Having read 'Sanibel Light', a historical autobiography by Charles LeBuff, you must be eager to holiday at Sanibel Island. Anyone flying from fort Myers International Airport, Florida seldom remains blasé at the mention of Sanibel Island which is located just 20 miles away from the airport. The island, 12 miles long and 3 miles across at its widest offers a spectrum of experience, be it for adventure seekers, nature lovers, sightseeing enthusiasts, families with teenagers and young children or the romantic hearted. Choose to do many things or just do nothing!
Google glass at Sanibel
Long back, for the English speaking world, it's Sanybel. The island was named by famous explorer Juan Ponce de Leon. He discovered the island around 1513 while searching for gold, silver and the fountain of youth. He is rightfully regarded as the first tourist of Sanibel Island.
Decades back, President Teddy Roosevelt sought a tranquil retreat on the islands. Pulitzer Prize winner Poet Edna St.Vincent Millay enjoyed her stay at the island in 1936. The balmy climate and fishing of Fort Myers attracted Inventor Thomas Edison who was soon joined by Henry Ford, Founder of Ford Motor Company. The Edison and Ford Winter Estates is a major tourist attraction in Fort Myers. Sanibel Island for long remained a silent holiday retreat for famous Americans and sportsmen. Now, it's a frequent vacation destination for Europeans.
Sanibel Island has embraced tech-savvy initiatives to capture the area's essence – its natural beauty and history, the adventures, outdoor recreation, arts, culture and culinary offerings. In September 2013, the beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel were the chosen destination for the first U.S tourism destination promotional effort involving the futuristic Google glass. Early 2014, Sanibel Island finds place in CNN Travel's top 10 best budget vacations for spring.
Beaches of Sanibel Island – Sheller's delight
There are 5 beaches measuring 15.5 miles in Sanibel Island. Biking is the best way to get around. The other option is driving through till the edge of the sea water. Some resorts offer bikes for rent.
In Florida, Sanibel Island is the top shelling location. The Island's beaches are a paradise for sea shell collectors. During spring, the beaches seem decorated with millions of shells in different sizes, perfect and imperfect shapes and colors. Shells are washed ashore in piles on Sanibel and Captiva, two slender barrier islands connected by a bridge off the west of Florida.
Sanibel boasts of 200 plus species of sea shells. Beach visits are popular as with the least effort one can collect large quantities of shells thanks to the tidal currents that push the shells onshore. Looking at the strewn shells, the body is likely to take the 'Sanibel Stoop', the term used for the posture, bent-at-the waist posture to collect the seashells.
Morning combined with low tide, full moon with low tide with a northwest wind is ideal for shell hunting. Of course, much before the crowds trickle in. If lucky, a rare gem makes for a prized catch. Fully aware of the popularity of shell hunting, several local stores sell shell nets and Sanibel 'Snow Scoops' for digging and scooping shells especially at the surf line. Besides shells, very fine white sand and clear blue water are hold a different excitement altogether.
Location: Mid-island on Sanibel off Sanibel-Captiva Road. The beach is one of the top 10 beaches in the world. The city of Sanibel maintains the Bowman's beach in its natural state.
Paying $2 for an hour of parking provides time to explore and enjoy the beauty of the secluded beach. It is a long walk from the parking and is totally enjoyable. The west-facing beach is ideal for watching the sunset. Listen to the ocean and take a stroll along the shoreline. Standing on the bridge, beautiful views of the beach can be enjoyed. Sighting Pelicans in the water at Bowman isn't unusual.
The beach is famous for finding unusual shells. Pick your favorite shell to bring home as a souvenir. Remember, a low tide or immediately after a storm is the perfect time to find sea shells. Don't let go an opportunity to find the Florida fighting conchs. They are called so as the male battle or wriggle for sometime after being lifted from the sea water. Stretch and put extra effort. With a small rake or shovel, dig in and you are most likely to be rewarded with the Florida fighting conchs. Rules have been imposed to maintain the pristine beaches and one among them is not to collect live shells. If you are eager to return the live shells place the shells back into the water. Never toss or throw them back as it can harm the animal.
Unlike the other beaches with restaurants round the corner, Bowman beach has barbecue grills. Munching food swaying to the wind and listening to the ceaselessly smashing waves make even a casual dinner feel like a special day.
Nature and fitness trails through the beach offer great opportunities to enjoy Sanibel's beautiful weather, lush subtropical vegetation and abundant wildlife. The trails let you enjoy the place in its natural state. The natural tree line is home to Osprey's, Pelicans and Bald Eagles. Dozens of shorebirds line up on the sea shore.
