Sanibel, Captiva & Cayo Costa Islands
I consider this trip a five star Authentic Florida getaway. It has it all: Accommodations, the “Ding” Darling Natural Wildlife Refuge and great food.
We stayed at the Island Inn situated on ten acres of beachfront. The buildings are old Florida, the grounds are spacious and very reasonable. Rooms and cottages are available. We stayed at the Kimball Lodge, one of the buildings at the Inn. Accommodations include a continental breakfast. Staff lovely. Truly genuine feel all around.
The property was renovated after Hurricane Charley in 2004 – but all the buildings have an the authentic feel. They even have photo albums which chronicle the 100+ year history of the Inn. Shell displays are featured throughout the Inn.
I didn't see a lot of shells which Sanibel is known for, but if you get up early enough, you are bound to get lucky. And don't miss the sunsets.
Considered one of the top ten best nature preserves in the country, The Ding Darling is a gem. Wildlife everywhere – birds galore and lots of bird watchers around to tell you one species from another.
We also kayaked the Commodore Creek Trail, a navigable circular creek which is a leisure “float” with the current, barely paddling. Zen-like, relaxing. Took us two hours. Unspoiled. Mangroves, wildlife, photographer's paradise.
There is a tram tour or you can drive or bike ride through the Preserve. You could spend days there if you wanted to really see it all. If you drive, you'll miss a lot. Be sure to stop at the Education Center first, near the park entrance. Wildlife Drive in the Darling Refuge is 4 miles, 8 miles round trip. A good morning trip. Tidal mud flats and mangrove forests. You will see roseate spoonbills, white ibis, blue herons, egrets, pelicans and a wide assortment of birds...what could be better?
Wide expansive beach. Natural beach vegetation everywhere. This beach was devastated by Hurricane Charley and has been beautifully restored. Terrific walkway, good bathrooms, and nice educational displays.
For me, the true test of a good seafood restaurant is a fresh grouper sandwich. So, that's why we decided to dine twice at the Lazy Flamingo restaurant. Delicious food and this authentic eatery gave me an instant “deja vu” of childhood memories. Wonderful sea mementos on wall. (I felt like I was in a SpongeBob Square Pants cartoon.) Chairs have name plates designating regulars who frequent often.
Also, you might try Doc Ford's Sanibel Rum Bar and Grille. My husband had fish tacos, I had the Original Lime Panko Crusted Fish Sandwich. Both of us were amazed with the flavors of the sauces, the freshness of the fish, the homemade coleslaw and the black beans and rice. Scrumptious.
Boat Trip to Cayo Costa State Park
Located on Captiva Island, Captiva Cruises offers day boat trips. We took the Cayo Costa morning trip. After a pleasant boat ride, we were dropped off on the island and headed to the west side which was an untouched wide open beach. My husband fished and I shelled. Spectacular osprey nests, incredible photography, lots of driftwood, old trees ravaged by storms and weather. Bring your cheeseburger: the island is a heaven. Shells are plentiful.
The Shell Museum contains displays of local shells from Southwest Florida coupled with fascinating shells from around the world. Also, there is an interesting historical display of the local Calusa (considered "the shell”) Indians. The museum also hosts sample workshops on Basic Shelling, Walking the Beach with Experts, and Mollusks. Worth the trip. You can cover it in less than an hour.
Like I said, the perfect weekend.