On our holiday to Florida with the kids, Sanibel Island came as a big surprise. When you’re on a trip through Florida the more well-known spots are usually visited such as Miami, Orlando and Key West. And often the trip ends there. But you’re missing out on the best part: Sanibel Island! And Sanibel has a lot to offer kids too. I’ve listed a top 10 of fun things to do on Sanibel Island with kids.
To be honest, I think I prefer Sanibel above Key West. Key West is rather crowded with tourists making it a rather busy and hectic place that may take away some of the authenticity. Sanibel Island is way more laid back. It’s a smaller island too so you can do everything by bike. Sanibel also has tourists but these are mainly Americans themselves which gives it a different feel all together. In a nutshell, I’m a fan!
Top 10 things to do on Sanibel Island with kids
On this part of Sanibel you’ll find a protected piece of nature with quite an impressive wildlife! We visited the museum that belongs to the area first. Here you can learn all sorts of stuff about the animals and nature. The kids were especially impressed by the stuffed animals and there were all kinds of educational games to play too. After our visit we went outside and drove into the park by car. We went for short rides and took the occasional walk, through a mangrove forest and to a terrace where you could spot all kinds of fish and where we saw loads of animals too; birds, fish, bugs and even Manatees!
Sanibel = beach! The whole island is surrounded by beautiful beaches with even more beautiful seashells. Our favorite beach was Bowman’s. Floris and Kev spent hours scavenging the shore and surf for shells with a scoop-net and boy what a loot did they have! On the way back from the beach to the parking lot you’ll find all kinds of facilities such as a playground, toilets and picnic tables. A lovely spot for a day at the beach. Therefore it deserves a well-earned spot in this top 10 list of things to do on Sanibel Island with kids.
Want to do something more active? You should really go kayaking at Tarpon Bay! You can go and take a well indicated kayak route yourself or you can go on a guided tour. If you’re in luck you might see some Manatees “up close and personal”.
Cycle, cycle, cycle
Sanibel Island is reasonably small and the distances are doable by bike. We’ve rented bikes for three days, two with a child seat and one for Floris. On the campsite Flo could ride around on his own bike and if the distances where a little longer he could hop on the back. That way we cycled past all the beaches in a few days. It’s just lovely to go for a ride, lay on the beach for a while, visit a playground and grab a quick bite to eat or an ice-cream along the way. In conclusion, if you don’t rent bikes on Sanibel Island you haven’t really been to Sanibel ;).
Spotting Manatees and Dolphins
At Tarpon Bay you can make boat trips as well as going kayaking. We went on the evening cruise with the kids and it was phenomenal! The boat sails out onto the lake and we got a pair of binoculars so we could spot lots of birds up close. And we were in luck because a dolphin showed up next to the boat and when we entered the “harbor” we were greeted by three Manatees. My gosh, such impressive animals! Also a lot of fun: right before the boat trip we were informed on all the fish and shells at the “touch tank”. Here they tell you about the underwater life and you even get to see and touch shells from close up. A well deserved spot in our Top 10 fun things to do on Sanibel Island with kids!
Bad weather plan: Library
It shouldn’t be an option really… rain on holiday! But it happens every once in a while and even on Sanibel Island we had one day where it was raining cats and dogs. Especially in a camper it can get rather crowded so we went in search for an indoor activity. And so we found ourselves in the Library! They have a great space for kids upstairs with all kinds of children’s books but also a play corner with a dolls house and a real rowing boat. There’s arts and crafts too and kids that are a bit older can do computer games. And they have free Wi-Fi so you can read the papers or watch a short film on your mobile.
Swimming and working out at the recreation center
We ended up here on the last day of our holiday: The recreation center. You’ll find a lovely pool here where you can relax and swim while the kids play around if you don’t feel like sand and sea for a bit. And besides a pool there is also a large fitness area where you can follow gym classes next to working the machines. A perfect spot for a sporty afternoon.
Dinner at “The Island Cow”
We got this insider tip from a local. You’ll find the Island Cow centrally located on the island and they have a lovely terrace at the front as well as the back. It’s just a laid back place where you can enjoy a nice dinner, lunch or drinks. On the terrace at the back there’s a spot for kids too but Floris and Lotte were really into their drawing so they didn’t even notice. Therefore your Sanibel Island experience is not complete without dinner in the relaxed island vibe of The Island Cow.
We had to miss out on “The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum” unfortunately. After our shell scavenging adventure it seemed fun to us to learn about all the shells we gathered, who inhabited them and what other shells Sanibel had to offer so we really have to go to the museum next time we visit. And for that reason it made our list.
Don’t expect a nice, white lighthouse made of stone. No this is something else… The lighthouse on Sanibel Island is an old rusty, metal construction. Not very beautiful but special nonetheless and certainly worth a picture. You can combine this with a visit at the beach of course because right next to the lighthouse there’s a lovely beach called Lighthouse Beach Park, stay here til sunset to enjoy one of Florida’s most beautiful sunsets.
Did I convince you? When visiting Florida, don’t miss Sanibel Island, I am totally sure you don’t regret it! I can highly recommend this 5 day itinerary of Ft Myers and Sanibel Island, perfect way to enjoy this wonderful area in only 5 days. Love to know if you liked doing this Top 10 list for Sanibel Island with kids as much as I did. Off you go!