There are literally hundreds of islands that dot the sun-splashed coastline like tiny jewels – some uninhabited and accessible only by boat or seaplane, others filled with activities that effortlessly blend rustic charm with modern comfort and luxury. Each island holds its own personality and offers something unparalleled, like shelling, boating and kayaking, while collectively offering healthy doses of peace and quiet and exceptional sunsets.
Just a few hours from Miami, Orlando and Key West, 50 miles of pristine coastline are readily accessible among hundreds of unspoiled islands. The natural white-sand beaches are sprinkled with shades of pink conchs, whelks, scallops and clams waiting to be scooped up with the famous stance dubbed the “Sanibel Stoop.” Just double over and pick up one of the island’s treasures, which just so happen to make wonderful souvenirs. For the greatest examples of why our beaches are the world’s best, be sure to visit Sanibel, Captiva and Cayo Costa. These islands were created by nature and have stayed that way for thousands of years. And if you have time between excellent seafood meals at local restaurants, (and we hope you do) visit the Bailey-Matthews Shell museum. There, you can see over 30 exhibits of mollusks from around the world, shells in art and history, shell habitats and more.
Aside from our beaches and world-class shelling opportunities, no visit is complete without a tour of the winter homes of Thomas Edison and his good friend, automaker Henry Ford. Their estates, filled with tropical gardens, laboratories and museums, prove the only limit on success is one’s imagination. What’s more, our reputation as a renowned destination isn’t solely thanks to the unspoiled nature. Art galleries of every color and variety burst from the seams on Matlacha and Pine Island. The Boca Grande Lighthouse, built in 1890, is adjacent to the assistant keeper’s cottage, now a museum of Gasparilla Island’s intriguing history. And there is also a boardwalk that leads to Sanibel Lighthouse Beach, which is the most photographed aspect of Sanibel Island since 1884 when the entire island was a nature preserve.
If exotic animals intrigue you, get into your canoe and glide through curtains of mangrove trees as they open to a stage of some of the most beautiful wildlife in the country. Paddle inches from giant Manatees lazily swimming the Great Calusa Blueway or venture to the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, the largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystem in the United States, to witness over 300 species of migratory birds soaring through the blue skies. And if you’re lucky, which most people are, you might spot dolphins darting in and out of the water alongside your charter cruise as you island hop in the Gulf.