Sanibel Is One of the Best Summer Vacation Destinations in the US

Jennifer MeyerBudget Travel, GuidesLeave a Comment

Sanibel Island Is The Best Summer Vacation Destinations!

Looking for the best island vacations that are actually affordable? Look no further!

Sanibel Island is one of my favorite summer vacation destinations because it’s budget-friendly and beautiful!

With an array of activities, Sanibel Island is perfect for couples, families, and groups!

This post contains everything you need to know to plan the perfect, affordable summer vacation of your dreams!

Are you excited? Good! You should be.

Let’s get started!

Goal:

This post is a budget guide to Sanibel Island, Florida.

The goal of this post is to teach you exactly how to save money on your trip to Sanibel!

This post will also inform you about fun activities and yummy restaurants to try during your visit.

Why Is Sanibel One of the Best Island Vacations?Summer Vacation Destinations

Sanibel is such a great island vacation because it’s easy to get to.

You can actually drive there if you want to.

Sanibel Island is located just off the coast of Florida, and it’s connected by a bridge.

Worried that it won’t feel like you’re actually on an island?

Well, don’t!

Sanibel Island has a laid-back atmosphere, friendly locals, and no high-rises.

Plus, like I’ve said before, Sanibel is actually an affordable summer vacation destination if you plan your trip properly!

Details, Details, and More Details

Before we begin talking about where to stay and what to do in Sanibel, there are some details we need to discuss.

How Many People Are Going?

This doesn’t seem important in the early stages of planning, but it is if you’re on a tight budget.

If you’re a young adult and/or don’t have children, I would absolutely recommend that you travel in a group.

When you travel in a group, you sleeping accommodations become much cheaper per person because you’re splitting it up between multiple individuals.

Traveling in a group (usually 5-6 people) has helped me visit tons of great cities for next to nothing!

So, if you’re not sure, you should go ahead and ask some friends if they’re interested in going to Sanibel with you!

Best Time of Year to Visit

Even though this seems counter-intuitive, the best time of year to visit Sanibel Island is in the summer.

Winter is actually Sanibel’s busy season.

So, avoid visiting in winter because the price of sleeping accommodations will increase.

Plus, getting a table at a decent restaurant will be a nightmare.

Just avoid that situation entirely by visiting in the summer.

How to Get to Sanibel Island

Drive

I definitely recommend that you drive if possible.

Driving can be a lot less expensive than flying, and, with bigger groups, it can be a lot easier and a ton of fun.

Friends can definitely make a long drive more fun, but if Sanibel is simply too far for you to drive to, there is another option!

FlySummer Vacation Destinations

Flying can be incredibly expensive, but it doesn’t have to be.

I recommend that you use Skyscanner and Booking Buddy to search for flights. I have found that they typically offer the best deals.

(Disclaimer: I am a Booking Buddy affiliate. This means that if you make a purchase through the link I provide I will be compensated at no cost to you. Please know that I only recommend products and services that I love and trust!)

If you’re already thinking that flying is too expensive, you might want to reconsider.

I was able to find a roundtrip, non-stop flight from New York to Fort Myers (the closest airport to Sanibel) for $187.

When using Skyscanner, make sure you are flexible with your dates that way you can get the best deal possible. Just remember to visit during the summer!

You should compare the prices of roundtrip tickets and individual tickets. Sometimes purchasing two tickets separately is cheaper than purchasing the roundtrip ticket.

Also, if you find that the cheapest flight has a stop at another airport, you should check the prices of individual flights.

For example, if you are flying from New York and the cheapest flights have you stopping in Atlanta and then flying from Atlanta to Ft. Myers, you should check how much a flight from New York to Atlanta is, and then you should check the price of a flight from Atlanta to Ft. Myers.

The total cost of those two flights isn’t always cheaper, but it’s worth a try!

Getting from the Airport to Sanibel Island

Your best option is to rent a car.

You can Uber if you’d like, but it probably won’t be much cheaper than renting a car, and you’ll have the ability to drive around Sanibel.

