Leave your devices at the door when you visit Florida’s Sanibel and Captiva islands.

J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, photo by Susan Rydberg/Thinkstock

Close your eyes. You’re reclined in a beach chair on a long stretch of powdery white sand. Out in the water before you, a pod of wild dolphins turns somersaults in the waves. You rise, walk to the ocean’s edge and dip your fingers in, only to catch a sand dollar in your outstretched hand. Around you, thousands of seashells tinkle in the tide like a giant wind chime. Relaxed yet? This isn’t a guided meditation—it’s real life on Sanibel and Captiva islands, just across the bridge from Fort Myers. Explore these unspoiled isles tip-to-tip by bike, spot resident manatees from trailside lookouts and roam the shell-strewn beaches.

Here are the top things to do.

Visit the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge

Photo by Jim Bennight

Go here to see gators, river otters and hot-pink-winged roseate spoonbills. Across the street, the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) is a wildlife hospital where you can watch the patients’ progress.


Find a junonia shell on the beach

Photo by Allensphoto/Thinkstock

Anyone who finds a coveted junonia shell gets their picture in the local paper.

Take a water taxi to Cabbage Key Restaurant

Photo courtesy of Cabbage Key Restaurant

Cabbage Key Restaurant is said to be the inspiration for Jimmy Buffett’s song, “Cheeseburger in Paradise.” Marvel at the 70,000 dollar bills covering every inch of wall and ceiling.


This is an excerpt of an article by Natasha Mekhail that originally appeared in WestJet Magazine.