Sanibel and Captiva Outdoors

Photo by Chelle Koster Walton

Five days to absorb island nature off Florida's west coast

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Sanibel and Captiva islands are all about appreciating nature, playing on the beach, hiking and biking, getting in a round of golf, and taking advantage of all of the year-round water sports opportunities including boating, sailing, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, fishing, swimming, windsurfing, kiteboarding, parasailing, water-skiing, and wakeboarding. Note: You will want to book some of your tours and charters ahead of time, especially in the high season.

Day 1 on Sanibel Island

Get your island bearings with a bike ride around Sanibel Island’s 25 miles of shared-use path. Make it a leisurely pedal starting at the Lighthouse Beach end of the island with a morning sun salutation and heading down the Periwinkle Way path. Continue your ride along the Gulf drives until you get to Tarpon Bay Road, where you may want to stop for a cooling dip in the gulf. Take Tarpon Bay Road back to Periwinkle Way. Stop at Over Easy Cafe for breakfast or lunch.  Then head to the shops along Periwinkle. For some off-road biking, take the second crosswalk after you pass Main Street (nothing “main” about it at all!), at Roadside City Park. A shell bike path takes you behind the Bailey Homestead site, across a boardwalk, past a retention pond where birds hang out, and down Pond Apple Trail to the islands’ chamber of commerce.

Day 2

Time to get out on the water! Either hire a fishing charter to take you where the big ones lurk or rent a boat and do your own navigating to the upper islands of North Captiva, Cabbage Key, and Useppa for fishing and having lunch at a funky  island restaurant such as Barnacle Phil’s on North Captiva and Cabbage Key Inn.

Day 3

For a more wildlife-intimate on-the-water experience, book a kayak tour with Captiva Kayak Co. One two-hour tour takes you to federally protected Buck Key for a canopy paddle through the bird-rich island. Have lunch at the Mucky Duck right on the beach. If there’s a wait, have a swim in the gulf before you are seated. Hang around Captiva shops and sights, then board one of Captiva Cruises’ sunset tours – either the serenaded tour or wildlife-watching excursion.

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Day 4

Spend the day at J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, where the outdoor opportunities are countless. Some suggestions: Take the narrated tram tour, hike Indigo Trail to the Wildlife Education Boardwalk, go on a paddleboarding or kayaking tour at Tarpon Bay, attend a free program or birding tour.

Day 5

Visit the nature center and hike the trails at the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation in the morning. In the afternoon, enjoy nearby Bowman’s Beach – a great place for walking, shelling, and watching birds in the gulf and estuary between the beach and the parking lot.

At A Glance

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