For generations, people have been heading to Sanibel Island for vacations – why? After all, at 10 miles long, Sanibel and Captiva are just two tiny spots on a huge map. Florida’s Gulf coast alone is hundreds of miles long with beach after beach stretching up and down the peninsula and across the panhandle. Aren’t all Florida beaches the same?

Fortunately, as the thousands who have been on Sanibel Island vacations over the years can attest, Sanibel is not just another beach, and your vacation there is much more than just a trip to the beach!

Experts agree: In 2011, travel guru Arthur Frommer made a list of his favorite vacation destinations. Paris came in at #3. The tropical Pacific island of Bali was #2. Sanibel Island was #1. In his guidebook to Sanibel, the famous author described Sanibel and Captiva as “Florida’s unfussy cousins … tolerating none of the neon, amusement parks or high-rise condominiums cluttering most Florida beaches.” His praise for the islands is really a reflection of the carefully restrained development that has (or, more importantly, has not!) taken place.

Many resort communities are carefully planned to look natural – extensive landscaping is executed and lots of mature palm trees are poked into the sand around the golf courses. In essence, natural and pristine areas are an oasis in a primarily developed environment. On Sanibel Island, in contrast, the row of fine restaurants and shops along the town’s main street – Periwinkle Way – are themselves an oasis of civilization and glamour in a predominantly natural setting.

Even for those who have taken Sanibel Island vacations many times, there remain more than enough sights, activities and undiscovered places to keep their visit interesting. Although many will want to “just lay there” on the beach and relax – highly recommended by the way – Sanibel has much more to offer. Sanibel and Captiva are scattered with many attractions geared toward lovers of nature, nightlife, history, art and fine dining.

The J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is the largest and most well known of Sanibel’s natural treasures. By area, the refuge covers fully half of the island and allows hundreds of species of animals to flourish.

Shells representing 250 mollusk species have been documented on the shores of Sanibel Island, many of them collected by folks on vacations who would hardly suspect they are involved in scientific activity! The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum, located at 3075 Sanibel-Captiva Road, chronicles this colorful and fantastic array of natural sculpture. After viewing the shells in the museum, you’ll be fully primed to do some on-shore shelling on your own – maybe you’ll discover species #251!

Old Town Sanibel is one of the island’s top vacation destinations. Located near the lighthouse on the island’s eastern edge, the town has always been the modest but quaint and charming hub of activity on the island. Inns, shops, restaurants and other establishments line the streets, with giant bearded live oaks providing shade and beauty. Many visitors feel their Sanibel Island vacations would not be complete without a walking tour of the Old Town. Created by the Sanibel Historical Society, the “tour to yesteryear” is just over 2 miles long. Tour maps are available at the Visitor Center and the Historical Museum.