Shelling Trip to Sanibel Island Beach, FL
VIBE: Romantic, Exclusive
Bowman's Beach, 1700 Bowmans Beach Rd, Sanibel, FL 33957
Updated December 15, 2022. Hurricane Ian damage repair is underway.The causeway is open to everyone: read more here. Some beaches will be opening in February and March 2023. Many resorts are not expected to fully open until late 2023. A good shelling beach can be hard to find. Even worse, they can be crowded. But not Sanibel Island. Sanibel is very much a nature preserve with no high rise condos and natural beaches.
Sanibel, including Bowman's Beach, is great for collecting shells, birdwatching, or just to walk and swim in the unspoiled outdoors. The best beaches are located on the western side of the island, facing the Gulf of Mexico. These are top beaches for swimming, shelling and sunsets. Even the causeway has great beach areas for watersports, fishing and swimming with no parking fees (although it will cost $6 to cross the causeway). White sand and calm waters make for the perfect Florida beach experience as far as the eye can see in Sanibel.
Sanibel Island Beach Sand
Many people have heard that Sanibel Island is a great place for finding shells and that's true. You have to be a careful when walking to the beachfront due to the amount of shells: they can be sharp! Known as the “Shelling Capital of the World,” Sanibel has unique sea currents which makes it the recipient of all kinds of seashells. Once you get close to the Gulf water, the sand becomes fairly smooth for wading and swimming.
For the best shells, go off the beaten path and check the moist sand near stumps or vegetation. It may take some time, but the seashell treasure can be worth it. Watch out for snakes, crabs and critters!
Sanibel Island Beach Water
The water is lovely and clear with more of a blue-green color than nearby Fort Myers Beach. In early December, it was still swimmable (in the 70's) which makes it the perfect winter getaway. Since we live in central Florida, the beaches closest to us are a little chilly in winter with water in the 60's. Sanibel Gulf water was a nice treat! This island beach was not crowded and we could walk in the water for miles. We give this beach 2 thumbs up (4 for both of us)!
Parking in Sanibel Island Beach
We stayed at Sanibel Beach Club, so we did not have to contend with any paid or public parking lots. There are a couple of lots that are nearby including Tarpon Bay Road Public Beach Parking (which has restrooms) and Bowman's Beach Rd. parking (which is quite small). Parking is not free. At Sanibel Island public beaches it costs $5.00 an hour (Captiva Island public beaches are the same). Cash and credit cards are accepted. If you choose to stop and enjoy your time on the causeway beaches, then it is free (aside from the $6.00 toll). Seagrass and shells can be an issue so swimmers may wish to wear aquatic shoes.
Sanibel Island Beach Activities
Looking for shells is a popular activity on Sanibel Island. You may even wish to sculpt some sand art like the sea turtle in the photograph. Swimming, fishing and walking are popular activities. Sanibel Island also has a lighthouse and nature preserves to explore. Biking is a very popular activity and it's a beautiful way to get around on the Island. It sure beats the traffic.
Look Out! This Could Happen...
We tried hard to find something negative about Sanibel Island, but it really comes down to this: it's almost perfect! But it has a few things in common with other Gulf coast beaches: the traffic. Getting to Sanibel takes some time no matter which direction you approach it. Once you get to the causeway, it's going to cost you $6.00 (return) to cross to the Island. Think you're home free after that? Sorry, but if you are exiting the beach at the end of the day you will have to line up with other vehicles to cross the bridge. It's crowded and slow. Sanibel Island has few traffic lights and no street lights. Many Florida oceanfront communities have adopted lighting codes to protect nesting sea turtles along beaches. Sea turtle hatchlings instinctively head toward light and Sanibel Island is not alone in wanting to protect Florida wildlife. So patience is needed as you exit this Florida beachfront paradise.
Trucks At This Beach
Wait...that's not a truck! Sorry, no trucks could be found at this beach. Staying at the resort, we looked around for great trucks but there were none worth mentioning. Quite frankly, our Toyota Tacoma was the best looking one around! So we thought we'd include the next best thing we could find: a boat load of happy people just offshore having a wonderful time. And, who wouldn't in this paradise?
What We Really Think About Sanibel Beach
Sanibel Island Beach is really a tranquil paradise. This Gulf beach destination is quieter than Siesta Key Beach and just about as pretty. We felt relaxed and were able to slow down, just walking along the shore and looking at shells. We had a delicious lunch at Cip's Place Island Restaurant. The grilled Mahi sandwich was delicious. People were friendly and we chatted with a couple from Missouri and another from Canada. The warm December water makes it the perfect place for visitors from up north looking to enjoy some special beach time. Heck, we live in Florida and we loved it! We know you will too.
(If your visit is just for the day and you only need one night, consider two lovely options within ten miles of the Sanibel Island beaches. (the first one might save you some bucks):
Hampton Inn & Suites Fort Myers Beach/Sanibel Gateway
Marriott Sanibel Harbour Resort & Spa
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Susan and Bruno are travel bloggers. We write about Florida beaches on every coast. Our opinions only.