You can quickly check car rental prices on Booking Buddy.

It compares prices through different websites (including Expedia), so that you can find the best deal possible!

(Disclaimer: I am a Booking Buddy affiliate. This means that if you make a purchase through the link I provide I will be compensated at no cost to you. Please know that I only recommend products and services that I love and trust!)

I know this sounds expensive, but it doesn’t have to be!

If you’re traveling with a group of 6 and you need a car for 5 days, it will only cost each person $40 to rent a minivan.

Even though this seems like a lot, it will likely save you money in the long run.

And honestly, $40 per person for transportation for your entire vacation isn’t bad at all.

Where to Stay

Sanibel has plenty of beautiful hotels located right on the water, but as you can probably guess, these hotels aren’t always cheap.

In fact, Sanibel Island hotels tend to be the more expensive option, even when visiting during the island’s off season (summer).

Since hotels tend to be pricey, I would recommend that you check out some vacation rental sites.

However, if you'd like to, you can check out the deals on Booking.com right here.

(Please note that I am an affiliate of Booking.com. If you book a hotel using my link, I will be compensate at no cost to you. Please understand that I only recommend services and products that I love and trust!)

Airbnb

Perhaps one of the trendier vacation rental sites, Airbnb has many affordable options.

I personally prefer to rent an entire place vs a room, but if you want to save even more money and there are only two of your traveling, it’s definitely a viable option.

As far as renting an entire place goes, you can rent one from $65 per night!

Find a place to stay on Airbnb.

How to Get Around the Island

Drive

If you drove from your hometown or rented a car at the airport, you can definitely use your vehicle to get around Sanibel!

There are public beaches where you can park (Bowman’s Beach), if you don’t have access to a private beach entrance.

Also, there is plenty of parking at most of the restaurants.

Bike

If your budget allows for it, you should definitely consider renting bikes!

When I was in Sanibel, we biked around the entire island!

We would bike to lunch and bike through wildlife preserves!

It was the perfect way to leisurely explore the island.

However, when we were short on time (or super hungry), we would just hop into the car and drive.

What to Do in Sanibel Island

The BeachSummer Vacation Destinations

Cost: Free

Can you even vacation on an island without spending gobs of time at the beach?

I didn't think so!

Don't be shy about visiting the beach!

If you're lucky enough to have booked a place with private beach access, definitely take advantage of it.

However, if you don't have private access, you can visit Bowman's Beach. It's totally free and there's parking!

Kayaking

Cost: Free (if you have access to Kayaks through your rental) - $33 (for double kayak for 2 hours).

You may have access to kayaks through your Airbnb, so make sure to check!

We had access to kayaks through our vacation rental, which was super nice.

However, you can always rent them, but that obviously adds another expense to your vacation.

But, the cost might be worth it if you’re interested in spending an afternoon on the water!

We had a great time kayaking!

Remember to wear sunscreen because you will bake in the sun!

Also, there are alligators in the channels, so be cautious.

Don’t let the gators keep you from kayaking though!

There are two places you can rent kayaks from on the island: Tarpon Bay Explorers and Castaways Canoe and Kayak Rental Services.

J.N. “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge

best island vacations

J.N. "Ding" Darling Wildlife Refuge

Cost: $5 per vehicle, $1 per bike, or $1 per pedestrian.

This was the highlight of my trip to Sanibel, and I think you’ll love it too!

You can drive, bike, or walk through the refuge.

Personally, I recommend biking.

As you might expect, you have the opportunity to see a lot of great wildlife.

There are birds, alligators, tiny crab, fish, and much more than you have the chance to see!

It’s very inexpensive, and before you begin your journey, you can visit the information center to get an idea of the wildlife you have the opportunity to see.

Make sure you wear sunscreen and bring water if you’re biking or walking. The path is not well shaded.

Learn more about the wildlife refuge here.

Watch the SunsetSummer Vacation Destinations

Cost: Free!

