Sanibel Island

Oasis in America’s backyard

Created date

February 19th, 2020

Every year, people from around the world flock to Sanibel Island, a small isle off the west coast of Florida, to handpick one of nature’s most precious treasures—seashells washed upon the sandy shore. These shells aren’t your average find; they are the most stunning shells in the world. Why do they wash up here? Scientists explain it is because of the island’s curved shape, which acts as a trowel gathering shells in multitudes that come to the gulf from other parts of the world, namely the Caribbean Islands. 

Instead of traveling to all those places, come here—the shell junkyard—where you’ll leave with more than a bucketful of clams, whelks, scallops, conch, and other shells of all different shapes, patterns, colors, and sizes. 

Sanibel Island is where nature’s junk is a shell-lover’s treasure!

Natural phenomenon

You’ll want to wake up early to hit the beach before sunrise. There’s something celestial about being on the beach lit only by the moon and stars, and you’re in for a great treat. There is a calmness, a silence—but contrary to what you may think, the exotic animals on this island aren’t sleeping; these inhabitants are hunting. And you, the intruder, may feel a need to tiptoe to not disturb the quiet. 

It’s then you’ll experience something incredible, yet overlooked—the natural phenomenon of life. Like the saying, “The early bird gets the worm,” watch American ibis birds rove the beach looking for food, but not worms—conch! At this early hour, when it’s still dark outside, conch take over the shore, searching for their food. If you pick up one of these conch shells, they may come out and slap you with their muscular tongue-like bodies, for you have found the Florida-native fighting conch—and its defense mechanism is entirely fight! 

As the sun starts to rise, a spectacular show of colors appears across the sky and is reflected in the water of the sea. While the animals slowly dissipate to other places, people start to fill the beach. But in the calm, aqua-blue water, you can still find live starfish, sand dollars, and conch. Meander along these white sand beaches lined with palm trees; there is beauty in every nook and cranny of this isle. 

‘Sanibel stoop’

Bird-watching, snorkeling, boating, biking, fishing, and swimming are just some of the activities on Sanibel. Shop at the boutiques owned by locals or stop at the Shell Shop for some more eye-catching treasures. Of course, the most popular activity is shelling! On Sanibel Island, there is even a name for the act of people bending down to collect these shells called the “Sanibel stoop.” What’s even better—every shell you find, you can keep—so long as it’s not alive. On Sanibel Island, it’s illegal to harm or take any living critter away from its home. In fact, to maintain the natural balance of life, tourists are told to leave critters where they’re found to not disturb the natural balance of the ecosystem. 

Flavors of the gulf

For brunch, stop by The Sanibel Café, which offers unique tropical dishes—everything from hot coconut pancakes stacked high with butter and maple syrup to grilled shrimp omelets stuffed with all the fixings—all while enjoying your meal over glass tables made out of display cases. You may spot Miocene and Pliocene era marvels under your plate—fossilized seashells found on Sanibel Island that are 1.8 to 24 million years old. 

What’s for dinner? Seafood, seafood, and more seafood! There are other options, but Sanibel is best known for its fresh seafood, the finest flavors from the salty waters of the gulf. Many restaurants offer relaxed, beachfront settings, where you can continue to soak up the sun or sit in the shade with your toes in the sand. 

When to go

What time of the year is best to visit? The answer is, anytime! Summer months are a little busier, but not drastically so because people shell throughout the year. In March, there is the annual Sanibel Shell Fair & Show. 

The best time to collect shells is during low tide and when there is a new or full moon. From dusk to dawn, Sanibel Island is a little wedge of paradise in our beloved America and a must-visit destination for shell-lovers. 

Note: all of Sanibel’s beaches are noteworthy. Bowman’s Beach and Sanibel Island Northern Beach are just two examples of free beaches that I enjoyed on my adventure. To find out more, visit sanibel-captiva.org

Editor’s note: The travel clubs at Erickson Living-managed communities set up a wide variety of excursions for residents, from day trips to overseas travel. To learn more, find the community near you at EricksonLiving.com.

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