Vacation time is here, and if you’re like many Americans, you’re thinking about a trip to the beach. The beaches of California, Hawaii and the Caribbean immediately come to mind, but don’t neglect some of the very best beaches that are here in the southern United States.
Thousands of miles of beaches lie at the northern boundary of the Gulf of Mexico, uniting with Florida, Alabama and Texas. You’ll find the same gentle waves and gorgeous ocean views found at other beaches, all within a day’s drive or less, coupled with that famed Southern hospitality.
Florida’s fun in the sun
Nice and easy in the Lone Star State
|Jul/Aug 2008 Issue
The Florida of days long past, with unspoiled white sand beaches, exotic wildlife and lush subtropical foliage, still can be found on Sanibel and Captiva Islands in the state’s southwestern area.
Known as Florida’s Tropical Island Getaway, this subtropical paradise is a favorite vacation spot for visitors from around the world. Here, visitors escape the more congested areas of the state for a feel of old Florida that no longer exists. This area is proving to be the perfect sanctuary for families to reconnect in a quiet, natural setting. With surroundings conducive to refocusing on what’s really important in life, visitors are finding a sense of inner peace as they submerse themselves in alluring natural wilderness.
Sanibel and Captiva Islands offer a variety of accommodations to fit any budget and great year-round weather for an abundance of recreational activities for every member of the family, including nature- and history-based tours and activities, golfing, biking, tennis, incredible fishing, shopping and much more.
Sanibel and Captiva Islands are connected to the mainland by a three-mile-long causeway and, to each other, by a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it bridge at Blind Pass. Sanibel is known worldwide for its shelling and the associated posture referred to as the “Sanibel Stoop.” Some fanatics attach flashlights to their heads, in an effort to be first in the daily search for some of the more than 200 varieties of shells found littering the beaches, particularly after an especially high or low tide.
For most visitors, however, shelling is merely a delightful excuse to enjoy hours of sun-worshipping along the shoreline. Shell-lovers can further satisfy their passions at the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum, dedicated to showcasing exotic shells from Sanibel and Captiva Islands, and throughout the world (888-679-6450; www.shellmuseum.org).
Sanibel’s main thoroughfare, Periwinkle Way, is Sunday-drive picturesque and lush with jungle. Interesting shops and restaurants dot the road from the Sanibel Lighthouse to Tarpon Bay Road, making it difficult to complete the distance without many sightseeing stops at the boutiques and art galleries.
On the way to Captiva Island, located toward Sanibel’s northern tip, the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is home to many exotic species of birds and plants. With 250 species of birds, the refuge has been ranked by USA Today as one of the top birdwatching locations in North America. A four-mile drive, as well as walking and canoe trails, offers abundant opportunities for naturalists to witness a raccoon washing up before breakfast, an alligator snatching a quick bite or long-legged wading birds stalking their prey. In all, the refuge occupies more than half of the island (239-472-1100, www.dingdarlingsociety.org).
The main attraction on Captiva is that there is none, and many people wile away the hours in one outdoor endeavor or another. It was here that Anne Morrow Lindbergh, wife of the famous aviator, wrote her best-selling book, “Gift from the Sea.”
Much of southwest Florida’s earliest, most colorful history can be found on and around the barrier islands that dot its coastline. They also have long been a mecca for explorers, including Ponce de Leon, who discovered Sanibel and Captiva in 1513. It is believed that Spanish pirate Jose Gaspar lived in Pine Island Sound during the early 1800s. Legend has it that the central location enabled him to establish headquarters on Sanibel Island (Santa Isybella Island) and bury his ill-gotten gains on Gasparilla Island. Further, it’s been said that Captiva Island (translated from Isle de los Captivas) was no named because Gaspar kept his ransomed female prisoners there.
By 1900, sea captains and farmers were homesteading the islands, and 1925, inventor Clarence Chadwick converted Captiva into a key lime plantation. Today, Chadwick’s plantation is the 330-acre South Seas Island Resort. The tropical resort paradise is a popular vacation destination, complete with a marina, golf course and upscale restaurants (239-472-5111).
Additional insights to old-time island life can be found at the Sanibel Lighthouse. Built in 1884 on the island’s southern tip, the lighthouse has been a wildlife refuge since 1950. In recent years, a boardwalk was built to provide visitors easy access to the lighthouse and surrounding cottages. An additional boardwalk has since been completed, connecting the beachfront landmark to the fishing pier.
The Sanibel Historical Village and Museum showcase exhibits and displays that tell the island’s history beginning with the Calusa Indians. A quaint village dedicated to the pioneer families of Sanibel and Captiva include “Uncle” Clarence Rutland’s home, Bailey’s General Store, the 1926 post office, Miss Charlotta’s Tea Room, and the Burnap Cottage. Connected by a handicapped-accessible boardwalk, all are furnished with genuine antique items. Other displays include a pioneer garden, an antique Model-T truck and a replica packing house (239-472-4648).
Sanibel and Captiva islands are part of The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel, which includes history Fort Myers, Fort Myers Beach, Pine Island, Bonita Springs and Estero, Cape Coral, North Fort Myers, Boca Grande and Lehigh Acres.
For details on accommodations, attractions and more, call (239) 338-3500 or visit www.fortmyers-sanibel.com.
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