Sanibel Island is a beautiful little place located on the west coast of Florida
, near Fort Myers
. Sanibel is actually made up of two Islands, Captiva and Sanibel. These two islands are the perfect place for either a romantic or family vacation. You can enjoy nature at the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge
on one of the many bike paths, go bird watching, play golf, go fishing
, and go snorkeling. Or, if you so choose to, you can do what people from all over come to do – discover the "Sanibel Stoop", which consists of shelling along the beach; it's kind of what they're famous for. If you'd like a little culture mingled in with the entire out door fun experience, the islands are dotted with many artistic and historical attractions for your viewing and learning pleasure.
The Sanibel and Captiva Islands have over 20 miles of bike paths, 15 miles of white sand beaches to explore and shell on, some 50 types of fish to try and catch and a multitude of birds to try and capture a picture of. Being islands and surrounded by water, it's easy to get caught up in the activities on the beaches. Shelling is what Sanibel Island is especially known for because of all the wonderful shells that wash up on shore there, making it one of Florida's Best Beaches
. Sanibel Island is unique because it runs east to west, which is different from most islands which run north to south; this positioning allows it to catch the many different kinds of sea shells that the Gulf of Mexico moves to its beaches. While out shelling, you'll see all people, young and old alike with buckets, shovels, plastic bags and nets all trying to get that perfect shell. As you search the sand looking for that treasure from the ocean, be sure to put lots of sunscreen on your neck as well as wear a hat so your neck and head do not burn. You will also need a bucket, net bag and scoop or shovel. Shelling at low tide after a storm is best for finding vast sums of shells, but you must remember that it is illegal to take "live shells" from the sea. When you get tired of looking for shells, you can go look at shells others have found when you visit the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum
; the most comprehensive museum in America devoted entirely to shells. It features exhibits showing shells from geographical, historical, scientific and artistic perspectives, open on most days except for holidays.
The Sanibel Ligthouse - Point Ybel Light
August 1884, was the first time the Sanibel lighthouse was lit. However, when it was almost extinguished by the Coast Guard, in 1972, the people of Sanibel protested so vehemently that the plan, not the Lighthouse, was abandon. It's made of iron with a brown tent, shaped like a skeletal pyramid and has a center column. Its tower is 102 feet tall with a third order Fresnel Lens that became automated in 1949, and has a focal plain of 98 feet. The Light is still operational, maintained by the Florida Coast Guard, and is not open to visitors. However, the keeper’s quarters, fishing pier
and beach access are managed by the City of Sanibel and are opened to the public.
J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge
This is a 6,300-acre Florida wildlife
refuge, named for Jay Norwood Darling, who is a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist and pioneer environmentalist. There are over 200 species of birds that live in the wildlife refuge, some 50 types of reptiles and 32 different kinds of mammals. The park has both biking and walking paths, wonderful spots where you can watch the birds as well as canoe trails that wind through the park. If you prefer stay in the comfort of your air conditioned car, they also have a scenic four mile drive. There is an Education Center and an observation tower where all the lush greenery of the park can be appreciated. This greenery includes red mangrove, wax and salt myrtles, seagrape, cabbage and sabal palms, and other plants native to the area. The scenic drive is open Saturday through Thursday, while the Education Center is open daily; although the best time to visit is at low tide, when all the birds feed. There are also tram tours, by reservation, through the sanctuary.
Captiva is the little sister island of Sanibel just over a small bridge that crosses at Turner Beach. The beach extends 5 miles to the northern tip of Captiva Island and is a great place to catch a prize fish or for finding the beautiful shells that these islands are so famous for. While you’re there, be sure to head down scenic Captiva Drive, where you'll pass colorful bougainvilleas, giant cactus and many other tropical plants as you travel your way into the downtown area of the village of Captiva.
While on in the islands, you can enjoy restaurants, shopping
and wonderful accommodations such as tennis, golfing, boating, shelling and fishing, not to mention the breathtaking sunrises and sunsets. You will be captivated by these beautiful little places, knowing that at one time, it is said that pirates roamed its white sand beaches, conquistadors explored its thick underbrush and Calusa Indians called it home. So whether you want an exotic tropical wedding
or honeymoon, or maybe just looking for a weekend get away, the Captiva and Sanibel Islands invite you to come relax and enjoy.
By Beverly Martinez-Collins – PlacesAroundFlorida.com