By Lauren C. Townsend
They tell me to stop and feel the moment when I’m on Sanibel. I cross the causeway onto the island, I breathe in deep and exhale. I leave behind the to-do lists, and welcome the scent of the warm ocean, and the promise of a slower pace.
I step onto the white sand of Sanibel Island, known for its pristine beaches, with a plan of walking, thinking some exercise will do me good. But before I know it, I’m distracted by the shells, what appears to be football fields of them, all different and each with special names like Tulip, Alphabet Cone, and Olive. They’re like nothing I’ve ever seen before. I can’t help wanting to take the prettiest with me. But with only the palm of my hand to carry them, I’m faced with the dilemma of which beautiful piece of nature to keep, and which to leave behind to the next shell seeker. Next time, I’ll be prepared.
The gentle ocean breeze keeps the warmth of the day’s heat at bay. As I stroll along the water’s edge, I notice the ocean is a distinctive blue-green tone, and there’s a sandbar in the distance. This moment, this breeze, those dolphins, the crashing waves—this is the moment they talked about.
Sanibel is an interesting dichotomy. It’s known to be one of the top shelling spots in the world, but perhaps equally as special are the experiences on-island. One of Sanibel’s secret charms is the wildlife that co-exists. Yes, there are alligators to observe, but the closer eye finds different bird species and other types of wildlife all around.
I ride my bike along one of the many miles of paved bike paths and spot a gopher tortoise who just safely crossed the road. They are large, slow moving turtles that can live up to 80 years (or so the informational sign tells me at the gazebo resting spot just off the bike path). I can’t help but think, Who can’t love an island that proudly posts Tortoise Crossing signs?
For a deeper look at the Sanibel wildlife, explore J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Reserve, or learn from experts at the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW). On the island, there are bobcats, pelicans, and various bird species including Sanibel’s protected osprey. These birds of prey are spotted throughout the island nesting on tall platforms. With two-thirds of Sanibel’s land preserved as wildlife sanctuary, it’s a nature lover’s paradise.
After a few days, I walk my final morning on the beach to gather my thoughts and prepare for my return to life back home. I breathe in that fresh air. I close my eyes and feel the breeze. I let the ocean waves crash at my feet, and my toes sink into the sand. I stand there and just feel the moment. I open my eyes and watch the other beachgoers, simply wondering, do they get it? I sure hope they do.
AAA TIPS DON’T MISS
- Doc Ford’s Restaurant for their Yucatan Shrimp. Named after the main character in the best-selling Randy Wayne White novels, you just might have an author sighting there, but you won’t care if you don’t once you try their fantastic shrimp.
- Breakfast at The Over Easy off of Periwinkle Way. The coffee, bacon, eggs, French toast, and pancakes are exactly what you need to get your day off to a good start.
- Splurge at the intimate Il Tesoro off Tarpon Bay Road, featuring Northern Italian cuisine. Pop into the fine art cooperative next door, Tower Gallery, to walk off your meal.
AAA FACTS WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
- Sanibel is a sleepy Florida island with a population of around 7,000.
- Sanibel has a $6 toll for cars to get onto the island. Ask your rental car if you can get an electronic toll pass, or SunPass, to skip the lines.
- Fly into Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW), 45 minutes away.
- If you like biking, this is the place to do it. One of the many bike rental shops will get you outfitted quickly—but don’t forget your sunscreen and helmet!