Sanibel is a barrier island less than two hours south of Sarasota and very much worth the drive. It is 12 miles long and 3 miles wide (at its widest point) and is connected to the mainland by a long causeway bridge. As a comparison, Siesta Key is 8 miles long and much wider.
Sanibel is known primarily for shelling and my wife was in heaven. She has a huge shell collection, some of it passed down from her grandmother to her mother. But…she can’t go to the beach - any beach - without picking up shells. Shells have been around for more than 500 million years. People have used them for musical instruments (conch-shell trumpets), spoons, jewelry, and even money. A shell is the protective layer or external skeleton that once surrounded soft-bodied animals. Most seashells are mollusks, a group of animals that includes snails, clams, oysters, and mussels. These animals make shells by growing a thin protein layer over their body, like your fingernail. Then the layer hardens, forming a shell. When an animal dies or loses its shell, the shell may be washed ashore and this is certainly the case on Sanibel Island, more so than most any place in the world. In fact, it has been referred to as the “Sea Shell Capital of the World! Why? It's because it’s one of the very few islands that run perpendicular to the state of Florida, whereas most islands run the same way as Florida, which causes the ocean currents to have the beaches primarily flushing water downward.
As a vacation spot for someone who grew up in Sarasota, home of the world famous Siesta Beach, the slower pace of Sanibel reminded us of Sarasota from years past. And…we love to eat! Surprisingly, there are almost 50 restaurants on Sanibel so there is no way you will starve! Two of the many places we highly recommend are Traditions on the Beach and Doc Ford’s Rum Bar and Grille.John D. McDonald in the 50’s and 60’s. The main character in Randy’s books is Doc Ford, a marine biologist who lives in a converted fish house on Sanibel and in his secret life, he is a former government agent who still ‘disappears’ on covert adventures. The best part of this book series is all the history of Florida and lots of education about marine life and Florida’s natural wonders.
We also visited J. N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge and viewed the largest mangrove area in the United States…6400 acres, along with abundant wildlife to include 220 bird species! So…lots to do on this lovely little island! Make plans to visit there soon - it's a great get-a-way for a day or a week!