Florida's Gulf Coast is home to scores of remote barrier islands from the Panhandle all the way down the west coast to Naples, Marco Island and the Ten Thousand Islands - many still only accessible by boat. Though two of the more popular islands of Sanibel and Captiva have grown in recent years, they still have a wild and natural feel to them and a slower pace of life that make them the perfect getaway. They're two of my favorite places since I fell in love with them decades ago.
You'll catch yourself exhaling a little bit as you drive the long, narrow causeway over from the City of Fort Myers - the only way on- and off-island as the locals like to say - and the pelicans fly alongside your car at eye level. And while you may barely notice it when you're driving around, Sanibel and Captiva are two distinct islands separated by a short little bridge at Blind Pass. If it sounds like I'm describing Small Town America, that's good. Because I am. It's just that this Small Town is at the beach... and one of the most gorgeous beaches in the world at that. Something's different here. The light is different. The air smells different. It'll take hold of you when you're here, and never let go.
1. The Peace and Quiet
The first thing you'll love about Sanibel and Captiva is the peace and quiet. You don't come here for amusements or nightlife, or urban living (okay, except for sipping a Cosmo-politan on the beach). That's not to say the community is without its world-class amenities like golfing, dining, or the Arts. They're here in a big way along with tremendously wealthy residents. But you won't see it. The flashiest thing to do here is put on your finest sundress or shorts and head to a local hotspot like the Island Cow or Gramma Dot's for brunch. It's about slowing down here, reconnecting with your kids, friends, and yourself.
The Sanibel Island beaches and those on Captiva are concession-free and uncrowded. Even at the height of "the season" November through March, you'll still find your very own spot at the beach to call your own.
2. Do-It-Yourself Fun
People come to Sanibel and Captiva to make their own fun, whether that means Happy Hour with friends, getting in or on the water, beaching it with a good book, or celebrating sunset (applause, applause). Now's the time to hunt for shells and sea life, watch birds, or get out on the water in a boat, kayak or paddleboard and discover it for yourself.
3. The Wildlife
Sanibel and Captiva islands teem with wildlife. Their beaches and marshes are home to numerous species of wading and shore birds like snowy egrets, plovers, sandpipers, ibis, roseate spoonbills, great blue herons, and many others.
The J.N. "Ding" Darling Wildlife Preserve, on the north part of the island, is a pristine estuary and wetland environment and one of the most popular places on Sanibel for nature lovers. Paddling through the mangroves and tidal waters here allows you to commune with the natural world with every stroke of your paddle.
4. The Storms (and the Silver Lining)
Like many barrier islands, the storms that sweep across southwest Florida are wicked and wonderful at the same time, especially in the summer. When the humidity of the Everglades meets the warm Gulf of Mexico, sparks fly, resulting in intense and often severe electrical storms. Afterward however, is when you'll find some of the best shelling. Talk about a silver lining!
5. The Shells
What can I say about the shelling on Sanibel and Captiva that hasn't already been said? Just this...until you see it for yourself, you won't believe it. These little gifts from the sea wash ashore by the bucket full. And suddenly, you're a kid again with your pail and shovel, searching for that next wave to bring in your prize.
6. The Sunsets
SPOILER ALERT: There's something about the unrivaled sunsets of Southwest Florida, and I'll tell you what it is but you may be not believe me..... it's the clouds! The average, everyday sunsets off the coast of Sanibel and Captiva are stunning on their own, but add a dash of cloudy weather - especially during summer and Hurricane season - and you've got something extraordinary. I recommend you find yourself a great little beach bar on the island and celebrate the day. Cheers to that, my friends!
We've loved coming to Sanibel and Captiva since our kids were younger. Our daughter chose to get married here several years ago, and it was also the first time our youngest grandson had ever been to the ocean. I can't wait to have our next family reunion here in this special, timeless place.
If You Go
The islands of Sanibel and Captiva are perfect for family or romantic getaways. To plan your trip, stop in the Sanibel Captiva Chamber of Commerce, located in the colorfully painted building on the right as soon as you cross over the Sanibel Causeway! Or visit the local tourism website for more info!
Where to Stay
I've personally stayed at several places on the island and can highly recommend these three:
South Seas Resort, Captiva - Perfect for family getaways and weddings
Sundial Beach Resort & Spa, Sanibel - A fun family destination and great conference locale
The Sanibel Inn, Sanibel - Laid-back family atmosphere