Friday, January 25, 2013

Island time: Daytripping at Sanibel and Captiva

January 25, 2013
North Fort Myers, Florida
Seminole Campground

One of the main reasons we are back in Florida again for the winter has to do with the lovely Gulf beaches and warm weather. Sanibel Island definitely stands out as one of our favorite spots because it has retained its quaint charm and still is known as one of the best shelling beaches in the world.  That combination is a big draw so we have learned that the best time to go there is well before noon on a weekday. 

sanibel map

This day trip involved heading to Bowman’s Beach, about eight miles from the Sanibel Causeway (an hour trip from our campground), with our friends Mike, BJ, Steve, and Diane. I feel like a little kid when I am getting ready to spend a day at the beach—packing cold drinks and snacks, sunscreen, beach chairs, something good to read, and an umbrella. Going to Sanibel also means being prepared for collecting shells. Sanibel is a unique barrier island because of its east-west orientation which results in great sandy beaches and an abundance of shells. I finally have my own shelling rake but forgot to bring it! Mine looks like this one, also called a sand flea rake, but it has not turned up any shells this large yet. Another popular rake is a lighter weight one made of plastic called the Susick Shell Sifter. In addition to a rake, it is helpful to carry a mesh bag that you can tie around your waist, and, if you are looking for shark’s teeth or small coquina shells, it's handy to have a small plastic container.

I am still a novice sheller, unlike Mike and BJ, who come fully equipped and head down the beach as soon as we arrive and may not be seen again for hours.

There are all kinds of tips and rules for shelling, the most important one is never keep a live shell.  The best times for shelling are an hour before or after low tide, after a big storm, or during a new or full moon. I usually prepare to get wet by walking 2-3 feet inside the surf line looking for a ledge where many shells get trapped.  If the water is calm and clear, it is pretty easy to see larger shells like conches or sand dollars two to three feet underwater. The water temperature was only about 70 degrees so I wasn’t too anxious to actually swim, but by March the water should be closer to 75 degrees—warm enough to try snorkeling for shells.

Aside from looking for shells, I spent a fair amount of time looking for photo opportunities with my new Nikon Coolpix P510 camera. It wasn't the most interesting day for photography at the beach, but I found a few images that caught my attention.

We arrived early enough to have our pick of spots on the beach for our chairs and umbrella. I thought I might read my book there, but like usual, I spent most of my time looking for shells.  I found two perfect conch shells, but both of them were alive so they went back to the sea. I think we arrived an hour after high tide which might account for the slim pickings of special shells.

After about three hours of beach time here, we decided to check out Captiva Island as none of us had ever been there. The only way you can get to Captiva by car is to continue about six miles north on Sanibel-Captiva Drive.  Be prepared for a drive lined with multi-million dollar homes on either side—lots of oohs and aahs emanated from the car as we drove past decadent mansions. We continued until we reached the only beach access with parking—Captiva Beach at the end of the island. By now, this place was crowded. We had to wait for someone to leave a parking spot before we could park, but fortunately, it only took about five minutes for something to open up. Not sure what to expect, we found this beach a little less alluring than Bowman’s. It is pretty small and it seemed like there were even fewer shells—maybe because there were more people. The best part of the beach for me was watching this Great Blue Heron fishing on the shore.

blue heron in surf

I also spied this osprey nest off in the distance.

And, of course, I was captivated by watching these Sandpipers scurrying along the shore.

We only spent an hour here as we had plans to stop for a late lunch at the famous Bubble Room on Captiva (a place my mother told me about years ago). The whole restaurant is decorated with bubble lights and other memorabilia from simpler times.  The food was decent, but not great, except for their famous desserts. We all opted to share three pieces of the four layer white chocolate coconut cake and it did not disappoint.  The obvious draw to this place is the desserts and d├ęcor.  It was a great way to wrap up a lovely day exploring Sanibel and Captiva beaches.  I leave you with a Bubble Room collage.

bubble room collage

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