Most of the city proper is at the east end of the island. After the Sanibel causeway was built to replace the ferry in May 1963, the city was incorporated in 1974 and the residents asserted control over development by establishing the Sanibel Comprehensive Land Use Plan, helping to maintain a balance between development and preservation of the island’s ecology.
Due to easy causeway access, Sanibel is a popular tourist destination known for its shell beaches and wildlife refuges. More than half of the island is made up of wildlife refuges, the largest being J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. The Island hosts the Sanibel Historical Village and a variety of other museums and theaters, as well as many non-profit organizations like the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife, and the Sanibel Sea School.