The sunsets on Sanibel are stunning!

You can get a great view from Bowman’s Beach.

It can be difficult to make time for the sunset, especially when dinner takes a while, but I recommend making a conscious effort to see at least one!

Go Shelling

Summer Vacation Destinations

Seashell Found at Bowman's Beach

Cost: Free!

If you love shells, you absolutely must walk along the beach and look for shells!

The gulf coast side of Sanibel Island receives beautiful shells in great condition!

Make sure you bring a bag with you because you’ll likely find a ton of awesome shells!

I love collecting shells and then using them to make a beautiful decoration for my home. This makes a great, cheap souvenir!

Want to ideas on how to use the shells you find? Check out some of these awesome ideas on Pinterest! While you’re there, don’t forget to follow me!

Visit a Museum

Shell Museum

Cost: $15 per adult; $9 per youth (11-17); $7 per child (5-10); Children under 5 are free; Active Military are free.

The Shell Museum is a little pricey, and when I was in Sanibel, we didn’t go.

So, I can’t tell you if it’s worth the $15 per adult.

However, if you love love love shells, it might be perfect for you!

Learn more about the Shell Museum here.

Sanibel Historical Museum and Village

Cost: $10 per adult; Kids (under 18) are free.

This museum is a little bit cheaper than the Shell Museum, and you’ll learn more about the history of Sanibel, which is neat.

On my last visit, we didn’t have time to take a tour of this museum, we were otherwise occupied, but it looks awesome!

It’s definitely on my list of things to do next time I’m in Sanibel!

Learn more about the museum here.

Shop (Duh)!

Sure, you’re traveling on a budget, but who says that you can’t buy a souvenir?

There are tons of cute, locally owned shops that have something perfect for you!

I’m pretty sure that most of the shops on Sanibel are locally owned, which is awesome!

Since you are on a budget, here are some coupons to help you out!

The Best (and Worst) Restaurants on the Island

The Island Cow

Must Try!

The Island Cow is a quirky restaurant with delicious food!

All of their decor is cow-themed (so cute!).

It was a little eccentric, which made it one of my favorite restaurants on the island.

Their food is delicious! Seriously.

It can be a little pricey for dinner (around $20 a plate), but lunch is more reasonable (around $10-$15 per plate).

Instead of bread, they serve muffins, which are complimentary (yay)! Although, the muffins taste an awful lot like cupcakes without the icing.

They actually started a huge and hilarious debate at the lunch table: is the icing the only difference between muffins and cupcakes? All six of us went back and forth with unsourced facts to back up our claims. I was on the side that cupcakes don’t need to have icing to be qualified as a cupcake, but I lost the debate. 😂

It was so enjoyable that we ate there twice (once for lunch and again for breakfast)!

Read the menu here.

The Lazy Flamingo

Don’t Bother…

(We visited the one on the west side of the island, but it looks like there is also one on the east side.)

The Lazy Flamingo was an interesting restaurant to say the least.

I have never been to a restaurant where you sit at a table before ordering and don't have a server. You had to go up to the bar to order food and drinks (both non-alcoholic and alcoholic).

Since we were a party of 6, we couldn't sit at the bar, so we sat at a high-top table outside on uncomfortable stools.

After we placed our order, we waited forever for our food.

In actuality, we probably waited about 45 minutes, which is still plenty long (but not forever).

I think it felt longer since we were starving. Okay, again, not really, but you know I mean!

We were also uncomfortable on those terrible stools, which probably made us more impatient.

Okay, now that I’m done whining, I should note that this was a small but busy restaurant.

There was probably only one or two people working in the kitchen, so the wait was understandable, but not exactly what we were looking for.

The Lazy Flamingo has great reviews, so I don’t know if we just visited on a bad night, or if everyone else is taking crazy pills.

Although, the prices are pretty reasonable all things considered.

You can get a burger for $11, which is decent. Of course, the seafood is more expensive.

