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    Sanibel Island: beaches and unspoiled nature on the island of shells

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    Lluis Enric Mayans

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    We are in the southeast of Florida and one after the other we discover the most beautiful corners of Lee county overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. Leaving Ft. Myers we take route 867 southbound then take the McGregor Boulevard that takes us to the Sanibel Causeway, the spectacular bridge over the water between sea and sky that in its 5 kilometers runs alongside Jonathon and Sanibel Harbor and then leads us to the destination, Sanibel Island, an island that develops along a narrow strip of land 19 kilometers long.

    This destination, with a causal atmosphere but with a neat appearance, is suitable for everyone: families, young people, adults and seniors. It is known for being a peaceful place to explore nature, an oasis in which to enjoy the beach, collect shells, admire beautiful sunsets, practice water sports and go fishing. The season with a higher percentage of visitors runs from the end of December to April, while September and October are the months with less attendance.


    • The beaches of Sanibel
    • Natural attractions
    • The events of Sanibel Island
    • Where to eat
    • Where sleeping on Sanibel Island
    • How to get there and how to get around

    The beaches of Sanibel

    THU there are no cities. Small urban areas reign supreme on this island where you are welcomed with warmth and a sense of peace and serenity is felt. We start the visit at beaches which are the main attraction of Sanibel. Their common feature is warm emerald water. The sand is clear and beautiful, slightly less fine than that of Siesta Key (area of Sarasota) which seems the whitest and finest in the world. Along the coast there are several "sand dollars", not dollars left on the sand but beautiful shells, even large ones, which are collected or used to create ornaments.

    Crossing the bridge leads to approaching Sanibel from the east side of the island and in a short time we reach the Lighthouse Beach Park (110 Periwinkle Way), an area with large shady trees, a shoreline that features covered pavilions, parking spaces and outdoor showers. When we arrive we notice a group of people fishing from the dock while the large body of water in front of us is propped up by a sailboat and there could not have been a better image to begin our exploration.

    Since 1884, the Sanibel Island Light (112 Periwinkle Way), the lighthouse with a particular iron pyramidal structure, very essential, also called Point Ybel Light, owned by the city and managed by the coast guard; for this reason it cannot be visited inside. From the lighthouse the whole profile of the island that runs along the waters of the gulf is a succession of beaches.

    We stop at Gulfside City Park Beach (2001 Algiers Ln.) Also known as Algiers beach in memory of a steamboat with that name that landed on the coast many years earlier. It is an ideal place to relax and enjoy the sun but also the shaded area. Boardwalks offer convenient access to the beach. Parking costs $ 4 per hour.

    Our next destination in the southwest direction is Tarpon Bay Beach (111 Tarpon Bay Rd.) With white sand and excellent waters for swimming and sailing. Also on this beach there are many shells. And then it was just like being a kid again when the ice cream truck pulled up near the parking lot (which costs $ 2 an hour).

    We are ready for Bowman's Beach (1700 Bowman's Beach Rd.), An isolated and picturesque shoreline also with white sand rich in shells. We notice a pier from which to fish, a ramp for mooring canoes and kayaks and a path for beautiful walks. In these beaches we visited there are bathrooms, picnic tables and areas with barbeque grills; they are ideal places to get together and stay late into the evening. Four-legged friends are welcome on a leash.

    Natural attractions

    JN “Ding” Darling

    Being on this island means loving nature. For this reason after leaving Bowman's beach we don't want to miss the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge (1 Wildlife Dr.), a vast natural area, habitat of a rich wildlife, which develops behind the coast and is a real attraction like the beaches. Here you can go canoeing among the mangroves and stroll along the paths among palm trees and lots of vegetation. Some “residents” of this place are flamingos, pelicans, woodpeckers, bald eagles, alligators, bobcats, raccoons, bottlenose dolphins and our camera has its work cut out. There is also a recreation center in this natural refuge.

