Sanibel Island. It is one of my favorite places in the world. And I am only slightly biased, considering I married the love of my life there eight and a half years ago.
That’s not my only reason for loving this island though. The water is very calm and the perfect blue-green color matches that of Caribbean and Hawaiian waters. The sunsets over the ocean are gorgeous, and as I mentioned in my last post, rare for us Easterners to see. You can find blue-green water and even catch a gorgeous sunset from many beaches on the Gulf Coast of Florida, but Sanibel is unique for its orientation. It is turned perpendicular to the coast of Florida, making it act as a huge net for catching shells. And catch shells it does! Sometimes the piles of shells forming a long row along the water’s edge are so thick that it can be uncomfortable to walk on them.
As we drove across the long bridge to Sanibel, I suggested we drive through Sanibel and continue on, all the way to Captiva Island. We’ve heard a lot of nice things about Captiva Island over the years but we had never gone to visit and I wondered how it differed from Sanibel. It was apparent very quickly; if Sanibel is the equivalent of Lindt in the world of chocolate, Captiva is the Belgian Leonidas. We saw tons of huge houses, each with their own name like an estate would have such as “Moon Catcher,” “Dolphin View,” or “Island Hideaway”. It was also more lush than Sanibel, and reminded us of Hawaii with all the beautiful, perfectly landscaped foliage. We got out and checked out the beach at very end of island; it had nice views but the tiny area was full of people. I took a photo but we quickly headed back to Sanibel where we knew we’d find much more solitude.
We drove to the West Wind Inn and asked for a free parking pass for the day after telling them we got married there in 2004. It worked! We were so psyched to retrace all of our spots; the corner room we had stayed in facing the ocean, the palm tree in the squishy grass between the pool and the sand, the aisle I had walked down leading to the beach, the actual spot where Elliott’s dad married us. The site of our sunset photos, the place where we got into the ocean afterwards in our wedding attire, the corner table where we enjoyed our Cheesecake Factory “Chocolate Silk & Satin” wedding cake afterward. (Sadly, they no longer make this cheesecake, which we felt was one of their best!)
We decided to take a swim. Soon after we entered the water we noticed large, dark shapes moving towards us and then around us. There were sting rays swimming with us! We were super excited. We once swam with sting rays when we paid for a cruise excursion to do so, but this was the first time we ever swam with them without even trying to find them, completely in the wild. We swam for a long time, looking for the sting rays each time they left us, excited each time they found us.
When Elliott tired of swimming he decided to look for some nice shells and had great success. He created a “shell family” of pink scallop shells in size order, eleven all told. (Boy am I glad he’s happy with his *shell* family of eleven kids because that would be way too many for me to pop out!) Later on we walked together looking for more shells, and saw dolphins swimming and jumping through the water! Again, we were super excited as this was the first time we had ever seen dolphins in Sanibel, as well as the first time we’ve seen them from the beach. I was so tempted to jump in and try to catch up to them and swim with them, but reluctantly decided it was best to leave them be and enjoy them from afar.
As we were leaving that day, I noticed our parking pass from the West Wind Inn said, “One Day Only,” but did not specify a date. Worth trying to use again? Definitely. We headed back to Sanibel twice more during the week and always had a great time there. The water was a bit rougher the second day to the point where there were almost waves! We saw a couple more sting rays over the week but nowhere near as many as the first day. I continued to swim while Elliott looked for pink shells to add to his “shell family.” (He had 18 pink scallop shells in his family by the time he was done. We should qualify for our own reality show at this point.) We alternated swimming with shell combing, relaxing and reading by the pool with paddle ball and Frisbee in the lovely grass under our palm tree. We had private happy hours for two each day on the beach or in the grass under the tree, and then played a little more.
Sanibel is a special place for us and a place I’d recommend to anyone looking for a great beach vacation without the hustle and bustle of some other destinations. It was an awesome week, and just the rest and relaxation we’d been looking for. Now we’re just two backpackers again, ready for some more rugged travel.
P.S. Sanibel has some great attractions and restaurants I didn’t even mention in this post that are definitely worth visiting. Make sure if you go, you take a bike ride through the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge, grab a bite at the Island Cow, and have a nicer meal at the Jacaranda (the site of our wedding night reception dinner).