C/o Patricia Farrell on Flickr
Heading out onto Sanibel Island and you feel the gears go down a notch.
The pace of life is slower on this idyllic stretch of land just off Florida’s Western Gulf Coast. As you might expect there’s a distinctly tropical Floridian feel to this small island paradise (and it’s smaller sister Captiva, lying adjacent). The gentle tide of the Gulf laps against stretches of soft white sand, rich for one of the islands more popular pastimes – shelling – while the arching branches of the palm trees slowly stir on a languid breeze. A million miles from the hectic pace of Orlando (or, more accurately, 160 miles away) this is the other, peaceful, chilled out side of Florida – a place to visit to unwind, kick-back, chill out and all those other phrases of similar meaning. To settle down under a parasol with a good book, to stroll barefoot along the sand, watch spectacular sunsets over the sea and take in the stunning surroundings and vibrant wildlife that packs itself into this beautiful small island.
Sanibel Island is located on the south-west region of Florida’s Gulf Coast, some 20 miles from downtown Fort Myers (12 from the Fort Myers Beach area). You can reach the island by car, taking I-75 to Exit 131 (the Daniels Parkway) and from there by heading onto the Sanibel Causeway (a toll required of $6) – the spectacular bridge highway which connects the island to the mainland. For those flying into the area the nearest airport is the Southwest Florida International Airport near Fort Myers. You can’t fly direct to this airport from the UK but connections are pretty easy – typically via New York, Atlanta or Charlotte (North Carolina) – served by all the usual airlines (BA, Virgin, Delta, American, United etc). Those travelling from further afield Tampa airport is about a 2.5 hour drive to the North while Miami is a similar distance to the South.
© Pat (Cletch) Williams via Flickr
One of the more prominent landmarks on the island, the Sanibel Lighthouse – or Point Ybel Light – has been a feature of Sanibel since it was erected in 1884. Located on the eastern tip of the island the lighthouse is a 98 foot tall iron skeleton tower and is, quite literally, a beacon of the island – appearing in the background of many a tourist’s photos.
J.N. “Ding Darling” National Wildlife Refuge & Bird Sanctuary
Named after prominent cartoonist Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling the sanctuary achieved national refuge status in 1976 to protect one of the nation’s largest mangrove ecosystems and, in the decades that have followed, it’s become a hugely popular place to visit for lovers of wildlife – particularly those who can’t miss a bit of bird watching. With its huge array of birdlife, with migratory birds finding their way here through the year – especially during the winter months of December to March – Ding Darling is a real haven for those looking to sample a bit of natural world America. Within the refuge there are plenty of trails to walk, ride and cycle around, taking in the sumptuous natural beauty and allowing you to get close to the diverse flora and fauna around and about.
The Sanibel Stoop
One of Sanibel’s most popular things to do on the sugar white beaches is to partake in a spot of shelling. With some stunning shells of manifold colours washing up onto the shores of the island, it has become a spot renowned for those looking to collect a few mementos of their stay. So why the ‘Stoop’? Well, that’s the name given to the bent-over, knees bent posture that you’ll see from the beach dwellers as they line the sea shore, sometimes in their hundreds, searching for their prized pastell coloured shells.
Sport & Sea Life
It might be a chilled out kind of place but there’s still plenty to do for those who are looking for a bit more of an active time of things. From golf at the South Seas Island Resort to a range of water sports at the beaches as well as plenty of opportunities to get out on the sea itself with charter sailing, leisure cruises and deep sea fishing excursions all available. And there’s even the chance to head on down to Key West for the day with rides on the popular Key West Express boat trip.
Eat, Drink and Be Merry
Of course, if you’re just looking for a bit of time to kick back, relax and indulge a little bit on your holiday then there’s plenty of that as well. It might only be a small island but there’s plenty of choice between fine and casual dining, with, as you might expect, some excellent options for those who are looking to sample some of the local seafood choices.
Staying on the Island
While there’s not a huge selection of places to stay on Sanibel (it’s on little, after all) there are hotels and self-catering options to meet most budgets. From RV and Camp Sites to budget inns and a smattering of apartment and condos to rent all the way to some of the wonderfully located beach front hotels such as the West Wind Inn or the more pampered luxury of Sanibel Harbour Marriot Hotel & Spa or the Sundial Resort & Spa.
For many Brits thinking about resorts along Florida’s idyllic Gulf Coast their minds will turn to those along the western seaboard: to Clearwater & St Pete’s, Sarasota, Naples or Fort Myers; maybe to the Keys way down in the South.
But take a peak northwards, let your eyes drift up the map and around the panhandle and you’ll likely see the name Panama City, nestling away in that little North-West stretch that we, on this side of the pond, have tended to ignore. It’s not really been out of ignorance, you understand, more out of practicality.