I’m not sure that I would return to the Lazy Flamingo, so I can’t in good conscious recommend that you spend your money there…

Just in case, you can read their menu here.

The Mucky Duck

Must Try!

The Mucky Duck is actually located on Captiva Island, which is right next to Sanibel.

Still, The Mucky Duck had to make this list because it has such a fun atmosphere, and the food is fantastic.

I know it sounds like a total dive, but it’s not; it’s the exact opposite!

The wait staff is friendly and goofy! They like to play little pranks on you, which is tons of fun!

Oh, and it's a British Pub, so seriously get the fish and chips, it is so good!

I made the mistake of ordering a burger, which was great as well, but I tried my boyfriend's fish and chips, and I regretted my decision!

Read their menu here.

Watch their beach cam here.

The Over Easy Café

Must Try!

The Over Easy Café was easily our favorite breakfast spot.

They have yummy food, a friendly and attentive wait staff, and the perfect outdoor dining section.

We ate outside every time we went there! It was shaded from the sun, and there were fans to help move the air around but not so much that it was difficult to keep our napkins on the table.

Read their menu here.

Make Your Own Food

Must Try!

If you’ve rented a Airbnb with a kitchen, this can help you save a ton of money!

I know; you’re on vacation.

But get this, it doesn’t have to be time consuming!

Pick up some frozen dinners, hamburgers, hotdogs, or anything quick and easy that catches your eye!

Or, if you prefer staying in for lunch and going out to dinner, grab some lunch meat, bread, condiments, and chips for super quick and easy lunches!

Now, you may find that the groceries on the island are more expensive than what you’re used to, but it’s all good because you’re still saving money!

Also, don’t forget to keep track of how much you spent on groceries so that everyone in your group can split the bill at the end of the trip!

We usually purchased our food from Jerry’s Foods, which is in an adorable little complex! But, you can also shop at Baily’s General Store, if you prefer.

Joey’s Custard

Must Try!

As you probably guessed, this is an ice cream shop.

You actually can order sandwiches there, if you’re interested.

Anyway, back to talking about ice cream (the real reason why you go to an ice cream shop)!

They have fantastic ice cream and custard.

They also sell alcoholic ice cream…just sayin’! I should have tried it, but I didn’t! 😒 So, you should try it and let me know how it is!

The Joey’s also has bored games and puzzles that you can play with while you enjoy your treat!

I love that because it made our ice cream stops even more fun!

There was this one brain teaser puzzle that was so frustrating! We spent way too much time trying to figure it out… Only to end up asking the guy working if he could show us how to do it.

Read their menu here.

Recap

  • Best Time of Year to Visit

    The summer is the best time of year to visit Sanibel Island. Winter is the busy season, so make sure you avoid it!

  • Cost

    Sanibel Island is pretty affordable in the summer. You can get an Airbnb for less than $100 per night. Sanibel has a lot of free activities. Food is the most expensive part.

  • Best for Couples, Families, or Groups?

    Sanibel is perfect for couples, families, and groups. However, if you want to save some money, I recommend you travel with some friends who are willing to split the costs!

  • Best Photo Opportunities

    Sanibel Island has picture-perfect sunsets! Make sure you grab some stunning photos of the sunset and your friends and family watching the sunset!

  • Restuarants

    Definitely visit the Island Cow, The Mucky Duck, Over Easy Cafe, Joey’s Custard. Skip the Lazy Flamingo. Want to save money? Cook some of your meals!

  • Activities

    Free: Watch the sunset, go shelling, and enjoy the beach! Cheap: Wildlife Refuge. Pricier: Visit a museum, go shopping, and rent a kayak!

    I hope you enjoyed this budget guide to Sanibel Island!

    It is such a great summer vacation destination, and I hope you enjoy it as much I did!

    If you enjoyed this post, you will likely also enjoy this budget guide to St. Augustine, Florida!

    Looking for more budget-friendly destinations? Check out my Budget Travel Destinations board on Pinterest!

    Don't forget to follow me while you're there!

    Until next time,

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