Among the four states in U.S where Loggerhead sea turtles nesting areas are divided, Florida accounts for the highest at 91%, roughly 1/3rd of the world's total population of Loggerheads. The 2 mile stretch of Bowman beach is a favorite nesting area for the Loggerhead sea turtle.
The causeway is cyclist friendly. Riders enjoy the scenic route. For cars entering from Fort Myers, a toll fee of $6 is payable. The drive through Sanibel causeway is most enjoyable especially when the sun is glistening on the swaying water. The manmade park links the mainland to the islands of Sanibel and Captiva.
Causeway beach is a perfect weekend picnic spot for the entire family. The most convenient parking option is to park the car right at the water's edge. The soft sand is most inviting to build sand castles. Tourists can bring BBQ grills and grill their own. The soft tides makes possible water sports such as canoeing, kayaking, fishing, kite boarding, windsurfing and stand up paddle boarding. The serene surrounding ushers in calmness and lets the mind drift naturally to unwind and relax.
Gulf side city park beach (Algiers beach)
The Gulfside City Park provides access to gulf side park beach. The beach is adjacent to a nature preserve. The pet friendly beach is favored by dog owners as they can stroll along on this wide, flat beach together with the leashed pet. In fact, the beach has been rated best in a survey regarding beaches with plenty of space for owners and dogs.
Hammocks on trees, chairs with sunshade on the soft sand, picnic benches, let you get as much sun as you like. A low tide in the evening exposes hundreds of shells shining on the wet sand. The water is shallow. On calm days it is good for a swim. Before venturing into the sea, check out the current.
Many types of shells, miniatures, baby shells roll up just about everywhere, at anytime of the year. Quiz your seashell knowledge and recognize the keyhold limpet, wentletrap, cockshell, sweet tulip that are strewn in infinite numbers.
Tarpon Bay Beach
The beach is at the end of Tarpon Bay road. Many resorts can be found around the beach. The beach is ideal for long walks by the shore and sighting colorful treasures of the sea, the shells. The beach's gentle surf is inviting for swimming and windsurfing as well. No restaurants or BBQ grills, occasionally an ice cream truck passes by.
The beach is a good place to look for miniature shells. Access to the Sanibel lighthouse beach is through the iconic landmark of Sanibel, the 120 year old Sanibel lighthouse. An occasional sighting of dolphins, an Osprey nest, flying fish add to the excitement. It is normal to sight shore birds scattered on the shores of the beach. The main attraction of the beach is the panoramic 270 degree view of the picturesque local waters. Don't let go an opportunity to view the sunrise and sunset. Fishing being popular, tourists get to watch the fishermen cast their nets on the seashore or prepare to venture deep sea for the catch of the day. If you are looking out to soak up the sun, lighthouse beach with its soft sand and gentle breeze is the ideal place to be. If unmindful of the masses, there are several sections in the lighthouse to spread out the towel and sun bathe.
Sanibel Island Lighthouse
Twice every six seconds, you can see the beam of the lighthouse on the shimmering water. Not just the pharologists (people who study or are interested in), lighthouses are an attraction to a cross-section of people defying age and sex. For some, visiting and photographing lighthouses is a popular hobby. Sanibel Island lighthouse is a major tourist attraction. This oldest structure of Sanibel is in the old town. It was first lit on August 20, 1884. It was earlier an oil (kerosene) lit lighthouse. From 1949, the lighthouse is automated; either powered by acetylene gas or the optic is powered from batteries charged by solar panels. It is now operated by the United States Coast guard.
The beacon and the lens that were used during the early period are on display at the Sanibel Historical Museum and Village. As lighthouse tours aren't allowed, tourists can view the lighthouse from the grounds of the park. The 98 feet tall iron tower with a 127 stairway is similar in size and shape like the current Cape San Blas lighthouse tower.
J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge
Ding is the 'pen' name of J. Darling. Environmentalist, crusader of wildlife welfare, protector of wildlife habitat – Ding Darling was all. His keen interest in protecting the pristine wealth of Sanibel Island led to the establishment of JN 'Ding' Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island.
In the name of development, our natural surroundings are destroyed and the result is a severely unbalanced eco-system. A cartoon by Darling in 1938, 'How Rich Will We Be When We Have Converted All Our Forests, All Our Soil, All Our Water Resources and Our Minerals into Cash?" best illustrates his concern on the subject.
