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.
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.