Sanibel’s main drag, Periwinkle Way, runs under a canopy of whispery pines and gnarled oaks so thick they almost obscure the small signs for chic shops and restaurants. This ambiance is the work of the locals who have worked to keep their piece of paradise intact. In fact, more than half of the island has been preserved in the form of a wildlife reserve.
J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is home to all sorts of different animals such as alligators, racoons, manatees, armadillos, and hundreds of different species of birds. You have the option of riding, biking, walking, canoeing, or kayaking through the park. An absolute must see while you’re visiting this beautiful island! If you feel like going off the map a little, you can always go sight-seeing on your own. The Sanibel area is a vital area for wildlife, and many opportunities exist to spy on animals in their natural setting. A trip to Lighthouse Beach early in the morning almost always guarantees a fantastic dolphin sighting! This was my favourite part of the whole trip, I absolutely love dolphins. They are such a majestical animal. They often like to swim and jump in the wake of large boats, and they will perform the most amazing acrobatics, it’s hard to believe their not trained! The best part, for me, was stopping on the causeway beach to watch the dolphins play in the warmer shallow water. So be sure to keep an eye out while crossing the causeway, because there is almost always a show going on beneath you!
Aerial view of Lighthouse Beach, Sanibel Island, Florida
Captiva Island, sister island to Sanibel, is connected to Sanibel by a small bridge, known locally as blind-pass. Captiva feels, and is, more remote than it’s sister Sanibel.
You’ll find none of the neon signs, amusement parks, or high-rise condominiums that clutter most beach resorts in the state. But don’t let the humble appearance of the Island fool you, Captiva Island is also home to some of the most beautiful mansions in the world. Although Captiva is less populated than Sanibel, the island is still hopping with a village connected by beach houses and resorts of all sizes and vintages. Much like Sanibel, there is only one way on or off the Island and that is the bridge at blind pass. Turner Beach, at blind pass is also a great location for shelling due to the fact that a nearby inlet allows for a large volume of seashells to collect here. Turner Beach is also highly popular at sunset as it faces due west and provides an amazing view. Visit one of Captiva’s beachfront restaurants, just over the bridge at blind pass, grab a blanket and glass of wine or champagne, and watch what is guaranteed to be one of the most beautiful sunsets you’ve ever seen!
A sand bar that popped up at Blind Pass, Captiva Island, Florida
A huge shell pile up at Blind Pass, Captiva Island, Florida
As I’ve already noted, Sanibel Island is famous for its seashells. One of the most popular beachside activities is the collection of seashells or ‘shelling’, as it’s more commonly known. Local residents and tourists alike can be seen doing the ‘sanibel stoop’ which refers to the position one takes when combing the beaches for some 400 species of seashells. Aficionados come from all over the world to comb the beaches for their favourites. If you’re a hardcore shell fanatic you can visit The Bailey Matthews Shell Museum, the only museum in the US dedicated solely to saltwater and freshwater seashells. The months from February to April, or after any storm, are the prime times to get out and scour the beaches for rare finds! My favourite time to shell is early in the morning just before the sun has come up, thats when the locals shell. Hunting for seashells is something you can’t imagine until you’ve experienced it yourself. There is a thrill to the hunt, especially once you learn all the names and how to identify different species, it becomes like one big treasure hunt! It’s not hard to see how this passion can turn into an obsession, I spent 3 months doing it! The beaches are covered in shells, literally, you step out onto mounds of shells, and with each tide comes a whole new batch of treasures. One of the more common shells found on the beaches here is the Florida Fighting Conch, ranging in colour from bright orange to a dark mahogany, the Fighting Conch is a shell that demands attention. But be sure to check that the beautiful shell you’re about to take home isn’t currently inhabited, as it is illegal to remove live shells.
Just some of the shells that can be found on the beaches of Sanibel…
If you ask me- The best kept secret in Florida is Sanibel Island. Sanibel Island is an island off the coast of Ft. Myers, Florida. A natural phenomena, seashells from all over the world wash up on this fabulous island. The Island is known for it’s shelling beaches and wildlife reserves, a combination that keeps this Island preserved and serene. One of the reasons for these accumulations of shells is the fact that Sanibel is a barrier island which has an east-west orientation. It is also due to the fact that Sanibel is part of a large plateau that extends into the Gulf of Mexico, this plateau serves as the perfect shelf for seashells to gather upon.
There is only one way on and off the Island and that is a three mile causeway that connects the Island to the mainland, most days you can see dolphins as you cross over!! Delightful! The main transportation on this sunny little island is on by bike, although daytime tourists do flood the Island with vehicles. At night, if you’re out for a walk on the beach, you won’t see any light’s on so as to protect the sea turtles that come ashore. It is most definitely one of my favourite places on earth…