here for a long time too!! Happy I finally got there, and can’t wait to go back!

  • Julie Gazdecki

    Yeah, I would love to visit the shell museum next time I’m down there.

  • Julie Gazdecki

    As much as your family loves the outdoors, you would love it here!

  • We were just looking into places to stay in Florida and the Fort Myers area looks perfect! My kids would love to visit the seashell museum!

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