Sanibel Island: In Search of Summer & Seashells

Looking for the best camping on tropical Sanibel Island to escape your winter blues? The only game in town is the Periwinkle Park & Campground. A city within a city, Periwinkle Park & Campground is loaded with Florida charm and 50's kitsch. Think Main Street, USA meets Disney.

Periwinkle Park & Campground
GPS:
26.44399, -82.0427
CATEGORY:
Camping

Camping on Sanibel Island: Periwinkle Park and Campground

The posted – and memorable – 7  1/2 MPH speed limit on crushed-shell streets takes you through dressed out mobile/modular homes and a tidy RV Park on your way back to the primitive tent campsites.  Palm trees and native flora are plentiful in and around the slips which aid in privacy. Our site even had a resident two-foot green iguana that kept us company our entire stay. A central park with pond is home to tropical rescue birds of all types: budgies, macaws, cockatoos, love birds, and an African grey parrot. Ride your bikes to purchase a quarter's worth of food and feed the exotic ducks, geese, and swans, plus a local ibis or two. Regularly scheduled bird shows give residents and seasonal guests a close up encounter with these exotic creatures.

Tent and bikes at Periwinkle Park and Campground, Sanibel Island, Florida

Best described as seventy-five percent modular homes and twenty-five percent RV, Periwinkle Park & Campgrounds does host a number of electric and non-electric tent-only campsites. These are tucked along the Periwinkle Drive edge of the campground. Forewarned: Not much privacy between campsites, no wi-fi, no dogs, and you will hear local traffic and trucks delivering to the shops next door. However, the owners run an otherwise quiet, orderly, and clean campground with $2/10lb bag of ice, propane, cheap laundry rates, and a seemingly endless supply of hot water in the showers. They even give you a golf-cart escort to your site when you first check in.

Seven Great things to do on Sanibel Island

1. Seashells

Mother and four daughters looking for seashells at sunset on Sanibel Island, Florida

The real draw for most campers is the world-class shelling just half a mile from Periwinkle Park Campground.  An easy walk or cycle gets you beachside and shelling the famous Gulf shores in no time.  Winter months bring storms, and thus the best time to shell on Sanibel.  Sanibel and Captiva Islands consistently rank as one of the top destinations in the world for shelling.

"Find ecstasy in life; the mere sense of living is joy enough" ~ Emily Dickinson

Like most other popular activities the best time is the early morning, before the crowds pick up.  Otherwise look to start shelling about an hour before low-tide.  Sanibel Island's building height restrictions combined with no street parking effectively throttles severe overcrowding of the beaches. That being said, the public beaches resemble the Jersey Shore anywhere within 100 yards of the entrances during the Christmas/New Year break. Do yourself a favor and walk a little extra, and you'll have some more space, better shelling, and a clear view of the gorgeous Gulf waters. Or better yet, plan to visit before or after the holiday rush.

Pink flamingo in front of mobile home at Periwinkle Park and Campground, Sanibel Island, FL

2. Sanibel Island Bike Rental

Don't think twice about getting bicycles.  In most instances, it is a true time saver as well as just great family fun! If you are looking for convenience and have more money than time, then Billy's Bike rental at $40/wk is your choice.  Just half a mile from Periwinkle Park Campground gets you to their front door and you'll be on your way.

Finnimores rental bike leaning against tree at Periwinkle Park campsite on Sanibel Island, FL

If you have more time than money, then take a stroll two miles west to Finnimore's Bike & Beach Rentals.  The super friendly staff will get you all set up at just $30/wk and you'll have gotten a pleasant first-hand introduction to the local shops on the way. When you glide past Billy's on your way back to camp with that extra Hamilton or Jackson in your pocket, you'll be even happier. Don't want to walk - call ahead and arrange bike delivery right to the campsite. 

A dedicated bicycle/pedestrian path runs the full length of the 14-mile long Sanibel Island from the Lighthouse Beach on the east end to Bowman's Beach on the west. What's more, parking is $5/hr at any of the public beaches while the abundant bike parking is free which will save you more cash. Really, the whole island is set up to accommodate cycling so take full advantage knowing that the island is flat – really flat – so with relatively little effort you can get anywhere on the off-street pedestrian paths. Strictly enforced laws grant the right-of-way to pedestrians and cyclists which makes getting around even easier and safer.

