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Sanibel Dreaming
By Todd
Jun 16, 2004, 20:47

Things have changed since I first started going to Sanibel Island with my future wife's family back in 1987. On the negative side, traffic on island is horrendous between 5pm and 7pm and development has eaten a significant amount of open space on Gulf Drive and Periwinkle. But these issues aside, Sanibel is a most welcome vacation spot for any Northerner trying to escape the winter cold. The island has something for everyone. If you can't immediately find it on island, Fort Myers and the surrounding area will provide it.

For the relaxing peace loving beach goer, Sanibel days start early. The sunrise over Fort Myers is breathtaking. If you are on the beach, make sure you don't get "walked over". All of the shell hunters have their heads down trying to find newly deposited treasures from the evening tides. Sanibel beaches are known for the shells. Our favorite stretch of beach is from the lighthouse to Sanibel Moorings. The surf is benign (no undertow), so kids and non-swimmers will be fine. In general, Sanibel's beach population is all ages. The only group missing is the spring break crowd. These folks are whooping it up at Fort Myers beach: thankfully a long way away from Sanibel.

The beaches are mostly fine sand with minimal wind. Walking, jogging, sand castle building and lounging are the primary activities. My father in law, a 25 year Sanibel vacationer, says that in a two week stay, you will average only 2 to 3 non beach days. His experience is primarily limited to the last three weeks in March.

Sanibel offers a variety of activities if you can't stay on the beach. Exploring the island is a necessity. The Ding Darling Reservation makes up a significant portion of the island. From the pedestrian to the avid nature lover, Ding Darling has it. Some friends of mine who are rabid bird watchers swear by Ding Darling. Next to the reservation is Tarpon Bay where a fisherman or a family can rent canoes with electric motors. The bay is huge with cove upon cove of mangroves. If you are a runner or like bicycling, the entire island has dedicated paths.

Golf on the island is limited to two different courses. Beachview and the Dunes are the daily fee courses and do not match up to the courses available off island. They are expensive, short and overplayed. Off island courses are better and offer more diverse tracts. If you have connections, the Sanctuary on Captiva is a must play.

Off island activities are not limited to golf. The majority of fishing guides typically leave from the mainland side of the bridge at Punta Rassa. On island guides leave from Captiva marinas which can be a longer drive if you are staying on Sanibel. If you are planning a trip around fishing, the tarpon are at their peak around the islands the first two weeks in May. In March and April, you can also target redfish, snook, ladyfish and seatrout. I have gone out with Captain Rey Rodriguez for the last three years. See his website at

Other off island activities for the family are the MLB spring training baseball games held in Ft. Myers for the Twins and in City of Palms for the Red Sox. Seats are cheap and fairly easy to come by. The season begins in February and ends in early April.

When you are done hiking, running, golfing or sunning, the island (according to my wife) has excellent shopping up and down the length of Periwinkle. Her favorite is Periwinkle Place. It offers a diverse enough selection without the "mall" feel. The open air atmosphere is refreshing. Stores range from the obligatory tee shirt shops to high end jewelry, art gallery and even a cheese/wine shop. The original Chico's is here, as well. As a self titled non shopper, I do not cringe when my wife drags me here. Outlet shopping on island doesn't exist, but just off island there is a Tanger Outlet which seems to have all the typical favorites (Bass, Polo, Gap, Ann Taylor et al.).

Food, glorious food, is probably where this article should end-or even better an after dinner cocktail at the Mucky Duck to see the sunset. Sanibel/Captiva restaurants are unique across the board. From the truly Floridian bar and grill Lazy Flamingo to the supper club atmosphere of Dolce Vita, there is something for everyone. The Lazy Flamingo has two locations. The Hobbit like structure on Sanibel always bustles and is our favorite. A perfect grouper sandwich with a truly ice cold beer definitely takes the edge off a hot sun drenched day. Be aware that you could have a significant wait. Another option if the Flamingo is packed is Gramma Dot's about one mile down the road at the marina. Food is excellent, but I prefer the Flamingo's grouper and atmosphere. For a more fancy evening out try Twilight, Sunset and LaVigna. For sport coat and slacks we love the Sanibel Steakhouse and my newest favorite, Dolce Vita, which has a supper club atmosphere and phenomenal wine/menu selections. We typically avoid the "Periwinkle Perrenials": McT's, Manga Manga, Island Pizza and CheeBurger due to the inconsistency and frequent ownership changes. That reminds me, one of our lunch favorites is now an "avoid". Snappers Hots was great on food and longer. Everything is very expensive and they are using different ingredients.

To close out the evening after dinner, make sure you catch the sunset on Captiva. The best spots are right over Redfish bridge or, if you desire a cocktail (or two) the Mucky Duck is great beachfront bar.


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