Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel Island

Fort Myers Beach
••• Courtesy of DC Stultz

When my brother, DC Stultz, told me he was going to take a short R&R trip to Southwest Florida, I asked him to take some pictures and to file a trip report for me. He did a great job! Here are his efforts.

Ever wonder where the people in Florida go on their vacations? Well, some head up north to visit family and some head to the mountains – North Carolina is a favorite. Mostly, however, we head to some other part of Florida.

There's always some new place or old favorite place to visit.

That's why my wife and I loaded up the van and headed to Ft. Myers Beach and Sanibel Island. We live only five miles from beautiful Clearwater Beach, but decided we needed to get away to someplace a little less familiar.

Ft. Myers is located on the southwest coast of Florida. It was an easy drive on I-275 through the heart of St. Petersburg, over the famous Sunshine Skyway Bridge and then I-75 to Ft. Myers. The 130-mile trip took only a couple of hours plus a half hour on either end to get on the interstate and to reach the beach once we got there.

Due to uncertainties with work schedules, we couldn't make advance plans. So we had to scramble to make reservations the night before our departure. Thanks to some links on Dawn's Florida for Visitors site we were able to find, select, and get reservations at the Pink Shell Beach Resort on the north tip of Ft.

Myers Beach, about 3/4 mile from the bridge and downtown.

We had a nice hotel-style room with two queen sized beds, a small kitchenette with two-burner stove, microwave, small refrigerator and enough dishes, glasses and silverware for four. We were on the fourth floor (it's a five-story building) and had a screened balcony overlooking the Gulf of Mexico and Sanibel Island.

The Pink Shell is a large facility with many different types of accommodations – they also have beach villas, suites and cottages to fit all budgets and size of family. There are three pools and all of the facilities are right on the beach. There are two restaurants and boats may be rented for fishing or cruising.

We unloaded the van and hopped back in to explore our new area. Our stomachs knew that we had skipped lunch, so that was high on our agenda. A mile south of the downtown area, we found Squiggy's, an old fashion diner concept with some great looking 50s cars out front. The hamburgers were good.

We noted that the Post Office was located behind it and filed that information for future use to mail post cards.

Driving a bit further down the road, we found a couple of RV parks. The Red Coconut RV Resort has parking spaces for RVs on both sides of the road. It's unusual to find an RV concrete slab right on the beach. Directly across from the beachside RVs in the Gulfview shops was a real French Bakery (that's its name too!). I got to make a morning run for croissants every morning that we were there. Delicious. Pick up a baguette too - then stop at a food store for some cheese and you'll have a great midnight snack.

Downtown Ft. Myers Beach is small. About six square blocks of tourist shops and eateries. There is a beachside municipal parking lot just north of the where you can feed the parking meters at a rate of a quarter for every 20 minutes. There also is some private parking areas charging $5 for all day parking.

If you want to leave the car in the hotel parking, there is a bright red trolley bus that runs often and the tariff is only a quarter. You can rent bicycles, mopeds and Harley motorcycles at several places in town. Our favorite was the two-place bubble canopy moped. We didn't rent one, but, oh, it looked like fun. And, the one we saw on the road was easily keeping up with beach traffic.

There is a long fishing pier. Access is free and you do not need the Florida salt water fishing license to fish from it.

Street performers can be found in the area after sun down.

We went to Sanibel Island on our second day in the area. The first thing one notices is the lack of multi-storied hotels and condominiums. They are not allowed. The next thing I noticed is that when you drive up the main road on the island, you can't really see the Gulf of Mexico or the bay. Most of the houses and businesses are set discreetly off the road. Driving on the road at tourist speed was relaxing. The overhanging trees reminded me of some of the roads in the low country around Charleston. Sans plantations, of course.

The J.N. "Ding" Darling Wildlife Refuge is a must stop on Sanibel Island. There is a free information center with a few exhibits. There is a five-mile shell road that winds through the mangrove islands. You may drive your car or ride a bike. Cost is $5. To see the most wildlife, I suggest that you go early in the morning or late in the day. The trail is open from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Our timing was off and we didn't see many birds (they were off elsewhere feeding). We did, however, see a real, live, 3-foot alligator! Nothing is more Florida than spotting an alligator, getting within 8 feet of it without fences between you and it, and living to tell about it.

Our Internet quest for lodging had uncovered West End - Paradise, which is across from the Darling Refuge. They had no vacancies when we were coming, but we opted to stop by to see it and say hello to the owner, Peter Wilkins, who had been very nice and prompt with his email replies.

His two-building resort is nestled in an upscale housing development 1,000 feet from the beach. They offer free bicycles to ride to the beach or they have a small private parking area next to the beach for their guests. With Peter's kind permission, we sampled his portion of Sanibel Island beach and loved it.

Unfortunately, we didn't get to stay long as one of those summer rain showers sent us scrambling for the van after too short a time on the beach.

Even on his remote area, we found the shells picked over by the time we arrived. Alas, it is the early birds that get the shells on Sanibel and its northerly neighbor Captiva.

The rain proved to be fortuitous for my wife. On our way back, we found the Periwinkle Place shopping center on Sanibel. It is so nestled in its environment, that from the road you would never realize that it has over 40 shops. The walkways are covered, so we, and many others, whiled away a rainy afternoon looking in the shops. Hidden (from the road, at least) was the Sanibel Island Chowder Company where we had an excellent, if late, lunch.

We won't bore you with more sun and fun play by play. Needless to say, we enjoyed our stay on the southwest Florida coast. We recommend the area for a nice, laid back type of vacation.

Directions:

I-75 South to Fort Myers. Exit 21 is the best exit off of I-75 for the beaches. The route is well marked with signs to Ft. Myers Beach, Sanibel and Captiva. On the way, you'll travel on Six Mile Cypress (crossing highway 41), make a left on Highway 869 (Summerlin) which leads directly to the $3 toll booth before you cross the bridge to Sanibel Island.

If your destination is Ft. Myers Beach, you'll turn left on Highway 865 (San Carlos). It is about 15 miles from the interstate to Ft. Myers Beach, about 17 miles to Sanibel.