3. The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum

Considering Sanibel's economy has been built on the back of its world-class shelling, it's no wonder that the island is home to the world's only museum devoted entirely to mollusks.

Mother and four daughers looking at exhibits at the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum, Sanibel Island, FL

The main floor of the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum is what you might expect- impressive collections of local shells (including the prized junonia) as well as spectacular shells from all over the world including record-holding specimens. Other exhibits range from displays showing how the shell form influenced architectural design to the shell’s role in jewelry and currency.

Educational opportunities abound.  Participate in an information scavenger hunt and earn some prizes. Two films that run in the main floor theater cover the complex biology of these fascinating animals.  We highly recommend the live tank talk on the lower level.  Hosted by the resident zoologist, it is  so completely entertaining, you'll want to stay for a second showing. Who knew mollusks could be so funny? Turns out they do a great deal of mollusk research and have plans to break ground in 2019 for the new mollusk aquarium and museum expansion.

TIP: Consider the family membership to the museum- it includes the North American Reciprocal Musem (NARM) benefits which gets you free admission to the Edison and Ford Winter Estates in nearby Fort Myers plus over 1000 other museums across North America.


4. Ice Cream Stop - Pinocchio's Original Italian Ice Cream

Interior of Pinocchios Original Italian Ice Cream shop on Sanibel Island, FL

We at Campfire Delight admit we have a certain 'weakness' for ice cream and pie and have even been known to substitute these delicacies for a meal when the time seems right. Sanibel Island was no exception.

If you share our passion then Pinocchio's Original Italian Ice Cream on Periwinkle Drive needs to make your list for a refreshing dessert. Once you get past the unfortunate use of Papyrus in their logo (never a good thing) and the long line (always a good thing) there are a variety of handcrafted, small batch flavors to delight every member of your team.  Sanibel inspired favors like Sanibel Krunch, Dirty Sand Dollar, Wedding Bells, Gator Stew, Berrywinkle on Periwinkle, Flying Pig, and Couch Potato are some of the more exotic but the freezer also has classic flavors like Cookies & Cream, Double Chocolate, and Heath Bar Crunch. No matter your choice, our recommendation is to make a meal of it and get your selection served up in a crisp, handmade waffle cone and call it a day.

What makes Pinocchio's truly exceptional is that all of their delicacies (ice cream, gelato, frozen yogurt, sorbet, sherbet and Italian custards) are handmade on-site daily. The serving sizes are generous and the staff friendly.

5. J. N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge

Two teen girls riding bikes in front of J.N.Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge signage on Sanibel Island, FL

Like everything else Sanibel Island, J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge is best experienced at a slow pace, either by foot, bicycle, or kayak. The slower pace and level of immersion allows you to see things that you'd probably otherwise miss, and it's how we suggest that you take in the Ding Darling wildlife refuge.

Start with a visit to the free Visitor & Education Center and explore the educational displays and interactive exhibits. Fill up your water bottles and either bike or drive the 4-mile one way Wildlife Drive for excellent wildlife viewing ($5/vehicle or $1/biker over 15 years old). Note: Wildlife Drive is closed Fridays.

You might not realize it but the refuge actually takes up better than half of the landmass of Sanibel Island's north facing edge. The Indigo Trail - with its flat and well groomed surface – is a shorter introduction into the parks interior which is perfectly suited as a hike or bike.  

If you are a birder, then Ding Darling is a must see location. Depending on the time of year you visit, there are no fewer than 250 species on the park's bird checklist.  You can be assured of adding a few to your life list and experiencing them up-close and personal.  

6. Lighthouse Beach Park (East End)

Two people sitting in shade of sea grape trees watching the ocean at Lightouse Beach park, Sanibel Island, FL

In what turned into a surprising favorite, the Lighthouse Beach is the closer of the two public beaches to Periwinkle Park Campground at just two easy-peasy miles.  Bring along a few camp chairs, a beach blanket, and some snacks and tuck yourself back into the shade of the sea grape trees for a beautiful afternoon shelling and playing in the San Carlos Bay waters. If you happen to be there during the winter months, you might even be treated to a visit from the wintering bottlenose dolphins fishing just off shore.

