On the west coast of Florida, across from Ft Myers, a pair of barrier islands dot the penninsular coastline. Sanibel Island and its smaller northern neighbor, Captiva, are truly island paradises, reminscent of an earlier period. No concrete jungles, no WalMarts or mulitplex theaters, not even a traffic light mar the beauty and peace of these twin Florida jewels.
The larger main island, Sanibel, has a 13-mile long coastline yet is only 3 miles wide at its widest point. Home to 6500 yearly residents, the population balloons to 22,000 during the peak winter season. Summer is the slow time, peaceful and relaxed with good lodging prices, minimal wait times at the many restaurants, and little traffic on roads or on the bike paths.
Sanibel's main attraction is, of course, its beach. Considered one of the top two shelling beaches in the WORLD, finding beautiful and exotic shells is easy, fun, and almost addictive in Sanibel! Aided by the clean waters of the tranquil Gulf of Mexico and a current that moves the shells onto the beach, the shelling is incredibly plentiful. Thankfully, neither Sanibel nor Captiva was impacted by last year's oil spill and plentiful shells are there to be picked. Seabirds (pelicans, seagulls, sandpipers, herons, egrets, and the occasional majestic osprey) dot the beach, posing for your photos. From May to November, the evening sojourn from the beach to the the water of endangered sea turtle hatchlings reminds us of the beauty of nature. Most mornings and afternoons, beachgoers will be treated to sightings of acrobatic jumping dolphins as they frolick and feed!
But the beach is, by no means, the entire story of a vacation in Sanibel. Great restaurants abound to tempt your palate and they run the gamut from folksy island-style informal dining to fine gourmet. Pizza places, Italian food, steakhouses, burger & hot dog places, breakfast places, and, of course, a large collection of tempting seafood restaurants will have you searching for that next great place to eat!
The extensive bike paths that criss-cross Sanibel makes biking the island a must (no cars to dodge!) and 2 bike-rental shops offer traditional bikes as well as family surreys and segways, all at very reasonable prices! The interesting JN Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge can be visited by car, foot, or by bicycle--it's a nature photographer's dream, similar to the Everglades. Kayaking and canoeing are definitely water sports you may want to try or bring your own motor boat to ply the waters of the Gulf and fish. An old-fashioned small movie theater plays the latest films in charming comfort and several art galleries and antique stores call you in. Shopping in adorable individually-owned and unique shops makes finding that perfect gift even more enjoyable. Relax in several island spas or visit a little bookstore that reminds you of life years ago. And, while you are biking or driving around the island, get to the easternmost tip to see and photograph the historic Sanibel Lighthouse which first lighted the night sky in 1894, then head into the middle of the island to see the tiny historical cemetery which dates back to the early and mid-1900's.
For lodging options, you can consider a condo on the beach (1, 2, 3, and some 4-bedroom condos can be reserved), a private home (on the beach or inland, most with 1-month minimums), or wonderful island inns with cottages or comfortable rooms. Two large condominium resorts on Sanibel and one in Captiva offer tennis and one condo hotel even permits pets! For stays of 1 week or more, smaller individually-owned condo buildings offer you the feel of home, since they are each uniquely decorated in its owner's style and come equipped with everything you need--linens, fully-equipped kitchens, beach lockers, and some even with bicycles! Sit on your lanai and gaze at the Gulf in the morning with a cup of coffee you've just brewed and you'll know you're in heaven!
Sanibel and Captiva are great for a family reunion or company meeting since several resorts offer combos of 1-, 2-, or even 3-bedroom condos and meeting space. Since I've been visiting Sanibel and Captiva for over 20 years, I can direct you to a great lodging resort and give you tips on great restaurants and places to visit on both islands. This Florida paradise is just 3 hours from Miami/Ft Lauderdale in drive time but light years apart in ambiance. Call me soon to visit and book the best-kept secret in Florida vacations!