Florida's West Coast: Sanibel Island
Just off the west coast of Florida across the bridge from Fort Meyers is lovely Sanibel Island. White sand beaches for shelling, sunrises, and sunsets in pastel colors, and a great selection of restaurants and shops to browse the afternoons away. There are bike paths throughout the island and renting a bicycle is a guaranteed good move to peddle from neighborhood shops to the beaches. There is also the JN Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on the island offering educational tours and programs throughout the year. Great vacation atmosphere, friendly locals, and the access to Fort Meyers make this Island a convenient and enjoyable stop on your Florida trip.
We enjoyed Periwinkle Campground located right across from the bridge causeway. It hosts a large population of long-term residents but offers good accommodations for transient RV guests. The sites are open with a few trees and shrubs, a concrete pad, picnic table, and water, electric, and sewer hookups. Ours was pretty large and open, giving us plenty of room between our neighbors. The roads are hard-packed sand and meander around the neat rows of park models and campsites. What you might not notice immediately is the animal sanctuary kept by the owners on the back of the property. While taking our evening walk, we heard monkeys and macaws and wondered if we were hearing things! We had stumbled upon the backyard sanctuary as we walked around the back of the park.
Things To Do
Water- This is one place you will love to get out into or onto the water. Kayaks, fishing boats, or jet skis are available for hire. Or, perhaps, just wade and swim in the turquoise water.
Beach- Just enjoy the lovely beaches. White sand and Caribbean blue water is the standard. Of course, you can go shelling while you are walking along the beach and perfect your "Sanibel Stoop"!
The National Shell Museum is on Sanibel Island and offers daily beach walks, live tank talks, and shelling programs.
J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge offers tours and programs through the natural beach and scrub habitat
Almost too many restaurants to name, we found one near our campground that proved to be a winner. Metzaluna offers everything from custom pizzas to full-service Italian fare. Their bar area is charming, the service good, and the food is stellar! Try the caramelized onion pizza.
Hit the Reset Button
The beach. There is nothing that brings down the blood pressure like watching the gentle surf, pastel sunsets, and walking along the sand. Sanibel Island offers all of this. If you are a 'beach person' then releasing your stress into the coast is as natural as breathing. The sound and sight of the surf drown out the anxiety of the workplace, allowing you to relax and refresh. Sanibel Island offers a great beach known for its shelling. The slow stroll, bending down to retrieve some small treasure, turning it over in your hand and then stashing it in your pocket is the primary activity for many mornings. But it is the pastel-colored sunsets that really define Sanibel Island. They cast a pink light over the beach that is hard to describe but magical to witness. It is a great way to cap off a relaxing day.
Don't Forget To Bring
- Beach Chairs. This is one beach you will want to sit and soak up the sunsets!
- Camera (or cell phone camera). The pastel colors of the sunsets are amazing and the brilliant sunrises are worth getting up to photograph.
- Inflatable Kayak. The Gulf is calm enough to paddle and the beach is an easy path to follow.
- Bicycles. If you travel with bikes, this is the perfect destination to bring them to. Lots of bike paths around the island. If you don't want to bring your own, you can rent bikes on the island.
Our Experience on Sanibel Island
With Crystal River in our rearview mirror, we headed south again. Leaving the heavy traffic of I-75 behind, we crossed the bridge that leads from the mainland to the barrier islands off of Fort Meyers. As the bridge comes into view so does the blue waters, pelicans, and boats. Exhale. Even though we are on sabbatical, traffic can raise the blood pressure just as readily as an intense meeting at work. But the promise of sand, water, and salt air are enough to leave that anxiety behind.
Sanibel and Captiva Islands are a lovely pair. Remarkably turquoise waters, soft sandy beaches, sun and lots to do. There is a multitude of little villages that populate the main thoroughfare, each with a selection of shops and restaurants. This is a walkable, bikeable island with paved bike paths along every major street and lots of places to rent bikes. In fact, the RV park where we had reservations, Periwinkle Park, was the perfect setting for biking. Hard sand roads and paths, well lit, and easy access to the beach. This time, we didn't bring the bikes, opting for the kayaks instead so we enjoyed those bike paths on foot.
