Sanibel Island is famous as one of the world's best shelling grounds, a function of the unusual east–west orientation of the island's south end. Just as the tide is going out and after storms, the pickings can be superb, and shell seekers performing the telltale "Sanibel stoop" patrol every beach carrying bags of conchs, whelks, cockles, and other bivalves and gastropods. (Remember, it's unlawful to pick up live shells.) Away from the beach, flowery vegetation decorates small shopping complexes, pleasant resorts and condo complexes, mom-and-pop motels, and casual restaurants. But much of the two-lane road down the spine of the island is bordered by nature reserves that have made Sanibel as well known among bird watchers as it is among seashell collectors.Captiva Island, connected to the northern end of Sanibel by a bridge, is quirky and engaging. At the end of a twisty road lined with million-dollar mansions lies a delightful village of shops, eateries, and beaches.
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Things You Can't Miss
Examine a splendid array of shells at the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum. Learn to identify the ones you’ll find in such abundance on these two islands.
Jeff Greenberg / Alamy
Take a spin through this 5,000-acre refuge, part of the largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystem in the U.S. Two hundred ninety-one species of migratory birds stop off here.
Carl Hanninen / Alamy
More than 95 percent of the dolphin cruises spot the marine mammals. For a relaxing end to the day, take the Sunset Serenade Cruise and sip a cocktail as the sun goes down.
Pep Roig / Alamy
Try these 10 easy tips from the pros on your next vacation.
This quiet, wide-open beach is known for its abundance of beautiful, unbroken shells. Practice the “Sanibel stoop” as you hunt for tropical trophies.
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