The establishment of J.N.Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge is an off-shoot of a desperate attempt to retain mangrove wetlands that were proposed to be sold off to developers. Way back in the 1940s, a proposal to sell 2,200 pristine acres of Sanibel's mangrove wetlands to developers for fifty cents an acre was about to be finalized. In an attempt to save and protect the wildlife habitat, Darling along with his allies arranged for the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service to lease the land to form the Sanibel Island National Wildlife Refuge. Much later in recognition of Darling's initiatives the same was renamed as J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
The place is for nature lovers, animal lovers and bird watchers. Going in early, walking or 12 mile biking with a pair of binoculars is the best way to explore and enjoy the scenery and the wildlife habitat. Tram tour and kayaking are other options.
The Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge has turned high tech. A camera and Internet access, along with a Smartphone that downloads apps allows access while walking, biking or driving along wildlife drive are all you need. The I-Nature Trail will link the user to interactive online videos with information about the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. This is a new way to enjoy the trail and is popular especially with kids as it kindles interest and retains attention in the place they are. This way the effort is not restricted to conservation and encompasses educating the masses about conservation.
Sanibel Historical village and museum
Calusa Indians, the natives of Sanibel Island are extinct. Before being decimated by a disease, Calusa Indians lived on the coast and inner waterways. They lived in Sanibel Island in more than fifteen settlements. On display at the Sanibel Historical village and museum are artifacts from the days of Calusa Indians. Through photographs, exhibits and live presentations, visitors take a peek into their living, how they lived, their culture, tradition etc. Translating efforts to preserve history eleven authentic historic buildings have been relocated from the original site in the island to the historical village.
Bailey Mathews Shell Museum
On display at the Bailey Mathew Shell Museum are several world record size shells. Being an open exhibit visitors can appreciate the beauty of shells sans any barrier. The prized collections are:
Goliath conch Eustrombus Goliath 380.0 mm: Toughest shells in the world.
Lightning whelk, Busycon sinistrum 402 mm: Calusa Indians used as defensive tool duly tying it to a mangrove handle.
Atlantic trumpet triton, Charonia variegate 387.5 mm: Ancient civilization used the shells as trumpet.
Horse conch, Triplofusus giganteus 606 mm: Used by Calusa Indians as tools, ornaments, utensils and small agricultural implements.
C.R.O.W Care and Rehabilitation of Wildlife: The mission is to treat wildlife patients from South West Florida and successfully release the patients into the wild. Though the 4,500 square foot hospital on 12.5 acre campus on Sanibel Island is not open to public, the Visitor Education Center provides information about patients who have benefited.
Entertainment and sports at Sanibel Island
For relaxation and sheer joy, play golf on Sanibel Island. Private or public, the golf courses have been designed to blend in with the natural beauty of the island. There are three golf courses in Sanibel and one in Captiva.
There is no dearth of entertainment options in Sanibel Island. A movie theatre, a theatre for live performing arts, dance and music entertain locals and tourists year round.
The books, movies, music, large video department, 20 plus computers for browsing, private reading rooms with rocking chairs, a large collection of books and toys for children, visitors to Sanibel Island's library can never return bored. There is an exhibit of shells and artwork as well. Another attraction is the 'author series' wherein famous authors are invited to speak about their work and sign books. It is usually in winter that best selling authors are invited to Sanibel Island library.
Dining and shopping in Sanibel Island
Italian and American dishes are equally popular and served in most of the 50 plus restaurant in the Island. Demand for fresh sea food and extraordinary steak dishes at budget-friendly rates set in exquisite and relaxed surrounding make dining enjoyable.
Shopping ranks as one of the top 5 pastimes among Sanibel vacation guests. Shopkeepers of Sanibel Island are eager to delight customers with a host of items. From $10 to $ 200, shopping for sea shells is easy as there are many shops that specialize in sea shells gifts. Sanibel Island has other shopping attractions too. Periwinkle place was selected as the best shopping destination of Sanibel Island. The place is popular for great clothing stores as wells as gifts. For fine arts and high quality crafts, jewelry, ceramics, cards and gift items, the best place to shop is Tower Gallery Cooperative. To shop for things from the past visit the vintage specialty shops.
A responsible tourist
The best things in life are to be shared. To retain its charm the local government and residents work ceaselessly to curb development in the form of high-rises and fast-food outlets with drive-through windows which are banned in Sanibel Island. Likewise, to keep the pristine beaches clean some rules have to be followed. Visitors to Sanibel Island between May 1 and November 1, play a role in protecting the loggerheads and sea turtles. During this time it's required to keep the beaches dark as the loggerheads and sea turtles return annually to lay their eggs on the beaches. As light disorients their baby hatchlings away from the water, all outdoor lighting, including flash lights are banned during this period.