Are you pining for the Florida of days past: a Florida with unspoiled white sand beaches, exotic wildlife and lush subtropical foliage? Have no fear!
The paradise that once was Florida can still be found away from the busy beaches of Southbeach and Miami and away from the family crowds of Disney. For tropical paradise just a hop and skip away, The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel in southwest Florida is exactly what you're looking for.
The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel, Florida's Tropical Island Getaway
Known as Florida's tropical island getaway, this subtropical paradise is a favorite vacation spot for Floridians as well as visitors from across the United States and abroad. Here, Floridians living in more congested areas of the state can visit for a feel of old Florida that no longer exists in many areas. In addition to the beautiful natural environment, active travelers are pleased to find an abundance of golf, tennis and watersports as well as some unusual attractions.
The Lee County area embraces nine distinct areas, each with its own unique character. Best known are Sanibel and Captiva islands, connected to the mainland by an alluring three-mile-long causeway and, to each other, by a blink-and-you'll-miss-it bridge at Blind Pass.
Find Hundreds of Shells at The Sanibel Stoop
Sanibel is known worldwide for its shelling and the associated posture referred to as the "Sanibel Stoop." Some fanatics attach flashlights to their heads, in an effort to be first in the daily search for top picks of the more than 400 varieties of shells found littering the beaches, particularly after an especially high or low tide. For most visitors, however, shelling is merely a delightful excuse to enjoy hours of sun worshipping along some of the finest shoreline in North America.
Sanibel's main thoroughfare, Periwinkle Way, is Sunday-drive picturesque, and lush with foliage. Interesting shops and restaurants dot the road from Sanibel Lighthouse to Tarpon Bay Road, making it difficult to complete the distance without a half dozen sight-seeking stops at the boutiques and art galleries.
Captiva Island, Home to J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge
On the way to Captiva Island, located toward Sanibel's northern tip, the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge is home to many exotic species of birds and plants. A 4-mile drive with access to walking and canoe/kayak trails offers abundant opportunities for naturalists to witness a raccoon washing up before breakfast, an alligator snatching a quick bite or long-legged wading birds stalking their prey. In all, the refuge occupies more than 2/3's of the island.
The main attraction on Captiva is that there are none. Many people wile away the hours in one outdoor endeavor or another. It was here that Anne Morrow Lindbergh, wife of the famous aviator, wrote her best-selling book, "A Gift from the Sea."
Traveling off the coast of Sanibel and Captiva islands, the boater will discover more than 100 outer coastal islands. Many are uninhabited mangrove clusters while others take visitors' breath away with their beautiful beaches.
North Captiva and Cayo Costa Island Preserve
Both North Captiva and Cayo Costa Island Preserve are known for their virtually deserted yet alluring coastlines and excellent shelling potential. In fact, local shelling guides offer excursions to these islands, where competition for prize specimens is less fierce than on the more accessible islands. Cayo Costa was purchased by the state in 1985, and the Florida Department of Natural Resources maintains primitive cabins on the northern portion of the island, near Johnson Shoals.
While desert islands conjure up romantic fantasies, modern seafarers may prefer a sociable watering hole at times. Cabbage Key offers that shipwreck survivor's dream of salvation. Situated at Milemarker 60 on the Intracoastal Waterway, this island was built atop an ancient Calusa Indian shell mound.
Mystery writer Mary Roberts Rinehart helped her son build his home here in 1938. The house has been converted into a cozy inn with six guest rooms and a picturesque dining room papered in thousands of autographed dollar bills. The tradition, which has generated at least $30,000 worth of George Washington wallpaper, began when a thirsty fisherman left his bill taped to the wall, ensuring a cold drink the next time he stopped by. Now almost all visitors leave their mark, if they can find a space.
Stay in the Cozy Harbor Town of Boca Grande, Gasparilla Island
A short boat ride north from Captiva or Pine Island, an hour-and-a-half drive by car, Boca Grande is a charming turn-of-the-century harbor town on Gasparilla Island and another safe port for the rich and famous.
Founded by the wealthy DuPont family in the late 1800s, this sleepy little southern town comes replete with small shops, cozy restaurants, waterside accommodations and beautiful beaches. Members of the Boca Grande Tarpon Guides Association, largely composed of local third and fourth generation fishing captains, provide anglers all that is necessary for a successful day on the water.
Estero Island's Fort Myers Beach is Known as Safest Beach in the World
Estero Island, home of Fort Myers Beach, long has been recognized as one of the "world's safest beaches" because of its gently sloping shoreline. The sand is particularly soft and white, akin to powdered sugar. During the winter, Estero Bay is home to an extensive shrimp and fishing fleet. Life on Estero is especially suited for family vacations. Here one finds every imaginable water toy, from windsurfer to catamaran and parasailing. Numerous marinas operate boating and fishing charters. Local restaurants benefit from the catch, which generally includes red snapper and grouper.
For an afternoon picnic, there is no better spot than Lovers Key on Black Island, just south of Estero. Visitors proceed by open tram across a scenic vista of mangrove islands, arriving at a secluded beach less than 10 minutes later. Ample driftwood and seashells decorate the shore, while pesky raccoons compete for scraps with flocks of sea gulls and other shore birds.
Continuing south, and still on the peninsula, Bonita Beach occupies the southern boundary of the Lee County area. Here traces of old and new Florida peacefully coexist along gently winding beaches deemed among the best in the region. Further inland in Bonita Springs and Estero, history buffs can take a walk through remnants of the Koreshan Unity movement, an extinct religious sect that practiced equal rights for women long before the concept became popular. More modern adventurers enjoy the excitement of greyhound racing at the Naples-Fort Myers Greyhound Track.
Downtown Fort Myers with Thomas Edison and Henry Ford
Anyone suffering from island fever can find instant relief by paying a call to the "City of Palms," Fort Myers, with its charming downtown historic river district and expanding hub of urban activity that extends to shopping malls, restaurants and nightclubs.
Inventor Thomas Edison and his friend, automobile manufacturer Henry Ford, decided early on to make their winter homes in Fort Myers. Today visitors daily tour their neighboring estates with Edison's botanical gardens, laboratory and museum.
Other in-town attractions include the Southwest Florida Historical Museum, river cruises from the downtown yacht basin and the Calusa Nature Center and Planetarium. Visitors also like to drive the short distance to the Shell Factory in North Fort Myers and Eden Vineyards, the country's southernmost bonded winery, to the east. For the sports minded, public golf courses and tennis courts make southwest Florida some of the best playing turf in the state.
For more information about The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel, visit: www.fortmyers-sanibel.com.
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Gizelle Lau is a freelance writer & photographer in Toronto, Canada with a passion for food and travel.
Located: Toronto Canada
Likes: cities, culture, food/wine, paths-less-travelled, photography, wildlife