Sanibel Island Attractions for Families: Explore and Play in New Ways

Sanibel and Captiva Islands offer 15 miles of beaches and 25 miles of biking trails, but there are many more noteworthy things to see and do. This area also has culture, shopping and family-friendly activities. For some fresh ideas, check out the top Sanibel Island attractions for families to visit during vacation.

Sanibel Island Attractions for Families on Vacation

sanibel island attractions for families

Beaches, Beaches and Beaches

Visitors come from all over the world to see the beaches in Captiva and Sanibel Islands. These barrier islands have an east-west orientation and are world renown for shells. In addition, families can select from beaches with historical sites, picnic areas and amenities.

On Sanibel Island, explore Lighthouse Beach, Tarpon Beach, Bowman’s Beach and Blind Pass Beach. Or head to nearby Captiva Island, which is home to Captiva Beach and Turner Beach. Depending on the beach, amenities may include pet-friendly areas, restrooms, bike racks, picnic tables, grills and fitness trails.

Parks and Preserves

One of the best ways to find the top beaches in Sanibel Island is to explore the parks. The island measures 12 miles with public beach access and parks scattered throughout the area.

Gulfside City Park offers nearly 28 acres along the Gulf of Mexico and opens to the public. For some photo ops and a fun day, visit the Sanibel Lighthouse Beach and Fishing Pier. Here visitors will see the lighthouse, which still operates, as well as a pier perfect for trying catch big ones. Other parks to check out include Sanibel Community Playground and Sanibel Moorings Botanical Gardens.

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Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum

Perfect for all ages, Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum connects people with the natural world. The museum has more than 30 interactive exhibits, which include touch tanks, nature walks and movies.

Upon arrival, admire thousands of shells from Sanibel, Captiva and the world. Then see some of the largest shells and learn how shells have influenced architecture and builders. Other displays offer children learning labs, life-size models of marine life and coral reefs.

J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge

For more close encounters with nature, head to J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. This outdoor refuge serves as home to hundreds of animals and plants. From birds to reptiles, the park provides a safe haven for these animals and a place for nature lovers to explore together.

While on trails, families may see bobcats, rabbits, river otters, crocodiles, turtles, snakes, fish and frogs. Other fun things to do at J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge include hiking, scenic drives, bird-watching, canoeing, kayaking and fishing.

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Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife

The Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife, a.k.a. CROW Center, operates as a teaching hospital and visitor education center. Their team saves and cares for injured wildlife — and attends to some 5,000 patients per year.

At the center, guests enjoy live animal encounters with alligators, turtles and pythons, to name a few. Additionally, CROW Center has interactive displays, a children’s area and live animal exhibits.

Sanibel Historical Museum and Village

To live like a local, head to Sanibel Historical Museum and Village. Ranked among the top Sanibel Island attractions for families, the site honors local history dating from the 1800s.

Visitors will learn about the area’s earliest residents, admire historic buildings, and hear what makes Sanibel Island special. Sites include a 1896 schoolhouse, 1900 packing house, 1926 tea room, multiple cottages and more. Each offer a glimpse into the past while showcasing the importance of preserving the area. After touring the village, buy locally made goods at the gift shop.

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Big Arts Sanibel Island

Big Arts ranks among the top Sanibel Island attractions for families who love art and culture. The center honors fine arts such as theater, dance, film, literature and music.

Throughout the year, Big Arts features fine art exhibits, educational classes, film, live performances and other events that showcase local talent. Favorites include the Big Arts concert band and Big Arts community chorus.

Shopping Districts

While most visitors come to Sanibel Island for beaches and outdoor recreation, they soon discover the area is a shopper’s haven. Dozens of locally owned boutiques and galleries welcome guests to browse apparel, fashion, gifts, art, home décor, jewelry, furniture, gifts and local food.

One of the best places for local shopping is Sanibel Island Farmers Market. Every Sunday from May through October, vendors sell fresh fruits and vegetables, jams, jellies, candles, sweets, and more.

Book a vacation rental in Sanibel Island and begin a new adventure. Then see which restaurants cater to families in Sanibel-Captiva.