Sanibel & Captiva Islands Attractions – Off the Beaten Path
Sanibel & Captiva Islands have many well-known attractions, including the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum, J. N. “Ding” Darling Wildlife Reserve and the Sanibel Lighthouse. However, it is also home to many more attractions you may not see listed in a travel guide. We’ve rounded up some of our favorite Sanibel & Captiva Islands attractions for you to visit during your next trip to the islands.
Tucked away just off Periwinkle, the Sanibel Public Library is a great rainy-day retreat for visitors to explore. Visitors can get a library card to use during their stay that is valid for a full year for only $10. Check out the beautiful shell collection in the lobby – including some HUGE junonias – then explore the stacks, play games or do a puzzle, and even take your library selections out to the screened reading porch to dive right into a new book.
Just around the corner from the library, Tarpon Bay Explorers is your destination for excursions! Embark on a guided nature tour by kayak, paddleboard, boat or tram. Rent paddleboards, kayaks and boats to take out on your own adventures around the island. Take a peek into the gift shop and take a tour that includes a visit to the touch tank to get an up-close and personal sea life encounter.
Bailey Homestead Preserve, located just over a mile from Sundial, is part of the SCCF preserve system. Take a complimentary bike from the resort to the homestead and visit the historic Bailey home (open for tours November – April) or walk the beautiful grounds year-round. You’ll spot a large variety of native plants and local butterflies (including zebra longwing, queen, white peacock, orange-barred sulphur and more) who call the homestead home. There are 9 acres of land to explore along Periwinkle Way, including Shipley Trail and the retail garden center.
Parrots at Jerry’s Shopping Center
Jerry’s Shopping Center has everything you need all in one spot – groceries, ice cream, liquor store, surf shop, and parrots. Yes, parrots! For over 35 years, the parrots of Jerry’s, located just 2 miles from Sundial, have greeted visitors as they ran their island errands. Stop by to say hello to GW, a blue and gold macaw known for unexpectedly squawking to startle passers-by, Caesar, a cockatoo adept at convincing visitors to play fetch with him by dropping his toys outside the cage, and Babe, an African grey who delights in calling out the name of her favorite bird friend Caesar.
On the sister island of Captiva, you’ll find Jensen’s Twin Palms Marina. The property dates back to the 1920s but a few things have always remained the same – “breathtaking sunsets, good fishing, and good times.” The marina offers kayak and boat rentals, fishing charts, a water taxi and marine store. However, our favorite feature is the manatees. Wild manatees are often found congregating at the marina, swimming in and out of the docks and just generally hanging out and enjoying the water.
Visit the History Gallery, located inside the Captiva Memorial Library and free of charge, for a trip down memory lane to discover historical artifacts from the island’s history. Inside, you find a replica of the mailboat Santiva, which serviced Sanibel and Captiva islands from 1936 until 1963 when the causeway was completed. Inside the Santiva, take in the interactive displays and historic photos displaying the stories of the Calusa Indians, fishermen, homesteaders and other island residents.
Captiva Chapel-by-the-Sea was erected in 1903 and is the oldest former schoolhouse in the county. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and offers services during the high season, November – April. The building was constructed as a school and operated as such from 1903 – 1921. The building was also used for religious services when school was not in session and introduced regular Sunday services beginning in 1948.
Located adjacent to the chapel and steps from the beach, the Captiva Cemetery is the final resting place of many early settlers who came to Captiva in the late 1800s to homestead and farm. The cemetery is a testament to the harsh life that early settlers faced before the island became the lush vacation destination it is today. Listen to waves as you pass between the grave markers of historic settlers like William Herbert Binder, Jennie Upton Doane and Anita Belle Croft. Each marker is unique and many feature shells as part of their decoration. Learn more about the lives of some of the most storied early residents here.
We hope you’ll build time into your next visit to the islands to spend a little time exploring these lesser-known Sanibel & Captiva Islands attractions.