By Lauren Tjaden
I love nature. I love the beach. I love destinations that aren’t cookie-cutter, that surprise me and enchant me.
Which explains why I adore Sanibel and Captiva Islands. The sister barrier Islands are beautiful, with tangles of mangroves hugging the roads and a whopping 15 miles of beaches. The islands boast an abundance of quirky restaurants and eclectic shops. They’re as relaxed as juice in the blender, and they don’t even have any traffic lights.
But that’s just the tip of the sandbar. The Islands also feature tons of activities, so they’re perfect for someone like me, who has been accused – unjustly, of course – of having the attention span of a goldfish.
Check out some of my favorites:
Shelling: Assume the ‘Sanibel stoop’ and scoop up some treasures from the sea in this world-famous shelling hotspot. Make sure to visit the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum while you’re in town; it offers free workshops to teach you all about shelling, as well as trips to the beach where you can try it first hand.
Ding Darling Nature Preserve: This 6,300-acre nature preserve is part of the largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystem in the United States and is famed for its spectacular migratory bird populations. You can explore it via car (on the Preserve's wildlife drive), by kayak or canoe, on foot or by bicycle.
Have a Ball at the Beach: Sanibel and Captiva boast an abundance of beautiful beaches, where you can contemplae a lighthouse, search for shells, escape the crowds or just soak up the sun. Find the perfect fit for you in this beach guide.
Biking: Sanibel’s superbly-maintained bike paths meander through 22 miles of shopping districts, back roads, friendly neighborhoods and quiet waterways. Check out where you can rent two-wheeled transportation and plot out suggested trips.
Parasailing: Soar over to tiny Captiva Island for a fabulous flight with YOLO Watersports. You’ll never forget the views.
Rent a personal water craft: Search for manatee, sea turtles or dolphin – or just enjoy the ride on your personal watercraft. You can rent one from Captiva Island’s YOLO Watersports. They also offer guided tours to Cayo Costa Island.
Fishing: Hook into some family-friendly fun on a backwater fishing trip with Adventures in Paradise. They also offer sea life encounters, sunset and afternoon dolphin cruises, shelling and lunch excursions and eco-canoe tours.
Snorkel or scuba Dive: Wrecks and more than a dozen artificial reefs and residents such as barracuda, cobia, nurse sharks, grouper, amberjack and moray eels make the waters surrounding Sanibel a super place to dive into the underwater world.
Cruise to Cayo Costa: Spot dolphins, enjoy superb shelling and snorkel in the shallows with a boat ride – either private or group – to the barrier island of Cayo Costa with Sanibel Island Cruise Line. The pristine paradise boasts seven miles of beautiful Gulf front beach. While there, kick back in a kayak or splash into fun on a Sea Doo Sea Scooter.
Nature and Historical Walks and Tours: Discover diversions that include Chapel by the Sea (11580 Chapin Lane, Captiva, 239- 472-1646), C.R.O.W. (the Clinic for Rehabilitation of Wildlife), Old Town Sanibel and Sanibel Historical Museum and Village.