“This is my collection of collections,” my daughter announces when she shows off her over-flowing shelves. Kids, it seems, are hardwired to collect. Just bring them to a beach and see how fast the rocks and beach glass get scooped up. And the most precious beachcombing treasures – besides pirates’ gold- are shells. Even for adults, the lure of a shell shimmering in the white sand is impossible to resist as we discover on a trip to Sanibel Island, Florida.
Located near Fort Myers on the southwest coast, Sanibel and its sister island Captiva are considered to be among the top shelling destinations in North America. The term ‘Sanibel Stoop’ was coined to describe the bent-over position visitors adopt as they’re scouring the beach for the over 400 varieties from common-place scallops to the large conches. The expression also describes the backache that ensues, but of course, the kids don’t suffer from this ailment and have energy to spare as shell after shell plops into pails during a morning on Bowman Beach.
We don’t know much about our treasure except that they’re pretty. Fortunately, the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum is on the island, too and visitors can find out everything they want to know about mollusks and exoskeletons AKA shells, that they leave behind.
Opened in 1995, the museum has the largest collections of shells in North America and showcases the region’s shells as well as rare specimen’s from around the world. A scavenger hunt gets the kids involved in their shell education and they race through the museum searching the exhibits for the answers. Friendly volunteers award prizes when they complete the hunt, and also identify the shells the kids bring in.
“Look Mom! Another one for my collection,” my daughter says as she picks a shell from the basket that sits by reception desk for young visitors to take home. We just may need more shelves.
Where to Shell on Sanibel
Shelling is serious business here. Knowledgeable experts and shelling captains run local charters that ferry avid collectors to the top spots. But the island’s geography ensures even beginners are likely to score. Bowman’s Beach, Gulf side City Park, Lighthouse Beach and Tarpon Bay Beach are all good spots. Or just park your vehicle along any of the causeway beaches to get your shelling fix.
More Family Fun Ideas on Sanibel and Captiva Island
The Bubble Room: You’ll find all the excitement of Christmas in this restaurant that’s a cross between an elves workshop and a Hollywood shrine. “Open since 1979, the theme is Christmas everyday and Hollywood 30’s and 40’s,” the waiter tells us when he seats us. Every nook and cranny of the restaurant’s three floors is crammed with kitsch memorabilia, black and white Hollywood photos and Christmas decorations. There’s even a toy train that chugs through. As befits this never-never land, desserts are king of the menu. Portions are massive, which is OK since they taste just as good the next day.
J.N. Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge: Spotting wildlife has never been so easy. The 6,000-acre refuge is teeming with native birds like herons and pelicans, raccoons, otters, alligators and lush sub-tropical vegetation. Depending on your kids’ ages and activity level, you can explore the park via footpaths, canoe trails, a guided tram tour or a four-mile scenic drive.
Boat tours: Many cruise options are available. A popular family option is the 90-minute dolphin watch and wildlife cruise aboard Captiva cruises. They claim a 95% chance of spotting these playful creatures. And sure enough, within five minutes of departing, we are greeted by a few of them. For older kids, kayaking or canoeing the Great Calusa Blueway Paddling Trail provides a more intimate way of viewing wildlife.
For more information, visit www.fort-myers-sanibel.com and www.visitflorida.com . Accommodation is available both on the islands and in nearby Fort Myers. For our shell- themed vacation, we stayed at the Pink Shell Resort. Its white sandy beach, kids’ activities and family-friendly suites made it an ideal base to explore the area’s attractions including Sanibel and Captiva - www.pinkshell.com.
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After travelling the world teaching ESL, she’s now 'settled down' in Toronto, but continues to indulge her passion for travel as a family travel writer. Her website/blog www.justkidstravel.com helps kids plan and get excited about their travels.
Located: Toronto Canada
Likes: family,culture,nature,soft adventure, photography,food