By Rosalind Cummings-Yeates
Filled with sunny charm and secluded beaches, Sanibel Island’s the ultimate Florida beach town.
It’s only three miles wide (at its widest point) and 12 miles long. However, this family-friendly barrier island packs a lot of natural beauty into a small and pristine area. Famous for unspoiled beaches that boast some of the best shelling in the world, Sanibel’s unusual east-west orientation extends into the Gulf of Mexico. This creates singular vistas and shelling experiences. Whether beachcombing, hiking or biking the island’s tree adorned paths, Sanibel offers a laid-back island experience.
Shells and Sand
There are other things to do on Sanibel besides lounging on dreamy stretches of sand. None of them will help you forget about missing the magic of Sanibel beaches, though. Head to the tucked-away paradise of Blind Pass Beach to stroll in pearly sand and develop the famous “Sanibel Stoop.” You’ll find yourself in this posture when bending down to scoop up the piles of seashells that decorate the shore. Stick around for some of the loveliest sunsets on the island.
For the perfect dip into gentle waves surrounded by a lush landscape, drop by Bowman’s Beach. It also supplies nature trails, a kayak launch and more shells. Grab some history and rays at Lighthouse Beach. The beach is home to the historic landmark that rises 98 feet above sea level and has operated since 1884. The lighthouse is perched on the eastern tip of the island and overlooks a fishing pier. Top off your beach exploration with a visit to the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum. Here you can learn about Sanibel’s greatest treasures while participating in an interactive beach walk guided by one of the museum’s marine biologists.
The Wild Side
Over 60 percent of Sanibel Island is dedicated to wildlife and nature conservation. The island’s varied ecosystems shelter 245 species of birds, as well as manatees, loggerhead sea turtles, bobcats and alligators. One of the most scenic options for viewing Sanibel wildlife is at the expansive J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. The park unfolds with over 6,400 acres of mangrove forest, which is part of the largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystems in the U.S. Hop the 90-minute tram tour through the reserve or hike or bike the four-mile Wildlife Drive, where you’ll likely spy waterbirds, alligators and rabbits peeping through the vegetation.
Gliding through Sanibel’s 25 miles of bike trails is another island essential. Roll through the winding paths among the trees of Pond Apple Park or take East Gulf Drive for water and beach vistas. Enjoy a glimpse of Sanibel’s historic buildings with a ride through the Sanibel Heritage Trail that showcases some of the oldest buildings on the island. Another part of Sanibel’s old school traditions is licking scoops of handcrafted ice cream at Sanibel’s Best Homemade Ice Cream in 130 flavors like Sanibel Seashells and noshing on fried gator tails or conch fritters at The Island Cow.
Located on an 85-acre peninsula on San Carlos Bay, Marriott Sanibel Harbour Resort & Spa supplies luxurious surroundings both indoors and outdoors. The AAA Four Diamond-rated waterfront property features 347 rooms with balconies, sitting rooms and floor to ceiling windows. Four restaurants and a cafe and bar serve up lots of food options and three outdoor swimming pools provide an alternative if you don’t want to dip into the Gulf of Mexico. The spa offers massages, steam rooms and an indoor pool.
(Go Magazine March/April 2020)