1. Shelling at the Beach This one may be obvious when you are at the best shelling beach in the world, but there are some things you can do to make sure you have the best shelling experience possible.
- Make sure to stop at the Sanibel Island Visitor Center where you can pick up weekly tide charts. You will want to plan to be at the beach at lowest tide. Depending on the week, this could be in the middle of the night or in the middle of the day. There are two low and two high tides each day, so most weeks you should have a few opportunities to shell at the lowest tide!
- Bring nets! You can pick them up at several of the gift shops on the island. You won’t want to let that perfect shell get away when you see it.
- Get a bucket with small holes in the bottom or a shell bag. Some people just use plastic grocery bags. We bought shelling bags for smaller shells but we also brought a couple of buckets we had from a strawberry picking trip that worked for larger shells.
- Pick up or print out a shell guide or check out this site that also has lots of great information about shelling in Sanibel. There are so many different shells to find and it’s fun to see how many you can find. If you find a junonia shell you get your picture in the paper!
2. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge The Ding Darling has a great visitor’s center where kids can pick up a Jr. Ranger book to complete. There is a small museum and gift shop inside. You will also find helpful guides that can tell you more about the refuge. Because we were there for 5 weeks, we bought the season pass for $12, which allowed everyone in our family tovisit as many times as we wished. I drove the 4-mile wildlife drive every day at nap time. It was peaceful to watch the birds and jumping fish, but it was also peaceful because my youngest two would sleep! The loop is one way and can be walked, or biked as well. Along the loop there are several spots that you can pull off and view birds, and if you are lucky maybe an alligator! I looked every day and only saw one.
3. Sanibel Public Library: The Sanibel Library has a great children’s section with games and toys and occasionally a story time. During the summer months the kids can take part in a summer reading program and earn free books. At the end of our 5 weeks we had collected at least 30 new books! The library also has a large collection of shells and some great shell art that is worth stopping by to see. There is a large area that you can set up and work from your laptop for the day.
4. Bike: There are 25 miles of paved bike trails on Sanibel Island. During certain times of the year, it is the quickest way around the island. We didn’t bike when we were there during the summer, but my husband and I have since gone back alone and we biked the entire island. It was the highlight of our trip and I look forward to returning and biking with our children. There are several places on the island you can rent bikes.
5. Sanibel Playground: Located near the library at 2231 Periwinkle Way, is a nice fenced-in and shaded playground. This also became an almost daily stop for us. My kids enjoyed playing with the other children and there was enough variety to appeal to all ages.
6. Tarpon Bay Explorers: One thing not to be missed are the activities going on at Tarpon Bay! While we were there in the summer, I took the kids to several free nature talks. Our family also took a sunset cruise to the rookery islands. It was really neat to see all of the birds coming in for the night. We also got to visit the touch tanks. We learned about some of the sea life we had seen on the island and the kids really liked the hands on experience. Tarpon Bay explorers also offers kayak tours through the mangroves. My husband and I have since gone back alone and taken this tour! I would recommend it to anyone with children old enough to paddle their own boat.
7. Sanibel Sea School The Sanibel Sea School’s mission is to “teach adults and children about marine ecosystems – animals, people, plants, land, ocean and weather.” They have several programs available. We were on Sanibel Island in the summer, when they offer day camps for kids but by the time we found out about the sea school, all of the camps were booked. We did however see the campers out on the beach having a great time and hope to check it out the next time we are at Sanibel Island!
8. Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife: CROW is a small wildlife hospital that you can visit. There is a small museum and they offer daily presentations. My children really enjoyed seeing the animals, interacting with the displays and asking questions after the presentation. They also offer tours of the hospital, but unfortunately we were unable to fit that into our schedule.
9. National Shell Museum: While small, it was really interesting and has some really incredible works of art made from shells. They also have programs for kids throughout the day. It is the perfect spot to spend a rainy day and get inspired to make some shell art!
10. Grab Italian Ice-cream at Pinocchios: This popular spot almost always has a line out the door. The portions are large and our kids all shared one ice-cream on the porch.
Do you have favorite things to do with your kids on Sanibel Island that I left out? Let me know in the comments!