Natural landscapes and pristine coastal environments combine to make the beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel Island ideal for outdoor vacations.
Along with the Gulf of Mexico, Intracoastal Waterway, rivers, estuaries and wetlands, the area’s diverse forest habitats attract wildlife species, including magnificent birds, manatees, dolphins and black bears. Grab some hiking boots, paddles, snorkels or whatever “explorer” gear you like, and enjoy outdoor adventures here.
Nature on Sanibel and Captiva Islands
Start at Sanibel Lighthouse Beach, a top stop on the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail. Near a circa 1884 still-working lighthouse, the beach wraps around the island’s end from Gulf to bay. On the bay side, a fishing pier welcomes anglers. Bird-watchers, beachgoers and shell-seekers head to the Gulf side.
Because of its seclusion, Bowman’s Beach is the choice of serious shell-seekers looking for rare prizes. Beachcombers who love to walk can start at Bowman’s Beach and stroll for kilometers in either direction. Heading north, the beach pauses at Blind Pass, which separates Sanibel from Turner Beach on neighboring Captiva Island. There is a short bridge you can cross if you want to continue your walk.
Both Blind Pass and the beaches of Captiva Island offer excellent vantage points for catching a stunning sunset. If you’re lucky, you might even witness the green flash, a natural phenomenon that sparks at the horizon just as the sun drops into the sea.
If the beaches have piqued your interest in birding, J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is the place to discover more. One of Florida’s prime birding spots, it hosts more than 270 different species of birds. Frequently sighted, the roseate spoonbill is often mistaken for a pink flamingo, but is distinguished by its flat, circular bill.
Visitors can explore the refuge’s more than 2,800 hectares in several ways. Drive, bike or hike the 6.4-kilometer Wildlife Drive; walk its Calusa Shell Mound and Indigo trails; paddle into the rookeries of Tarpon Bay and along the Commodore Creek Trail; or take a guided tram or boat tour to learn more about the refuge’s natural wonders.
Continuing to Explore the Shore
Known for its colorful atmosphere and family-friendly beaches, nearby Fort Myers Beach on Estero Island celebrates the sunset nightly at its fishing pier and beach bars. In contrast, if you cross the bridge at the south end, you’ll discover the quiet, natural world of Lovers Key State Park, where hundreds of people say their vows each year at the beachside wedding gazebo.
To really get away from it all, island-hop to Cabbage Key, accessible only by boat. Tour and rental boats can provide transport to the key, where its charmingly rustic 1930s inn and restaurant welcome you to enjoy a cheeseburger in paradise, sip a cold beer and join in the tradition of taping an autographed dollar bill to the wall.