Monday, August 13, 2012

Sanibel Island ~ where Julie's heart is (Guest Post)

My friend Julie likes to travel as much as I do.  Yes, it is possible!  She loves it so much that she even answers people's questions on a travel forum.  
Thank you Julie for sharing your special Sanibel memories with us!

I love traveling.  I like overseas travel as well as travel in the United States. No matter where I go or what I see, one place in the US has a special place in my heart and that is Sanibel Island, Florida.  I have been going there for over 30 years. I started going as a teenager, and now I have the pleasure of taking my own family there on vacation. If you want peace and quiet, calm waters, blue sky, and an island dedicated to preservation, this is the ideal vacation spot for you!

The easiest way to get there is to fly into Fort Myers and drive the 45 minute trip to Sanibel. As soon as you see the causeway you know your vacation is about to begin! It cost $4 each time you cross over the bridge, so be prepared to do your grocery shopping before you come over the bridge unless you plan on shopping on the island.  There is a Costco in Fort Myers if you are planning on an extended stay or have a large family you will be cooking for, otherwise, there is a Publix located on the way that you might want to stop at for most of your grocery needs. There are two main grocery stores on the island. Bailey’s has been there forever and is well visited. Jerry’s is the “newer” grocery store on the island. I don’t have a favorite, but both are expensive.  We buy our basics off the island, but always visit both grocery stores just to see what they have. Both have very good bakeries!

Most of the accommodations on Sanibel are condos that are available for weekly rentals.  There are a few motels on the island that you can stay at daily. I have only stayed in one of the motels and that was Shalimar Cottages. It was clean, and adequate. We prefer to stay in a condo on our trips. We have tried several different condos. I would say that one of the favorite ones is Pointe Santo. It is located right on the beach. They have a pool, wi-fi, and a daily camp for children.  The beach is nice right in front of the condo and visits from dolphins happen daily.  It is also centrally located to everything on the island.  My recommendation is to visit VRBO and take a look at all the condos on the island.  There are so many different ones to choose from and several different price points.  If you are not comfortable using a site such as VRBO there are many different realty companies on the island that will be happy to help you find the right accommodation for your needs! We have used VIP Realtors and with good success.

Now that you are on the island you might wonder what there is to do, right? Well, you would be surprised at your options on this island.  One of Sanibel’s most famous claims to fame is its shelling. It is supposed to have some of the best shelling in the US.  If you are going shelling I suggest water shoes, a net, and lots of Skin So Soft. (The no-see-ums will eat you alive!!) People have lots of favorite places to shell on the island, but I think you need to find them on your own. It seems it changes often. Two places that you will hear people talk about often is the beach in front of the lighthouse and Bowman’s Beach.  I would say just explore, listen to what people are saying on the island, and just have fun looking.

If you want to go fishing, I would suggest a visit to The Bait Box.  You can get all your equipment there, bait, and good advice! They always know what is being caught, where people are catching fish, and what bait you should be using.  If you want something more adventurous there are several places that offer charter fishing.
We have enjoyed using Tarpon Bay Explorers. They have guided nature tours, which include a boat trip and a touch tank for the children. We saw many birds, dolphins, and manatee when we took our tour.  It was fun sitting on the pontoon boat and seeing nature. The kids loved it. You can also rent boats, kayaks, or canoes from Tarpon Bay Explorers. We saw several people kayaking which looked fun, but not for small children.

Another popular attraction is the Sanibel Thriller! We always go in the off-season, so they are always closed the weeks we have been there, but this outfit gets rave reviews!! It is a boat tour of the island that is fast, wet, and loads of fun! 

There are miles of biking trails on Sanibel Island and several bike rental places right on the island that will rent to you hourly or weekly.  I am not much of a biker, but even I enjoy the trails in Sanibel. It is totally flat which helps a lot!

No visit to the island is complete without a visit to Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. My favorite time to go is right before sunset, right before they close off access to cars. You can watch the birds returning; see a beautiful sunset, and an alligator or two.(Again, if you plan on getting out of the car at any time, unless there is a strong breeze, you need to be covered in Skin So Soft because of the no see-ums) According to their website it is the largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystem in the US. There is a fee to get in, and remember that it is always closed on Fridays to car traffic! You can bike in there which is also fun. Parts are sandy though and can be harder to navigate, but still a nice ride.

There are some cute shops on the island as well. If it rains, you can spend an hour or more cruising the shops at Periwinkle Place. They have an assortment of shops ranging from t-shirts, toy store, jewelry, etc… We also enjoy looking at the shops located where Jerry’s grocery store is. There are several parrots in cages that are fun to interact with.

After all the adventure on the island you are going to be ready to eat. If you are expecting a quick trip over to McDonalds, you are on the wrong island!! The closest thing to a McDonalds’ is a Dairy Queen and a Cheeseburger Cheeseburger.  You will find lots of places to eat on the island. There are many different opinions of favorite restaurants.  I think we have tried most of them.  Two of our favorites are Island Cow and Doc Fords.  (If you love a good grouper sandwich, Gramma Dots is the place for you)
Island Cow
Julie's Favorite breakfast is at Over Easy Café.
 A good tip; try to buy one of the Diner's Delight (Two for One Dinner) Coupon Books available through the   Sanibel Kiwanis Club before you go. If you are going to eat out a lot, it can really save you some money.  I found out about it because I belong to a group on Facebook called Beautiful Sanibel Island. It is a wealth of information!! One of the Kiwanis members posts on the board when the books go on sale. My all time favorite dessert on the island is at Pinocchio’s. They have the best ice cream I have ever had. The best flavor, Sanibel Krunch ~they say it is WORLD Famous!!  It is a blend of homemade vanilla ice cream with toasted coconut enrobed in chocolate and gourmet mixed nuts.  Yes, there are other ingredients too but they won't give away all their secrets. 

You will find most people are extremely friendly on the island and dress is causal at almost everywhere on the island!  Sanibel Island is a lovely family destination, and once you have been, you are going to want to come back!

 Julie ~ this post makes me want to pack my bags, grab my Skin So Soft and contact a Sanibel Kiwanis member for my Diners Delight Book right away!  Anyone else interested in capturing their vacation in a different and special way let me know.  I LOVE guest bloggers especially these days when I can't seem to catch a minute to blog.


TribalArtery said...

Probably worth adding that Periwinkle Place has a unique shopping ambiance. It is NOT a strip mall but is tree-studded and park-like. And if shopping makes you hungry, try the Blue Giraffe inside Periwinkle Place. Good food and good people. PS: The bridge toll is $6, not $4, and worth every penny. It is not an admission charge, it is a Lee County fee. Blame them, not Sanibel.

TribalArtery said...

Probably worth adding that Periwinkle Place has a unique shopping ambiance. It is NOT a strip mall but is tree-studded and park-like. And if shopping makes you hungry, try the Blue Giraffe inside Periwinkle Place. Good food and good people. PS: The bridge toll is $6, not $4, and worth every penny. It is not an admission charge, it is a Lee County fee. Blame them, not Sanibel.

kara said...

Thanks William for the added tips - And I believe that tolls are a way to add value to what you are going to encounter on the other side of them.