If you live in Florida, you are within striking distance of the destination that travel author, Arthur Frommer, ranked as his favorite place. He listed Sanibel Island, a barrier island just off Fort Myers, above even Bali and Paris.
Although the island says this prestige gives them a sense of security, with the attention of the world headed in its direction, perhaps Sanibel and neighboring Captiva will not remain peaceful for long. Already the local Chamber of Commerce is recording record numbers of visitors in just the first few weeks of the season.
Fortunately the island has long had a strict building code, enabling these barrier islands to remain unspoiled hidden treasures. The island's natural beauty includes long shell-covered white sand beaches and colorful tropical gardens around the well-maintained beach homes. The Gulf waters are clear and warm making paddling, swimming and fishing a pleasure. The island is also home to many rare birds, particularly in the migrating season, thanks to the protected reserves within the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
The island is reached via a new bridge, completed in 2007, and there is a toll to get onto the island. There is also a further charge if you wish to visit the Wildlife Reserve, so it is not a cheap place to check out. However, if you plan to bring a picnic and make a day of it, there is plenty to see and do for your money.
Things to Do on Sanibel Island
Sanibel Island is best known for its shells that wash up ankle deep along the gentle waterline of this Gulf Coast paradise. The removal of live shells is strictly prohibited, so check each “dwelling” before you pop it in your bag. These beaches offer some of the best shelling in the world, from magnificent conch to tiny pink pearl shells, and everything in between. Visitors walk along the shore bent over and addicted to the next shell…and the next. It is such a common sight that visitors are said to be performing the “Sanibel Stoop”!
If you want to see some of the best specimens, visit the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum and you can learn how to recognize some of the shells and learn about their former inhabitants. Admission is currently $9 for adults and includes access to the many exhibits. The Great Hall of Shells has displays of shells in family groups and claims to have one third of the 10,000 species found all over the world.
The J.N.Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge protects 5,200 acres of Sanibel Island with its mangroves and dependent wildlife and birds. Broad trails run for 5 miles through the reserve and visitors can explore on foot, bicycle, tram, car or kayaks to see alligators, great anhingas, egrets, snowy egrets, ospreys, roseate spoonbills, bald eagles, wood storks, tri-colored herons, greater and little blue herons. The refuge was formed in memory of cartoonist J.N.Ding Darling by his family and friends. It is still run by many volunteers along with the professional staff.
Here’s a great book for those visiting Fort Myers, Sanibel or Naples in southwest Florida
It’s also available as a downloadable ebook from Amazon:
Days Out Around Fort Myers (Days Out in Florida)