Sanibel Lighthouse, Sanibel Island, Florida (Stockbyte/Getty)

Shell-covered beach in Sanibel, Florida (Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau)

Sanibel Lighthouse, Sanibel Island, Florida (Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau)

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What to do in Sanibel Island

Set off the coast of southwest Florida and extending into smaller Captiva Island, the 12-mile-long barrier island of Sanibel defies the mainland in many ways, but mostly in its stand against overdevelopment. You won’t find stoplights or street signs, chain restaurants beyond one Dairy Queen, or even many buildings taller than the palm trees. Instead, Sanibel gives every reason to unplug from the modern world for a momentary soak in natural, sometimes quirky wonder. The Gulf side boasts famously seashell-laden beaches where hours can be spent in search of free souvenirs—coquinas, conchs, scallops, and scotch bonnets. For a brilliant display of raw nature, set out via kayak through Tarpon Bay at J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, paddling through mangroves, past jumping fish, and under soaring birds like the American bald eagle.

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