The coast of Florida has islands upon islands. Big ones. Small ones. Islands built by Indians out of shells and islands built by big developers. Some of the prettiest islands with the most spectacular beaches are Sanibel and Captiva, the outermost islands on Florida’s Gulf Coast. These islands are now linked and flow into eachother, yet each has a distinct personality. Sanibel is a bit more busy and touristy while Captiva is quieter and seemingly more upscale.
According to their Chamber of Commerce they offer “15 miles of unspoiled beaches, 22 miles of bike paths, 50 types of fish, 230 types of birds, 250 types of shells and 0 stop lights.” Having driven along Sanibel and Captiva on a spring Sunday afternoon, I am not sure that adding a few stop lights wouldn’t improve the experience.
Driving tip: Avoid the traffic on Periwinkle Drive
If the traffic on the main drag, Periwinkle, is making you crazy (and it just might) cut over to Gulf Drive. As the name suggests, this parallel road runs along hte Gulf of Mexico. It has less traffic, fewer souvenir shops and better vistas than Periwinkle.
Eating tip: The Green Flash
I haven’t found great, gourmet dining on the Florida coast. But I have found places with very good food, good service, and occasionally great views. One of those is the green Flash on Captiva. You walk upstairs into a dining room dominated by views of the bay and nearby islands. The excellent menu features local fish and shellfish.
Lodging tip: South Seas Resort
Not cheap but definitely worth every penny, the South Seas Resort is at the tip of Captiva nad is a full-service island resort. You can easily check-in, stay for a week, and never leave the resort. To keep you busy there is golf, boating, kayaking, shopping, and even a good selection of restaurants (Holy Smokes BBQ is very good). The rooms are nice, modern, and well-appointed.
To Do Tip: Look for seashells on the beach
Sister Suzy says seek seashells… even if you don’t sell them. This area is known for its beautiful and bountiful seashells. The book “Gifts From The Sea” by Anne Morrow Lindbergh was set here, and the title is an apt one. Take a few minutes and soak in the beauty; looking for seashells may just be an excuse for slowing down and taking a walk on the beach.
To Do Tip 2: Visit the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge
The Darling Wildlife Preserve is the easiest way to absorb the natural beauty of the area without breaking a sweat. A one-way road winds through the largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystem in the United States. You can stop along the way to enjoy hundreds of species of migratory birds, red mangroves, lots of just beautiful views. The preserve is world famous for its birds, and the proof is in the veritable smorgasbord of languages that you’ll hear from the folks huddled around telescopes and binoculars. If you’re feeling more energetic, you can cycle, canoe or walk through the preserve. Definitely worth a stop if you are in the area.