    The park is open at times that vary according to the season and can be visited at a cost of $ 5 for vehicles and $ 1 for pedestrians and bicycles. The JN “Ding” Darling foundation established this reality to honor and carry on the work of the famous cartoonist of the same name who during his activity also fought for environmental protection, especially that linked to wildlife.

    We momentarily turn away from the sun and nature to focus on two museums. To the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum (3075 Sanibel Captiva Rd.) Molluscs and splendid shells of which this coast is rich are exhibited, events, educational programs, permanent and temporary exhibitions are organized. One of the most popular activities that the museum has been organizing for some time is the guided walk on the beach. The facility is open daily from 10am to 17pm. Admission costs $ 15 for adults, $ 9 for ages 12 to 17 and $ 7 for ages 5 to 11.

    The other museum is the Sanibel Historical Museum & Village (950 Dulop Rd.), A complex consisting of seven historic buildings (some cottages, a school and a tea room) that have been removed from their original site, brought here and restored to be preserved as heritage for the benefit of all. Here we learn the history of Sanibel ranging from the Calusa Indians to the pioneers passing through the Spanish colonists. Openings from Tuesday to Sunday vary according to the season. The museum can also be visited through tours that start at 10.30 and 13.30. The cost of the ticket is $ 10 for adults.

    And as they say here, last but not least (last but certainly not least), we conclude our visit to the Old Town Sanibel also called East End (eastern side), not far from the lighthouse. This area is the most densely populated part. It was once the center where most of the activity was bustling; it is now a quiet place to stroll among the shops, restaurants, inns and galleries that mainly develop along the Periwinkle Way that looks like a cheerful palette of shades. Buildings with walls or finishes colored in red, blue, green and pink do nothing but increase the charge of energy that the sky, sun, sea, palm trees and perfumes infuse.

    And this is why we have to reiterate how important it is to take a break from the rhythms of the cities, a reality to discover, sometimes incredibly attractive, but from which it is good to escape from time to time. To better live the Old Town, the Sanibel Historical Society has created a walking or cycling tour called “yesteryear” about four kilometers long. The trail map can be obtained from the Chamber Visitor Center or the Sanibel Historical Museum and Village.

    The events of Sanibel Island

    Why not combine the visit of the island with a special event? In mid-February during President's Day weekend, the Rotary Club has been hosting the Sanibel Arts & Crafts at the Community House (2173 Periwinkle Way). On this occasion, more than 120 of the best artists in the nation are concentrated, giving life to a sort of art gallery worth visiting and in which it is a pleasure to buy a work that is certainly not in series.

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    We have seen, collected and photographed shells found on the island and we also visited the museum dedicated to them so it is not surprising to learn that there is also a Sanibel Shell Festival scheduled in March at the Community House (2173 Periwinkle Way). On the occasion, works of art made with shells and fossils are exhibited and for sale. The result is a series of splendid works; visiting the festival means attending one of the best exhibitions in this field.

    Also in March we report the Sanibel Music Festival which takes place at the Congregational Church (2050 Periwinkle Way) and consists of classical music concerts which aim to promote the musical genre and career of emerging artists. In the courtyard of the general store Backyard Bailey's (2477 Periwinkle Way) held in November the Sanibel Blues & Jazz Festival where live music is heard in an open space and those who wish can bring their own chair.

    The local Chamber of Commerce, with the sponsorship of the Island Inn, organizes the Luminary Festival Week-End. Hundreds of lights and illuminations run through Captiva Drive and Periwinkle Way for almost the entire length of the island creating a suggestive effect. You can also meet Santa and his trusty elves.

    Where to eat

    We report some restaurants in which to appreciate excellent local cuisine. The Island Cow (2163 Periwinkle Way) draws the attention of passers-by for its typical island style, colorful and relaxed; is a family-run restaurant that welcomes customers in an indoor but also outdoor dining room in a tropical setting. The venue is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner with live entertainment. Four-legged friends are welcome. The menu features South and Southwest Florida dishes.