Bike or hike to avoid the hassle and $5/hour parking fees and then enjoy the aforementioned Pinocchio's Original Italian Ice Cream guilt free on your way back to camp. (see map below).


7. Bowman's Beach (West End)

Like most of the beaches on Sanibel Island, Bowman's Beach at the west end of Sanibel is best enjoyed in our never-to-be-humble opinion either early in the day and at low-tide for the best shelling, or late in the day for a magnificent sunset.  If you go mid-day expect large crowds (think Jersey Shore or Myrtle Beach) within 100 yards of the access points.

While it's a longer trek from Periwinkle Park Campground, we'd still highly suggest riding your bikes and planning stops along the way at J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge or the National Shell Museum.  Plus you'll have ample opportunity to experience some roadside wildlife attractions like gopher tortoises and various lizards that wander out of the bordering refuge, but watch for ant hills if you stop on the side of the bike path.

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Close up headshot of large green iguana
Girl in front of the setting winter sun on Sanibel Island beach in Florida
Ocean surf foam lapping on the seashell covered beach on Sanibel Island, Florida
Four people riding bikes single file on Indigo Trail in the J. N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island FL
Fishermen fishing at J. N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Rufuge, Sanibel Island, FL
Roseate spoonbill fluffing feathers at J. N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Rufuge, Sanibel Island, FL
Family of four looking at sand crab sculpture with seashells on Sanibel Island, FL
Sanibel Island lighthouse with Christmas wreath in front of a white picket fence in Florida
Close up of a gopher tortoise in J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, FL
Elevation
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3
Check-in/out
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12pm/12pm
Cost/Night*
icon cost per night to camp
$58-78
Showers
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Hot
Restroom
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Flush
Max People / Vehicles
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6/1
Visitors Center
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No
Camp Hosts
icon for camp hosts
Yes
Best Site
icon for best camp site
# Sites
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40
Open Year Round
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Yes
Laundry
icon for best camp site
Yes
*Tent campsites only; accurate at time of publication
1119 Periwinkle Way
Sanibel Island
FL
33957
Contact:
periwinklepark@aol.com
/
239-472-1433
No credit cards, dogs, or campfires. Clean bathrooms. 12 tent sites are non electric, 28 with electric. On site ice and laundry reasonably priced. Rent bikes for easy access to shopping, restaurants, and beaches.
3075 Sanibel Captiva Rd
Sanibel
FL
33957
Hours: 10am-5pm daily; check website for holiday hours
Phone: 239.395.2233
Admission: $15/18+ years; $9/12-17 years; $7/5-11 years; Free for active military
Exhibits: Local and global seashell collections; 30 min mollusk film; live tank talks; scavenger hunt, shell arts and crafts
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2353 Periwinkle Way
Sanibel
FL
33957
Hours: 9am-4pm daily
Phone: 239-472-5577
Rental: bikes, beach equipment, paddleboards, kayaks - delivery service available
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1 Wildlife Dr.
Sanibel
FL
33957
Wildlife Drive hours: 7am - 5:30pm daily; closed Fridays; $5/vehicle; $1/biker or pedestrian
Vistor Center hours: 9am-4pm daily; Free
Indigo Trail Hours: sunrise - sunset; $1/biker or pedestrian; no vehicles
Bailey Tract Hours: sunrise - sunset - free admission
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362 Periwinkle Way
Sanibel
FL
33957
Hours: 7:30am-10pm daily
Generous scoops of handcrafted Italian ice cream
Phone: 239-472-6566
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3559 Sanibel Captiva Road
Sanibel
FL
33957
Summer Mass (May-Oct): Sat Vigil 5pm; Sun 9:30am
Winter Mass (Nov-Apr): Sat Vigil 5pm; Sun 8:30am & 10:30am
Daily Mass: Wed, Thur, Fri 8:30am
Phone: 239.472.2763
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