Over the years we’ve drawn to the attractions of Orlando, the glamour or Miami and appeal of the Keys and our routes to the state have reflected this. Those other Gulf resorts have benefited from European tourism by their proximity; it’s a fairly easy drive out to Clearwater from Orlando, for example.
It helps of course, that these resorts are beautiful destinations; from their long stretches of white sandy beach, the warm waters of the Gulf and the variety of eating, dining and accommodation on offer.
That said, however, if you are looking for an alternative place to visit then maybe it’s time to look a little north and discover the delights of Panama City. And, by the way, while it might not be the primary ‘go-to’ resort for British tourists adding a bit of beach to their theme park trip, we’re NOT talking about a sleepy little undiscovered town here. Panama City is a fully developed, lively and hugely popular American holiday resort that can offer entertainment and seaside fun for all ages. Its long (27 mile) stretch of white sand beach is the rival to many other resorts on the Gulf Coast (yes Panama City is still on the Gulf) while the town itself thrives on a wide variety of restaurants, cafes, bars and entertainment. Like Daytona over on the Atlantic Coast, Panama City Beach comes alive during Spring Break season (late Feb-late March) as thousands of students from across the US descend upon the town for a week of party-time as they let off steam on their annual jaunts away from their campuses. If you fancy joining in the late night, hard partying revelry – if that’s your thing – then give it a try. On the other hand, if it’s a more traditional chilled out beach holiday that you want to experience, whether as a family or a couple, then PCB has plenty to offer, including: [su_spacer size=”30″]
- A range of stunning beach side / gulf view restaurants
- Accommodation to match your budget from stunning beach front condos to family friendly hotels and apartments
- 27 miles of stunning white beaches with the warm, azure waters of the gulf lapping against the shore
- Boutique shopping at Pier Park with a range of cafes, ice cream parlours and restaurants
- Catamaran rides out to Shell Island for some amazing snorkelling and diving opportunities
- Amazing wildlife in the wetlands and conservation areas from tropical birds to the occasional alligator
- Waterpark fun at Shipwreck Island with its 65 foot Pirates Plunge
- On-shore or deep sea fishing excursions available right on the doorstep.
As for accessibility, well if you want to head out on a bit of a road trip from central Florida it’s about a 5 and a half hour drive – albeit a very pleasant drive through some beautiful Floridian country if you want to make a day of it. However, there is now an easy access way to get the area via flight links to Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport (ECP), located just 10 minutes from town. With flights from Delta Airlines available you can pretty easily add this destination to your itinerary or head straight there from one of Delta’s hubs.
To find out more about a holiday (either stand-alone or twinned with another destination) why not drop us a line here…
We love St Armands Circle at Florida Travel Service.
And, if you’ve been there, chances are you’ll love it as well.
This is where the Sarasota beaches meet. A few miles across the spectacular causeway from bayside Sarasota, St Armands Circle is the picturesque junction between the popular, sprawling sands of Lido Beach and the peaceful, slightly opulent luxury of Longboat Key.
And the Circle represents this meeting of tastes and style; a mix of refinement and laid back fun.
Boutique retailers snuggle up to cafes, bars, ice cream parlours and restaurants of the finer dining variety, all based around the colourful, tropical flora of the large roundabout at its centre.
Day or night it’s a place bustling with life, yet still able to retain a certain peaceful air. Holiday revellers and locals alike line the wide pavements, watching the world go by as they sip something cold and enjoy the many different cuisines on offer. Italian, Latin American, Classic American or French cuisine there’s something for just about every palette and enough choice to accommodate couples, groups and families.
Among the food and drink there’s a delightful array of designer shops, galleries and boutiques, as well as a few of the more touristy retailers you might expect for a place near the seaside. However, there’s nothing crass or tacky about the shops in St Armands Circle. Set out in low level colonial style buildings and tastefully coloured in Floridian pastels the architecture lends itself to the cool charm of the place and affords a scenic backdrop among the tall palm trees and perfectly manicured lawns and hedgerows.
If you’re looking for a way to escape the midday heat then St Armands Circle is the perfect spot to visit, to find a seat under the parasols and fans of the roadside cafes or air-conditioned restaurants. Frequently on previous visits we’ve found the Circle a great way to break up the day on searing hot summer afternoons. A late lunch or early dinner before heading back to the beach to savour to beauty of a Gulf Coast Sunset.
But then, of course, this is a place that can really come alive at night.
As the sun goes down so the evening revellers come out, filling the bars and restaurants and taking the opportunity for a gentle stroll along the spotless sidewalks, window shopping or flashing the cash and cards on some tasteful gifts, designer clothes or local artwork.
Yes, we love St Armands Circle, a cool gem in the Sarasota heat.
For more information or to book your visit to St Armands Circle as part of your next Florida holiday, give us a call on 029 2002 6117 or get in touch via our online enquiry form.