    Among the numerous choices we point out the delicious pink shrimps of the gulf, crispy fried artichokes, the sandwich with barbeque chicken, a tasty omelette with triple cheese and fried squid. From Sanibel Fish House (1523 Periwinkle Way) Fresh seafood is served at affordable prices in a casual dining room. In the restaurant there is a lounge where cocktails and beers are served. Inside we note that the restaurant has won some awards on the island: in 2015 best fish restaurant, in 2016/2017 best restaurant in which to have happy hour and in 2017 it won the title for the excellence of appetizers.

    To celebrate a special occasion or simply to enjoy an evening with something more, at the Casa Ybel Resort hotel (2255 West Gulf Dr.) we recommend the Thistle Lodge Restaurant, a casual-smart restaurant overlooking the Gulf of Mexico offering fusion and American cuisine at mid-to-high prices. Keep in mind the substantial Sunday brunch that the restaurant offers its customers on Sundays.

    At The Island Inn we point out the Traditions on the Beach (3111 W. Gulf Dr.) also a mid to high priced restaurant overlooking the beach offering pasta, fish and meat while listening to live music and dancing every night. Some proposals at specific times are interesting: sunset dinners between 17 and 18 pm, tapas between 16 and 18 pm. The Sandbar (2761 W. Gulf Dr.), a bright and spacious restaurant where the light colors of the wood are a very pleasant feature and where excellent pasta, fish and meat dishes are served.

    Where sleeping on Sanibel Island

    Casa Ybel Beach Resort

    It must be said that staying overnight on the island is not as cheap as in other areas. The accommodation that we report satisfy different budget levels starting from the first two proposals at a slightly lower cost. To the Sunset Beach Inn (3287 W. Gulf Dr.) you can experience the suggestion of the sunset from the beach of the complex without spending a fortune. The rooms and suites are spacious and equipped with kitchens; some are pet friendly. The property features live entertainment at The Dunes Club and features a large palm-fringed heated pool and tennis court.

    A family business is the Blue Dolphin Cottages (4227 W. Gulfside Dr.) directly on a quiet white sand beach. Units feature full kitchens and sundecks, all set against a lush tropical landscape. The hotel offers bicycles, umbrellas, deck chairs and barbeques in the outdoor area.

    One of the largest beachfront properties facing the Gulf of Mexico is Shell Island Beach Club (255 Periwinkle Way). The accommodations feature a full kitchen, lounge and dining room, and a porch overlooking the beach and pool. Although the property is part of a timeshare circuit, some units can be booked outside of it.

    Home Ybel Beach Resort (2255 West Gulf Dr.) stands along a stretch of beach. It has 114 elegant suites with kitchens and views of the Gulf of Mexico. The resort offers a tennis court, spa, bicycle rental and dining facilities. Particular activities are the practice of yoga on the grass at sunrise and sunset, massages on the beach or by the pool or in your room.

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    How to get there and how to get around

    Once you arrive on the island via the Sanibel Causeway you can decide whether to rent one bicycle and take advantage of the dedicated trails or the machine since the only means of public transport are the taxi. In this regard, we point out two companies: Sanibel Taxi (695 Tarpon Bay Rd.) And Island Taxi (975 Rabbit Rd.).

    The island is not served by airports or ferries so the closest reference, about forty kilometers away, is theairport di strong Myers (11000 Terminal Access Rd.) Which does not have direct flights with Europe but only domestic stops in the United States. For a European connection it is necessary to reach theairport di Miami (2100 N-W 42nd Blvd.) a circa tre ore da Sanibel Island.

    On this island where the word stress is almost unknown you can (indeed you must) relax on the beach, you can go in search of particular shells, go from one shop to another, enjoy starry skies or a romantic sunset. on a terrace. And the local statement holds true: it's up to you. Whatever the choice will be great, you can't go wrong. If you love the beach nature and tranquility, Sanibel Island is for you and a short distance away, connected by a bridge, there is another splendid corner of nature called Captiva Island and then again there is Fort Myers with its surroundings. Enjoy Sanibel, enjoy Florida! 

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