Cool breezes brush my shoulders as I emerge from the Anchor Inn pool on Sanibel Island, but the sun is warm and soothing. Sanibel is a year-round paradise for those seeking beauty and peace, with plenty of shells for the picking, whatever the season. Shells can be found on all the public beaches, and whether you score a prized brown-spotted Junonia or content yourself with a soap dish-shaped cockleshell, as I did, collecting them is a delight.
Sanibel Island, located on Florida’s West coast near Fort Myers, can be reached via causeway for a $6 toll. (Getting off the island is free. After your visit you’ll know why the toll is just one-way—no one really wants to leave Sanibel!)
The charming Anchor Inn and Cottages (239-395-9688), located on Periwinkle Drive not far from the entrance to Sanibel, is one of the island’s best values. Anchor Inn features two-bedroom efficiencies for about $100 per night off-season, $60 higher in-season, or cottages with loft bedrooms for about $150 off-season, again higher in-season. One-room units are also available. Following closely in the value department is Tropical Winds Beachside Motel and Cottages (239-472-1765), offering a one-bedroom cottage for $145 off-season, about $60 higher in-season. (No pool, but the motel is just 300 feet from the Gulf.) For a taste of lodging luxury, try Sundial Beach and Golf Resort (239-472-4151), offering views of the Gulf with one-bedroom units and full kitchens for $239 off-season, about $90 higher in the winter months.
Beaches and boating
Sanibel abounds with shells, and there are numerous beaches to collect them as well as wade or swim in the Gulf. On a recent trip to the island, my husband and I visited Bowman’s Beach, located off Sanibel Captiva Road. After paying a nominal parking charge of $2 per hour, we crossed a wooden bridge and found ourselves on a vast beach stocked with shells, which we gathered happily for the next hour. Other beaches are located off West Gulf Drive and include Tarpon Bay Beach and Gulfside City Park. Or you can head in the opposite direction to Lighthouse Beach near the Sanibel Marina. (Please note: the beaches are pristine, with absolutely no sign of any oil spill.)
Boating opportunities are plentiful, including Santiva Saltwater Fishing, with private trips starting at $225 (239-472-1779), and Native Guides, featuring fishing, sightseeing and kayak tours (239-822-3337). You can also try Sweetwater Boat Rentals (239-472-6336) for power boats by the hour, half day or day, or opt for a sunset cruise.
Shopping and attractions
Sanibel Island is, well—a classy little place, and it’s pleasantly stuffed with all sorts of shopping opportunities, most of them on the up-scale side. Art galleries thrive, and even the grocery stores are chic. One of the prettiest shopping centers is Jerry’s, located at 1700 Periwinkle Way, and on my third day at Sanibel I made my way here, credit card in hand. After browsing in several delightful shops, I stopped at Sanibel’s Finest, a unique collection of artwork, jewelry and other unusual pieces, where I bought a necklace of red beads and semi-precious stones for just $38. My next stop was Poco Loco for coffee and yummy chocolate chip cookies, which I took outside to eat in the garden patio. Lush plants adorn the patio, but the real attraction is the colorful talking parrots in huge cages (yes, they really will talk to you!)
If you didn’t find as many shells as you’d like, head for She Sells Sea Shells (two locations on Sanibel), voted the Best Shell Shop in Florida. Here you can have your pick of a wide variety of exotic shells, including conch shells, tulip shells, coquinas and more.
Speaking of shells (and we do, quite a bit, at Sanibel) be sure visit the Bailey-Matthew Shell Museum on Sanibel Captiva Road (239-395-2233), the only shell museum in America. Also of interest is the Sanibel Lighthouse, located at the east end of the island, and the Sanibel Historical Museum Village (239-472-4648), depicting the island’s culture in years past.
Gramma Dots (239-472-8135), a waterside café located in the Sanibel Marina on the east end of the island, offers a view of the harbor and some very tempting fare. I enjoyed the blackened sea scallops served with steamed veggies, an enormous, mouth-watering hush puppy, and a fruit compote in a chocolate shell ($24.95). Other specialties include homemade clam chowder (my husband’s favorite) at $4.95 a bowl, and mesquite-grilled grouper (seasonally priced).
The Island Cow (239-472-0606) offers a superb stuffed French toast breakfast for $6.95, or you can opt for creamy cheese grits and Andouille sausage for $5.95. And don’t pass up a visit to Blue Giraffe (239-472-2525), voted “Best of the Island” and “Taste of the Island”. Try the Palm Tree chicken, a tasty concoction of pan-seared chicken with prosciutto, asparagus, provolone cheese and sun-dried tomatoes, served with a vegetable medley and roasted potatoes for $16.95. Enjoy!
There’s only one thing you’ll say as you leave Sanibel Island (no toll, remember, getting off) and that is: “When can I come back?