Sanibel Island is a name commonly used by even an amateur shell collector. This 15 mile long island located on the southwest coast of Florida is well-known for its world-class shelling. However, many don't know about the other things this small, romantic, nature-filled island has to offer for families, the outdoor enthusiast, and working adults just looking to unwind.
Over one-half of the island is considered protected nature preserve which offers world famous birding opportunities. Over 240 species can be viewed by the avid bird-watcher either from the comfort of their car, from one of many hike-bike trails, or lying on 15 miles of white sand beaches.
A must see when visiting Sanibel Island is the J.N. 'Ding' Darling Wildlife Refuge. This beautiful preserve contains some of the most beautiful sights you will see on this island. Visit their Education Center to learn about the local ecosystem and scope out the different species that you might see. Take a spin through their Wildlife Drive and look out for one of their 50 species of reptiles and amphibians, even the endangered American Alligator.
Remember to schedule a kayaking or canoeing tour with Tarpon Bay Explorers, and watch for otters, dolphins, and manatees throughout the mangrove swamps. No previous experience is necessary for this adventure that you will remember for the rest of your life. Just remember to bring extra water and your cameras.
The average temperature of Sanibel Island is 75º and the weather year-round is generally beautiful. If you want to travel the island like a local, rent a bike or moped at one of the many rental agencies that dot the island. Over 26 miles of trail cover the island, which allow you to bike through lazy neighborhoods, along the coastline, or through shady groves of trees in the preserve after reading a book in a hammock on the beach.
Also readily available are opportunities for SCUBA or snorkeling, swimming, and other water sports. The fishing scene in Sanibel is thriving and there are many charters to take any level of fishermen out to sea. Snook, redfish, snappers, sea trout, grouper, and Spanish mackerel are plentiful all year. In the spring and summer, tarpon, pompano, cobia, and permit are available, while in the fall black drum, tripletail, king mackerel are fresh. Finally, in the winter sheepshead are bountiful.
If you are not the outdoors man type and shopping is more your cup of tea, explore the shopping scene, being sure to visit shops such as Pandora's Box. If history is your thing, be sure to visit Sanibel Historic Village and go see the Sanibel Lighthouse in Old Town Sanibel. Also, shell collector or not, the Bailey-Matthew's Shell Museum is well-worth your time. If you are in town during March, check out the Sanibel Music Festival.
When the time comes to eat, no visit to Sanibel is ever complete without a visit to Schnapper's Hots for the best pizza and hot dogs in the world hands down. For a great breakfast, take a trip to Captiva Island and visit R.C. Otter's Island Eats. Or eat brunch at the delightful Blue Giraffe Restaurant which may become a daily watering hole with its colorful tables painted by local artists.
In regards to local accommodations, you can rent condos and beach homes, stay in a resort, or a local inn. The Holiday Inn Sanibel Island Resort comes very highly recommended and offers a wonderful view for the Forth of July fireworks. If you are seeking a higher end experience look into the Casa Ybel Resort.
To many, Sanibel Island is the closest one can come to "Old Florida." A pay toll bridge and the zoning laws put into affect by the local residents have saved Sanibel from the over-commercialization that we see common to South Florida.
The beaches at Sanibel are always clean, un-crowded, and welcoming and sunset walks and picnics on the beach are a regular experience for both locals and tourists. A phrase that rings true is, "Once you get Sanibel sand in your shoes you'll always come back." It is not uncommon for a visitor to extend their vacations at Sanibel Island two or three extra days when they first arrive. Here the unique beauty of the island will provide you with one of the most relaxing and rewarding vacations you will ever take.
Official Sanibel and Captiva Island Chamber of Commerce: www.sanibel-captiva.org