Sanibel Island is best known around the world as a great vacation spot, but the island itself has a rich, diverse history. Read on to learn why Sanibel might be even more special than you think!


Who were Sanibel Island’s Original Settlers?

Sanibel’s native population were the Calusa indians, who were believed to be residents as early as 2500 years ago. These natives were the first to take advantage of the abundance of seafood (and sea shells!) that Sanibel is still known for. Their diets would have included clams, oysters, welchs, and conchs – whose empty shells were then used as tools and decoration.


How did Sanibel get its name?

Legend has it that Sanibel Island was discovered by the Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon while he was searching for the fountain of youth! Before being shortened to “Sanibel” Ponce de Leon originally called the island “Santa Isybella” after Queen Isabella. While he may not have found an actual fountain, sunshine, beautiful scenery, and life by the ocean certainly all help keep one active and youthful!

Ponce De Leon Painting

Photo courtesy of


When was Sanibel Island discovered?

Sanibel was “added to the map” in 1513 by Ponce de Leon, but it had in fact been populated for roughly 2500 years by the Calusa indians.  


When did Sanibel Island become developed?

Until about 1960, the isolation of the island, lack of air conditioning, and unchecked mosquito population precluded the island from larger-scale development. In 1963, the Sanibel Causeway was built, which allowed for further development, but also created externalities that concerned environmentalists. Soon after, the island was incorporated as a city so that development restrictions could be put into place, and much of the island’s natural beauty would be protected. You can see some of our island’s original buildings and learn more about early settlers at the Sanibel Historical Museum & Village

Sanibel Schoolhouse

Photo courtesy of the Sanibel Historical Museum & Village


How big is Sanibel Island?

Sanibel Island is about 12 miles long and three miles wide – a total of 33.25 square miles.


What is the population of Sanibel Island?

Up until 1960, when island development really started to pick up, Sanibel Island’s population remained at around 100 people. In 2017, the population of Sanibel was 7,363!


What’s the weather like on Sanibel Island?

On Sanibel, we are fortunate to have beautiful weather most of the year – even daytime winter temperatures average around 70 degrees. You can learn more about what to expect of Sanibel weather here.


How many public beaches are there on Sanibel Island?

There are 6 public beaches on Sanibel Island including Bowman’s Beach, Lighthouse Beach, Gulfside City Park, Tarpon Beach, Blind Pass Beach, as well as the Causeway Beaches. To learn more about the specific amenities available at each beach, visit the Sanibel-Captiva Chamber website.


What percentage of Sanibel Island is residential?

Early on in Sanibel Island’s development, nature and wildlife activists recognized the need to preserve the island’s natural beauty. In fact, roughly 67% of the island is protected as conservation land, including world famous J.N. Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge! This leaves 33% of the island available for residential and commercial use. In addition to the efforts to protect land, Sanibel Island has put into place a cap on the number of saleable lots on the island! This means Sanibel will not suffer the ill effects of overpopulation suffered by some other popular islands.


What’s the deal with Sanibel and seashells?

In the world of seashell collecting, Sanibel Island is world famous! In fact, the bent-at-waist position commonly assumed by people collecting shells is affectionately known as “the Sanibel Stoop.” Because of its position on the Gulf of Mexico, as well as the shape of the island relative to the ocean current, Sanibel makes the perfect place to gather loads of lovely seashells! To learn more about shelling on Sanibel Island, including where to look, types of shells to look for, and tips for successful shelling, check out our blog post on the topic!

Sanibel Seashells


Sanibel Island – fun to learn about, more fun to experience!

For more about Sanibel’s rich history, visit the Sanibel Historical Museum’s website or the Sanibel-Captiva Chamber of Commerce. But we always find it’s better to learn through first hand experience! If you’re thinking of visiting or moving to the island, download our FREE Guide to Moving to Sanibel or get in touch with Ann Gee to learn about our current listings at 239-850-0979.