As we walked around the park that first evening, we thought we could hear the sounds of parrots, macaws, and monkeys. Turns out, the owner rescues parrots and has expanded his menagerie to include a number of other species. Very interesting walking down a dark, sandy road, palm trees waving in the breeze, stars twinkling brightly in the night sky - and the sounds of the jungle coming from the end of the street! Just one more reason to enjoy Periwinkle. It is a very nice park and one that is very well managed. We have found the RV parks in Florida to be much more cramped than other states. But even though Periwinkle was full, there was a bit of space between units along with wide, sandy roads to make it feel more comfortable.
Our walk to the beach began at the back gate of Periwinkle Campground and spilled over onto a quiet residential street. Lovely, well-manicured lawns, mature tropical plants, and trees line the street all the way to the beach. We saw two unusual mailboxes on either side of the street facing each other: one a dolphin and one a manatee. Both wearing sunglasses and the dolphin holding a bouquet of roses in his mouth and covered from head to toe with heart stickers. The manatee held a box of candy with kiss stickers all over him! Ah, Valentines Day in Sanibel... even the wildlife are romantic!
We made the mile-round-trip walk four times in two days. Jim was keen to try out a new camera on the sunrise and sunset, so off we went at dusk and dawn to find "the right light". It was quite pretty in the early morning, and we expected to be the only ones on the beach. But when we arrived before dawn, we found dozens of people there waiting, like us, for the sun to rise.
The sunset was a little tougher to catch since it actually sets on the other side of the island. All we could capture from our little beach was a soft color palette of lavender, yellow, coral, and too many blues to discern. We enjoyed the dance of a group of Sand Pipers and watched them run up to the water's edge and scurry away as the waves pushed over the sand. The litter of shells covered the beach, so much so that it was painful to walk through them without flip-flops. Most were very small shells, but here and there were larger, broken shards of conchs and mussels. Unlike St. George Island near Apalachicola where oyster shells are remarkably common, the shells on Sanibel are primarily clams and scallops. Not an oyster shell in sight.
The beaches are accessible all over the island with paid parking at each access point. But it is worth the parking fee. The water is just so beautiful in color and the sand is soft in the areas above the shell line. From our beach, we could see the city skyline of Fort Meyers stretch across the horizon. Some of the other beaches, particularly the Lighthouse Beach and Turner Beach seemed a little narrower, but the view was just as stunning.
The islands are covered with resorts, vacation homes, and some very impressive-looking residences. However, with the lush landscaping, it doesn't feel overdeveloped. Parking was a bit of a challenge near the beaches since the lots were small and sandy. Gratefully, each beach we visited offered at least three parking spots specifically designated for RVs of 20 - 30 feet in length. Right in our class.
There are dozens of good restaurants on the islands and most are accessible by bike or a short walk from the Park. A few blocks walk from Periwinkle Park are several restaurants. After a great day of walking the beaches, we decided pizza sounded like the best plan. We set out on foot with our flashlight down the dark bike paths that offer pedestrian access to almost any shopping or restaurant on the island.
The moon was full, and the breeze light, so only a light sweater was needed. The restaurant we had chosen is the closest to the park, so we crossed the street and made our way inside. It was busy - about a 20-minute wait. Even though there were a lot of people in the bar and restaurant, the noise level was subdued. Really nice that we could have a quiet conversation over dinner.
The menu offered far more than pizza. There were Italian specialties like veal marsala, shrimp carbonara, chicken puttanesca and eggplant parmesan, but we wanted to try the pizza since they had a wood-fired pizza oven. There were so many varieties it was a challenge to choose only one. Since the pizzas were personal sized, I chose a sweet caramelized onion, spinach, artichoke with goat cheese while Jim vied for his favorite - pepperoni. The crust was perfect - thin and crispy. Service was excellent and the fact that they had our favorite Cabernet Sauvignon on the wine list and a host of craft beers available, we deemed them the perfect pizza place for us!
We ended the evening with a leisurely walk back to the Park, enjoying the starlight and soft breeze. Ah, lovely Sanibel. Although our stay was brief, we enjoyed it enough to plan a visit in the near future. One more sunrise to shoot and then on to our next destination tomorrow.