FLORIDA’S GULF COAST GEM
Sanibel Island, a popular vacation destination on the Gulf of Mexico, just off the coast of Ft. Meyers Beach is a sleepy little place to hang your hat. With a full time population of around 7,000, and just enough to do to stay occupied for a couple of weeks or forever if it suits you, this paradise has just the right balance of relaxation and water related activities to keep both young and old occupied and happy.
We set up our temporary home at Periwinkle Park, the island’s only full service RV home away from home. Nightly rates in winter are $45 and in the off season (summer) the price drops to $35. Very well worth it with clean bathrooms and laundry facilities, a little zoo of sorts with several species of birds and some very cute lemurs, and wide shaded spots for rigs of all sizes. There is a wild bird show every morning in the canal behind some of the prime (not more expensive) RV spots. There are electrical, water and sewer hookups at each site. The park is only a few minutes walk from the beach.
Getting around on this little rock made up of shells and sand without a car is a breeze. There is a two lane bike path that runs the length of Periwinkle Way, the main drag in town. Getting to the Wildlife Refuge, or the lighthouse, built in 1884, on the other end of the island is easy-peasy. Because the island is so small, getting to restaurants and shops is a very quick trip on foot or by bike.
Because of what makes up the island, Sanibel’s main claim to fame is the amazing shelling. The gob smacking abundance of them in nearly every shape and size causes tourists to assume what has come to be called, by the locals, as “The Sanibel Stoop”. I found myself looking down every time we got near the water.
There are many little islands around Sanibel and you can hire a boat to take you to some of them. We hired Captain Lacy, out of Ft. Meyers, for a four hour tour that included stops for shelling and snorkeling. Although I did have a pole I did not fish but, there are many places to do that if so inclined. There are companies that offers deep sea fishing, shelling, and wildlife tours as well.
Another popular activity on this tropical island is kayaking in the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge. Tours are offered by Tarpon Bay Explorers and are led by a wildlife expert. The main attraction on the tour is bird watching while paddling through the mangroves. For us, the third most popular activity was putting on headlamps and going out late at night to see what low tides revealed. The Gulf of Mexico is full of life and we enjoyed all of it.
For the less wildlife inclined, there are miles of white sand beaches just waiting to be walked. For those who enjoy indoor sports, there is a shell museum, an abundant amount of souvenir stores, one good beach gear shop, a shell emporium, a few boutique shops, a movie theatre, and a couple of decent grocery stores. One has movies for rent.
We cooked a lot while there. But, if your vacation plans include a respite from the stove, we did ﬁnd a decent breakfast, burger and ﬁsh place. Island Cow was our choice for the best breakfast on the island. Almost before you sit down a basket of cupcake like mufﬁns lands on the table, fresh and warm from the oven. There is enough variety in the menu to suit any appetite and the prices are decent. For burgers we did repeat business at Cheeburger Cheeburger. Their fresh Angus beef patties and handmade malts and shakes were lip smackin’ good.
For ﬁsh, try The Timbers. It is a little more upscale, but not terribly expensive. The menu is varied and includes a variety of fresh fish, crab, and shrimp dishes. Besides good food in the dining room they also have a raw bar and a very nice ﬁsh market if you are inclined to to cook up some of the freshest swimmers around. We especially liked the Grouper filets that saw action on our grill. For late night dessert, there is a Dairy Queen right across from Periwinkle Park. We had cones there and watched the fireworks on the Fourth of July.
With all there was to do, the highlight of my stay on Sanibel was taking my morning coffee outside to watch the plethora of birds catch breakfast in the little bayou of a canal that was our temporary backyard. The variety and size of the birds who fed there left me gobsmacked on a daily basis. At ﬁrst sight, I didn’t know any of the species names. I was glad I ordered a bird book while we were in New Orleans, and that it arrived while on the island. With some education, I can now state without hesitation that there were White Ibis, Snowy Egrets, Great White Egrets, Great White Herons, Great Blue Herons, Tricolor Herons, Wood Storks, Anhingas, and their cousins the Cormorants, feeding on the small ﬁsh and bugs.
Along with the birds, there were also dragonﬂies of every hue, and several turtle species that lived right outside our door or in the canal. There were tiny lizards living in the trees. I don’t know their proper names, but they acted, when startled, as if they could kick your butt. I opened the driver’s door of the rig one day to discover a tree frog hanging out on the instrument panel. How it got there…. who knows. Not all the animals on the island were benign like the birds. Just the opposite, they were waiting to bite and leave painful welts.
The worst offenders were the bugs you can’t really see, but can inflict so much pain in one bite that it hurts for days. Once bitten, the pain and itching started immediately. We sprayed ourselves with Deep Woods Off if we went out early in the morning or after dark to keep from getting eaten alive. I made the mistake of not spraying before going outside to see the birds one morning. I was bitten three times in a matter of seconds! The other terror creatures were the ants. While shooting video one morning, of the birds of course, I stepped on a nest of the little red monsters and ended up with a dozen so serious welts that later developed pimple like heads. Not pleasant at all.
Weather plays a big part in how you spend time on Sanibel in the summer. The gulf side of Florida is the land of heavy storms. During our stay we had several, including a six hour soaker where the water blew nearly sideways in drenching sheets. Lighting hit the ground a thousand yards from our metal home more than a dozen times. We thought we would have to wind up the awning due to the wind whipping things around outside. Luckily for us, she held up to what Mother Nature was throwing and was sheltered some what by the trees and bushes that separate the sites.
After the storm, there was a foot or more of water on some of the lanes in the park. Some spots were knee deep in water and had to be pumped out. I started thinking, during the storm, that hurricane season would begin in about a week and what we saw that night was nothing compared to what could happen in the next couple of months as we made our way around the horn of Florida and up the east coast.
If given the opportunity, I would return to this little island paradise. The pace of life is slow, the people are nice, and the water is warm. Next time, I would go in the winter as summer temperatures are nearly unbearable.