Sanibel-Captiva & Fort Myers Beach, FL  - Vacation Travel Guide

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Sanibel-Captiva & Fort Myers Beach Area Features

Museums, Historic Sites and Other Cool Places

Photo Credit: Edison and Ford Winter Estates

It’s true that Sanibel and Captiva Islands are renowned for their natural areas. Visitors relish the plant life, native animals, and clean beaches of these islands and Fort Myers Beach. Yet, there are some fascinating places that shouldn’t be overlooked. In these locations, visitors can learn about the area, step back into the past, and check out interesting buildings and structures. So, while you’re here, you may want to visit some of these great locations…

The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum

Serious seashell collectors and newcomers to the hobby will not want to miss the chance to explore the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum. Inside, thousands of shells are on display and many of them are uniquely stunning. It’s fascinating to see the different sizes, colors, and varieties of shells. Many visitors come for a brief time to “cool off” and end up staying for hours. Explore the collection, listen in at “Tank Talk” and (if you plan your visit accordingly) make a new piece of seashell jewelry. You’ll also be able to see artworks and learn how items such as cameos and buttons are made from shells that washed ashore. The museum is committed to preserving sea life and teaches patrons about responsible shell collecting. Beach walks are also offered for an additional fee. Join a scientist from the museum and comb the beaches discovering and learning about shells.

Sanibel Historical Museum and Village

When Sanibel Island was just being discovered by Americans as a habitable place to live, the original residents didn’t have it easy. Throughout the Sanibel Historical Museum and Village, relics of the pioneers who settled here are on display. Buildings that were erected in the late 1800s and early 1900s have been restored and are open for viewing. Each one contains an interesting story and artifacts from history. Visitors can sit in a chair that Theodore Roosevelt once sat on or explore a house that was ordered through a Sears & Roebuck catalog and delivered in 30,000 pieces. A schoolhouse and general store are also on the property. This complex presents a captivating look into local history.

Sanibel Island Lighthouse

On the southeastern tip of Sanibel Island stands the Sanibel Island Lighthouse. Built in 1884, this steel conical structure has been helping sailors navigate the local waters for over a century. Since it is still in use, visitors cannot climb to the top, but it is interesting to see. If you’re planning on visiting the lighthouse and its grounds, you may want to simultaneously plan on going to the beach. The U.S. Coast Guard owns the land and has made it a wildlife sanctuary. It is one of the most beautiful beaches on the island with lots of natural splendor. The Sanibel Fishing Pier located there has become a favorite place to drop a line in the water.

Captiva Island Historical Society History Gallery

This little gem of a showcase presents a wonderful story behind Captiva Island. It won’t take too long to explore this gallery, but everyone who does is glad they did so. In addition to learning about the Calusa Indians, early residents and the Santiva mail boat, you’ll discover facts about the island and see photographs of yesteryear that will make your stay more meaningful. 

Captiva Chapel-by-the-Sea

In 1901, a small schoolhouse, consisting of only one room, was built on Captiva Island. Students came from Sanibel and other nearby keys to attend class here. Within 20 years of its opening, a new schoolhouse opened and the original one became a Methodist mission church. Currently, it is a non-denominational church that serves the community through its mission work and holds regular services. The quaint building continually captures the interest of area visitors due to its historic nature, ethereal spirit, and it is simply a really cool place where many find a calming tranquility. The Chapel-by-the-Sea is currently on the National Register of Historic Places. If you’re visiting at Christmas, be sure to catch the chapel’s famous Christmas Eve service and join your voice with others to sing holiday carols.

The Mound House

Located on Estero Island in Fort Myers Beach, the Mound House is a favorite destination for a glimpse into the culture and natural resources of the area. The house itself takes a look at the changing times from the early 1900s to present day and the Case family who settled this land in western Florida. However, the big attraction at the Mound House takes us back 2,000 years to the time of the Calusa Indians. A mound of seashells was formed by the native people and forms a base of the house. It’s interesting to see the layers upon layers of shell that are contained in the mound—all of which have been discarded by the Calusa (or Shell) Indians. Artifacts from the area’s earliest residents have also been found on the property and are on display for all to see. Guided tours of the archaeological finds and also of the surrounding ecosystem are offered—the latter by kayak! The Mound House has something for everyone and is a wonderful experience in Fort Myers Beach.

Edison & Ford Winter Estates

Journey into the nearby city of Fort Myers to wander through the winter homes of two of America’s most prominent inventors—Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Nestled on the banks of the Caloosahatchee River, these two adjacent homes are part of a site that includes a museum, a laboratory, and a 20-acre garden. Take a tour through the historic homes that depict life in the early 1900s and are filled with authentic furnishings from the era. The Edison Ford Museum contains some of the creations these gentlemen designed such as Edison’s phonograph, telephone and light bulbs, and Ford’s original Model T vehicles. Then, visit the Edison Botanic Research Corporation (EBRC). Edison, Ford and also Harvey Firestone joined forces to establish this laboratory to find a better source of rubber. Tours are offered on select days so you may want to plan ahead. Finally, explore the sprawling grounds and walk among 1,700 remarkable plants including tropical fruit and banyan trees, an array of ancient cycads, and gorgeous orchids.

Whether you’re on one of the outlying islands or on the mainland, there are plenty of interesting places to visit for a remarkable look into the story of the area. We recommend stopping by one of these places to add a little culture to your Sanibel-Captiva Islands and Fort Myers Beach vacation.

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