By Ann Marie O'Phelan

Residents and visitors alike love the shores of Sanibel and Captiva Islands. The sparkling white sands and calm Gulf waters never fail to capture the imagination.

Whether you're coming for a short visit or lingering on vacation, there's one Gulf coast destination to always remember: the islands of Sanibel and Captiva.

These two breathtakingly beautiful islands (located just three miles from Fort Myers in the Gulf of Mexico), offer world-famous shelling, wildlife in abundance, notable shopping and fine dining with a seafood slant. And all can be further enjoyed with a stay at one of Royal Shell Vacations vacation rentals, which allow you to customize your vacation home away from home.

From a "secluded hideaway" kind of vacation home just steps from the beach to a luxurious resort condominium with a bird's-eye-view of the Gulf, you'll find a perfect way to enjoy your stay on these tropical, unspoiled Florida islands.

What to Do in Sanibel Island

While Captiva is noted for its quaintness and quietude, Sanibel is where you can find a little more action. Nestled among the tropical landscape, there are plenty of fine dining and shopping choices, many of which are located right on the main street, Periwinkle Way. If you ask someone about what to do in Sanibel Island, they'll usually direct you here first.

This tree-lined street is also well-known for the bike path that stretches alongside of it – the path is part of a 25-mile trail that meanders through both islands. Should you feel like taking in the scenery on two wheels, there are several bike rental facilities available, including Billy's Bikes and Rentals.

As you explore, check out the many beach accesses dotting the coast. Don't miss Lighthouse Park Beach, located on the southern tip of the island and marked by the historic Sanibel Lighthouse. Toward the other end of the island, take time to discover the 6,400-acre J. N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge, famous for its diverse bird life, and the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum, offering more than 30 exhibits of mollusks from around the world. (Both are located right off Sanibel-Captiva Road.) 

When it comes to kicking back, there are plenty of Royal Shell options in close proximity to all you'll see and do. If you prefer a cozy home that's close to the beach, the Tiki Cottage, a charming three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath residence, is a solid option. If a luxurious stay beckons you, the upscale Sanibel Harbour Resort, with your choice of a two- or three-bedroom and two- or three-bath vacation condo, might be your best bet. The majestic resort, located just over the bridge from Sanibel Island, offers everything from The Spa at Sanibel Harbour to fine dining choices such as Tarpon House (serving up Southern-inspired cuisine and picturesque water views).

What to Do in Captiva Island

Crossing the bridge from Sanibel to Captiva, you'll pass over Turner Beach (Blind Pass), a white-sand beauty with impressive shelling opportunities. Even more removed from civilization than Sanibel, Captiva is a little less developed, a little more quiet.

The "Heart of Captiva," a short, scenic drive from the bridge, is where delicious casual dining is the standard, and Key lime pie is served just about everywhere. You just might find the best at Keylime Bistro. Another great dining stop is the Bubble Room, famous for its eclectic menu and equally interesting décor. Memorabilia, antiques and old amusement props create fanfare for the eyes while the tastebuds dance (don't leave without dessert).

Despite Captiva's smaller size, there are still a wide range of places to stay. If the idea of your own private tennis court and heated swimming pool piques your interest, you'll enjoy the comfortable luxury of the Outer Banks Home. This six-bedroom, five-bath bayfront home is just a short stroll to the beaches.

If you prefer a beachside stay, check out the homes and condominiums at South Seas Plantation on Royal Shell's website. The resort offers a range of units, including ones fit for larger parties – consider the impressive four-bedroom, four-bath beachfront townhouse that's surrounded by 330 acres of a natural botanical paradise.

Kick back, spread out and come sunset, you can toast to a whole new view of "paradise." Relaxing must be on your list of what to do in Captiva Island.

For more information on planning your in-state getaway to the islands of Sanibel and Captiva, contact Royal Shell Vacations at 800-656-9111 or visit

Places to Remember