Imagine a tropical island only 15-miles long and 3-miles wide at its widest point. Visualize pure white sand embedded with an overabundance of every imaginable type seashell, completely intact. Refuge from the heat is found via a light breeze beneath a palm tree’s shade while watching porpoises playfully frolic in the distance.
Once the sun says its breathtaking goodnight you stroll back to your private bungalow, shower (hopefully), and head out for a delectable gourmet meal of freshly caught seafood at the restaurant of your choosing. After a few burps of appreciation to the chef, the meal is followed up with a casual cocktail or two while a troubadour serenades you with every Jimmy Buffett song ever written.
Sound too good to be true? It isn’t. This is one island you can drive to. And depending on where your roots are planted, it may be closer than you think.
If you’ve been to Panama City Beach, Daytona Beach, St. Petersburg, or any Florida beach but passed Sanibel Island by, you’ve done yourself a disservice. While Florida boasts some of the best beaches in the world, a boast which holds true, Sanibel Island tops the chart when it comes to a less-touristy more-upscale haven for seekers of rest and relaxation.
The 8,600 fulltime residents of Sanibel Island are activist in terms of preserving the integrity of their home which is why they have always placed their emphasis on quality above quantity. They have no desire in competing with crowded beach towns, yet they welcome respectful guests with open arms and have many regular returning visitors who won’t vacation anywhere else.
The island has an ordinance governing the height of buildings. No highrise condos, hotels, or resorts will ever disrupt anyone’s view. This also helps limit the number of visitors on the island at any one given time.
Things to Do
The number one thing to do is unwind. You won’t be wading through a sea of spring-breakers. Sanibel Island is considered the seashell capital of the world and you’ll find early morning beach strollers casually filling plastic buckets with their prizes of the day. Not to worry, there are plenty of shells for everyone.
Bike paths cover 25-miles of the island and run past shopping areas, through neighborhoods, down back roads, next to quiet waterways, and over a covered bridge. Touring the island by bicycle is an excellent way to breathe some fresh salt air while casually taking everything in. There are numerous places to rent them.
Fishing is a year-round activity. Surf fishing is very popular but if heading further out for some grouper sounds more appealing, your a wish is any of the many local sea captains’ demand. It’s extremely rare to not catch at least something. Fish are plentiful.
The island has one private and two public golf courses, all three sanctioned by the American Audubon Association so as not to disrupt the natural beauty and wildlife of the landscape. These are not just run of the mill courses, they are all three rated at the championship level.
One-third of Sanibel Island is consumed by the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. For nature lovers, it’s the ideal place to observe Florida in the wild. When was the last time you saw pink flamingo’s outside of a caged environment? Expect to see a gator or four, and even if you don’t like snakes, relax, no one has ever been bitten. The refuge can be hoofed alone or with a tour.
Make sure to visit the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife where injured animals are rehabbed and re-released. CROW is complete with an emergency room and an intensive care unit. They give amazing lectures and there is an area geared for children where they get to don white veterinarian’s coats and carry clipboards to take notes.
The Barrier Island Group for the Arts, The Bailey-Matthews National Sea Shell Museum, and so much more is available to keep any visitor as busy, or as lazy, as they desire.
Where to Eat
There is no food shortage on Sanibel Island. From casual to sophisticated the island has it. Just don’t go looking for a Denny’s or an IHOP. You’ll have to leave the island for those. Once again, the Islanders aim is to preserve their hometown by controlling and limiting the number, size, and types of businesses. Wherever you eat, it’s going to be fresh, and it’s going to be scrumptious.
There are 24 seafood restaurants, five pizza-joints, six Italian places, five cafes, 44 all-American restaurants, 16 bars with over-the-top food, five pubs, and four European establishments in which to fill one’s belly.
For the very best of fine dining, Blue Coyote Supper Club or Mad Hatter Restaurant rival any top-rated dining establishment in the U.S. For a local flare try out The Sandbar or Doc Ford’s Rum Bar and Grille where renowned author Randy Wayne White can be found writing on many nights.
Cheap eats can also be found just not in the form of a Big Mac. Try Pinnochio’s or Sanibel Deli. You won’t be disappointed.
Where to Stay
Put your LaQuinta Inn card away. You won’t be earning any free-night points on this trip. Hotels on Sanibel Island are privately owned and there are no elevators going to any non-existent fifth floors. One of the more popular is West Wood Inn with Trip Advisor’s Certificate of Excellence award. The views from the veranda are magnificent.
Sundial Beach Resort & Spa is the largest hotel on the island offering up to three-bedrooms. Still, the hotel is quaint, family-friendly, and small enough to not be tripping over other guests.
There are many cottages, bungalows, and private homes for rent, some right on the beach. They are as large or small as anyone and their party of guest would require.
There is no need for sailing the seven-seas to find an island paradise when Sanibel Island, Florida is just a road trip away. If a more intimate spot for the perfect beach vacation is what you’ve been searching for, you’ve just found it.