“Shelling” is an extremely popular activity, although many people (including myself, until a couple of weeks ago!) haven’t even heard of it. However, it’s more likely that you’ve heard of it, but just didn’t know it has a name. Shelling is scouring the beach looking for unique, rare, or simply beautiful shells. I learned about countless different varieties while I was in Sanibel & Captiva, and also learned that it’s illegal to take the shells from the beach if they’re still living mollusks. I found plenty of pretty ones from mollusks that have moved to other shells or been eaten by predators (sorry, little dudes!), but if you want to see some really incredible finds, follow Captain Brian from Captiva Cruises on Instagram and Facebook for #WildlifeWednesday!
2. Cabbage Key
One of the best lifestyle quirks about the islands in southwest Florida is that everyone’s main mode of transportation is by boat. Day one, we visited Cabbage Key and ate at the famous inn & restaurant that is literally the only attraction on this island with no roads. The walls are papered with over $70,000 in dollar bills that have been signed by the people who tape them up. If any of them drops off, it is donated to charity. And their iced coffee is not to be missed.
Although we have porpoises up here in Seattle, I’ve never seen them and had definitely never had the opportunity to see dolphins until my recent trip to Florida, and man, did I see them. We weren’t five minutes off the dock before four or five little cuties started leaping and playing in the wake of our boat. They followed us for quite a ways and put on such a show! The Captiva Cruise crew informed us that dolphins are a pretty common sight around Sanibel and Captiva Island, so I can almost guarantee that you’ll see some when you visit!
4. Gramma Dot’s
It might be unusual to come away from a seafood-famous region remembering the best Caesar salad of your life, but when it’s garnished with a fresh flower, you know it’s going to be good. Gramma Dot’s is an award-winning restaurant at the Sanibel Marina, and I felt right at home as soon as I sat down. The New England-inspired nautical décor adds an element of sophistication, instead of the usual campy tropical décor found around the island, which is adorable but also omnipresent. Walk the marina to check out some incredible yachts after your meal!
We spent a couple hours at the J.N. “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge after a light monsoon passed, and it was my favorite thing our group tackled in Florida. It was quite a time corralling all six of our boats through the wild and spindly mangrove trees, but paddling by a dolphin and dozens of different bird species made it all worth it. There aren’t any alligators in the area, which I was excited to see (I know, adrenaline junkie moment), so you can go in fancy-free. Just remember to bring your waterproof phone case!
6. Wild Weather
We were surprised by a tropical storm while we were in town, but I get the feeling that southwest Florida can be a little temperamental when it comes to the sky. I absolutely love rain, so it was fun for me to see a variety of weather from shimmering daylight to torrential downpours. Everything is unexpected in Florida, so you better be ready to adventure.
7. History Made Fun
Thomas Edison and Henry Ford were close, close friends, something I didn’t know until I visited the Edison & Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers, Florida. It’s always weird to think of people from history as real individuals who walked and talked exactly like we do now, but it put things into perspective to actually stroll their properties and gardens and see where they spent their free time (which was normally only two weeks out of the year!). From some old Ford models in the garage (the logo hasn’t changed a bit) to the extensive gardens that Edison had planted, it helped put the story into perspective. History is always much more interesting as a tactile experience. My favorite part was the gigantic collection of ficus frees Edison planted as a research project!
Let’s face it: there’s nothing like sitting in the sand, watching the sun go down in a blaze of purple, pink, red and orange over an endlessly waving horizon of water. Nothing compares. The beaches of Sanibel & Ft. Myers area were made for just that, so bring your shade umbrella and a good book and prepare to post up for a good, long time. Or bring your art supplies after a morning of shelling and create some shell art, inspired by early nineteenth-century Sailor’s Valentines found at the Bailey Matthews National Shell Museum!
Thank you to The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel for sponsoring this post.