Updated: May 12, 2021
I love the small amount of Gulf coast area my native state of Alabama enjoys. Gulf Shores, Fort Morgan, and Orange Beach are blessed with incredible white sand and luxurious condominiums. The California coast is spectacular, perfect for filming countless movie scenes. The coasts of Maine, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and even Ecuador have also mesmerized me during past visits with their distinct personalities and vibes. I recommend them all highly. But the part of the Gulf of Mexico that claims the top spot in my heart is the one that juts out from Fort Myers, Florida, and is accessible via a 3-mile-long causeway. I have visited Sanibel (and its smaller sister island Captiva) on four different occasions and would gladly visit every year and stay for weeks or months at a time. I never get tired of it. During the next few Mondays, I'll share in depth the reasons for this love affair I have with these islands, but I must start with the primary attraction. SHELLS!!
Sanibel and Captiva are consistently ranked among the top shelling beaches in the world. The WORLD! It's impossible to predict what kind of shells will wash up at any given time. Sometimes a lot of the same type will appear, then you'll go for days without finding another one like that. Some days you hit the mother lode. Other days you're lucky to find a beat-up olive shell or an unblemished clam.
I kept trying to be the very first person at the beach in the morning, but invariably at least one or two other people would get out ahead of me. I learned not to fret. Some shells are meant just for me. (As you might expect, you WILL read more about my thoughts on that subject). One morning I was walking right at the edge of the waves. A couple was walking toward me, also looking at the sand for treasures. As soon as they passed me, a wave rolled in and deposited a Florida fighting conch intact JUST FOR ME. In my mind, there was no doubt about it.
On one of our first shelling excursions of the most recent trip, Steve and I hit what could be called a "shelling trifecta" -- late afternoon, after a storm, low tide. We scooped up some real beauties.
Even the names of shells intrigue me. I love how descriptive they are -- lightning whelks, kitten's paws, turkey wings, angel wings, lettered olives, Scotch bonnets, apple murexes, nutmegs, augers, shark's eyes and the like. Even the ones that are the most numerous have distinctive, important-sounding names -- Cut Ribbed Ark, Broad-Ribbed Cardita, Channeled Duck Clam, Florida Prickly Cockle, Chalky Buttercup Lucine, Calico Scallop. (Again, there's a lesson in that fact).
When you visit Sanibel Island, I highly recommend staying in a condo ON the beach, preferably one on West Gulf Road which is near Tarpon Bay Beach. But if you can't manage that, take heart. There are numerous public beaches on Sanibel and Captiva. The main downside is that you have to pay $5.00 per hour to park, unless you bike there, in which case, leaving your bike in the rack is free. Bowman's Beach, Lighthouse Beach, Blind Man's Pass, and Turner Beach (Captiva) are most often mentioned as being great shelling beaches, but I stand by my opinion that Tarpon Bay Beach is best. Trust me.
The shelling posture is affectionately nicknamed the Sanibel Stoop, and EVERYONE gets in that posture at some time or other. I will confess that my "stoop" was much more agile and bouncy when I was in my 30's and 40's than it is now that I'm in my 70's. But, hey, where there's a shell, I'll find a way to grab it. :)
Sanibel is home to the only museum in the U.S. dedicated to seashells and mollusks. You'll want to check out Bailey-Matthews National Seashell Museum. You'll learn something new and be very impressed.
I urge you to think about visiting Sanibel Island, and I double dog dare you to go without starting your own shell collection.