Sanibel Island, Florida
A Barrier Island Sanctuary
Sanibel Island is legendary for its miles of white, shell-strewn beaches on the Gulf of Mexico, its abundant wildlife, and its nature preserves — including the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, which accounts for more than two-thirds of the island.
So popular is the pastime of bending over to pick up shells that locals dubbed the unmistakable stance the “Sanibel Stoop.” Credit Sanibel’s shape, east-west orientation, and shallow offshore shelf for its unique ability to scoop up seashells carried by the currents from south seas.
Sanibel boasts one of the leading shell museums in the world, the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum, and also hosts the Sanibel Shell Fair & Show each year. Exhibitors and shell-lovers from all over the world attend.
The island’s first shell show in 1937 began a long tradition of shell exhibiting and shell arts. Island matriarch “Granny” Matthews hosted the first event at her Island Inn (originally called The Matthews); the fair celebrates its 75th anniversary in March 2012.
The Matthews and a hotel known as The Sisters, on the site of today’s Casa Ybel Resort, were among the first inns on Sanibel Island, which didn’t get bridged to the mainland until 1963. Its isolation before that kept it lightly developed with only its lighthouse complex, completed in 1884, and tomato and grapefruit farms as commercial enterprises.
Headed for major development once the causeway opened, Sanibel Island incorporated in 1974 to grab control of its growth. Already, the opening of a national wildlife refuge in 1945 — later named for the Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist and conservationist, J.N. “Ding” Darling, responsible for it — gave Sanibel a head start in the environmental game.
The City of Sanibel continues along a path blazed by the early Sanibel Plan, which dictates the coexistence of man with nature.
Because of its wetlands refuge and eco tourism, birdwatchers flock to the island to see bald eagles, ospreys, pileated woodpeckers, mangrove cuckoos, roseate spoonbills, and, in the winter months, dozens of migrating bird species.
Accommodations range from charming beach cottages facing gorgeous sunsets to full-service, waterfront resorts that have boosted the island’s reputation as a foremost wedding destination.
Unlike most Florida beach towns, Sanibel has few chain stores or fast food outlets, so most shops are of the small, independent variety and include stylish boutiques and art galleries.Island restaurants serve fresh, succulent local seafood such as gulf shrimp, grouper, and stone crab.
Located near Ft. Myers Beach, Sanibel Island joins to the mainland by a causeway consisting of three bridges and two small islands. A high-span bridge, the gateway to your Sanibel vacation, offers an unparalleled panorama of San Carlos Bay, which is dotted with uninhabited mangrove islands and is a magnet for anglers and boaters. At the island’s opposite end, the Sanibel-Captiva bridge over Blind Pass connects to nearby Captiva.